Mary Ellen Tamulonis: Amnesty International has been fighting bad guys since 1961

This commentary is by Mary Ellen Tamulonis, the Champlain Valley Amnesty International facilitator.

Amnesty International is the largest grassroots organization in the world committed to investigating and reporting human rights abuses in violation of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments. 

This is no easy task, as Amnesty International faces constant backlash when the facts expose a government’s actions in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Today the world is divided and in chaos over a wide variety of contentious topics and beliefs. Amnesty International is independent of any political ideology, economic interest, or religion. No government in the world is beyond scrutiny. Amnesty International challenges discriminatory laws and practices to ensure all people can enjoy their rights on an equal basis. 

While many of you may be aware of Amnesty International’s work regarding the death penalty, sexual and reproductive rights, defending refugees and migrants’ rights, arms control, LGBTQI rights, the Iranian/Palestinian conflict, and the war between Ukraine/Russia, we must not forget those individuals subjected to physical and psychological abuse around the world. 

Can you imagine living in a country where prosecution is without legal representation, no access to family members, prolonged solitary confinement, unsanitary prisons, torture and sexual abuse, denial of proper medical care, forced disappearances, and executions following unfair trials? 

These human rights violations cannot be justified under any circumstances. While freedom of speech and the right to hold peaceful demonstrations are universal rights, it is too easy to turn a blind eye on the brutal crackdown on demonstrators resulting in deadly violence and arrests by authoritarian governments.

Courageous men and women around the world are refusing to be silenced and willing to risk their lives for rights many of us take for granted.

What do Amnesty International members do? Through petitions, letters and protests, volunteers in Amnesty International branches worldwide demand action from the people and institutions that can make change happen. 

For our Champlain Valley Amnesty International group, this means contacting our state and federal representatives regarding Amnesty International causes, as well as monthly letters to leaders throughout the world advocating for the release of individuals who are victims of unlawful prison sentences.

The future of Amnesty International can be found in high schools such as Champlain Valley Union High School. CVU’s Amnesty International club has been active since the early 2000s. Each year, its students workin three areas of human rights advocacy. They design creative campaigns to educate the school community on current human rights concerns. They coordinate the annual December Write For Rights campaign, as well as an April Week of Student Action. 

A number of the students serve in the role of student area coordinators, networking with other high school students in the region. It is an inspiration that many of those student activists continue their work with Amnesty International during their college careers.

If you are interested in joining our Champlain Valley Amnesty International group, please contact us at champvalleyai@gmail.com. We meet once a month online, welcoming new volunteers who are committed to defending human rights of people around the world.

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