Human Rights

Speech by Professor Jerzy Buzek President of the European Parliament "50th Anniversary of Amnesty International"

Brussels -
Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Dear Colleagues,

Dear Friends,

Amnesty International holds a special place for me. As it does for all of us who grew up in a totalitarian regime. Those in prison as "prisoners of conscience" knew that they were not forgotten. Because there were people in Amnesty who wrote letters on their behalf. This gave comfort, and reminded all of us that there was a better world out there.

The founder of Amnesty International, Peter Benenson, once said "Open your newspaper any day of the week and you will find a story from somewhere of someone being imprisoned, tortured or executed because his opinions or religion are unacceptable to his government"

I am glad to say that if Peter was reading the paper today, there would be perhaps fewer stories like that. The world is becoming more free. There are far more democracies than the 40 in 1960. Even if a lot more needs to be done, we also made considerable progress in human rights standards, international law and institutions during the last five decades. This is thanks in part to the work of this organisation which fought for 50 years to stop the violation of human rights.

Let me also remind of another important anniversary. On 21 May we marked the 90th anniversary of the brilliant scientist, humanist and public figure of the 20th century, Andrei Sakharov. I am proud that the Parliament's annual Sakharov Prize for the Freedom of Thought is an important contribution to promoting his legacy and human rights worldwide.

A few days ago an international conference was held in Moscow under the fitting title: Andrei Sakharov - "Concern and Hope". My message is simple: leading intellectuals and human rights defenders must work hand in hand with civil society and institutions such as the European Parliament to raise concern about fundamental freedoms. But also to spread a message of hope.

I have made the defence of human rights one of my priorities as President of the European Parliament. Wherever I go - whether to China, Russia, North Africa I always argue for Human Rights. I am helped in this by Vice President McMillan-Scott who is a tireless campaigner. The world may be more free, but injustice still happens and we can never remain silent.

In the 21st century there is now a 'global civil society' of which Amnesty is a prime example. Your grassroots activists, over 3 million, are a vital part of the work of both the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. You shine a light in prisons, and torture chambers, and help us find those which some want to be forgotten.

Our outreach is global, but these values are universal. This is why the European Parliament has called for Human Rights focal points in every EU Delegation. And has asked the External Action Service to match the professionalism of a top class diplomatic service with similar enthusiasm in working for human rights. We need to spread our message about human dignity. Europe has a special role to play defending the values Amnesty International defends so well.

Dear Friends,

I am glad that today's excellent panel will debate the state of human rights in the world. Our work is not done, and all organisations - whether the European Parliament, Amnesty International, the Council of Europe or the United Nations, must all work to make the Universal Declaration of Human Rights a living reality. For all.

The symbol of Amnesty International is a candle. In the darkest time of martial law in Poland, people used to put up candles in their windows, in memory of those imprisoned. I hope that in years to come this symbol will no longer be needed, because we will all be free.

Thank you!


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