Human Rights

The wrong people in prison

All over the world, people's human rights are being abused. Every year, Amnesty International takes up cases in about 100 different countries. These figures are for 1994.


Tens of thousands of prisoners of conscience are held throughout the world because of their political or religious beliefs or because of their race or sex. More than 100,000 political prisoners are being held without charge or trial throughout the world.

Unfair Trials

Thousands of political prisoners are imprisoned after unfair trials.


Torture, including rape and ill-treatment, of 4,000 known prisoners took place in 112 countries in 1994. The real figure must be much higher.

Extra-judicial executions

In 61 countries people were victims of extra-judicial execution by government forces in 1994.

Death Penalty


Almost 700 people "disappeared" in 27 countries.

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All too often, people imprisoned for expressing their views are tortured by their captors. Barbarous acts of torture are carried out each day, all over the world. Many of these acts of torture are carried out on the genitals of prisoners, which is not only excruciatingly painful, but also humiliating and likely to cause permanent physical damage to the bodies of those tortured.

When the people being tortured, or illegally imprisoned and mistreated, hold ideas which we find abhorrent, it is very tempting to say to ourselves that they deserve what they get. But the simple truth is that we cannot combat ideas which we consider dangerous by mistreating those who advocate them. The growing influence of such ideas can only be combatted by winning over those likely to support such ideas to different beliefs.

That is why I have no hesitation in supporting Amnesty International, even though we sometimes take up the cases of people whose ideas I totally reject and who, if in power in the country where I live, would probably have me murdered. These people have to be opposed, but suppressing human rights is not the way to do it.

All torturers belong behind bars. Their trade is the most obscene and denigrating of any on earth. The fight to bring these brutal enemies of humanity to justice is one that we should all take up. Far too many people have suffered indescribable pain and humiliation at the hands of these monsters. Far too many governments in America and Europe have turned a blind eye to those countries where torture is practised and even sanctioned by those in power.

Only when torturers are put on trial and punished for their crimes will members of the security forces think twice before using torture on prisoners.

The World Organisation Against Torture is a network of over 200 organisations worldwide which campaign against the torture and mistreatment of prisoners and their site gives details of specific cases that you can do something about.

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Capital punishment

Although there is no sustainable evidence that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murderers, many countries continue to execute prisoners.

China probably executes more people than any other country in the world, often immediately after a trial lasting only an hour or two. By the beginning of December, over 2000 criminals had been executed in China in 1996.

Saudi Arabia executes people for a wide range of crimes by chopping off their heads. In the first ten months of 1996 50 people were executed in this way, the large majority of them foreigners.

In the United States of America thousands of men wait on death row. Many are sent to their deaths after spending decades imprisoned in grim conditions on death row. Black men are far more likely to be executed than white men. The US also uses barbaric means of execution, including the electric chair and the gas chamber, but anyone who saw the film "Dead Man Walking" will have realised that even the "humane" method of lethal injection is carried out under conditions that make the whole procedure barbaric. Worse still, the fate of prisoners on death row can depend on the political fortunes of local politicians who will sometimes refuse to intervene and stop an execution if they think it will improve their chances of re-election by making them appear "tough on crime".

In Britain, about a dozen Irish people, convicted in three separate trials, had their life sentences for terrorist crimes overturned in the early 90s, after the evidence was found to be unsafe. If the death penalty had existed in Britain, all these people would have been executed. There is always a danger that innocent people will be executed where the death penalty exists.

Amnesty International calls for the abolition of the death penalty by every country in the world and campaigns actively to save the lives of prisoners facing execution.

Amnesty International on-line

Amnesty International is the best known of the many human rights organisations which campaign ceaselessly to protect the human rights of people in every part of the world, regardless of political or religious allegiance. (Click on the AI logo to visit their site). But it is one of many. In America, the Derechos organisation also takes up human rights issues. Why not visit their excellent site?

Urgent Action

When a prisoner is in immediate danger of execution or torture or a case is considered an emergency for some other reason, then the Urgent Action Network gets moving. Amnesty International has its own Urgent Action network which is only open to members of Amnesty. Derechos also runs an Urgent Action network which is open to anyone who wishes to receive its appeals by email. Subscribe at the Derechos site.

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