Posted on 26 March 2021
The human rights group Amnesty International was co-founded in 1960 by the British Quaker Eric Baker (1920 – 1976)
Baker had been a Conscientious Objector during World War II and after the war had ended he became general secretary of the National Peace Council. The council was the organising body for over 200 groups that campaigned for peace, human rights, justice and the environment.
During this time he made several visits to Cyprus to write about the peace settlements that had been built there. It was during one of these visits that Baker met Peter Benenson, a British lawyer and human rights activist. Benenson wrote an article for The Observer entitled The Forgotten Prisoner in 1961. The article called for “the amnesty of all political prisoners” and, after gaining worldwide support, led to both men forming the ‘Appeal for Amnesty 1961’.
The appeal coincided with the publication of Benenson’s book Persecution ’61, which listed case-studies of current political prisoners and drew upon Baker’s research.
A year later, in 1962, Amnesty International was founded by the two men to draw attention to human rights abuses and campaigns for compliance with international laws and standards.
It was at Baker’s suggestion that the now-famous term ‘prisoner of conscience’ was adopted and became central to Amnesty International, as did Baker’s view that they should support those who were not themselves advocating or condoning violence.
“The candle burns not for us, but for all those whom we failed to rescue from prison, who were shot on the way to prison, who were tortured, who were kidnapped, who ‘disappeared’. That’s what the candle is for.”Peter Benenson
The organisation was awarded the 1977 Nobel Peace Prize for its “campaign against torture”, and the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights in 1978.
To this day, it works in mobilising public opinion to exert pressure on governments that perpetrate abuses.
Between 1966 – 1968, Baker became Amnesty International’s general secretary and throughout the rest of his life continued his peace activism with the Society of Friends.
Baker died in 1976, with his resting place being the Quaker Meeting House in Maldon, Essex, England where he attended Meeting For Worship on a Sunday. The Meeting is still active today.
Freedom Candles Initiative
The Freedom Candles Initiative are a series of 30 different wax sculptures commissioned by Amnesty International in 2014. Once burned, the candles transform into powerful brass images of hope.
Other Campaigning Organisations Quakers Helped Found
Campaign Against The Arms Trade (CAAT)
Quakers were one of several peace groups that joined together to form CAAT in 1974. CAAT, based in the UK, works to end the international arms trade.
Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament (CND)
Eric Baker was one of the founders of CND in 1958. CND advocates unilateral nuclear disarmament by the United Kingdom, international nuclear disarmament and tighter international arms regulation through agreements such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Married couple, Dorothy and Irvine Stowe (who were both Quakers from Canada and the United States respectively), founded Greenpeace in 1972. This followed over five years of previous campaigning by the duo on the environment. Their home in Vancouver became a hub for what would become a global movement that would “ensure the ability of the Earth to nurture life in all its diversity”.
Friends Of The Earth (FoE), England Wales & Northern Ireland
The England Wales & Northern Ireland branch of FoE was founded in 1971 and Quakers were one of the groups involved in its establishment. The branch is one of 74 countries represented by FoE International. The umbrella organisation was founded two years earlier in San Frisco, 1969. FoE focuses on environmental issues, highlighting their social, political and human rights contexts. Their campaigns mostly take place in the United Kingdom, with a few activities in USA and Europe.
Image from www.amnesty.org.uk/