Peter Benenson (31 July 1921 – 25 February 2005) was a British
lawyer and the founder of human rights group Amnesty International
(AI). Benenson refused all honours but in his 80s, largely to please
his family, he accepted the
Pride of Britain Award for Lifetime
Achievement in 2001.
1 Life and career
4 External links
Life and career
He was born in London as Peter James Henry Solomon, to a large Jewish
family, the only son of British-born Harold Solomon and
Russian-born Flora Benenson;
Peter Benenson adopted his mother's
maiden name later in life. His army officer father died from a
long-term injury when Benenson was aged nine, and he was tutored
W. H. Auden
W. H. Auden before going to Eton. At the age of sixteen,
he helped to establish a relief fund with other schoolboys for
children orphaned by the Spanish Civil War. He took his mother's
maiden name of Benenson as a tribute to his grandfather, the Russian
gold tycoon Grigori Benenson, following his grandfather's death.
He enrolled for study at Balliol College,
Oxford but World War II
interrupted his education. He served in the Intelligence Corps at the
Ministry of Information where he met his first wife, Margaret
Anderson. Benenson then worked at Bletchley Park, the British
codebreaking centre, in the "Testery", a section tasked with breaking
German teleprinter ciphers. After demobilisation in 1946, Benenson
began practising as a barrister before joining the Labour Party and
standing unsuccessfully for election at Streatham in 1950 and for
North Herts constituency till 1959.
He was one of a group of British lawyers who founded
JUSTICE in 1957,
the UK-based human rights and law reform organisation. In 1958, he
fell ill and moved to Italy to convalesce. In the same year, he
converted to the Roman Catholic Church.
In 1961, Benenson was shocked and angered by a newspaper report of two
Portuguese students from
Coimbra sentenced to seven years in prison
for raising their glasses in a toast to freedom[unreliable source?]
during the regime of António de Oliveira Salazar, the Estado Novo. In
1961, Portugal was ruled by the authoritarian Estado Novo regime, and
anti-regime conspiracies were vigorously repressed by the Portuguese
state police and deemed anti-Portuguese. He wrote to David Astor,
editor of The Observer. On 28 May, Benenson's article, entitled "The
Forgotten Prisoners", was published. The letter asked readers to write
letters showing support for the students. To co-ordinate such
Amnesty International was founded in London
in July 1961 at a meeting of Benenson and six other men, who included
a Conservative, a Liberal and a Labour MP. The response was so
overwhelming that within a year groups of letter-writers had formed in
more than a dozen countries.
Initially appointed general secretary of AI, Benenson stood down in
1964 owing to ill health. By 1966,
Amnesty International faced an
internal crisis and Benenson alleged that the
organisation he founded was being infiltrated by British intelligence.
The advisory position of president of the International Executive was
then created for him. In 1966, he began to make allegations of
improper conduct against other members of the executive.[citation
needed] An inquiry was set up which reported at
Elsinore in Denmark in
1967. The allegations were rejected and Benenson resigned from AI.
While never again active in the organisation, Benenson was later
personally reconciled with other executives, including Seán MacBride.
He died of pneumonia on 25 February 2005 at the John Radcliffe
Hospital, Oxford, aged 83, having been a resident of the nearby
village of Nuneham Courtenay.
^ "Peter Benenson". benensonsociety.org.
^ Philip Steele (2011). Activists (20th century lives).
^ "Lifetime Achievement, Peter Benenson, Founder of Amnesty
International". Pride of Britain Awards. Archived from the original on
Peter Benenson hero file". Moreorless : Heroes and killers of
the 20th century. Archived from the original on 18 February
^ "GCHQ, Atlas and Virginia Tech: Jack Good". Computing at Chilton:
1961–2003. Retrieved 12 October 2011.
^ "Peter Benenson" (PDF). Pax Christi. Archived from the original
(PDF) on 29 September 2011.
Peter Benenson – Biography". Amnesty International. Archived from
the original on 6 December 2013.
^ Tracy McVeigh (29 May 2012). "
Amnesty International marks 50 years
of fighting for free speech". The Observer.
^ Childs, Peter; Storry, Mike, eds. (2002). "Amnesty International".
Encyclopedia of Contemporary British Culture. London: Routledge. pp.
^ McFadden, Robert D. (28 February 2005). "Peter Benenson, Founder of
Amnesty Group, Dies at 83". The New York Times.
Pincock, S.: Peter James Henry Solomon Benenson (obituary). Lancet, 2
April 2005; 365: 1224.
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Peter Benenson
"The forgotten Prisoners" 1961 article (abridged)
Non-profit organization positions
President of Amnesty International
Gandhi Peace Award
Gandhi Peace Award laureates
1960 Eleanor Roosevelt / Edwin T. Dahlberg
1961 Maurice Eisendrath / John Haynes Holmes
1962 Linus Pauling / James Warburg
1963 E. Stanley Jones
1966 A. J. Muste
1967 Norman Thomas / Jerome Davis / William Sloane Coffin
1968 Benjamin Spock
1970 Wayne Morse / Willard Uphaus
1972 U Thant
1975 Dorothy Day
1976 Daniel Ellsberg
1978 Peter Benenson / Martin Ennals
1979 Roland Bainton
1980 Helen Caldicott
1981 Corliss Lamont
1982 Randall Watson Forsberg
1984 Robert Jay Lifton / Kay Camp
1986 Bernard Lown
1987 John Somerville
1989 César Chávez
1990 Marian Wright Edelman
1991 George McGovern
1992 Ramsey Clark
1993 Lucius Walker
1994 Roy Bourgeois
1995 Edith Ballantyne
1996 New Haven-León Sister City Project
1997 Howard / Alice Frazier
2002 Michael True
2003 Dennis Kucinich
2004 Karen Jacob / David Cortright
2011 Ehud Bandel / Arik Ascherman
2012 Amy Goodman
2013 Bill McKibben
2014 Medea Benjamin
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