Amnesty vows to adapt to new challenges as it turns 50

28th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Amnesty International chief Salil Shetty on Saturday vowed to adapt to the challenges of a fast-changing world and reach out to new countries as the leading rights group marked its 50th anniversary.

Shetty led celebrations in London, where Amnesty is based, as supporters in 60 countries also held events half a century after the organisation was founded by a British lawyer.

Addressing Amnesty supporters at a church in the British capital, secretary general Shetty said: "It is clear that threats to human rights lie at the heart of key challenges facing the world.

"And that Amnesty International needs to continue to adapt and evolve if we are to shine a light for freedom and justice in a changing world."

He further vowed that the rights group, whose logo of a candle wrapped in barbed wire is recognised around the world, would extend its influence.

"We will reach out to new areas of the world -- beginning with Brazil and India this year -- to strengthen our presence, as the idea of Amnesty International as a truly global movement comes of age," he said.

"We will harness digital technology and social media to give greater voice to the powerless and the abused."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague also praised the rights group on its anniversary: "Their work to protect and promote human rights, often at risk to themselves, has resulted in many lives saved and prisoners of conscience released."

British lawyer Peter Benenson founded Amnesty on May 28, 1961.

Angered by the imprisonment of two Portuguese students by the country's autocratic regime for having raised their glasses in a toast to freedom, he wrote an article in The Observer newspaper entitled "The Forgotten Prisoners".

He urged people to speak up for prisoners of conscience, launching Amnesty's first ever campaign and laying the foundations for what would become one of the world's best known rights organisations.

Amnesty has built up a support base of some three million members in 150 countries, and its efforts to help tens of thousands of prisoners won the group the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977.

But the organisation has widened its campaigning into many areas including poverty and womens' rights, prompting concerns that it may be losing its sharp focus.

"I am worried that they will not be able to prove their effectiveness in the way they have done in the previous 40 years," Roger Graef, executive producer of a new documentary entitled: "Amnesty! When They Are All Free", told AFP.

© 2011 AFP

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