Obituary: Anette Fischer
ANETTE FISCHER was a committed campaigner for human rights. She was Chair of Amnesty International for the past year and typified the dedication of over one million lay members of the organisation world-wide. She was a leader whose diplomacy and skill with people were a major unifying factor for a diverse membership from all continents and walks of life.
Born Anette Klausen in Denmark in 1946, she brought to Amnesty International multicultural experience of development work. After training as a librarian and lecturing at the Royal Danish School of Librarianship she worked overseas in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where she set up a film library in the Audio Visual Institute. In 1975 she returned to Denmark where she worked for the Danish Film Institute and then became a reference librarian in a large municipal library at Rodovre.
By this time she had already been active for some years in her local Amnesty group in Denmark. Fischer wrote letters for the release of prisoners of conscience she had never met and campaigned locally against abuses of human rights in countries as diverse as Chile, South Africa and the Soviet Union. However, Amnesty needed to develop more effective campaigning techniques to combat a surge of 'disappearances' in countries such as Argentina and to persuade the international community to make torture and the death penalty unacceptable. She founded a group to co- ordinate these campaigns at a national level within the Danish Section of Amnesty.
During the 1980s Fischer was in the centre of Danish campaigns against human-rights violations. As a member of the Sections board, and Chair from 1986, she co-ordinated campaigns across the range of human-rights issues, from mass executions in Iran and in Iraq to the human-rights abuses during the intifada in Israeli-occupied territories.
She was elected to steer Amnesty's work in the European Community. This meant organising against European countries' increasingly restrictive asylum policy towards people fleeing torture and the threat of imprisonment or death. She was able to meet several ex-prisoners of conscience released from the Soviet Union as the political changes swept through Eastern Europe in the 1980s. In 1990 she represented the organisation at the second Human Rights Congress in Vilnius and Leningrad.
In 1989 she was elected to Amnesty's International Executive Committee. The organisation was reponding to the crushing of the democracy movement in China and the new threats to human rights posed by resurgent nationalism. As an IEC member she was at the centre of the movement to extend Amnesty's mandate to cover abuses by opposition groups, a major new area of work.
As Amnesty reacted to these human-rights violations, Fischer spearheaded preventive work in human-rights education. Setting up Amnesty projects to spread understanding of the human-rights norms that citizens should expect their governments to comply with was central to her strategy of preventing torture, imprisonment of prisoners of conscience, and the death penalty.
During this time she travelled extensively to keep in touch with a world-wide membership and saw the human-rights message spread across the Middle East with a growing membership in the Maghreb, Tunisia and Algeria and elsewhere.
She gave willingly of her time to voluntary work for Amnesty. In this she received enormous support from her husband, Carl Eli Fischer. When Anette Fischer was elected to be Chair of Amnesty's ruling body, the IEC, in 1991 the demands of her voluntary work, in terms of the time involved and the complexity of the issues, increased enormously. She cut her paid work as a librarian to part-time to deal with Amnesty duties, and holidays and breaks with Carl helped to ease the pressure. They were both killed in a car crash in Florence on their way home from a holiday.
Despite being in the centre of events in the international movement she still stayed close to the grass-roots membership, the members of local groups. Her perspective was often invaluable for bringing the approach of the lay member, without particular training or expertise in human rights outside Amnesty, into the centre of an increasingly professional organisation. Her views were respected not only because of her clear grasp of the human issues but also because of her understanding of what made the members and therefore the movement tick.
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