British lawyer Peter Benenson launches a worldwide campaign, “Appeal for Amnesty 1961”, with the publication of an article in the Observer newspaper. The article, “The Forgotten Prisoners”, is written after he learns of two Portuguese students who were imprisoned for raising a toast to freedom. Reprinted in newspapers across the world, his appeal marks the beginning of Amnesty International.
The first international meeting is held in July, with delegates from Belgium, the UK, France, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland and the USA. They decide to establish "a permanent international movement in defence of freedom of opinion and religion".
A small office and library, staffed by volunteers, opens in Peter Benenson’s chambers in Mitre Court, London. The “Threes Network” is established, through which each Amnesty International group adopts three prisoners from contrasting geographical and political areas, emphasizing the impartiality of the group's work.
On Human Rights Day, 10 December, the first Amnesty International candle – which would become the organization’s iconic symbol – is lit in the church of St-Martin-in-the-Fields, London.
In January, the first research trip is undertaken, to Ghana. This is followed by visits to Czechoslovakia (on behalf of prisoner of conscience Archbishop Josef Beran), Portugal and East Germany.
The Prisoner of Conscience Fund is established to provide relief to prisoners and their families.
Amnesty International’s first annual report gives details of activities so far: 210 prisoners of conscience have been adopted by 70 groups in seven countries; 1,200 cases are documented in the Prisoners of Conscience Library.
An observer is sent to attend the trial of Nelson Mandela.
Amnesty International groups are started in Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, and the USA. At a conference in Belgium, all the groups decide to set up a permanent organization that will be known as “Amnesty International”.
A new section is set up in Ireland.
Sean MacBride, Irish human rights advocate, is elected Chair of Amnesty International’s newly established International Executive Committee, the organization’s most senior governing body.
The International Council meeting takes place in Konigswinter, West Germany.
Amnesty International now comprises 350 groups. The two-year total includes 770 prisoners adopted and 140 released. The International Secretariat (the Amnesty International headquarters) is established in London. A Research Bureau, consisting of volunteers, is established to prepare background papers on political imprisonment in individual countries.
At an International Council meeting in Canterbury, UK, Amnesty International debates and rejects the proposal to recognize as prisoners of conscience people who use or advocate the use of force in opposing oppressive regimes. This means people like Nelson Mandela are not recognized as prisoners of conscience, although campaigns continue against the inhumane conditions of his imprisonment.
At the same meeting, Peter Benenson, who had been secretary to the International Executive Committee, is named President of Amnesty International. The first iconic Amnesty International candle design is unveiled.
A three-year total of 1,367 prisoners have been adopted and 329 released. There are now 360 Amnesty International groups in 14 countries. New sections are established in Denmark, Israel, Norway and Sweden.
The UN grants Amnesty International consultative status.
Amnesty International issues its first reports – on prison conditions in Portugal, South Africa and Romania – and sponsors a resolution at the UN to suspend and finally abolish the death penalty for peacetime political offences.
The monthly Postcards for Prisoners campaign starts.
Peter Benenson gives up his day-to-day involvement with Amnesty International and Eric Baker takes over the running of the organization.
There are now 1,500 prisoners adopted, and 1,000 released since Amnesty International was founded.
New sections are established in India and the USA.
There are 550 groups in 18 countries, and Amnesty International is working for nearly 2,000 prisoners in 63 countries – 293 prisoners have been released.
New sections are established in Finland and New Zealand. The International Secretariat moves to offices in Turnagain Lane, London.
The first Prisoner of Conscience Week is observed in November.
Martin Ennals is appointed Secretary General.
In January, UNESCO grants Amnesty International consultative status as the organization reaches another milestone – 2,000 prisoners of conscience released.
The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination is adopted.
There are now 850 groups in 27 countries; 520 prisoners are released during the year.
Amnesty International’s 10th anniversary receives widespread publicity in international press, radio and television, in a year when 700 prisoners are released.
Amnesty International launches its first worldwide campaign for the abolition of torture.
The first full Urgent Action is issued, on behalf of Professor Luiz Basilio Rossi, a Brazilian who was arrested for political reasons. Luiz himself believed that Amnesty International's appeals were crucial: "I knew that my case had become public, I knew they could no longer kill me. Then the pressure on me decreased and conditions improved."
The new regime in Chile agrees to allow a three-person Amnesty International visit for an on-the-spot probe into allegations of massive violations of human rights.
Amnesty International holds its World Conference for the Abolition of Torture in Paris. The conference produces a large number of recommendations and proposals for future action. The UN unanimously approves the Amnesty International-inspired resolution formally denouncing torture.
Amnesty International’s Sean McBride, Chair of the International Executive Committee, is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his lifelong work for human rights.
On the first anniversary of Chile's military coup, Amnesty International publishes a report exposing political oppression, executions and torture under the regime of President Augusto Pinochet.
Mumtaz Soysal of Turkey becomes the first former prisoner of conscience to be elected to the International Executive Committee.
The UN unanimously adopts a Declaration on Torture, as campaigned for by Amnesty International.
There are now 1,592 groups in 33 countries and more than 70,000 members in 65 countries.
The first Secret Policeman's Ball fundraising event in London features John Cleese and Monty Python, Peter Cook and other Beyond the Fringe comedians, Not the Nine o’Clock News, Fawlty Towers and The Goodies. The series continues in later years with musicians such as Peter Gabriel, Duran Duran, Mark Knopfler, Bob Geldolf, Eric Clapton and Phil Collins, paving the way for benefits such as Live Aid.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights enter into force. Together they are known as the International Bill of Rights.
Amnesty International is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for "having contributed to securing the ground for freedom, for justice, and thereby also for peace in the world".
This year’s major campaign is for prisoners of conscience. Joan Miró, Elisabeth Frink, Alexander Calder and Roland Torper are among the artists who create posters for the campaign.
Amnesty International wins the UN Human Rights Prize for "outstanding contributions in the field of human rights".
The mandate is widened to cover work against political killings. Amnesty International publishes a list of 2,665 cases of people known to have disappeared in Argentina after Jorge Videla’s military coup. This is the first time that Amnesty International has dealt with such a huge number of cases on one country.
The UN adopts the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
Thomas Hammarberg is appointed Secretary General.
A candle-lighting ceremony is held in London to mark Amnesty International’s 20th anniversary.
On 10 December, Human Rights Day, an appeal is launched for a universal amnesty for all prisoners of conscience. More than 1 million people sign petitions, which are presented to the UN a year later.
Amnesty International launches a special report on political killings by governments.
Amnesty International launches the second Campaign Against Torture, which includes a 12-point plan for its abolition.
Amnesty International publishes its first educational pack: Teaching and Learning about Human Rights.
The International Council meeting in Helsinki, Finland, decides to broaden Amnesty International’s Statute to include work for refugees.
There are now more than half a million members, supporters and subscribers.
Amnesty International marks its 25th anniversary with Voices for Freedom, an anthology reflecting the lives of people who fought for human rights and for whom the organization has worked.
Amnesty International USA launches the Conspiracy of Hope concert tour with U2, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Bryan Adams, Lou Reed, the Neville Brothers and others.
Ian Martin is appointed Secretary General.
Amnesty International publishes a report stating that the death penalty in the USA is racially biased, arbitrary and violates treaties such as the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment enters into force.
A worldwide concert tour begins in London to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As a direct result, Amnesty International membership rises in many countries. Artists include Bruce Springsteen, Tracy Chapman, Youssou N’dour and Sting. The tour visits 19 cities in 15 countries and is viewed by millions when broadcast on Human Rights Day.
A new section is established in Tunisia.
Amnesty International publishes When the State Kills, a major new study on the death penalty.
There are 700,000 members in 150 countries and more than 6,000 volunteer groups in 70 countries.
New sections are founded in Sierra Leone and Hungary.
On Amnesty International’s 30th anniversary it broadens its scope to cover work on abuses by armed groups, hostage-taking and people imprisoned for their sexual orientation.
After political change in eastern and central Europe, more than 40 Amnesty International groups are set up in every country of the region. New sections are founded in Argentina, Mauritius and the Philippines.
Membership passes the 1 million mark, with 6,000 local groups in over 70 countries.
Pierre Sané is appointed Secretary General.
The UN Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance is adopted.
A new section is established in Algeria.
Amnesty International activists demonstrate at the UN World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, and display Urgent Actions from around the world.
Vera Chirwa, Africa’s longest-serving prisoner of conscience, is released after more than 11 years in prison. Convicted of treason on fabricated charges, she was abducted from Zambia by Malawian agents in 1981. “Every day of freedom is like a miracle to me. If it had not been for Amnesty International, I would not be standing before you today,” she says.
Amnesty International launches major international campaigns on women's rights, disappearances and political killings.
A new section is established in Benin.
The Stop the Torture Trade campaign is launched.
Amnesty International campaigns for a permanent International Criminal Court, adopted by the UN General Assembly in July 1998.
Prescription for Change, a campaign on the role of health professionals in exposing human rights violations, is launched.
The human rights of refugees worldwide became a major focus of campaigning.
Amnesty International launches “Get Up, Sign Up!” to mark the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, collecting 13 million pledges in support of the Declaration.
The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court is adopted in July.
A concert is held in Paris on Human Rights Day featuring Radiohead, Asian Dub Foundation, Bruce Springsteen, Tracey Chapman, Alanis Morissette, Youssou N'Dour and Peter Gabriel, with special appearances by the Dalai Lama and international human rights activists.
The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders is adopted in March.
The International Council meeting agrees to expand Amnesty International’s remit to include: the impact of economic relations on human rights; empowering human rights defenders; campaigning against impunity; enhancing work to protect refugees; and strengthening grassroots activism.
The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women is adopted, meaning the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women can receive and consider complaints from individuals or groups.
The Stamp Out Torture campaign is launched globally. The site www.stoptorture.org takes Amnesty International’s campaigning into cyberspace, and wins The Revolution Awards 2001, for “best use of email”.
In its 40th anniversary year, Amnesty International changes its Statute to incorporate economic, social and cultural rights, thus committing itself to advance both the universality and indivisibility of all human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Amnesty International has covered more than 47,000 cases – only 2,000 are still open. Irene Khan is appointed Secretary General. The International Council meeting is held in Dakar, Senegal.
Amnesty International is granted access to Myanmar for the first time after years of requests, and to Sudan for the first time in 19 years.
The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict is adopted (the Convention on the Rights of the Child itself having been adopted in 1959).
The 60th ratification of the Rome Statute paves the way for the International Criminal Court to come into force on 1 July 2002.
Amnesty International, Oxfam and the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) launch the global Control Arms campaign.
Amnesty International is allowed to visit Iraq for the first time in 20 years.
The Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment is adopted.
Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award is established; the first one goes to Vaclav Havel.
The global Stop Violence Against Women campaign is launched.
Amnesty International is the world's largest independent human rights organization with over 2 million members and many more supporters worldwide. In the age of the “war on terror”, the campaign against torture has a specific aim, to “counter terror with justice”.
Amnesty International launches the Make Some Noise campaign – music, celebration and action in support of its work. Yoko Ono gives Amnesty International the recording rights to Imagine and John Lennon's entire solo songbook.
Peter Benenson, Amnesty International's founder, dies aged 83.
Amnesty International’s report, Partners in crime: Europe’s role in US renditions, details the involvement of European states in US flights used to secretly seize and imprison terror suspects without due process. Amnesty International launches an emergency campaign to highlight the situation in Sudan’s Darfur region, calling for a robust peacekeeping response from the UN.
The millionth person to post a picture of himself on the Control Arms Million Faces web petition calling for an Arms Trade Treaty presents the petition to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. A further quarter of a million people sign the petition before the year is out.
Amnesty International and its partners in the Control Arms campaign achieve a major victory when the UN votes overwhelmingly to start work towards an International Arms Trade Treaty.
The UN adopts the International Convention For The Protection Of All Persons From Enforced Disappearance.
Amnesty International launches a global petition calling on Sudan’s government to protect civilians in Darfur, and produces a CD, Make Some Noise: The Campaign to Save Darfur, featuring 30 internationally known musicians to mobilize support.
The UN adopts the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Following intense campaigning by Amnesty International and its partners in the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, the UN adopts the first-ever resolution calling for a global moratorium on the use of the death penalty.
Nelson Mandela accepts the Ambassador of Conscience Award and congratulates Amnesty International for making the struggle against poverty its focus for the coming years.
The Beijing Olympics campaign provides an opportunity to review China’s human rights record and assess China’s progress at the end of the year. The campaign includes specific requests to free Hu Jia, a prisoner of conscience and winner of European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize. It also calls for China to reduce the number of capital crimes and to publish the number of executions each year.
Amnesty International's global campaign for girls' education is launched on International Women's Day.
The Stop Violence Against Women campaign starts 16 days of activism across the world.
Amnesty International launches the Demand Dignity campaign, focusing on maternal mortality, slums, corporate accountability and making rights law. Campaign themes are based on the Millennium Development Goals of 2000, and show how far the targets are from completion.
As part of the Demand Dignity campaign, Amnesty International organizes a caravan across Sierra Leone with activists, musicians and a drama group to engage with local communities, including in rural areas, about the high level of maternal mortality in the country. The campaign takes hold in Sierra Leone and across the world, and leads to the government introducing policies for free maternal health care.
Prisoner of conscience Aung San Suu Kyi receives the Ambassadors of Conscience Award.
Amnesty International is now a global movement of more than 2.2 million people in over 150 countries.
In a landmark victory for Indigenous rights and corporate accountability, the Indian government rejects plans by multinational corporation Vedanta to mine bauxite in the Niyamgiri Hills, eastern India. The decision follows years of campaigning by the Dongria Kondh and other Indigenous communities who described the proposed mining project as a threat to their very existence. Amnesty International’s damning report, Don’t mine us out of existence, forms the basis for this decision.
Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s best-known prisoner of conscience, is released from house arrest in November.
Salil Shetty is appointed Secretary General.
There are now more than 3 million members in over 150 countries.
Amnesty International launches its 50th anniversary celebrations with a toast to freedom, recalling the defining moment of its inception. Global actions run throughout the year focusing on the death penalty, freedom of expression, reproductive rights, international justice and stopping corporate abuse.