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Amnesty Int’l Rocks! (a Columbia University Success Story)

We’re big supporters of Amnesty International at IvyZen. Our students have started over 50 student chapters across the globe over the past 10 years and have collectively gathered over 10,000 signatures for more than a hundred political action campaigns! Today’s post talks about Amnesty International and the amazing work they do. In addition, we present a Case Study of a Political Activism Theme that was a natural fit for one of our IvyZen students and got her into Columbia University.

Does Amnesty Actually Solve Any Problems?

There are many success stories Amnesty can boast about. Amnesty has freed tens of thousands of Prisoners of Conscience around the world over the past 50 years. Recent successes include the UN adoption of a landmark Arms Trade Treaty after 20 years of political campaigns, Maryland abolishing the death penalty, the US Congress reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, Abdullah al0Qahtani’s execution was stayed and the protection of the Paraguaian indigenous community. Amnesty has won a Nobel Peace Prize as well as the UN Human Rights award.

Started in London in 1961 by Peter Benenson, Its stated mission is “to conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights, and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated.” It currently has over 7 million members around the world.

The initial plan and objective of Amnesty International was to initiate an appeal in Britain with the sole purpose of getting amnesty for prisoners of conscience throughout the world. What started as a committed involvement in these efforts ended up creating a vivid documentation of this particular prisoners’ category that was founded to be a much desired thing. With time, the Amnesty International committee realized that the work could have been conducted in manner that was permanent. The number of these prisoners was increasingly huge and they were to be sourced from all over the world. From the way things unfolded, it is correct to say that Amnesty International was initially a British movement but later became an international secretariat in 1963. The chairman of the organization during this time was the one time Nobel Prize winner Sean McBride. During this time, Amnesty international was greatly increasing in influence and reaching out to many parts of the world. After a decade of being in existence, the organization had above a thousand voluntary other groups stretching all over in 28 nations across the globe.

Following this work, Amnesty International has come up to be known as a movement working all over the world to protect human rights. Its actions are free from government influence and operations. Therefore, it is an independent body that is neutral in matters related to politics, religious boundaries and ideologies of society groups. The maiden prisoner of conscience week was conducted in 1968. Few months later in January 1969, the commonly known UNESCO gave a consultative status to Amnesty International. This was after the movement reached a milestone of the release of 2,000 prisoners of their identified group. UNESCO is a body under the umbrella of the United Nations. UNESCO has a mandate declared through its constitution to help in security and peace through the promotion of collaboration amongst the nations through science, culture and education in for the purposes of enhancing international respect for the rule of law, justice and for the rights of human and basic freedoms that are confirmed for the people across the globe without preferences on sex, religion, language, religion or race through the charter of the main body, the United Nations.

Over the years, Amnesty International works towards the release of men and women who get arrested for what they passionately follow and believe in, because of their skin color, due to ethnicity or belief system. However, this is only on grounds that they did not use any force or were found take advantage of others and involve them in violence in the pursuit of their convictions. It is this group of prisoners that is known as “Prisoners of conscience” by Amnesty International. Later on, 1977 was decaled the year of prisoners of conscience to mark the year when Amnesty International gathered signatures for a well created appeal written to the United Nations’ General Assembly. The Nobel Peace Prize of 1977 awarded to the movement was due to the campaign conducted by the organization against torture and the United Nations Prize on human rights in the year 1978. For Amnesty International, the biggest achievements are the lives that were saved, improved and those that were changed.

The primary business of Amnesty international has been around the prisoners of conscience – the abandoned prisoners. Additionally, the movement has also taken up the roles of carrying out campaigns against ill-treatments and torture. With time, Amnesty International has also established campaigns on capital punishment.  According to the statutes taken up by the movement in 1974, these three responsibilities are listed as the most significant ones by the well-established body.

In recent times, Amnesty has successfully defended the cause of protecting the rights of people across the world. In 2002, it was the campaign in Russia against the rampant abuse on human rights. Together with Oxfam, an organization fighting poverty and injustice experienced across the universe and another organization, International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) initiated the universal Control Arms campaign and another one speaking against violence on women. IANSA’s mandate is a global framework of organizations and people dedicated to cut down the propagation of small arms across the universe.

In 2007, Amnesty International conducted an intense campaign along with partners in the world coalition raised against Death Penalty. This led to the adoption of the resolution L29 on global moratorium on executions in the 62nd session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) Third Committee.  As it starts today, Amnesty International has members along with subscribers and supporters coming from more than 150 nations and territories in every part of the universe.

Success Story
“John, I can’t do MUN anymore. It’s so fake, we’re just playing games. All these real problems just continue being problems.”

One of our consulting students came to John with her mom, who insisted she continue because she was the current President even as a 10th grader at a private boarding school in the US. The mom was shocked when John, an IvyZen Mentor, agreed with his student, whom John had been mentoring since the 8th grade.

But he also had a solution: Amnesty International. He explained to his student that Amnesty had great success stories. He also explained to the mom that Founder/President’s of Amnesty had a tremendous track record with recent students over the past three years gaining acceptances to:

Stanford (3)
Columbia University (5)
Yale (1)
UChicago (8)
Penn (4)
Dartmouth (6)
Brown (5)
Cornell (2)

Both mom and student left happy ready for another year of hard work but meaningful work ahead. Sure enough, the very first political action campaign was about Pussy Riot, a punk rock band in Russia who was imprisoned by Putin for songs against religion. After a year of contributing over 200 signatures to the Amnesty campaign, Pussy Riot was released from prison. The student made a poster of the picture below and plastered her school with them. The following week, she added 20 more members to her club, making a total of 50 members, the largest at the school.

The student gained admission to her dream school of Columbia University.

Theme Summary
*Remember the 4 areas to cover when constructing an application theme:

  1. Academics
  2. Leadership
  3. Scholarship
  4. Competitions/Achievements

Student’s Summary

1. Academics

  • GPA: 8
  • SAT I: 2270
  • Courses: AP U.S./Comparative Government & Politics, AP Statistics, AP Macro/Microeconomics, AP U.S. History

2. Leadership

  • Amnesty International School Chapter (Founder/President)
  • Amnesty Internship at USA Headquarters in NYC
  • MUN President
  • Student Council President

3. Scholarship

  • National History Day School Representative (History Independent Research Paper)
  • Game Theory Research Paper published on CCE Journal

4. Competitions/Achievements

  • National History Day – chosen as one of two representatives
  • Average of 200 signatures per Amnesty action


Political Activism Theme
Students who do Amnesty usually craft a Political Activism theme. These students are interested in majoring in human rights, political science, economics, international relations, regional studies, e.g. East Asian Studies, or gender studies. Most of these students do not even know about political activism. But college admissions officer do!

Amnesty International is usually the largest student organization on campus at most Ivy Leagues and is definitely the most active. There are also dozens more alternative student organizations related to human rights and political activism. It’s a significant part of the college culture. Because admissions officer are looking for students who will fit well on their campus, they naturally like students with a strong record of political activism achievements.

Amnesty is great too, because on the college application nothing stands out more than detailed figures about how many campaigns run and how many signatures received. For example, most students will write the following as the description for their MUN activity:

> Member of MUN, attending Harvard MUN conference, helped organized fundraising

There are few specifics details and nothing outstanding. Amnesty students get to write the following:

> Founding member, 25 political action campaigns, garnered over 2,500 signatures in total

Much more specific and impressive! The activity of petition campaigning is very easy to understand and its impact so much more powerful. In sum, Amnesty is both an amazing and impressive activity.