cover image LIKE WATER ON STONE: The Story of Amnesty International

LIKE WATER ON STONE: The Story of Amnesty International

Jonathan Power, . . Northeastern Univ., $30 (331pp) ISBN 978-1-55553-487-5

In 1961, a news report about human rights violations in Portugal motivated a British lawyer named Peter Benenson to set up a group to push for the release of prisoners locked up solely for exercising their freedom of speech on political matters. Forty years later, as British journalist Power puts it in this sympathetic account, Amnesty International "has been the catalyst that has transformed, invigorated and even transfigured the debate" over human rights. A chapter in the middle of the book relates the history of Amnesty, but Power focuses more on specific countries—Nigeria (where a former prisoner "adopted" by Amnesty is now the country's president), Guatemala, Northern Ireland, Chile, China and the U.S. (Amnesty opposes capital punishment). Power, an internationally syndicated columnist (and editor of A Vision of Hope: The Fiftieth Anniversary of the United Nations) strongly supports the increased attention that groups like Amnesty have brought to human rights, and he devotes a good deal of discussion to the group's "success stories"—from released "prisoners of conscience" to an overall improvement in the human rights climate in countries like Morocco. To his credit, Power is willing to offer some criticisms of the group where its efforts have gone awry—as in Germany, where the local branch became too close with the violent Baader-Meinhof gang in the 1970s—but, even here, he includes some positive comments about Amnesty's activities. The organization "was right to intervene and insist on a decent prison regime" for members of the radical group. Some may wish that Power had more distance from his subject, but this book is a valuable addition to a growing library on the recent advances in human rights. (Sept. 5)