The Niagara chapter of Amnesty International, alongside Lord Mayor Betty Disero and a group of supporters, was on hand Monday for the flag raising ceremony to mark Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, the day the international declaration of human rights was signed.
Remarked as the biggest annual human rights event in the world, each chapter of Amnesty International played host to a Write for Rights event, in which residents sign petitions and write wish letters to help convince various governments throughout the world to release people who have been imprisoned for human activism.
“For many many people, their rights cannot be taken for granted, just getting together and doing something like this would be illegal in many countries, and so I think it is the responsibility of someone who lives in a place where you can have freedom of expression without fear of arrest to do what we can for others,” said Elizabeth Bitzer, acting treasurer of the Niagara chapter.
Niagara’s group was no different, drawing dozens of local supporters from Niagara-on-the-Lake and from around the region to the Meridian Centre Monday evening to support the release of 10 cases which focused on women, chosen by Amnesty International.
“They chose to pick all cases that focus on women just because women’s rights is a huge issue everywhere around the world. But the cases are not specific to women’s rights, it’s that the women are either being defenders of their land or trying to escape violence, so there’s different cases,” said Bitzer.
“And so we’re trying to write letters, they get sent to the governments of the countries where the women are, they get sent to the ambassadors or other folks, and they see that there’s pressure from Canadians on behalf of these women.”
Among the 10 cases of women was Burlington resident, Huseyn Celil, a father of four who was recognized as a refugee by the United Nations after arriving to Canada from China in 2001. He has spent more than 10 years in prison in China for his activism in promoting the religious and political rights of the Uighur people.
“He’s been in China in prison for over 10 years. And so that’s another thing that we work on in the background to try and make sure the Canadian government doesn’t forget about him and keeps encouraging their Chinese counterparts to release him. And to let his family know we haven’t forgotten him, and to China to release him as well,” said Bitzer.
“We urgently want to send letters to governments because it could be stopping someone’s death, and it needs to be an urgent nature that we’re sending lots of pressure from around the world to stop this.”
Each group of Amnesty International focuses its letter-writing process on what’s called urgent actions and Amnesty Canada responds to all of its urgent actions throughout each year.
“There’s about one a day almost, over 300 a year. But as a country, with all the different groups, some groups will focus on all urgent actions and some will just do two a month,” says Bitzer.
“The focus of this chapter, because we just started up again in September … it’s two-fold — one to do urgent actions at our monthly meetings as a group, so we at least know that some letters are being sent for whatever those urgent actions are, and also in joining with several other groups locally to support Huseyn Celil.”
Last year, more than five million letters were sent worldwide on behalf of the 10 cases last year, with over 100 letters from the Niagara chapter.
Amnesty Canada runs urgent action email campaigns year-round in which the letter has been set up for you. To learn more about these cases, and write a letter in support of these women and others, visit amnesty.ca or writeathon.ca.