Amnesty International: Origins


The forgotten prisoners article - the observer newspaper, 1961

Amnesty International was founded in London by Peter Benenson – an English labour lawyer. He was traveling on the London underground when he read an article that two Portuguese students had been sentenced to seven years in prision in Portugal for allegedly “having drunk a toast to liberty.

Peter Benenson published an article entitled “The Forgottten Prisoners” in the Observer on May 28, 1961 announcing an appeal for Amnesty and calling for common action. His article was reprinted in newspapers around the world and marks the beginning of Amnesty International.

Open your newspaper – any day of the week – and you will find a report from somewhere in the world of someone being imprisoned, tortured or executed because his opinions or religion are unacceptable to his government.”

– Peter Benenson, 1961.


Amnesty International was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for our “defence of human dignity against torture”.

Photo from 1977 when Amnesty International was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.



Amnesty International organized the Human Rights Now! rock tour which featured some of the most famous bands of the time and which was timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).


Amnesty International successfully campaigns for the creation of the International Criminal Court. 

The establishment of a new permanent International Criminal Court (ICC) represented a major breakthrough in international justice.

The ICC is the world’s first permanent, international judicial body capable of bringing perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, to justice and providing reparation to victims when states are unable or unwilling genuinely to do so.



Over the years, human rights have moved from the fringes to centre stage in world affairs.

Amnesty International has grown from seeking the release of political prisoners to upholding the whole spectrum of human rights. Amnesty’s work protects and empowers people – from abolishing the death penalty to protecting sexual and reproductive rights, and from combatting discrimination to defending refugees and migrants’ rights. We speak out for anyone and everyone whose freedom and dignity are under threat.

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