Appeal for Amnesty campaign launches 1961
On this day in 1961, the British newspaper The London Observer publishes British lawyer Peter Benenson’s article “The Forgotten Prisoners” on its front page, launching the Appeal for Amnesty 1961–a campaign calling for the release of all people imprisoned in various parts of the world because of the peaceful expression of their beliefs.
Benenson was inspired to write the appeal after reading an article about two Portuguese students who were jailed after raising their glasses in a toast to freedom in a public restaurant. At the time, Portugal was a dictatorship ruled by Antonio de Oliveira Salazar. Outraged, Benenson penned the Observer article making the case for the students’ release and urging readers to write letters of protest to the Portuguese government. The article also drew attention to the variety of human rights violations taking place around the world, and coined the term “prisoners of conscience” to describe “any person who is physically restrained (by imprisonment or otherwise) from expressing…any opinion which he honestly holds and does not advocate or condone personal violence.”
“The Forgotten Prisoners” was soon reprinted in newspapers across the globe, and Berenson’s amnesty campaign received hundreds of offers of support. In July, delegates from Belgium, the United Kingdom, France, the United States, Germany, Ireland and Switzerland met to begin “a permanent international movement in defense of freedom of opinion and religion.” The following year, this movement would officially become the human rights organization Amnesty International.
Amnesty International took its mandate from the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which holds that all people have fundamental rights that transcend national, cultural, religious and ideological boundaries. By the 10th anniversary of the Appeal for Amnesty 1961, the organization it spawned numbered over 1,000 voluntary groups in 28 countries, with those figures rising steadily. In 1977, the organization received the Nobel Peace Prize.
Amnesty International owes much of its success in promoting human rights to its impartiality and its focus on individuals rather than political systems. Today, Amnesty International continues to work toward its goals of ensuring prompt and fair trials for all prisoners, ending torture and capital punishment and securing the release of “prisoners of conscience” around the globe.
(More Events on This Day in History)
- 1754 Lieutenant Colonel George Washington begins the Seven Years’ War
- 1937 Volkswagen is founded
- 1863 African-American regiment departs for combat
- 1987 Matthias Rust lands his plane in Red Square
- 1986 The decision in a well-known securities fraud case is upheld
- 1965 Mine explosion kills hundreds in India
- 1754 First blood of the French and Indian War
- 1991 Ethiopian capital falls to rebels
- 1998 Comic Phil Hartman killed by wife
- 1935 Tortilla Flat is published
- 2014 Author Maya Angelou dies
- 1983 Irene Cara has a #1 pop hit with the Flashdance theme
- 1902 The Virginian is published
- 1754 British soldier George Washington experiences combat for first time
- 1957 Baseball owners allow Dodgers and Giants to move
- 1969 U.S. troops abandon “Hamburger Hill”
World War I
- 1918 U.S. troops score victory at Cantigny
World War II
- 1940 Belgium surrenders unconditionally