In November 1960, British barrister Peter Benenson traveled to work on London's Underground as usual, wearing his customary bowler hat, with a newspaper tucked under his arm. It contained a story that would change not only his life, but the course of tens of thousands of other lives too.
The article told the story of two Portuguese students, overheard raising a toast to liberty in a Lisbon café, who had been jailed for seven years. Benenson was outraged, but rather than launch a one-man protest, he came up with an idea he hoped would mobilize people just like him. In a full-page article in a national newspaper, Benenson launched a 12-month "Amnesty" letter-writing campaign, urging readers to lobby governments in support of "forgotten prisoners" those imprisoned, tortured or executed because their opinions or religion appeared unacceptable.
The response was overwhelming: thousands wrote in the first six months. Within the year, affiliated campaigning organizations had set up in a dozen countries; in 1977 Amnesty International (AI) won the Nobel Peace Prize; and today 45 years after it was founded AI remains the world's most influential human-rights movement, with almost 2 million supporters in some 150 countries and more than 45,000 cases successfully closed.
Benenson stayed at the helm of the group he founded only until 1966 he left following disagreements with other members, and suffering from exhaustion but he remained a passionate advocate of human rights (later reconciling with the group), until his death last year, aged 83. And though he is now gone, Amnesty, with its universally recognized symbol of a candle wrapped in barbed wire Benenson had in mind the proverb: "It's better to light a candle than curse the darkness" burns on.