Here is a roundup of last term’s Write for Rights Campaign conducted by the Amnesty International Youth Group at La Chât, and the difference that it can make for the lives of the people targeted.
The Amnesty International Youth Group is made up of a group of year 12 students at La Chât, kept running by the efforts of maths teacher Mr Edwards. We meet every Friday lunchtime and talk about current events that concern human rights, as well as the things we can do to help the people affected.
The Write for Rights Campaign is a worldwide annual human rights campaign, the biggest in existence, conducted by the organisation Amnesty International. December marks the global letter-writing marathon, where anyone and everyone can write a letter to one of the 12 cases Amnesty selects in which someone’s human rights have been violated. There are two types of letters: the first being a solidarity card which goes directly to the individual affected or their family, which serves as a message of hope and support to show that people around the world care about their case. The other option is an appeal letter, which is sent to a high-ranking individual or the authorities in the concerned country – a President or a Human Rights Minister, for example – and aims to encourage them to release the person or information about the case, and urges them to consider making changes to the rights of their citizens. Participants may also take to social media if they wish.
Our in-school letter-writing campaign this year was the most one successful yet, with a total of 565 cards, written in both English and Spanish. We would like to thank everyone who participated and who showed an interest in what we were doing. We wrote solidarity cards and appeal letters to the following six cases:
Rania Alabbasi and her children – SYRIA
Rania (a well-known dentist in Damascus) and her 6 children were taken away by government agents in March 2013 – 2 days after her husband was taken – and have been missing since, with their relatives refused any information from the authorities.
Albert Woodfox – USA
A 68-year old in Louisiana, Albert has been in solitary confinement for 43 years after having been convicted of armed robbery. Despite having his conviction overturned three times,
and an appeals court ruling his immediate release, Albert remains in a 2.5x 3 metre cell.
Yecenia Armenta – MEXICO
Accused of and arrested for her husband’s murder in 2012, she was tortured and raped for 15 hours until she signed a confession – still blindfolded – after her torturers threatened to rape and kill her children.
Phyoe Phyoe Aung – BURMA
Activist and Secretary General of a prominent student union (which are illegal in Burma), she was violently arrested after a largely peaceful protest against new education laws. She has been in prison since 10 March 2015 ; facing lengthly jail terms along with other participants.
Costas – GREECE
Costas and his male partner live in fear for their lives after being beaten up in a homophobic racist attack in Athens in August 2014. The number of attacks against LGBTI people in Greece has doubled between 2014 and 2015, with little discouragement from the government and police.
Teodora Del Carmen Vásquez – EL SALVADOR
Teodora was sentenced to 30 years in prison for ‘aggravated homicide’ in 2008 after suffering a still-birth. She was arrested immediately after labour, and only then taken to hospital. In El Salvador, women who suffer still-births are often suspected of having had an abortion, which is considered a crime. Teodora was already presumed guilty at her trial and could not afford an effective legal team.
In order to maximise the number of letters written, we worked with the Languages department to write to the people living in Spanish-speaking countries, and managed to engage most of the year groups by presenting their year’s case in their assembly, and then writing the letters in all of the registration classes in the following days. We found that students and teachers were enthusiastic and open to spending their time to write a letter.
However, these letters can have a big impact on the lives of the recipients. They put pressure on governments to reconsider their actions. In fact, one of the 2014 Write for Rights cases, Moses Akatugba, was freed with the help of the letters written by the public and an Amnesty-led petition with 36,500 signatories. In Nigeria in 2005, Moses was only 16 when he was arrested by the army, tortured and eventually sentenced to death by hanging for a robbery he says he didn’t commit: the stealing of mobile phones. Moses should have never been sentenced to death as he was a minor, however Emmanuel Uduaghan, the Governor of Delta State, granted him a total pardon on 28 May 2015.
“I am overwhelmed. I thank Amnesty International and their activists for the great support that made me a conqueror in this situation. Amnesty International members and activist are my Heroes.”