Amnesty International

With Ivahanna Larrosa and Claudia Serrón of Amnesty International

Dignity for prisoners of poverty


Amnesty International and the IUF have undertaken several joint actions and efforts in the past: the campaign to denounce Coca-Cola’s persecution of trade unionists in Guatemala in the 1980s; the actions to denounce human rights violations during Uruguay’s military dictatorship, together with the Justice and Human Rights Movement of Porto Alegre and our dear friend and fellow activist Jair Krischke; the International Conference on Human Rights and Against Electoral Fraud in the Dominican Republic in 1994; and the campaign against violence in Urabá, Colombia, in 1996, among many other initiatives. Amnesty International was born almost 50 years ago with the aim of fighting for the liberation of prisoners of conscience. Now it is also demanding dignity for the “prisoners of poverty,” creating a space for reflection and action, where it will join forces again with the IUF to “be more and do more” together.


Ivahanna Larrosa

Claudia Serrón


Amnesty International is taking its work one step further, seeking to raise awareness on the abuses that cause poverty and aggravate it, as well as on the situations of poverty that generate human rights violations. “This demand for dignity poses a new challenge to the organization,” representatives of Amnesty International said at the launching of the new campaign.  “People who live in poverty often have their political and civil rights violated. The lack of food, employment, potable water, land and housing, combined with increasing inequality and growing insecurity create a global crisis that requires global solutions based on international cooperation to defend human rights and the rule of law.”


To learn more about the “Demand Dignity” campaign, Sirel spoke with Ivahanna Larrosa, executive director of Amnesty International Uruguay, and Claudia Serrón, who heads the organization’s Growth and Development Department.


-How many years has AI been working in Uruguay?


Ivahanna Larrosa (IL) - Next year will mark the 25th year in the country. The office opened right after the reinstatement of democracy in 1985. In the 1970s, Amnesty International worked extensively for Uruguay, defending the cause of political prisoners, but it didn’t have an office here.


-With the Demand Dignity campaign Amnesty International is going one step further…


IL - That's right. Over the years, Amnesty International has expanded its area of work; more specifically it has expanded to cover rights integrally. It has always fought against political and ideological persecution, but with time it moved beyond that. It’s in this sense that it launched this global campaign for dignity, which focuses on addressing poverty as a core problem. For Amnesty International the key is to work from a human rights perspective and build on that to fight for the eradication of poverty.


-In Latin America there’s a lot of work to be done in that area, as it’s the region with the highest level of inequality…


IL - In Latin America this new approach links our organization with other social groups, with trade unions and governments; it capitalizes on a number of efforts that we’ve been carrying out. And working in this region, which has one of the highest rates of inequality, is certainly a challenge!


-When we speak of human rights here in the South, the idea that I have is that in our collective mind it is associated with the human rights violations committed by the de facto governments. Do you get that same impression?


IL - Yes. In fact, I think there’s a very narrow view of what human rights are, not just in our region, but also globally. It’s not easy to make people understand that human rights are so much more than that, that they also include civil and political rights, economic rights, cultural rights, etc.


Another barrier that stands in the way of defending human rights is the idea of the violation of rights, because it implies that if a right isn’t violated there’s no need to defend it. Ideally we should defend all rights all the time, in the course of our daily lives, at every level.


-Latin America has never been as “democratic” as it is today, and never before has it been so poor; and this entails a complex and extremely dangerous situation if we don’t perceive democracy as an instrument for achieving social welfare…


Claudia Serrón (CS) - Which is why one of the key goals of this campaign is to get stakeholders to participate actively. In all its recent campaigns Amnesty International has stressed this. We need to bring people out of the vicious cycles of poverty and exclusion. To do that we need to increase awareness of what our rights as citizens and workers are, and based on that awareness, use whatever tools we have available to demand respect for our rights.


We must focus on the power each of us has as an individual, because democracy is important, it’s necessary, but it’s not enough to guarantee every right.


-Do you have a lot young people coming to Amnesty International for information and to get involved?


IL - Yes. Although they’re not participating in the same way they did in the  past. They’re using the new computer tools and technologies to get involved. But Amnesty International still needs to look for ways to incorporate people of all ages to its efforts. That is the challenge we have before us.


Our main goal is to make people more aware of their rights so they can protect them, and that means learning to use the new media and technical tools available today.


-Do you see the IUF as an ally in your “Demand Dignity” campaign?


IL - Absolutely. The IUF is a very important ally because it reaches a lot of people, has the capacity to influence organized workers and has a broad experience in the labor movement.


This campaign gives us an excuse to coordinate actions and leverage our common causes. It is a way of formalizing links that have united us for a long time.

From Montevideo, Gerardo Iglesias


November 30, 2009




Photos: Rel-UITA 


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