Thursday, January 6, 2011: 3:20 PM
Room 312 (Hynes Convention Center)
The beginnings of what would become a significant non-governmental movement for human rights emerged in the early 1960s and directed American attention to human rights abuses in foreign countries. This paper will examine how Amnesty International, which was established in 1961 and became one of the most prominent groups to advance the cause of human rights, exerted pressure on individual countries to change their human rights practices. Amnesty International’s model of activism utilized letter-writing campaigns to secure the release of political prisoners. Amnesty members also wrote to the prisoners directly and to their families, offering support to those relatives. In addition, Amnesty International undertook fact-finding missions and reported on allegations of human rights abuses, in particular on Greek political repression in the late 1960s. Amnesty International quickly became an international movement, establishing chapters in Switzerland, Italy, and France, among other countries; Amnesty International USA was formed in 1962.
As part of the panel’s emphasis on examining the influence of nongovernmental organizations and nonstate actors on international relations, this paper will analyze how Amnesty’s international presence and vocal advocacy of the plight of political prisoners helped insert discussion of human rights into debates over United States foreign policy. It will address both the role of Amnesty International as well as its American section, Amnesty International USA. The American section initially struggled to develop effective advocacy, attract supporters, and positively manage its relationship with Amnesty International’s headquarters in London. Later, however, the group’s advocacy on behalf of political prisoners shaped United States human rights policy. This paper will utilize the records of Amnesty International USA, Amnesty International's International Secretariat, and the Lyndon B. Johnson Library.