Peter Benenson


LONDON (AP) - Peter Benenson, who founded Amnesty International more than four decades ago, has died, the human rights organization said Saturday. He was 83.

Benenson had been ill for several years, and he died Friday night at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford from pneumonia, Amnesty spokesman Brendan Paddy said.

Benenson, who was educated in some of Britain's top schools, began his own human rights campaigns as a boy in support of Spanish civil war orphans and Jews fleeing Hitler's Germany.

In 1961, at the age of 40, he set up Amnesty after reading an article about the arrest and imprisonment of two students in a cafe in Lisbon, Portugal, who had drunk a toast to liberty.

He initially envisioned Amnesty as a one-year campaign, but it went on to become the world's largest independent human rights organizations. Currently, Amnesty, which is based in London, has more than 1.8 million members and supporters worldwide.

It considers itself a citizens' movement to expose and confront government injustice.

"Once the concentration camps and the hell holes of the world were in darkness. Now they are lit by the light of the Amnesty candle; the candle in barbed wire. When I first lit the Amnesty candle, I had in mind the old Chinese proverb: 'Better light a candle than curse the darkness,'" Benenson once said.

Irene Khan, Amnesty's secretary-general, praised him Saturday, saying his "life was a courageous testament to his visionary commitment to fight injustice around the world. He brought light into the darkness of prisons, the horror of torture chambers and tragedy of death camps around the world."

In a statement, she said: "This was a man whose conscience shone in a cruel and terrifying world, who believed in the power of ordinary people to bring about extraordinary change and, by creating Amnesty International, he gave each of us the opportunity to make a difference.

"In 1961 his vision gave birth to human rights activism. In 2005, his legacy is a worldwide movement for human rights which will never die."

Born July 31, 1921, Benenson was the grandson of Grigori Benenson, a Russian-Jewish banker, and the son of Flora Solomon, who raised him alone after the death of her husband, British army Col. John Solomon.

After being tutor ed privately by poet W.H. Auden, Benenson went to Eton and Oxford University, where he studied history.

At Eton, a prestigious prep school, Benenson showed early signs of a flair for controversy by complaining to the headmaster about the poor quality of the food there. That prompted a letter to his mother warning of her son's "revolutionary tendencies."

At age 16, he launched his first campaign: to win school support during the Spanish Civil War for the newly-formed Spanish Relief Committee, which was helping Republican war orphans. He "adopted" one of the babies himself, paying for the child's support.

Benenson then helped Jews who had fled from Hitler's Germany. Despite some opposition, he succeeded in getting his school friends and their families to raise the money needed to bring two young German Jews to Britain.

After leaving Eton, he helped his politically committed mother find homes for refugee children who had arrived in London.

Following his graduation from Oxford, Benenson joined the British army, where he worked in the Ministry of Information press office. After World War II, he studied law as a soldier, then left the military to become a practicing lawyer.

In the 1950s, his human rights activism included efforts in Fascist Spain, British-ruled Cyprus, Hungary and South Africa.

Benenson stepped down as Amnesty's leader in the mid-1960s after an independent investigation did not support his claim that Amnesty was being infiltrated by British intelligence.

However, Benenson, who became a devout convert to Catholicism, maintained an active interest in Amnesty. He also worked with other activist groups, including one helping victims of an illness he suffered himself: coeliac disease, a lifelong inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract.

He is survived by his wife, Susan Benenson, their son and daughter, and two daughters from a previous marriage.

Amnesty planned to hold a public memorial service for him, but the time and location were still being discussed.

Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press

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Forever you live through the light of knowledge you shared in the intellect of Virginia Triumphant College & Seminary - the University of the Highest Learning.
L V Robertson

Ironically, I learned of Peter Benenson through a song written by the artists of Nickelback. I am profoundly moved by people such as Benenson that take on a cause for the betterment of all, even when the task seems imsurmountable. Thank God there are people who never heard the words "give up" or "hopeless".

I am just a teenager that is researching Amnesty International for my history class, but I cannot help but feel overwhelmed with saddness at knowing that this wonderful man is no longer on this Earth. I am sincerely sorry for everyone's loss. From what I have read of Peter Benenson, he was a great man and left a legacy unlike that of anyone else that has ever lived.

What a wonderful legacy Peter has left. Achievements in the release of thousands of political prisoners, but also inspiration to many thousands of tireless activists working for greater freedom, all over the globe. Much of this work is "behind the scenes", but is fruitful and effective.

Let's resolve to continue Peter's good work: he invented the tools that many groups are using worldwide.

Thank you Peter.

A co-worker is just one of countless thousands who was greatly helped by Amnesty International. God Bless Peter Benenson for his selfless works. May he rest in peace.

I send my sincere condolences to his family.

An incredible life. A man with a concept to free the oppressed, imprisoned, and disenfranchised. And it worked! Through the positive reaction generated by the many who supported this great humanitarian, Peter Benenenson was able to change the minds and policies of otherwise cruel or indifferrent dictatorships. That's REAL power!

Example of What One Man Can Do, to change the world. Helping people,we forgot about.