Maximize Your Power and Impact on this Human Rights Day
By Roger-Mark De Souza, Chief Movement Building Officer, Amnesty International USA
On December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Each year, people throughout the world observe December 10 as Human Rights Day, many by taking action for human rights. At Amnesty International, we mark this day through our Write for Rights campaign. We come together in over 150 countries and territories to send letters of support to, and on behalf of, individuals who have been detained, imprisoned, attacked, and disappeared for peacefully exercising their rights and for defending others’ human rights.
When you participate in Write for Rights…
You Hold Authorities Accountable for Human Rights. Every year millions of people take injustice personally. When we write letters of solidarity to individuals whose lives and freedoms are at risk, they know they are not alone as we demand that authorities take immediate action to remedy injustice. Our mass writing events, petitions, tweets, and emails change lives such as that of Albert Woodfox, who spent more than four decades in solitary confinement in the United States before our letters helped lead to his release in February 2016.
You Change Lives. Hundreds of individuals and groups have had positive developments in their cases after Amnesty International activists wrote letters to advocate on their behalf during Write for Rights. Yecenia Armenta was tortured by authorities in Mexico into confessing to being involved in the murder of her husband before our letters helped bring her freedom in June 2016.
You Spur Action in Classrooms, Communities, and Congress. When Write for Rights began, we wrote letters sent by mail to authorities demanding remedy and sending solidarity messages to the people whose cases we worked on. Over time, we have developed means of sending the same messages via email, tweet, and other means. Educators bring Write for Rights to their classrooms; community groups host Write for Rights events; individuals write letters on their own. Amnesty staff lobby members of the U.S. government to leverage their influence with authorities around the world toward good ends, which has increased and amplified the impact of our grassroots advocacy. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, Fred Bauma and Yves Makwambala were imprisoned for their peaceful human rights activism. We declared them to be prisoners of conscience, and our work on their cases contributed to the momentum leading to freedom in August 2016.
You Action Makes a Difference with Current Realities. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we reevaluated how to continue our activism and advocacy while keeping ourselves and our communities safe. We reduced the number of cases that we asked our supporters to work on to maximize our impact, and we updated our mailing procedures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We held virtual letter-writing parties and promoted Write for Rights in pandemic-responsive virtual spaces such as our Virtual Activism Conference and new Virtual Human Rights Action Teams. And we note that our earlier efforts have an impact today. Canada’s Grassy Narrows Indigenous community suffered the effects of mercury poisoning for decades. The youth of Grassy Narrows were particularly affected and at the forefront of the fight for the future health of their community. Our action help bring attention to their situation and in April 2020, an agreement was finally signed to build a care facility for the Grassy Narrows Indigenous community.
You Multiply Your Impact. In grassroots, multi-issue human rights movements like ours, activists and advocates are constantly working to stop a myriad of human rights abuses. All human rights are fundamental. When we join together to direct our efforts toward a focused goal, we exponentially increase our capacity for impact. Whistle-blower Chelsea Manning was freed in May 2017, after her 35-year prison sentence was cut short by President Obama. More than 250,000 people wrote for her release.
You Build Global Solidarity. By identifying issues that connect the cases we work on in Write for Rights, we recognize commonalities across distance and difference. We see, and we help others to see, that people fighting for rights around the world share a common cause, even though they may never meet or imagine a connection with one another. In 2019, we lifted up the cases of young people whose rights were violated by authorities. In 2018, we focused on women human rights defenders. Through Write for Rights activists raise their voices on behalf of people all over the world in a focused and measurable way. Mahadine, a human rights defender and father of seven, was freed in April 2018 after spending more than 18 months in a Chad prison on fabricated charges; 690,000 people wrote for his freedom.
You Stand Up for Human Rights. In 2020, we are joining together to demand victims’ compensation for Teyonna Lofton, a young Black woman who survived a shooting incident in her neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois on the day of her high school graduation. Police did not come to the scene, and Teyonna has received neither good information about the victims’ compensation to which she is entitled, nor any updates from police on the investigation into the incident. We are bringing added focus to our campaign to end gun violence in the United States, which disproportionately impacts Black communities and communities of color. International human rights standards hold governments to a higher standard than those applied under U.S. law, and are a critical component to our shared fight for racial justice.
Join us! Lean into your power and make a difference for human rights. Here’s what you can do: