How we started
The story of Amnesty International began back In 1961 when two Portuguese students were jailed just for raising a toast to freedom. In response, a British lawyer named Peter Benenson penned the article The Forgotten Prisoners, for the UK’s Observer newspaper.
In the article Benenson described his disgust at the global trend of people being imprisoned, tortured or executed because their political views or religious orientation were unacceptable to their governments.
At the time, he recognised, there were “several million such people in prison… and their numbers are growing.”
Benenson had an idea about how this problem could be solved. In doing so, he gave life to the vision of collective action that defines Amnesty International’s work today.
“Open your newspaper any day of the week and you will find a report from somewhere in the world of someone being imprisoned, tortured or executed because his opinions or religion are unacceptable to his government.”Peter Benenson, founder of Amnesty International
Appeal for Amnesty
Peter Benenson launched the “Appeal for Amnesty 1961”, to collect, publish and distribute information about prisoners of conscience around the world. This appeal was reprinted in newspapers globally.
In July 1961 at the first international meeting, delegates decided to establish “a permanent international movement in defense of freedom of opinion and religion”.
On 10 December, World Human Rights Day, the first Amnesty candle was lit in the church of St-Martin-in-the-Fields, London.
Where we are today
Since The Forgotten Prisoners, we have grown from a single office in Peter Benenson’s London lawyer’s chambers, to a global human rights movement of over seven million people in more than 150 countries and territories.
Amnesty has grown from seeking the release of political prisoners to upholding all human rights. Our work protects and empowers people – from abolishing the death penalty to protecting sexual and reproductive rights, and from combating discrimination to defending refugees and migrants’ rights. We speak out for anyone and everyone whose freedom and dignity are under threat. We’ve achieved countless successes, from seeing thousands of prisoners of conscience released, to pushing powerful governments and corporations to account for violations of human rights.