Religious volunteers strong in Amnesty

Published November 1, 1998

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Fifty years after the declaration was published, systematic torture, cruelty, injustice and persecution still cast a dark shadow over the globe.

In its annual report this year, the London-based organization said it had documented abuses in 141 countries in the previous year.

Nonetheless, Amnesty has started an anniversary campaign collecting signatures for a pledge supporting the declaration. Its goal is to have eight million signatures, or one per cent of the world’s population. So far it has collected three million names.

Government repression of religious people is common with people of faith being harassed and persecuted under all types of political and economic systems, Amnesty says.

“We are finding that religious persecution is widespread and that it pops its head up on a very regular basis within any work we are doing,” said Cheryl Hotchkiss, networks and outreach co-ordinator for Amnesty International’s Canadian section.

Amnesty’s Canadian section started out in rented space in an Ottawa church basement 25 years ago. The church connection is still strong through its Religious Communities Program.

“We do count on support from that program quite heavily,” Ms Hotchkiss said. “We know they are strong and that they are really interested and involved in the work.”

Retired school teacher Jean Elder of St. Albert, Alta., co-ordinates the 500-member strong Religious Communities Program. Helping people of faith who have been imprisoned, tortured or killed for their peacefully held religious beliefs is a key part of Amnesty’ s work, she said.


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