United in human rights justice
Written on the 4 December 2013
Amnesty International Australia national director Claire Mallinson visited Brisbane to launch a new network in the state and to attend Beyond the Brief – which brought together like-minded legal professionals from around Australia and across the world.
For more than 50 years the name Amnesty International has been synonymous with the human rights movement. We work to protect and defend human rights for everyone regardless of race, religion, sex, gender or creed.
It is with Peter’s story in mind that I was in Queensland for a first of its kind event to unite legal professionals who feel as strongly about human rights as the organisation he founded.
Peter began the movement after reading a newspaper article about two Portuguese students who were sentenced to seven years in prison for raising their glasses in a toast to freedom.
He was so shocked by the case he wrote to the editor of The Observer newspaper, asking people to write letters showing their support for the students.
This story resonated with readers of the paper and the article reappeared in papers across the world. The success of this one simple action led Peter to decide to co-ordinate more letter-writing campaigns.
And so, Amnesty International was founded in London in July 1961 at a meeting between Peter Benenson and six other men, from across the political spectrum.
Within a year groups of letter-writers had formed in more than a dozen countries.
Amnesty International has now grown to become the world’s largest human rights organisation with well over 4.5 million people campaigning to protect human rights and more than 300,000 members in Australia alone.
With Australia currently having a place at the world’s most influential peak body, the United Nations Security Council, now is a critical time to make our voices heard and ensure human rights are respected and emphasised.
During October I met with some of Queensland’s top legal professionals, from organisations including the International Commission of Jurists, the Lawyers Information Network Inc and Australian Lawyers for Australian Human Rights.
We are currently extraordinarily lucky to have the support of several top Australian law firms providing us with pro-bono legal assistance.
DLA Piper for example generously commits a secondee in the form of a junior lawyer to work from the Sydney office for six months full-time, twice a year.
We have legal networks comprised of law students and practitioners in some states. In the last few years we have had several interns from a German law school in Hamburg, Sydney University Law School and UNSW Law School working at Amnesty International providing legal support.
Recent successes that our supporters, local groups and legal networks have achieved include the release of Iranian lawyer Nasrin Soutodeh, who was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of ‘spreading propaganda against the system’ and ‘acting against national security’.