Razik Jaffalie transports his two sons from school in this Monday, May, 23, 2016 photo in Machinga about 200 kilometres northeast of Blantyre Malawi. Jaffalie gave up his work as a bicycle taxi operator to protect his three-year-old albino son, Cassim, in a country where there has been an increase in albinism attacks. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

Why we write for rights

Smithers has been hosting AI Write for Rights events since 2009. The next one is Dec. 10.

Amnesty International Annual “Write for Rights” event, Gathering Space at Coast Mountain College, Smithers campus, Monday, Dec. 10. Drop in from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

What is Amnesty International?

In 1961 lawyer Peter Benenson submitted an article to the London Observer called “The Forgotten Prisoners” after reading about two Portuguese students who were arrested and sentenced to seven years in prison for raising a glass in a toast to freedom. He called on others to transform the feelings of helplessness that can immobilize us when we hear of human rights violations and environmental degradation, into action for change. Amnesty International (AI), an international human rights organization and global movement of over 7 million people who collaborate to protect and promote human rights, began with Benenson’s appeal for amnesty for these students.

AI’s mandate is to conduct research and mobilize people around the world to take action to prevent human rights abuses and hold perpetrators accountable, to protect those at risk of torture, execution or disappearance, “ensure international human rights apply to everyone, everywhere”, and to “influence laws and policy to bring human rights protection for all.” The symbol of AI is an illuminated candle surrounded by barbed wire, it’s motto, “better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” In Peter Benenson’s words, “The candle burns not for us, but for all those whom we failed to rescue from prison, who were tortured, who were kidnapped, who ‘disappeared’. That’s what the candle is for.”

What is a Write for Rights Campaign and how does it work?

2018 marks the 16th anniversary of the AI Write for Rights Campaign. The annual Write for Rights or write-a-thon event corresponds with International Human Rights Day, which marks the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations General Assembly on Dec. 10, 1948.

People from more than 200 countries, including Canada, participate in writing events. They write millions of messages in the form of letters, emails and tweets and sign petitions on behalf of prisoners of conscience, (POC). POC’s are individuals persecuted and imprisoned because of their ethnic origin, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression. In some countries people are persecuted, imprisoned and killed simply because they have a misunderstood condition such as albinism.

Participants can write two types of messages. One message pressures governments and other authorities to be accountable, to take immediate action. Another message of hope and support is sent to the persecuted individuals, their communities and to their loved ones.

And change happens. Death penalty sentences are overturned, wrongfully imprisoned human rights defenders are released, individuals in prison are treated more humanely and those responsible for human rights violations are brought to justice. Those persecuted or continuing their human rights activities know they have not been forgotten, that the world cares about them and is watching. Campaign results can be seen in AI updates and success stories on the website amnesty.org.

What happens in Smithers?

Smithers has been hosting AI Write for Rights events since 2009 when Smithers Secondary School, Students for a Better World, helped to host a film festival featuring documentary films borrowed from AI. The number of letters written in Smithers demanding justice for people around the world increases each year. The event has evolved and local musicians and other practitioners donate their time in a collaboration of sound and movement. This year, musicians Dorothy Giesbrecht and Mark Thibeault accompany Lois Harle and a Tai Chi group at 11 a.m. and Phillipa Beck who will lead a Yoga Practice for Compassion starting at 12 p.m. Theresa Mohr will play from 1 p.m. Anyone wishing to participate in the Practice for Compassion is encouraged to bring a yoga mat. Refreshments including baked goods and fair trade tea and coffee will be served. Sample letters are provided or people can compose their own. Participants are encouraged to bring their personal computers if they prefer to email or tweet. Volunteers will be available to answer questions.

–Submitted by Beth Richardson.

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