U2's Bono Celebrates Amnesty International's 50th Birthday With Crowd of 50,000

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Amnesty InternationalU2 frontman Bono alerted a crowd of 50,000 at Winnipeg’s Canada Inn Stadium on Sunday evening, May 29, that “tonight is Amnesty International’s 50th birthday.” The date is slightly off, but the human rights organization was founded in London, England 50 years ago, following an article written by lawyer Peter Benenson in The Observer newspaper May 28, 1961, captioned The Forgotten Prisoners.

Holding a pint of Guinness beer, Bono said, “Fifty year’s ago Amnesty was formed because two Portuguese students were imprisoned for seven years for toasting to freedom. So in their honour, we will toast to freedom and might you join us singing happy birthday to Amnesty International,” which the crowd did. “A toast to freedom,” he said again.

“Hang on, we’ve got another special message which was unbelievable, even a year ago,” Bono added.

Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi then appeared on the cylindrical screen above the stage, with a pre-recorded video message that is now part of U2's 360 Tour for 2011: “After many years, I am finally able to speak to you. You who have crossed such distances, have sent such support to Burma, we thank you. You are students, teachers, workers, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers.  You are music fans, U2 fans like me,” she smiles.

“When you raise your voices, we hear it in our country and around the world; they are louder than any rock band, than any army, than any rocket fire or fighter jet.  Your voices are the future — the voices of reason, equality and justice.

“We are not bystanders in our own history. Every one of us writes a story that is told. I see it through your support for Burma, for Amnesty International, Green Peace, for the One campaign, where basic human rights are denied or basic human needs are not met. The struggle may be hard; it may take time, but if we demand it, change will come.

“This year,  the planet will host 7 billion people, but to bring about change, it starts with just one person — one.”

According to the 50 year timeline on Amnesty International’s web site, British lawyer Peter Benenson wrote The Forgotten Prisoners after reading about the imprisonment of these Portuguese students. “This article proved to be the genesis of Amnesty International. The appeal was reprinted in newspapers across the world,” it states.

The first international meeting was held on July 1, 1961, with delegates from Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland and UK to establish “a permanent international movement in defence of freedom of opinion and religion.”

To emphasize impartiality, each Amnesty International group adopts three prisoners from contrasting geographical and political areas (known as “Threes Network”). The first Amnesty International groups are founded in the UK, West Germany, Holland, France, Italy and Switzerland.

A permanent organization is formed in July 1, 1962.  A Prisoner of Conscience Fund is established to provide relief to prisoners and their families.

Also on Amnesty’s timeline, it states that the first Annual Report 1961/62 details 210 prisoners have been adopted by 70 groups in seven countries and 1,200 cases have been documented in Prisoners of Conscience Library.

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.”

This was all before Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison (in 1964) and and Martin Luther King received the Nobel Peace Prize.

To read the organizations entire time line and peruse more of the site, go to http://www.amnesty.org/en/50/timeline

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