Retro Action, May 28, 1961: A London Lawyer Gives Birth to Amnesty International

May 27, 2011· 0 MIN READ
Originally from Baltimore, Oliver lives and writes on a quiet, tree-lined street in Brooklyn.
Amnesty International celebrates its birthday in London with a candlelight vigil. (Photo: Getty Images)

In 1961, a British lawyer named Peter Benenson read about two Portuguese students who had been arrested and later emprisoned for making a "toast to freedom".

Outraged, the 39-year-old published an article entitled "The Forgotten Prisoners", which highlighted similar atrocities to freedom around the globe and made an impassioned plea to concerned citizens to unite in an appeal on their behalf.

With that, Amnesty International was born.

“I was quite young when I first learned about Amnesty International," said iconic Burmese poltical leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a recent statement, "and was struck by the fact that it had been founded simply because one thinking man had read about the arrest of two young students in Portugal."

“The letters written by ordinary housewives, by school children, by retired people, by active young businessmen – all over the world – for the rights of those who have been imprisoned, makes a great difference."

Fifty years later, Amnesty has more than three million supporters, members and activists working on human rights issues in more than 150 countries and territories across the globe.

"Today people worldwide are increasingly expressing their desire for both political and economic rights -- showing that despite the claims of some governments, right cannot be ranked or traded," said current Amnesty Secretary General Salil Shetty in a press release celebrating the organization's anniversary.

"Every individual can make a difference, but millions standing together and uniting against injustice can change the world."

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