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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander in the leaked trailer for Zoolander 2
film
Sport
footballArsenal take the Community Shield thanks to a sensational strike from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Arts and Entertainment
Gemma Chan as synth Anita in Humans
film
Arts and Entertainment
Ensemble cast: Jamie McCartney with ‘The Great Wall of Vagina’
artBritish artist Jamie McCartney explains a work that is designed to put women's minds at rest
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
BMW factory
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen