“Sometimes good guys go to jail but we can help them,” said Tosha Mallette.
“That’s how one of our members explained to her three-year-old what Amnesty International does. It’s a good way for people of any age to start thinking about Amnesty.”
Amnesty International was founded in England to support anyone, anywhere, whose human rights have been violated and to seek justice, often for people who are in prison. Amnesty International has more than seven million members and supporters around the world.
The Vernon branch of the organization works hard to support Amnesty, with monthly meetings and special events like Write For Rights, which takes place Dec. 10.
This public event gets people together to write letters on behalf of specific individuals whose human rights are being abused. Letters are addressed to the governments of the countries where the abuse is taking place, with some cases receiving up to 300,000 letters from concerned citizens internationally.
“You can make a difference, one letter at a time. Governments care about international perception and opinion and we have many success stories,” said Mallete, a pharmacist, who is an Amnesty International field worker. She has been a member of the Vernon branch since 2010.
“I was always an avid documentary watcher. Knowing what is happening is great but it doesn’t make a difference. Action is the most important aspect. What are you going to do about it?”
Amnesty International lets everyone express their concerns about injustice through writing letters on paper, or emails and comments on social media, about upholding the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
The cases that Amnesty takes on have been documented by investigators who gather information and photographs. While there is no cost to be a member of Amnesty, donations and fundraisers are important to support this part of the work.
“Amnesty also works in Canada to see that human rights are not violated, on things as close to home as the Site C Dam and missing and murdered indigenous women and girls activism,” said Mallette.
“Some of the things people are imprisoned for could be as simple as asking for the right to education. There is so much to be done but you don’t have to spend money to make a difference to help people. The messages to governments calling them to action for fair treatment, which might be a fair trial or medical attention for people in jail, can make a difference. We do have prisoners freed. Every case is followed up on.”
The many cases include albino people in Africa who are hunted for their body parts, which are thought to make those who possess them rich, people jailed for their sexual orientation, and another defending her land against exploitation by mining companies. The Amnesty website contains many more cases.
While most letters go to government officials, in some cases, messages of support and encouragement can reach the people who are wrongly imprisoned, letting them know that someone knows what is happening to them and cares about them.
Sometimes the writing campaigns focus on a single issue in countries, for example, asking five selected countries to stop the use of torture, which is routinely used by 141 countries and is, by human rights standards, illegal everywhere.
“Everyone has the power to write a letter or sign a petition. We have people of all ages and backgrounds in the area who work with us and attend workshops to keep informed,” said Mallette.
“Write for Rights is a global event taking place on International Human Rights Day Dec. 10. People can take part for 15 minutes to write one letter or write more if they want.”
Write for Rights takes place Dec. 10 at the Vernon library from noon to 4 p.m. Information is provided on individual cases, along with addresses of who to write, email, Twitter or fax. People are asked to bring postage (usually under $3, which can get your letter to China or Africa, or to an embassy in Canada) for paper letters. For more information on all Amnesty International activities see www.amnesty.ca.