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THE SELECTION last week of Amnesty International as the recipient of the 1977 Nobel Peace Prize marked a welcome recognition of the London-based organization's dedicated efforts on behalf of political prisoners the world over. In its 16-year existence, Amnesty International has helped bring the issue of human rights to the fore in international diplomacy; more concretely, in the past seven years it has mounted major publicity and letter-writing campaigns on behalf of more than 15,000 political prisoners, and has succeeded in securing the release of over half of them.
Perhaps the most striking, if ironic, confirmation of the importance and effectiveness of Amnesty International's human rights efforts came in the form of criticism of the organization by such frequent targets of Amnesty charges as the regimes in Eastern Europe, South Africa and Chile. The western governments in particular have been sensitive to Amnesty International's success in effecting a shift in international opinion, a shift that is gradually sapping the international political and economic support without which these notoriously repressive regimes could not long survive.
But if Amnesty International has been instrumental in arousing international public awareness of, and opposition to political repression, the sad fact is that this growing awareness has been accompanied by the even more rapid institutionalization of repressive measures--particularly torture--on a world-wide scale. In recent years Amnesty International investigators have documented the systematic use of torture by governments in roughly 60 nations, and have received unconfirmed reports of torture in many others.
The citation accompanying last week's award said of Amnesty International that "its efforts on behalf of human dignity against violence and subjugation have proved that the basis for peace in the world must be justice for all human beings. "Such efforts on behalf of justice and human dignity are appropriately rewarded and deserve the enthusiastic support of all members of the Harvard community.
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