Amnesty’s stand against torture

Katherine Mycock

Are we really as aware of humanitarian issues and the organisations that challenge them as we like to think? No? Then this is where I, and this article come in. Every month I will discuss one organisation and their role in tackling a certain issue- this week I will focus on Amnesty International’s ‘Stand Up to Stop Torture’ Campaign.

So what is torture? Amnesty define torture to be anything from electric shocks, beatings, rape and humiliation to sleep deprivations, long hours in contorted positions and mock executions. Basically the stuff of nightmares! But every day and in every region of the world, these nightmares are the reality that men, women and children have to face.  In fact, Amnesty claimed in February 2015 that over the last five years they have reported torture and other forms of ill treatment in at least 141 countries worldwide. With such a large scale problem, it is logical to ask whether the actions of Amnesty International actually make any difference.

I say yes! And I am not the only one.  Hope de Rooy, Vice President of FXU’s Amnesty International Society, also agrees. In a recent interview Hope explained how Amnesty stands out in the stand against torture: Amnesty are a “advocacy group who try and change the power structure, the laws and way people think”. Hope went on to say that Amnesty stands out from the sea of other human rights organisations as they are “transparent, and you know where your money goes”. In this way Amnesty doesn’t just focus on the short term, but enables effective and long term changes.

But you don’t have to take my word for it; Amnesty’s success can speak for itself.  For the last 50 years Amnesty have seen great international achievements both with individual cases and systematic changes.  For example, Amnesty state on their website that “we campaigned in support of the Convention Against Torture which was adopted by the United Nations in 1984 and has now been signed by 155 countries (81% of UN member states)”.  Alongside their stop torture campaign, Amnesty International have helped free tens of thousands of Prisoners of Conscience around the world, have campaigned to get the United Nations General Assembly to adopt the Landmark Arms Trade Treaty and commendably enabled the reintroduction of the International Violence Against Women Act in congress.

“Amnesty doesn’t just focus on the short term, but enables effective and long term changes”

That said, it is not all favourable news. Amnesty International themselves admit that “three decades after we thought we turned the tide on torture, the practice is flourishing as more governments seek to justify it in the name of national security”. So despite copious successes the secretive nature of torture means the actual number of countries that torture is practised in, is most likely higher than the 141 evidenced by Amnesty.  But, as Hope aptly put it Amnesty International faces restrictions, as does everyone else in this area! Even from within the UK there is no guarantee that our government will prioritise this issue, and aid Amnesty International and others in this fight.  This then begs the question: how can we expect so much from organisations such as Amnesty when our governments fail to provide adequate commitment to strategies such as the Torture Prevention Strategy?

The answer is we can’t. So despite this pessimistic outlook I believe Amnesty International are constantly working to change policies one by one, relentlessly freeing individuals one by one and ultimately changing lives one by one. But, they cannot do it on their own. It takes involvement of groups such as FXU’s Amnesty International to really push for change- with the ample resources and support provided by Amnesty we can all enact change and promote equal human rights for all. For those, like me, who want to bring awareness to such issues: get up and get out of your comfort zone. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “be the change you wish to see in the world”.