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article imageDon Wright of Amnesty International on Write for Rights Day Special

By Gibril Koroma     Dec 2, 2010 in World
Vancouver - December 10 is Human Rights Day, and one of the ways that Amnesty International, the global human rights organization, celebrates it is by what they call Write for Rights, asking members to write letters on human rights issues.
I recently interviewed with Don Wright of the Vancouver branch of Amnesty International on Write for Rights Day. Here is how it went:
Gibril Koroma: Please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us what motivated you to work with AI.
Don Wright: My name is Don Wright and I have been a staff person with Amnesty International Canada for nine years, based at the Vancouver office. I work with our members and groups, the general public, and the media throughout BC, Yukon, and Alberta. My main focus is on engaging the public on human rights, helping people learn about human rights issues and be ready to take action to protect human rights around the world.
GK: AI is having Write for Rights Day on December 10. What's the history behind this initiative?
DW: Amnesty International members and the public have always written letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience and other campaign issues, and December 10 was long ago declared Human Rights Day – a day to celebrate the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the document that is at the core of our understanding of human rights around the world. Eight years ago our members in Poland thought it would be a great idea to combine our tradition of letter-writing with Human Rights Day, and thus Write for Rights was created. Members in Canada and elsewhere liked the approach and now people in more than 50 countries get together to write letters to promote and protect human rights.
GK: I assume AI has been having Write for Rights Day for a couple of years now. Did it have any impact or results? Was any one freed because of Write for Rights Day?
DW: Our letter-writing has had a tremendous impact on a great number of individuals and groups of people whose rights were being violated. Sometimes the result is that people are released from prison who should not have been in prison in the first place, sometimes prisoners gain greater access to medical attention, legal help, or family. Sometimes we’re seeking legislative change or calling on governments to fulfil their obligations under international law on a wide range of issues.
You will find some “good news stories” here: amnesty.ca
GK: Has the human rights situation around the world improved or gotten worse? What do you think are the underlying causes of human rights abuses?
DW: The trend varies from country to country – we certainly see both improvements and erosion around the world. One of the things we’re paying more attention to right now, as part of the global effort to end poverty, is to reveal the human rights violations that drive people into poverty and keep them there. Our Demand Dignity campaign is designed to push governments to take appropriate action on Indigenous rights, the right to health and the right to shelter, and to hold corporations accountable when they are implicated in the violation of human rights.
GK: AI in Vancouver recently held a film festival. Could you tell us a bit about it?
DW: It was our 15th annual human rights film festival, and after losing attendance last year because of the H1N1 flu alert, our attendance is on the way back up. We were really pleased with the public response to many of the films, and to the art exhibition we had in the theatre lobby. Every year we ask the audience to rate the films, and the winning film was Pray the Devil Back to Hell, an inspiring film about the role women played in bringing an end to conflict and building peace in Liberia. Another film set in Africa, Kamenge-Northern Quarters, tied for second place with a film from India.
GK: What other activities do you have in the pipeline for this year and next year?
We have an annual program of events that includes marking a number of international days that celebrate women’s rights, refugee rights, and Indigenous rights – so while we spend a great deal of time addressing human rights violations, it is also important to take time to celebrate the progress that has been made over the years. We are always interested in hearing from people who are interested in getting involved.
GK: Thank you, Don.
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