Visionary founder of Amnesty dies at 83

Peter Benenson, the founder of the human rights organisation Amnesty International which has been responsible for the release of thousands of prisoners of conscience over the past 44 years, has died at the age of 83.

Peter Benenson, the founder of the human rights organisation Amnesty International which has been responsible for the release of thousands of prisoners of conscience over the past 44 years, has died at the age of 83.

Since its inception in 1961 Amnesty has become one of the most admired and influential organisations in the world. Its reports into torture and persecution, and its mobilisation of ordinary people against the world's dictators, has won it numerous accolades and awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977; as well as saving hundreds of lives.

It all started when Peter Benenson read a newspaper article about two Portuguese students who had been jailed for raising a toast to liberty in a Lisbon restaurant. Feeling enraged but powerless, Benenson realised that hundreds of other people must feel like he did. "If these feelings of disgust all over the world could be united into common action, something effective could be done."

It was a unique and powerful insight - that dictators could be shamed by the opinions of ordinary people.

Benenson's article, 'The Forgotten Prisoners', which highlighted the plight of the jailed students was published in The Observer newspaper. Hundreds of readers wrote to the Portuguese regime and the students were released.

Benenson was not new to championing the plight of the underdog. At 16 he launched a school campaign to support the Spanish Relief Committee which was helping Republican orphans during the Spanish Civil War. He then convinced his school friends and families to raise £4,000 to bring two young German Jews to Britain.

Since its first case, Amnesty has dealt with more than 47,000 cases of prisoners of conscience and victims of human rights violations. It currently has more than 1.8 million members and supporters worldwide and monitors human rights in more than 150 countries.

Peter Benenson, died on Friday night at Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital. Irene Khan, Amnesty International's secretary general, said: "Peter Benenson's life was a courageous testament to his visionary commitment to fight injustice around the world. He brought light into the darkness of prisons, the horror of torture chambers and tragedy of death camps."

He is survived by his wife, Susan, their son and daughter, and two daughters from a previous marriage.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there