Fellows robes

Amnesty International

Presented by: Professor Frank Sanderson

Honorable Pro-Chancellor, I have pleasure in presenting Amnesty International for the Corporate Award of Liverpool John Moores University.  

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. The newspaper reader feels a sickening sense of impotence. Yet if these feelings of disgust all over the world could be united into common action, something effective could be done.

These words appeared in The Forgotten Prisoners, an article published in The Observer in 1961, and were written by London lawyer Peter Benenson. His call for an international campaign to protest against the imprisonment of people for their political or religious beliefs had an immediate impact with more than a 1000 readers offering support and practical help. The article was reprinted in newspapers around the world and within a short time, an impartial, independent, democratic, self-governing and international movement had been established in defence of freedom of opinion and religion.  

Nearly 50 years on, Amnesty International is the world's largest human rights organisation with well over 2 million supporters in every part of the world, each calling for universal respect and protection of human rights and each inspired by hope for a better world.  

The Vision of Amnesty International is of a world in which every person enjoys all the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments. 

Their Mission is to "conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated." 

Amnesty has become adept at campaigning, mobilising its members to exert influence and pressure on governments, political parties and agencies, companies, intergovernmental groups and the mass media. Activists bring pressure to bear wherever in the world there is the need through mass demonstrations, vigils, and direct lobbying of various kinds. 

Originally focused on prisoners of conscience, Amnesty now also takes action on a much wider front, for example:  To stop violence against women - who suffer disproportionately from violence from the state, the community and the family. To defend the rights and dignity of those trapped in poverty, to abolish the death penalty, to oppose torture and combat terror with justice - they point out that fighting terrorism has led to an erosion of many human rights, to protect the rights of refugees and migrants and to regulate the global arms trade.

The impact Amnesty International makes and the world-wide support it enjoys is founded on its uncompromising independence and impartiality: We do not support or oppose any government or political system and neither do we necessarily support or oppose the views of the victims/survivors or human rights defenders whose rights we seek to protect.  

Here are some of the many achievements Amnesty International has celebrated since its inception; 

Some of you here today - perhaps not many of the graduands - will well remember the first Secret Policeman's Ball fundraising event in 1976 in London featuring John Cleese and Monty Python, Peter Cook and other Beyond the Fringe comedians. 

Further fundraising events paved the way for benefits such as Live Aid. 

In 1989, When the State Kills, a major study on the death penalty, was published. 

More recently, following intense campaigning by Amnesty and its partners, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for a global moratorium on executions. 

In 2005, in the context of the War on Terror, they caused discomfort to Western governments by detailing the involvement of European states in US rendition flights. 

And in 2007, they launched a global petition calling on Sudan's government to protect civilians in Darfur.  

For its highly effective campaigns and its profound impact on human rights, Amnesty has won many accolades, including in 1977, the Nobel Peace Prize for "having contributed to securing the ground for freedom, for justice, and thereby also for peace in the world".   

Now in the 21st Century, the fight goes on. The goal remains elusive but we can be sure that without the ceaseless campaigning by Amnesty International for almost half a century, the world would be an even more dangerous place and the oppressed and disadvantaged would be infinitely more numerous. 

Amnesty International does indeed demonstrate the power of ordinary people to make extraordinary change, and we are pleased to be associated with their values and their hope for a better world.

It is thus with great pleasure that we invite Kate Allen, the Director of Amnesty International UK, to receive on behalf of Amnesty International the Corporate Award from Liverpool John Moores University.