OCEANSIDE — More than 700 supporters held candles and signs and walked down Oceanside Pier in the 21st annual Amnesty International Walk for Human Rights on Oct. 18.
“Tonight was marking the 21st anniversary of these candlelight walks in honor of those who are defending human rights, those who are protecting human rights and those who are standing for the dignity of others who are being tortured, who are being harmed, who are being held without charges, who are being executed without any judicial hearings,” Banafsheh Akhlaghi, western regional director of Amnesty USA, said.
The event connected supporters with survivors of human rights violations. Speakers shared firsthand accounts of gross injustices they endured. The stories were both heart-wrenching and inspiring.
Marvyn Perez shared his story of how he was detained and tortured at age 14 while he was a student activist in Guatemala. Two of his classmates who were also detained died. Perez was freed due to an Amnesty International campaign for his release.
“It just takes these smallest acts that we may think of, a letter writing or signing a petition or contacting our officials on behalf of someone who is being detained, but those acts don’t go unnoticed,” Akhlaghi said. “In fact, it was those acts that helped his release some 26 years ago and had him be here with us today.”
Amnesty International began as a grass roots organization in 1961 and has freed tens of thousands of political prisoners. Today the organization has 2 million members and supporters in 150 countries.
This year’s walk honored lawyers, journalists, bloggers and community leaders who defend human rights. Marjorie Cohn, professor of Jefferson School of Law, received the 2009 Digna Ochoa Human Rights Defender Award for her efforts.
Among those participating in the walk were 400 students from Rancho Buena Vista High School. “They heard a lot of stories tonight about how other governments aren’t held as accountable as ours,” Tim Leary, government teacher at Rancho Buena Vista High School, said. “It enlightens them that not everybody has it so good.”
“Ultimately something that we want for them to get involved in is activism,” Leary said. “Change comes from them being able to participate in their community.”
Akhlaghi said she was pleased to see so many students participating in the walk. They will be the ones we pass the torch to, Akhlaghi said.
See video from the event at www.coastnews group.com.