In 1961 The Forgotten Prisoners, an article by British lawyer Peter Benenson, was published in the UK’s Observer newspaper. In it, 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, the author 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.
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.
“If these feelings of disgust all over the world could be united into common action, something effective could be done,” Peter Benenson wrote.
In July 1961 at the first international meeting, delegates decided to establish “a permanent international movement in defence 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 4.6 million people in more than 150 countries and territories.
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.
Many serious problems still persist. But we know that our movement can change this. We know where the tipping points are and we know the power of mobilising our supporters around the world.
Our history in video