While the history of Amnesty International in Iceland is a modest one, what they’ve been able to accomplish in this short time is nothing short of remarkable. Formally established on September 15, 1974 at the Nordic House, the initial membership – brought together through the efforts of Sigrún Sigurjónsdóttir – numbered a scant ninety-five. Since then, membership has multiplied and they’ve employed their tried-and-true methods to free many political prisoners, including a man held in Syria for fifteen years before the government finally agreed to release him.
Since 9/11, Amnesty International has been very busy trying to ensure that human rights are not sacrificed in the name of security, putting particular focus on the prisoners being held in Guantánamo Bay, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan. Their tactics are simple: the release of one major report every year, several smaller reports throughout the year, and the well known letter-writing campaign. By sending personal and diplomatically-worded letters from all over the world to authorities detaining prisoners of conscience, they convey the clear message, “We know what you’re doing and we want you to stop.” Surprisingly, even ruthless dictators are concerned about public relations, and Amnesty International’s efforts have generally been successful.
Amnesty International also employs what’s known as an “own country rule”; for reasons of safety and objectivity, a division of Amnesty International cannot act in the country to which it belongs. Although there are exceptions to this rule – such as in the United States, where members there can urge their own government to end capital punishment – Iceland has never appeared in an Amnesty International report, so it remains solidly focused on the world around it and its numbers are growing. There is no typical Amnesty International volunteer; they represent many different races, religions and political points of view – but they all share a deep concern for human rights.
This summer, you might notice young people walking the streets in Amnesty International t-shirts. These are members of Amnesty International who are part of a new “fact-to-face” method, wherein they will personally encourage people to take part in Amnesty International. For you musicians out there who are concerned about human rights, Amnesty International is planning on holding a 30th anniversary concert in mid-September. All interested bands should get in touch with them now, as bookings are filling up quickly.
Anyone interested in learning more about Amnesty International can visit either www.amnesty.org or www.amnesty.is