It will include a public access area, space for exhibitions, and showcases for other human rights groups.
"The centre will be the first of its kind," said David Bull, Amnesty's UK director. "We need a building that can act as a focus for human rights awareness, where we can educate the public about human rights."
Plans for the centre coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and come at a time when the legal battle over the extradition of General Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator, has put the issue high on the political agenda. Genocide and torture in Rwanda and "ethnic cleansing" in the former Yugoslavia have also prompted calls for action against those who perpetrate breaches of human rights.
Visitors would be able to use the centre to contact governments and convey their views or concerns. Such "letter-writing" campaigns form a vital part of Amnesty's lobbying of totalitarian regimes and governments it accuses of imprisoning political opponents, torture, and detention without trial. With computer technology, Amnesty hopes the centre will enable such campaigns to be easier and for concerns to be passed on more swiftly. "This will be a place where visitors can send an e-mail to any government and express their views on human rights violations," said Mr Bull. Amnesty aims to open the centre by the summer of 2000 and is seeking a new office to house both it and a new HQ for the charity's 100 staff. The sale of one of Amnesty's current offices will help to fund the purchase of the new building - put at pounds 5m - while the lease on its second office in London expires in August 2000.
The new office would help Amnesty, which has doubled its membership to 145,000 in the past five years, to expand and develop its campaigning. Launched in 1961, it now has a million members in more than 100 countries. "We have had to turn away volunteers because of lack of space," said Mr Bull.
t Lawyers acting for General Pinochet have complained to the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, that Gillian Hoffmann, wife of Lord Hoffmann, one of the Law Lords who ruled that the former dictator could face extradition proceedings, works for Amnesty International, which has submitted papers to Mr Straw on the case.
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