The work of Croydon Amnesty

By - Friday 24th October, 2014

Beverley Foulkes-Jones talks about the origins of Amnesty International and the work of the Croydon group

Croydon’s Amnesty International group at work.
Photo author’s own.

In 1961 barrister Sir Peter Beneson was travelling to work when he read a newspaper report about two Portuguese students in Lisbon arrested and sentenced to two years in prison for publicly making a toast to freedom. Beneson wondered if the Portuguese authorities could be persuaded to release the students if they were bombarded with written protests. He then thought: why only have a campaign for one country? Why not have a one year campaign to draw attention to the plight of political and religious prisoners throughout the world?

On Trinity Sunday in 1961 the Observer newspaper, and simultaneously Le Monde in France, published an appeal by Beneson called “The Forgotten Prisoners”. The article began:

“Open your newspaper any day of the week and you will find a report from somewhere in the world of someone being tortured, imprisoned or executed because his opinions or religion are unacceptable to his government. There are several million such people in prison – by no all means all of them behind the Iron or Bamboo Curtains – and their numbers are growing. The newspaper reader feels a sickening sense of impotence. Yet if these feelings of disgust all over the world could be united into common action, something effective could be done”.

Amnesty International protects individuals wherever justice, fairness, freedom and truth are denied

Through this article Amnesty International was born. Initially it only worked for prisoners of conscience (people imprisoned for their political or religious beliefs or because of their race, ethnic origin etc., who had not used or advocated violence). The mandate over the years has been extended to work for fair trials; against torture and inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment; against the death penalty (which Amnesty International considers to be the ultimate form of torture); against disappearances and extra-judicial killings. Today the purpose of Amnesty International is to protect individuals wherever justice, fairness, freedom and truth are denied. Amnesty International’s vision is of a world in which every person enjoys all the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights standards.

Amnesty International achieves success through the power of the pen and email

Amnesty International has 50 offices throughout the world. It campaigns mainly however through volunteer activists – people who give freely of their time and energy in solidarity with the victims of human rights abuses. At the last count there were more than two million members, supporters and subscribers worldwide. There are 267,000 members in the UK. Some work as individuals, others as networks i.e. the Children’s Network, LGBT Network, the Women’s Network etc., and others in schools and local groups.

Amnesty International achieves success on its cases through the power of the pen and email. Letters and messages are sent to governments in their thousands, home governments are lobbied to put pressure on the offending government, the press are briefed and events are organised and publicised to draw attention to human rights abuses.

In 1961, the Croydon group of Amnesty International became the sixth local group to be set up in the UK. Over the years many prisoners have been released due to the group’s efforts. In the 1980s, and for over 10 years, the group worked for a Syrian communist held in untried detention. He was released in 1990 and a Cedar of Lebanon tree was planted in Lloyd Park to celebrate his release and freedom. In 2011, after working on the case for three years, the group secured the release of an Egyptian prisoner held without charge for 15 years and tortured.

A recent talk was on Amnesty International’s new Stop Torture Campaign

The group meet on the third Monday of every month (save August and December) at The Mandela Room, Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Rd, Croydon, CR0 1BD at 8pm. All are welcome. There are frequent talks. In the last year there have been talks on the work of Kids Company and their work with young people and families with no immigration status, on the situation of the Roma in Europe, education in Palestine by a representative of the NUT who had visited the region, and Amnesty International’s new Stop Torture Campaign.

The group organises stalls promoting their work, most recently at the Heathfield Heritage Fair. To raise funds it has organised theatrical performances with human rights themes, and last year had a film festival at Matthews Yard. They also hold tea parties, do street collections, sell Christmas cards and every December carol sing.

Visit their stall at the Whitgift Centre on 22nd November from 11 am to 4 pm where you can send a card to an Individual at Risk, or join them to sing carols at East Croydon station on 22nd December from 6pm to 7:30 pm. You can also visit their blog at Croydon Amnesty.

Beverley Foulkes-Jones

Beverley Foulkes-Jones

Beverley joined Amnesty International in 1985 and has been a member of the Croydon group since 1988. She also volunteers for Amnesty as a Country Coordinator and works on North Africa in this capacity. In 2013 she was presented with an award by Amnesty International (UK) for her services to human rights.

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