Thursday, 29 September 2011

Amnesty International

Amnesty International

by Judy Kessler

AI has been working for 50 years to promote Human Rights. It was started in response to a lawyer reading a newspaper article about two Portuguese students who had been arrested and imprisoned for making a toast, in public, to democracy.

Prisoners of Conscience are any person who has been imprisoned for making statement or performing actions which would lead to more justice for their group. They must never have used or advocated violence. PoC are adopted and supported by local Amnesty groups * by means of writing letters to the government, public officials who are concerned with the case, the prisoner themselves and their family. This can be a long term affair ! When PoC are eventually released they say how grateful they were to receive such support as they felt they were not alone. Knowing that the case has been recognized by Amnesty can, in many cases, improve the conditions of the PoC.

AI is a worldwide organization with a membership in excess of 3million people who work quietly and persistently for Human Rights and Justice.

Letter writing to governments is a key way of working. The letters are unfailingly polite and diplomatic but uncompromising in their demand for justice. When thousands of letters arrive asking for the same thing it can have a profound effect. It also means the plight of that PoC can no longer be hidden.

AI also demonstrates peacefully to raise awareness of issues. For instance each year, in Leeds, AI holds a public display to collect signatures to try and have all the countries of the UN recognize the rights of the child by banning the use of child soldiers. The Leeds group have also worked to promote awareness of violence against women and the irresponsible way in which oil has been extracted in West Africa leading to pollution of the environment.

A huge campaign was held to try to prevent the execution of Troy Davis in the USA recently. AI is very much against the death penalty. A group will be going to Strasbourg in October to lobby for specific Human Rights causes.
A key role of AI is to have international researchers to get to the truth of situations.

If you want to find out more please look up and for the local group.

* The Leeds group has adopted a prisoner of conscience from Indonesia called Johan Teterissa

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Country Profiles - Eritrea

Our friends at RETAS have started this series of blog posts on the top 30 countries that asylum seekers come from to the U.K, beginning with the African country Eritrea. The original can be found HERE..

Imagine living in a country rated as having less freedom of the press than North Korea. A one party state holding a country in a continual repressive regime, using war as an excuse to rule by force.

The State of Eritrea split away from Ethiopia in 1993, though its border is still disputed, leaving the country in a perpetual state of war. Ruled by the ironically titled People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, the government that was created to set up a democracy have repeatedly postponed and cancelled national legislative elections. Over the last ten years President Isayas Afewerki’s leadership has overseen a steady erosion of human rights, fair justice and press freedom.

The population of Eritrea is the second most militarized in the world according to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, both men and women are required to undertake in a minimum of 18 months national service, however this is often extended indefinitely. There are reports of army labour being used to maintain property owned by generals or government employees, and the pay for military service is a pittance.

Most disturbingly of all, thousands of Eritreans are detained in known and secret detention centre’s, often without charge or trial, and no idea if they will ever be released.

People ‘disappear’ into these prisons for opposing the unelected leaders. Religion is also strictly controlled, people are only allowed to believe in approved faiths, and their place of worship must be registered and approved by the state.

No record is released giving the number of Eritreans incarcerated, and many detention facilities are in secret locations. Exiled citizens have spoken about being held in underground bunkers, regular beatings, even being tied up under the blazing sun or hung by their arms from trees. There is a shoot to kill policy if people are seen escaping across the border.

Leeds has a large Eritrean community, and various charities to help with asylum application, counseling and integrating into British life.

RETAS is based in Harehills and believes that every refugee that comes to West Yorkshire deserves help and support in finding training and employment, to begin a new life in the U.K

Article by Jake Davies, Journalism student and RETAS volunteer

For more information take a look at these sites