Write for Rights, one of the world’s biggest human rights campaign, calling on governments to put right injustices against individuals who are detained or persecuted in countries across the globe was launched on 20 November. The campaign which is run from 20 November to 31 December each year by Amnesty International, a global movement to end abuse against human rights, aims to lead by example in building a fairer post-COVID-19 world.
Julie Verhaar, acting secretary general of Amnesty International, says Write for Rights mobilizes hundreds of thousands of people around the world to change the lives of individuals at risk through taking action with last year over six and half million actions taken, an annual increase for the 18th consecutive year. She says although the COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating, it has also brought out the best in people. According to Verhaar, as part of the campaign every December, people around the world write millions of letters, emails, tweets, Facebook posts and postcards for those whose human rights are under attack, in what has become the world’s biggest human rights event. She says the 10 cases selected for Write for Rights 2020 include human rights defenders and individuals in Algeria, Burundi, Chile, Colombia, Malta, Myanmar, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Turkey. “We have witnessed countless acts of compassion and solidarity as people come together in their communities to help those most in need. Sadly, many governments have pursued the opposite course, detaining and persecuting people who stand up for human rights. We are at a crossroads, we can all choose to build a future which puts kindness, solidarity, tolerance and human rights at its core,” she says
Verhaar says governments must use this moment to show they can put right injustices by releasing prisoners of conscience, ending the persecution of human rights defenders, and upholding every person’s right to freedom of expression. She says one example is Gustavo Gatica, a psychology student in Santiago, Chile who attended a protest over rising inequality and was part of mass demonstrations that made headlines all over the world for being an inspiring example of people power on 8 November 2019. “Police violently repressed this protest, repeatedly opening fire on demonstrators with shotguns loaded with rubberized buck shots and Gustavo was struck in both eyes and left permanently blinded. Amnesty International is calling for a full investigation into the events that led to Gustavo being injured and for the commanders in charge to be held responsible,” says Verhaar.
According to the acting secretary general, in Malta, three youths from Ivory Coast and Guinea are awaiting trial on baseless terrorism charges after acting as interpreters for the captain and crew of a Maltese tanker which came to rescue them, and more than 100 other people, from their sinking rubber boat. She says initially the captain wanted to take the 114 people including 20 women and at least 15 children back to Libya where they would have been at risk of abuses including detention in inhumane conditions, extortion and torture.
“However, after discussions with the migrants, the captain and crew agreed to take them to Malta instead. But on arrival in Malta, the three teenagers, who had acted as translators, were arrested for allegedly hijacking the boat and forcing the captain to take them to Malta. They are now accused of serious offences that could carry life sentences just for opposing an unlawful return to torture. Amnesty International is demanding justice for the ‘El Hiblu 3’ and calling for the charges against the youths (now aged 21, 18 and 16) to be dropped,” says Verhaar.
According to Verhaar, as seen in previous years, writing letters does bring about change for the individuals whose cases are highlighted in Write for Rights and also offers enormous emotional support to them and their families. She says Moses Akatugba, a Nigerian teenager, was arrested and sentenced to death when he was 15 years old after being accused of stealing three phones, however in 2019, he was released after 800 000 Amnesty International supporters showed their support.
“I was on death row because the police claimed I stole three phones. But now I’m free, because people like you wrote letters to support me. After eight years in jail and 800 000 letters from Amnesty International supporters all over the world, I was released. Those letters kept my fire burning. I am alive today because of these letters. So your letters can save a life,” says Moses.
Verhaar says Write for Rights is all about individuals helping other individuals and this way of expressing our shared humanity has never been more important and relevant. She says governments must respond to the widespread desire for change by delivering justice to those whose human rights are being attacked.
“The power of individual action to save lives and hold governments to account must never be underestimated. Year on year we see the powerful impact that simply writing a letter or email can deliver,” says the acting secretary general.