«We know what we are talking about!»

A 50. Birthday is an occasion to look back, but no reason to lean back. As the human rights organization Amnesty International commemorates its founding in 1961 by British lawyer Peter Benenson, questions are also being asked about the future.

"I often have the impression that we have settled comfortably into the recognition we have received," writes Volkmar Deile, former secretary general of the German section (1990-1999), in a special volume on the anniversary of the declaration. "Has success gone to our heads?" asks the now retired pastor.

On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 2008, Deile had already critically noted that despite a growing civil society human rights movement worldwide, the fight against torture, for example, had remained comparatively unsuccessful. In addition, the disappearances of political opponents and politically motivated murders have increased.

Largest human rights organization in the world With more than three million members and supporters in over 150 countries, Amnesty is now the largest human rights organization in the world: in Germany alone, some 114.000 supporters counted, including more than 25.000 members. The annual budget here is currently around twelve million euros. The major part comes from contributions, donations and fines. It must have come as a surprise to some members to hear that the organization's international secretary general, Irene Khan, who held office until the end of 2009, most recently received an annual salary of over 630.000 euros.


One reason for the organization's success is the credibility that even government agencies have long attributed to its reports. "We talk about things we know, and we know what we're talking about," stresses Stefan Kessler, spokesman for the board of Amnesty in Germany.

Urgent Action A typical form of action used by Amnesty to protect people under threat is the so-called Urgent Action: within a few hours, a worldwide network of almost 80 people is set up for this purpose.000 people activated, drawing attention to the acute threat to people with letters to government offices and authorities. This was the case 267 times last year. According to Amnesty, about one-third of these actions result in successes in the form of prisoner relief, release, or the overturning of death sentences.


These appeals are often preceded by lengthy research on the ground. Carsten Jurgensen, for example, is a Middle East expert at Amnesty's London headquarters and has been to Egypt several times since the outbreak of the revolution. "We have documented the excessive violence of the security forces against demonstrators," says the 47-year-old. In addition, he spoke with people who have been tortured in prison.

The father of two sons found out a few years ago that this is not always without danger when he visited a polling station in the Egyptian province in 2001. Although identified as an Amnesty worker, the Islamic studies graduate was brutally beaten by seven men in civilian clothes.

"Only together can we change the world" Half a century after its founding, Amnesty is no longer dedicated solely to helping prisoners: abuses at the U.S. prison camp Guantanamo in Cuba are made public, as are violence against women, arms exports, land evictions, deportations of refugees, police violence in Germany or the genocide in Rwanda.


The secretary general of the German section of Amnesty, Monika Luke, speaks at the 50th. Birthday of a history "with many small, big and great successes". Among other things, the lawyer refers to the abolition of the death penalty in many countries: "More than two thirds of all countries, namely 139, have suspended or abolished the most inhumane of all punishments. When we were founded in 1961, there were only ten of us," Luke writes on the anniversary.

Luke also relies on the commitment of the many volunteers for the challenges ahead: "Only together can we change the world."One day before the official anniversary of the founding, on 28. A ceremony is scheduled for May in Berlin to award the organization's sixth human rights prize.

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