Amnesty will stage its annual Tokyo charity concert Oct. 3 with one of Tokyo’s longest-running bands, the Howling Loochie Brothers, providing music to get people up and dancing.
Amnesty International is one of the most successful international NGOs working for prisoners of conscience. In 1961, a British lawyer wrote a newspaper article in which he urged people to protest against the imprisonment of two Portuguese students by bombarding the authorities with letters. Thousands of people responded, and Amnesty International was born.
With groups in more than 40 countries and more than 1 million members worldwide, Amnesty organizes campaigns to free people who have been detained for their beliefs or on account of their ethnic origin, sex, color or language, people who have not used or advocated violence.
The International Secretariat in London coordinates research into human rights violations, publishes reports and mobilizes its membership. Amnesty provides a steady flow of information about trouble spots around the world, petitions governments and embassies about violations of human rights, and encourages its members to send letters, faxes and telegrams to governments.
To raise public awareness of human rights issues and violations, Amnesty’s work includes organizing demonstrations, symposiums, workshops and human rights education programs in schools.
“The aims of Amnesty International are twofold,” explains Hideki Morihara of the Action Department, Tokyo: “To bring attention to human rights issues and to promote awareness of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
This year is the Year of the Child, commemorating the 10th anniversary of the U.N. adoption of the Convention of the Rights of the Child. Amnesty International is focusing on the plight of children as young as 10 or 11 years old, forced to wield weapons in countries such as Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Kosovo.
In many countries children are detained in prisons. The youngest prisoner of conscience in the world was a 3-year-old child imprisoned with her mother, a pro-democracy activist in Myanmar. They were released after an Amnesty appeal.
In Japan, Amnesty’s 7,500 members work in 140 local groups from Hokkaido to Okinawa. “Our purpose is to make people aware what sort of human rights have been violated in Japan, as well as in other countries,” says Morihara. “Japanese people find it difficult to understand why people in other countries need freedom of speech or freedom of association, because here these freedoms are protected. They cannot really see what’s going on in other countries.”
Still, there are issues within Japan that need to be addressed. One area of concern is the conditions and treatment of those in Japanese prisons and detention centers, where people are held awaiting deportation, sometimes for years. These centers do not, at present, come under Japanese prison law.
Morihara said that because of the Amnesty policy which forbids members taking action on human rights violations occurring within their own country, Japanese members cannot work directly on these issues, to ensure impartiality and independence.
Sometimes, however, members will take concerns to government level. Morihara cited “an Amnesty Diet coalition,” a group of 120 politicians from across the political spectrum who are sympathetic to Amnesty’s aims, and will maneuver high-level official meetings to discuss human rights issues.
Membership ranges from donations or a monthly newsletter subscription to active involvement in Amnesty activities. Artists can support Amnesty by donating their work to be printed on Amnesty cards and T-shirts.
The Howling Loochie Brothers’ donation will be music. Well known on the Tokyo scene, the Howling Loochie Brothers is an eight-member band, fronted by Canadian musician Robin Suchy, who describes the band’s music as “a mix of rhythm and blues, some soul, some boogie woogie and a few originals.”
Suchy started the band eight years ago, but found that foreign musicians in Tokyo tended to be a transient bunch. “I realized it would be sensible to be with Japanese musicians, even though I didn’t speak any Japanese,” he recalls.
The band evolved steadily from a duo, acquiring a trumpet player, a harmonica player (who lived in the same building as Suchy), a bass and a keyboard player. One of the band’s distinctive features is the substantial horn section, comprising alto and tenor sax, trumpet and trombone. Suchy himself is on guitar and lead vocals, and Teruo Matsumoto, of jazz fame, is on drums.
Why is his band playing at the Amnesty International charity concert?
“I just think it’s a very good cause,” Suchy says. “I’m a total advocate of freedom and I think this world is getting less and less free.”
To support Amnesty International, come along Oct. 3 to What the Dickens, the British pub in Ebisu, a very good evening for a very good cause.
Tickets are available at the door from 7 p.m., and all proceeds from the 2,000 yen cover charge will go to Amnesty International. What the Dickens is near Ebisu Station, 4F, Roob 6 Building, 1-13-3 Ebisu-Nishi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; tel. (03) 3780-2099.
For more information about Amnesty International and its activities, call (0467) 23-7018 or (03) 3203-1050, fax: (03) 3232-6775. The home page is www. amnesty.or.jp/
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