Sunny South News
Every December, Amnesty International’s Write for Rights campaign takes place in communities around the world and harnesses the collective power of the written word. The event coincides with International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10 and is aimed to utilize letter-writing as a means to influence governing bodies and draw attention to individuals and groups which have been subjected to human rights violations. 2021’s letter-writing campaign will highlight 10 cases of human rights abuses, although it is not required that participants write on every proposed issue.
The annual write-a-thon typically takes place in-person in Lethbridge, but the event serves the surrounding areas as well. Amy Mack, board member for Lethbridge’s chapter of Amnesty International since 2011, said the group serves the greater area of southern Alberta and that the second closest chapter is Calgary.
Amnesty was founded in 1961, and the letter-writing marathon has been operating yearly since its inception in 2001. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the collective global effort. Amnesty is an independent organization, meaning the organization is not affiliated with any political ideology, economic interest, or religion. Their website states, “no government is beyond scrutiny.” Through applying pressure to governments or powerful organizations, the annual write for rights campaign has collected millions of letters to date. Canadian campaign participants produced more than 75,000 letters and messages of solidarity in 2020 alone.
In addition to letters, messages of solidarity are often deeply impactful to people suffering in unlawful detainment.
“You’re not just writing to government officials in Canada and abroad. You’re also sending letters directly to prisoners and that can have a really big impact on somebody’s mental health to be receiving, thousands of letters from people over the world, knowing that they’re not alone and that they haven’t been forgotten,” explained Mack.
Mack also spoke to the common misconception that human rights violations are distinctly “other country’s” issues, and said some of the most memorable campaigns have been issues affecting Canadians.
“Letter writing, especially when done collectively, creates awareness within communities. It’s not even just the idea that we want to help somebody get out of prison, or to affect change in our own country but it’s also about creating awareness, amongst Canadians, amongst people in southern Alberta about the sorts of things that are happening around the world and within Canada itself,” she said.
Although the letter-writing event typically happens in communal public spaces, COVID-19 has limited that component of being able to meet in person.
“The approach of using Zoom also increases the capacity for folks outside of Lethbridge to join in. Especially if the roads are less than spectacular. You might not want to make the drive from Picture Butte or Stirling,” Mack said.
To ensure the virtual event retains some of the key staples of the in-person event, Mack said the virtual event will feature live-streaming musicians, and participants who sign up for the write for rights package for the Lethbridge chapter will be offered coupons to the Owl to carry on some of the traditions of the in-person event.
Although some critics have claimed that the letter-writing efforts are ineffectual, Mack said, “I don’t think people would continue to do it if there wasn’t any sort of demonstrated capacity for it to be effective.”
Through the letter-writing campaign alone, the collective effort of activism has helped free over 100 people from confinement, imprisonment, and torture across the globe. Some recent notable successes of the campaign include financial retribution for the arbitrary detainment of Jose Adrian, a 14-year-old from Mexico who was beaten and mistreated by police in 2019. In 2020, Algerian journalist Khaled Drareni was jailed for his coverage of national protests. Within months after the 2020 write for rights campaign, Amnesty International reported that Drareni had been conditionally released from prison.
For more notable examples of the impact of the letter-writing campaign, visit Amnesty.ca, and for more information on the letter-writing event or to register please visit http://writeathon.ca/sign-up