The annual report of Amnesty International is sobering, important reading, a reminder of how much remains to be done to realize the global commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted 40 years ago. That is the theme that permeates the pages of the report.
In 1987, the report found, at least 80 nations held prisoners of conscience, at least 90 nations tortured or ill treated prisoners, thousands of persons were victims of death squads operating in many nations, but particularly in Latin America, and in 39 nations, including the United States, more than 760 prisoners were put to death while 1,200 others were condemned to death in a total of 62 nations.
"There are many who justify their own inactivity by asserting that 40 years of human rights activity has produced nothing but failure and disillusion," the report states. "It is important to respond to the critics, not by denying the scale of the challenge that remains, but by noting the advances made in the past 40 years. Today, unlike 1948, there is a human-rights movement that is genuinely worldwide."
Amnesty International has proven an important element in that movement, operating in 60 nations. The conditions in 135 countries, more than ever before, are reported in the 1987 report. The organization's only tool has been to focus public opinion on violations, identifying prisoners of conscience, and organizing global campaigns of publicity and letters of protest. Even some of the harshest of the world's tyrants have bowed to that pressure.