"Our job here is not to hide the pain, the suffering. Quite the contrary," says Richard Reoch, spokesman for Amnesty International, the world's guardian of human rights.
"We give people an actual practical opportunity to do something about it, to channel their disgust or sadness or whatever motivates them into writing a letter or sending a telegram or just standing in the rain outside an embassy."
People are doing just that, in ever-increasing numbers throughout the world. And through them Amnesty International has grown into the largest pressure group of its kind. Today, the worldwide network embraces 200,000 volunteers working in 123 countries.
In 1978 alone, the organization contacted more than 5,000 prisoners, jailed for their beliefs, color, language, or religion. The badgered government leaders with letters and telegrams, sent relief supplies to families and notes of encouragement to the prisoners.
And their efforts can bring results. Amnesty Secretary General Martin Ennals says, "More and more people all over the world attribute their release from prison to Amnesty International.
"They remember the help they received from some Amnesty group, or that sense of solidarity they got by knowing that somebody outside was rooting for them."
The focal point of Amnesty's far-flung operations is the International Secretariat in London, a drab gray building behind the now-abandoned Covent Garden market. It is barely noticeable, except for a small sign with Amnesty's insignia: a burning candle wrapped in barbed wire.
The rambling office stretches over four floors, housing a staff of 150 who represent 26 nationalities and speak a dozen languages. Their job is to seek out any information about infringements of human rights in the world. They deal with several thousand violations a year.
"The prime function of the organization is to focus on individuals," Amnesty Secretary General Ennals points out.
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