Who We Are
An Introduction to Amnesty International SA

Amnesty International South Africa, affectionately known as AISA, is the South Africa office of Amnesty International, the global movement of members, activists and supporters working together to fight and end injustices across the world and promote the realisation of human rights. Amnesty is independent from all governments and is neutral in relation to political groups and ideologies and is also not aligned with any religion.

AISA has its offices in Johannesburg with members, supporters and activists across the country. We campaign to end human rights violations in South Africa and globally, fight injustices, end discrimination and promote realisation of human rights for all as enshrined in the Universal Declaration for Human Rights 1948.

History of
Amnesty International SA

O

n May 28th, 1961 a London lawyer Peter Benenson read about a group of students in Portugal who were arrested and jailed for raising a toast to “freedom” in a public restaurant. This incident prompted him to launch a one year campaign called “Appeal for Amnesty 1961” in the London Observer, a local newspaper.

The “Appeal for Amnesty” called for the release of all people imprisoned because of peaceful expression of their beliefs, politics, race, religion, colour or national origin. Benenson called these people “prisoners of conscience”.

Benenson’s plan was to encourage people to write letters to government officials in countries which have prisoners of conscience, calling for their release. The campaign grew enormously, spread to other countries and by the end of 1961 the organisation, Amnesty International had been formed

Amnesty was founded on the principle that people have fundamental rights that transcend national, cultural, religious, and ideological boundaries. It worked to obtain prompt and fair trials for all prisoners, to end torture and executions and to secure the release of prisoners of conscience.

Amnesty International defines prisoners of conscience as people who are imprisoned, solely because of their political or religious beliefs, gender, or their racial or ethnic origin, who have neither used nor advocated violence. Amnesty International’s Mandate was based on the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and began work immediately on writing letters for prisoners of conscience.

Amnesty International
Can make a difference.

So what does this all mean? This means that I have the right to my personal, political, religious and basically any other type of opinion that I may desire without fear of retribution by governments or any other person in authority over me at any time. I have the right to my opinion without fearing detention, torture or any other imposition upon me and as long as it does not violate the human rights of others.

Sometimes our solidarity simply keeps hope alive. Hope is a precious weapon for prisoners of conscience battling to survive, relatives trying to obtain justice or human rights defenders bravely continuing their work despite danger and isolation.

As an office we are concerned with abuses of human rights internationally as well as in South Africa.

Amnesty International South Africa (AISA) runs a human rights education programme to promote understanding and respect for human rights. We also work with young people, marginalized groups, professional associations and community based organizations on how to use human rights education as a tool for empowerment and active participation.  

AI has helped to end cruelty and abuses of human rights.

Amnesty International SA
Programmes and Campaigns include:

ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS (ESCR)

People living in poverty are often denied their economic, social and cultural rights such as the rights to an adequate standard of living, food, water, sanitation, housing, health and education.  South Africa ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in January 2015. Our work under this programme focuses on ensuring the realisation of ESCR rights for all in South Africa whilst holding the government and other relevant actors (ie, business) accountable.

The work under this programme involves tracking, monitoring and evaluating how the South African government is performing in meeting its rights obligations. On social accountability, the work looks at the effectiveness of   frameworks for participation, transparency and accountability for how the government proactively discloses critical information on its ESCR programmes. To invoke citizen agency, AISA enhances the capacity of activists to hold government accountable at various levels by giving them tools to monitor and track the implementation of ESCR programmes.

DISCRIMINATION AND EQUALITY

Our work under this Programme focuses on the protection and promotion of the human rights of marginalised groups and persons including, asylum seekers, refugees, migrants and members of LGBTI community. Xenophobia is a constant threat facing many asylum seekers, refugees on a daily basis. Our work under this Programme focuses on addressing violence and discrimination targeting these groups including the introduction of Hate Crimes legislation and lobbying for other protective policy and/or legislative frameworks.

AISA promotes freedom of expression and ending discrimination and persecution of people based on their sexual orientation. Amnesty International also advocates and campaigns for equality, justice and full realization of the LGBTI constitutional rights and dignity through work with the Hate Crimes Working Group (HCWG). Our work also includes taking part in joint campaigns with civil society and activists in the sector.

HUMAN RIGHTS AND ACCOUNTABILITY

This Programme aims to ensure that South Africa realises its Constitutional obligations not only domestically but also in how it conducts itself in world affairs. The work focuses on South Africa’s implementation of its Foreign Policy within a human rights framework. This we do by continuously monitoring and engaging with the South African government’s role in the UN, BRICS, G20, AU, SADC and others.

The programme also works with, monitors, engages and holds Chapter 9 institutions accountable for their constitutional mandate. The strengthening of the criminal justice system is also a key thrust of our programmatic intervention to ensure that the rights of those who find themselves on the wrong side of the law are respected and upheld by state parties. In 2016, the programme will further explore work in the corporate accountability area along the lines of the United Nations Guidelines on the Human Rights Responsibilities of Business especially in the mining sector.

PARLIAMENTARY ENGAGEMENT

The main focus of this area of work is on tracking and monitoring legislative and policy developments in various spheres. Our work includes engaging with Parliamentary Portfolio Committees, Provincial legislatures, local municipalities on policies and legislation to ensure compliance with human rights standards and Constitutional provisions.

MEMBERSHIP AND GROWTH

This is the core of our movement. Without the work and support of our members, activists and supporters, Amnesty International South South Africa and globally would not be effective. Members are the ones who take action, from identifying human rights abuses in their localities, bringing these to the attention of authorities and AISA seeking to ensure that justice is served for those whose rights have been violated.

Our members, supporters and activists ensure that Amnesty International remains a truly independent organisation by contributing to our operations and thus making sure that we do not seek funding from sources that might compromise our independence. It is for this reason that we call on you to JOIN Amnesty International South Africa, and TAKE INJUSTICE PERSONALLY!

INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY and URGENT ACTIONS

Amnesty International South Africa campaigns for Human rights issues happening around the globe. International Solidarity campaigns are as important as local campaigns, as violation of human rights anywhere is violation of human rights everywhere. Our programme is geared towards strengthening South Africa’s role towards effective implementation of global and regional mechanisms.

Towards this end, we seek to contribute towards a progressive international justice agenda by engaging the South African government its engagements with the International Criminal Court (ICC) and other international justice work. We also work to support Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) fleeing into South Africa and those from South Africa.

YOUTH & WOMEN

All our programmes and campaigns take into consideration youth and women’s rights as a cross-cutting issue. Amnesty International South Africa seeks to increase active participation by women so that they can exercise their right to equality. The campaign also seeks to gain greater accountability from the government in addressing discrimination, ensuring equality and delivery of health services. The main focus is on discrimination and ESCR of women.

In particular, issues related to violence against women and young girls, economic opportunities for women.

Our ability to make the changes we want in the world depend on our ability to engage and mobilise millions of people around the world to support our work.

Amnesty believes in justice and humanity for all and advocates for this all over the world.

How we do all this work

Through Human Rights Education raising awareness on human rights; through building the capacity of members, partners and activists; engaging the media; advocacy and lobbying and campaigning. Join us to learn more. Practically we: Develop and sign petitions, write letters to push pressure on governments to act; we protest; we ……..