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Peter Benenson & Amnesty International PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 19 November 2007 05:12
UK Catholic Bishops are forbidding Catholic parishes and schools from housing Amnesty International groups since the organization's International Committee voted to "support the decriminalisation of abortion, to ensure women have access to health care when complications arise from abortion, and to defend women's access to abortion, within reasonable gestational limits, when their health or human rights are in danger".

The irony: Amnesty International was set up in 1961 by Peter Benenson, an Oxford lawyer and convert to Catholicism. It has huge Christian support among 1.8 million members.

Benenson's remarkable life is profiled here and here.

"It is the story of a man in a bowler hat reading his newspaper on the London underground in late 1960. He reads a small item about two Portuguese students being sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for raising their glasses in a toast to freedom. He is outraged, decides to go to the Portuguese embassy in London to make a personal protest and then changes his mind. Instead he gets off at Trafalgar Square station and makes his way to the church of St Martin’s-in-the-Fields.

He goes in, sits down for three-quarters of an hour, and thinks..

In his words, "I went in to see what could really be done effectively, to mobilize world opinion. It was necessary to think of a larger group which would harness the enthusiasm of people all over the world who were anxious to see a wider respect for human rights."

That man was Peter Benenson, then a barrister in London. When he came outside into the square, he had his idea. Within months, he launched his Appeal for Amnesty with a front page article in The Observer newspaper.

Nothing quite like it had ever been attempted on such a scale before. The response was overwhelming, as if people worldwide were waiting for exactly such a signal. Newspapers in over a dozen countries picked up the appeal. Over a thousand letters poured in within the first six months. And the post-bags of the world’s heads of state changed forever.

Benenson’s idea was so simple, perhaps that’s why he remained so shy of personal publicity throughout his life. Termed "one of the larger lunacies of our time" by one of its critics, a network of letter writers was set up to bombard governments with individual appeals on behalf of prisoners jailed and ill-treated in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In an age of self-aggrandisement, his modesty was almost hard to fathom. He never went forward to receive the numerous accolades showered upon Amnesty, known universally by its candle in barbed wire. His mind was always fixed on what had not been accomplished and the countless victims still to be rescued."


In the first few years of Amnesty International's existence, Mr Benenson supplied much of the funding for the movement, went on research missions and was involved in all aspects of the organisation's affairs.

Other activities that Mr Benenson was involved in during his lifetime included; adopting orphans from the Spanish Civil War, bringing Jews who had fled Hitler's Germany to Britain, observing trials as a member of the Society of Labour Lawyers, helping to set up the organisation "Justice" and establishing a society for people with coeliac disease.

Sherry's note:

Benenson died in 2005. Did Amnesty feel free to make this change because its founder was dead?
 

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