Every December, for over 10 years now, Amnesty International (Amnistie Internationale) has mobilized hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world, to write to support people whose fundamental rights have been violated, in order to give them hope through their “Cartes de Voeux” campaigns.
“One of the greatest feelings is to finally hug someone whose release you have been defending for years,” said Anne Sainte-Marie, communications manager for Amnistie International Canada Francophone (AICF) of her meeting last year with Hamid Ghassemi-Shall, one of many success stories of the “Cartes de Voeux” campaign. A Canadian-Iranian, Ghassemi-Shall had been imprisoned in Iran for five years, with an execution order on his life; Amnesty International’s campaign alongside the efforts of Ghassemi-Shall’s wife Antonella Mega, made a difference.
Here in Montreal, the event hosted by Winston Mcquade, was held on Saturday Dec 5, at the Espace Culturel Georges-Émile-Lapalme in Place des Arts. From 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., the place was full of people, young and old, who came out to offer their support and write letters to one, two, or all the individuals chosen for this year’s campaign. For the more time-pressed, pre-typed cards were also available to sign. Those attending enjoyed performances and speeches given by local artists and TV personalities, who feel strongly about the cause. Among them were Sylvie Paquette, Radio Canada’s Monique Giroux, Geneviève Borne, Thomas Hellman, Pierre-Olivier Bolduc, Soraya Benitez, Lise Dion, Biä and many others.
In addition to what was happening inside, out braving the cold on St Catherine’s street, Clowns Sans Frontiers and the Brazilian group Movimiento Batucada volunteered their time and performed to get pedestrians through the doors, and to the tables.
The basic idea behind the “Cartes de Voeux” campaign is that in great numbers our voices are heard, and according to AICF’s numbers, there is a 66% success rate directly related to the efforts of their campaigns. People are encouraged to hand write letters and postcards, to people like Mahvash Sabet (Iran), the caricaturist Zunar (Malaisie), lawyer Waleed Abu Al Khair (Saudi Arabia), Fred Bauma and Yves Makwambala (Democratic Republic of Congo), or communities, like the young girls who face forced marriages in Burkina Faso.
AICF chooses these individuals who urgently seek solidarity and justice in their fight against human rights infringements, based on diversity (age, sex, ethnicity) as well as trying to have a homogenous coverage of all areas in which human rights can be violated: freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, freedom of association, women’s reproductive rights, LGBT rights and freedom of religion among others.
Once the letters are collected they are sent to their respective destinations and help achieve three main things, which then set the wheels in motion. First, they attract the attention of the respective heads of state, by showing them that the international community’s eyes are on them, that people all over the world are aware of the human rights violations happening under their leadership. Second, and by far the most important, is that these letters offer support and give hope to prisoners in knowing that they are not alone in their battle. The written messages help these individuals survive while imprisoned, mistreated and often tortured. The third objective of the letter writing campaign is to focus our own leaders’ attention on these causes. If local parliament is aware that tens of thousands of voters care enough about these issues to mobilize for them, that Canadians are fighting to see change, this can help influence foreign relations with other countries, especially ones in which human rights violations are systematic, by putting pressure on those countries leaders to do something about it.
For the many volunteers and organizers here in Montreal who helped make the event possible, this year, which marks the 40th anniversary of the Quebec Charter or Human Rights and Freedoms, was an especially important one. As people around the world are still struggling with freedoms that we here often take for granted, the solidarity shown by Montrealers this past Saturday, was truly impressive, as was AICF’s ability to mobilize people in support of such a worthy cause.
For more information or to get involved with Amnistie Internationale Canada Francophone, you can visit their website at www.amnistie.ca or HERE.
To see the rest of our photos in Laura Dumitriu’s beautiful photo journal of the event, click HERE.