What difference can one single signature make??Perhaps not much, when that signature stands alone.?But combine it with a thousand more - with ten thousand more - and suddenly all those individual signatures can have a profound and far-reaching impact.
That’s the premise behind the annual Amnesty International write-a-thon. During the first full week of December, the Ozarks chapter of Amnesty International USA will hold their own signature drive as part of the Write for Rights campaign.
As in the past, this year’s Write for Rights campaign includes cases that represent key human rights violations. This year, the 10 selected cases are in the areas of student/youth activism, freedom of expression, women’s rights, LGBT rights, indefinite detention, justice, and right to housing.
Cinthya Grillo, a senior accounting and economics major from Nicaragua, is the urgent action coordinator for the Ozarks Amnesty chapter. She said the group met on December 1 to review the 10 cases, and then selected two -- those of Liu Xiaobo and Jean-Claude Roger Mbede -- for the upcoming signature drive.
Liu Xiaobo, from China, authored several articles criticizing government corruption, censorship, and single-party rule. He was arrested in 2009, charged with "inciting subversion of state power." In December of that year, he was found guilty, and was given an 11 year prison sentence.
Jean-Claude Roger Mbede was arrested in March 2011 in Cameroon. The charges were "homosexuality," which is a criminal offense in that country. He was given a three year prison sentence.
"When you tell someone he’s in prison for being homosexual, some people may say ‘oh he deserves it,’" Grillo said. "But I’m pretty sure the majority would say ‘that’s not fair. ‘ There’s such discrimination in Cameroon - there needs to be some sort of change."
"A lot of people associate Amnesty International with the death penalty, but that’s really just one side of the group," Grillo said. "Our campaigns go for domestic needs, like information for pregnant women, poverty, corporate accountability, prisoners of conscience, violence against women, and even fighting terrorism."
Through the collective power of their signatures, Grillo said Amnesty supporters have been effective in bringing about peaceful change. She said "All you have to do is get together in your group and write letters. I know it sounds insignificant, but it does have an impact. Like last year’s write-a-thon - I think six out of the 10 prisoners we campaigned for obtained what we were campaigning for. "
While many of the cases involve writing pleas in support of people who have been imprisoned, Grillo said the purpose for the letter writing campaigns are much broader than that. "A lot of people think we are only trying to get people out of prison, but that’s not it!" she exclaimed.
She points to a picture of a young man from Azerbaijan. "He was arrested for posting something on Facebook," she said. She points to another picture of a man in Indonesia. "He was arrested just for raising a flag."
Grillo said that while letters from this year’s Write for Rights campaign will actually push for the release of these two men, the hope is that they will lead to broader changes in human rights policy in those countries. She said the same is true for the letters and signatures collected in support of Xiaobo and Mbede. "What we’re really campaigning for is a change in the attitude of the Chinese government, and in the laws in Cameroon," she said. "We hope that when these governments see the impact one case can have, maybe they’ll consider political reform."
The Amnesty group will set up a table outside the cafeteria on December 5 to collect signatures in support of Mbede, and again on Thursday, December 8 to collect signatures for Xiaobo. Letters and signatures collected here at Ozarks will then be sent to the Amnesty International USA southern region office, in Atlanta.
"Since it’s the last week of class, we’re afraid people might be in a rush," Grillo said, "but we’re hoping to collect around 150 to 200 signatures for each of the cases we’ve selected." And while the Ozarks Amnesty chapter is focusing on collecting signatures for just two cases, she said they will have letters available for each of the 10 cases selected for Write for Rights. "If someone wants to sign every letter, they can," she said, "and if someone is really interested, writing a handwritten letter can have an even greater impact."
Liu Xiaobo, the activist from China, was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 2010 "for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China." While the award generated a great deal of controversy, the prize committee felt that Liu had become the foremost symbol in that struggle. "He couldn’t even go to the ceremony, obviously - one of the guards told him," Grillo said. "He dedicated the award to those who sacrificed their lives for the non-violent struggle for peace in Tiananmen Square."
One simple signature….