Amnesty International biggest event globally is indisputably the Write for Rights day on the 10th of December. We are well into 2018 now and it is worth to reflect on the achievement of this day that Amnesty Groningen celebrate with many other Amnesty International groups around the world.
Writing letters to governments infringing human rights or to families affected by human rights violations is the foundational mission of Amnesty International since its formation in 1961. Back the a British lawyer was outraged by the jailing of two Portuguese students for raising a toast to freedom. The article criticising this was published in newspapers around the globe and initiated the idea of people coming together to fight for justice and freedom. The mobilisation of public support and pressure on national governments that violate human rights is one of the core features of Amnesty International using writing letters for 15 years as its main medium.
Now one might feel sceptical towards this soft power instrument of public support wondering whether this is able to make a difference. However since the the start of the writing letter method 15 years ago several acomplishments have been made. Whether it is solely through the pressure of Amnesty International or a combination of factors the influence of rallied public pressure have undoubtedly played a role in these successes.
The case of Chelsea Manning can be an example. She was sentenced to 35 years in prison due to leaking government documents to wikileaks but was pardoned by President Obama in May 2017. In 2015 a quarter of a million people had written letters for her release. It sent a clear message to a developed state such as the US that claims to be founded on the liberal values of freedom and protection of civilians rights that such behavior was unacceptable in light of the Human Rights the US committed themselves to.
Writing letters does not only pressure national governments, they also show support to the victims of human rights violation and give strength to the families by showing solidarity of a global community of people standing behind them. This is vital for the morale of these families but also for human rights defenders in the states that fear similar repercussions. Upon her release Chelsea Manning herself stated: “I wish I had the time and ability to thank each one of you for giving me a little bit of joy with each letter and card.”
In the end writing letters and showing support builds a community of watchdogs relentlessly monitoring human rights situations and the fate of countless wrongly incarcerated individuals. This community give strength to those people, showing that the international society cares about them and are fighting that their fate is not slipping into oblivion.
Amnesty International Groningen celebrated this day at Stadscafé Pronk with tea and coffee as well as a visit from Groningen´s own improv comedy group “Stranger Things Have Happened”. In the twelve hours of our letter writing we have written 590 letters and cards, each contributing to the cause of Amnesty International. We want to thank everyone who participated and the DAF and Day of Rights committee for organizing the day. And if you have missed out don´t fret, DAF organises a writing marathon every month, so don´t hesitate to join!