Amnesty International’s Write for Rights is the world’s largest human rights event. Its history goes back 16 years when a young woman had just returned from traveling through Africa where she’d seen activists organizing 24-hour events to write protest letters to governments.
Her local Amnesty group in Poland decided to write Urgent Action appeals for 24 hours. They emailed their idea to other Polish groups, then their idea went viral. People started sending back pictures of themselves writing letters – by Niagara Falls, the Tower of London, in Japan, in Mongolia. It was a spontaneous, grassroots initiative that grew.
A letter - either hand-written or pre-printed - is still one of the most powerful tools we have as activists. When thousands of people write the same letter, our voices united cannot be ignored, and we help change lives for the better. As messages flood mailboxes, prisoners’ conditions improve or they are released. Torture stops. Executions are halted. Change happens. Hope grows.
Every year to mark Human Rights Day (the signing of the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”) on December 10, hundreds of thousands of people around the world send letters and sign online petitions on behalf of someone they have never met as part of Write for Rights. Our messages help convince government officials to release people imprisoned for expressing their opinion (called “prisoners of conscience” by Amnesty), support human rights defenders, stop torture, commute death sentences, and end other human rights abuses.
Just this year on June 8, Write for Rights 2014 case Eskinder Nega, a former prisoner of conscience often thought of as the face of “Journalist at Risk”, spoke here at the New York Society for Ethical Culture shortly after his release. He, along with other prisoners of conscience Dr. Bekele Gerba, Soliyana Shimeles and Andualem Aragie, as well as African activists and politicians, were part of an Amnesty International panel: Human Rights Crisis in Ethiopia and Implications for Accountable Governments in East Africa. Mr. Nega stated several times that they would not be free today if not for people like us who write on their behalf.
How it works: Amnesty identifies ten urgent cases among their thousands of cases (prisoners of conscience, human rights defenders, torture survivors, and communities at risk) where global activism can make a huge impact. It supplies information on each case and prewritten letters. Participants can choose to just sign the letter and address the envelope, or to handwrite a personal letter with the information supplied. This year, we hope to surpass four-million actions and make a difference in the lives of all ten cases.
You can help. The human rights defenders in this year’s cases — all of them involving women — are counting on you. Some are in jail. Others are under dire threat. All of them targeted for their human rights work.
Please join us Sunday, December 9, at 1:00pm in Ceremonial Hall, as we partner with Amnesty International USA Group 9 and 280 to let the people in this year’s ten cases know they have not been forgotten. Amnesty will supply preprinted letters, envelopes, printed address labels, pens, case histories and refreshments. All you need to bring is yourself (return address labels are optional). International stamps for letters you sign would be greatly appreciated, but are not required.
Taner Kılıç, a 2017 Write for Rights case, spent over a year in prison for his peaceful human rights activism. People like you came together and helped both comfort him and pressure Turkish authorities to free him. After his release, Taner said, “To everyone who sent me countless letters from around the world I want to express my deep gratitude. While in prison, these actions lifted my spirit.”