Why Do We Write?

Amnesty International’s Write for Rights at Gathering Space at NWCC this Sunday.

Amnesty International’s annual Write for Rights is at the Gathering Space at the NWCC Smithers Campus this Sunday, Dec. 10. Drop-ins welcome from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

In 1961, lawyer Peter Benenson wrote an article in 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 many of us experience when faced with news of human rights violations and environmental degradation into action for change. Amnesty International (AI), an international human rights organization and global movement of over seven million people who collaborate to protect and promote human rights in more than 150 countries, started 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.”

AI members write letters on behalf of and advocate for the release of prisoners of conscience, individuals persecuted and imprisoned because of their ethnic origin, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, and in some countries even because they have a misunderstood condition such as albinism. The annual write-a-thon or write for rights 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.

AI’s symbol 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.’ ”

Smithers has been hosting a write-a-thon since 2009 when Smithers Secondary School, Students for a Better World, helped host a film festival featuring documentary films borrowed from AI. The event has grown to add local musicians including Dorothy Giesbrecht, Theresa Mohr, Edi Young, Laura Hols, Shelly Worthington and Mark Thibeault. Lois Harle led groups in Tai Chi and this year Phillipa Beck will lead a Yoga Practice for Compassion starting at 1 p.m.

This year’s event falls on a Sunday, so teachers will have students write letters during the week. The number of letters from Smithers demanding justice for people around the world increases with each write-a-thon.

Participants are encouraged to bring their own personal computers to write on behalf of those featured by AI for action. Sample letters are provided or people can create their own composition and volunteers will be available to answer questions. Refreshments will be served. Anyone wishing to participate in the Practice for Compassion is encouraged to bring a yoga mat.

Why are human rights important and why is it important for people to become involved?

The letter writing campaign is important because exposing human rights violations through letters, petitions and other media have led to prisoners being granted access to medical care, lawyers, proper legal process, contact with families, protection from torture and other harm, death penalty sentences have been overturned, and some have been released to re-claim their lives.

When those of us who enjoy our rights and freedoms, as defined by the UDHR, advocate for the rights and freedoms of those who risk their lives to speak out, we are making the world a safer place for all people everywhere. When we take action to protect the rights of others, we are taking action to protect our own.

– Submitted by Beth Richardson.

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