How students are changing lives with Write for Rights
This Dec. 10, Amnesty International’s annual campaign aims to help those whose human rights have been denied
Learn more about how you can participate in Write for Rights at amnesty.ca/w4r. And you can also sign petitions supporting the Write for Rights cases at amnesty.ca/petitions.
B ernardo Caal Xol, of the Maya Q’eqchi’ people in Guatemala, is a teacher and environmental activist. But when he defended local communities affected by hydroelectric projects on the Cahabón River in 2018, he was sentenced on bogus charges to more than seven years in prison.
During Amnesty International’s annual Write for Rights campaign in 2021, supporters took more than half a million actions — letters, emails, tweets, and petitions on Bernardo’s behalf. A year later, facing international pressure, Guatemalan officials released Bernardo.
“I am grateful to each and every one of you,” Bernardo said after his release. “You have given me hope for the justice, liberty and equality that must prevail in every people and nation.”
“This is what Write for Rights contributes to — this is the real impact of it,” says Samaaya Gupta — who, along with her twin sister Aarya, co-founded a youth chapter of Amnesty International Canada at their Peel Region high school in 2021.
“We both know that human rights issues are prevalent on a global scale, and millions of people are denied access to the same opportunities that we all share in what we call an equitable society,” says Aarya. “And we also both know many who have experienced some of these inequalities all over the world.”
Getting involved with Amnesty International Canada created an opportunity for the twins to advocate together for human rights. This is when they learned about Write for Rights, which takes place across Canada and worldwide on Dec. 10 as part of International Human Rights Day.
For more than 20 years, Amnesty International’s annual Write for Rights campaign has used the power of words to transform the lives of people whose rights have been wronged. Last year, Amnesty members hosted events in more than 200 countries, including 162 events across Canada. Together, participants signed petitions and wrote millions of letters, emails and tweets — amounting to over 4.6 million actions.
Anyone can participate in Write for Rights and write a letter, sign petitions, attend an event or even host one. This year’s Write for Rights is special, as it marks the 75th anniversary of the UN’s signing of the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights. More than a hundred Write for Rights events are planned nationwide.
campaign, Letter-writing sending is at support the heart to people of the who have been unfairly harassed, threatened, or jailed for who they are or what they do — and turning up the heat on governments, leaders, and decision-makers to do the right thing.
As part of their first Write for Rights event in 2021, Samaaya and Aarya put up posters in their school lobby. They also ran a campaign on Instagram where they profiled each of the 10 cases.
“We were hoping to get some engagement by connecting people and allowing them to hear what these individuals had been through,” says Aarya.
Their campaign was powerful: In 2021, 70 students took part in the school’s Write for Rights event. Last year, approximately 100 students participated. This year, the sisters are hoping for more.
“Many people came up to us after the event and told us how impactful they felt their letters would be,” explains Samaaya, “which I wasn’t expecting from high school students. But seeing how many people were working together was inspiring.”
Aarya says being involved with Write for Rights — and with Amnesty International in general — gives youth a platform to make their voices heard. Many youth want to take action, she says, but struggle with how to actually make an impact, not just at a community level but on a global scale.
“I believe that real change has been made to people’s lives because of actions like these that are ongoing, where many activists are released from being wrongly imprisoned. All these actions put together empower people to create change,” says Aarya.
“Campaigns such as Write for Rights help people start their journey of activism. An event like this is a perfect starting point for people to learn, to become inspired, and then they can take their own journey.”
I am grateful to each and every one of you. You have given me hope for justice, liberty and equality that must prevail in every people and nation.”
-- Bernardo Caal Xol
Toronto Star Newspapers Limited