Power, Jonathan 1941-
POWER, Jonathan 1941-
PERSONAL: Born June 4, 1941, in North Mimms, England; son of Patrick and Dorothy Power; married Anne Hayward (a government housing consultant); children: Carmen, Miriam, Lucy. Education: Victoria University of Manchester, B.A., 1963; University of Wisconsin, M.A., 1966. Politics: Social Democrat. Religion: Roman Catholic.
ADDRESSES: Agent—Curtis Brown, Haymarket House, 28-29 Haymarket, London SW1Y 4SP, England. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Freelance writer, broadcaster, columnist, and filmmaker, 1967—. Ministry of Agriculture, Tanzania, volunteer, 1963-64; member of staff of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., 1966. International Herald Tribune, foreign affairs correspondent; conducted fieldwork in Lesotho; visiting fellow of Overseas Development Council, Washington, DC, and International Institute for Strategic Studies, London; editorial adviser to International Commission on Disarmament and Security Issues; consultant to World Council of Churches, International Institute for the Environment and Development, and Aspen Institute.
MEMBER: International Institute for Strategic Studies, Royal Society for International Affairs.
AWARDS, HONORS: Silver medal from Venice Film Festival, 1972, for "It's Ours Whatever They Say."
Economic Development, Longman (London, England), 1971.
World of Hunger, Temple Smith (London, England), 1976.
(Editor) Like Water on a Stone: The Story of Amnesty International, Northeastern University Press (Boston, MA), 2001.
The Black American Dream, first broadcast by British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC-TV), 1971.
It's Ours Whatever They Say, first broadcast by BBC TV, 1972.
The Diplomatic Style of Andrew Young, first broadcast by BBC-TV, 1979.
Also author of several other films. Columnist for International Herald Tribune, 1974-1991; guest columnist, New York Times, 1979, syndicated columnist, 1994—. Contributor to magazines and newspapers in England, Europe, and the United States, including International Affairs, London Times, Guardian, Observer, Washington Post, El Pais, Die Zeit, Politiken, Commonweal, Encounter, and Prospect.
SIDELIGHTS: "Amnesty [International] may not yet have changed the world, but it hasn't left the world as it found it either," said Jonathan Power on the 40th anniversary of the indefatigable human rights organization. In his book, Like Water on Stone: The Story of Amnesty International, Power chronicles the history of the organization from its inception, through triumphs and controversies, to its position as a potent influence in the global struggle for human rights, the humane treatment of prisoners, and the elimination of oppression.
Founded by British lawyer Peter Benenson in 1961, Amnesty International began as "a group to push for the release of prisoners locked up solely for exercising their freedom of speech on political matters," wrote a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. In late 1960, Benenson read "a newspaper report about two Portuguese students in Lisbon during the dark days of the Salazar dictatorship," Power wrote in Guardian (London). "They had been arrested and sentenced to seven years' imprisonment for raising their glasses in a toast to freedom."
Benenson pondered how to persuade the Portuguese authorities to "release these victims of outrageous oppression," Power wrote. "A way must be devised to bombard the Salazar regime with written protests." As the idea developed, Benenson believed that a wider and stronger response would be "a one-year campaign to draw public attention to the plight of political and religious prisoners throughout the world," Power wrote. Joined by prominent Londoners Eric Barker and Louis Blom-Cooper, the "Appeal for Amnesty, 1961" was launched in the newspaper, Observer, in late May.
"At Benenson's office in London, they collected and published information on people whom Benenson was later to call 'prisoners of conscience,'" Power wrote. "The three men soon had a nucleus of supporters, principally lawyers, journalists, politicians and intellectuals."
Upon its 40th anniversary in 2001, Amnesty International's rolls boasted an international membership of more than a million, with supporters in 160 countries and territories. "Amnesty has dealt with the cases of 47,000 prisoners of conscience and other victims of human-rights violation," Power wrote. "More than 45,000 of these cases are now closed."
In Like Water on Stone, Power "charts the ways in which Amnesty has contributed to the march of human rights, sometimes dramatically but mostly modestly and quietly," wrote reviewer Alex de Waal in London Review of Books. "And it is a truly impressive story, of many small, mostly invisible and unattributable victories, in the form of prisoners released or treated better, local human rights groups founded around the world, and legal reforms, all adding up to slowly raising the bar on what it is acceptable for a government to do." A reviewer in Publishers Weekly called the book a "sympathetic account." Caroline Moorehaed wrote in the Times Literary Supplement that it is a "very readable book.... Never was Amnesty International more needed. And never, to judge from Jonathan Power's carefully argued book, has it been better placed to play its part."
Power "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,'" wrote the Publishers Weekly reviewer. But, "to his credit, Power is willing to offer some criticisms of the group where its efforts have gone awry." Power's book "is not an uncritical history," de Waal wrote. "He refers both to the scandal of Benenson's links with the Foreign Office (which brought the organization to the point of collapse) and—glancingly—to the view that Amnesty's focus on prisoners contributed to the preference of some Latin American dictatorships for having their victims 'disappear' instead." Prominent among the group's failures, de Waal observed, is "the continuing use of the death penalty in the U.S."
The pursuit of "human rights is an activity as well as a theory; it is an exercise in power," de Waal commented. With the increased prominence of Amnesty International and other private and governmental organizations, "the discourse of human rights has widened considerably and the activity now encompasses not only the old-style campaigns against manifest injustice, torture and political detention, for example, but the promotion of democracy, conflict resolution, 'good governance,' humanitarian principles and the increasingly fashionable notion of 'civil society.'"
But there is no shortage of "horror stories encountered by Amnesty" in Power's book, Tariq Ali remarked in the Times, "and unlike the more pliable HR scholar/journalists, he is not shy of naming names." Although some readers "may wish that Power had more distance from his subject," a Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote, "this book is a valuable addition to a growing library on the recent advances in human rights."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
British Book News, July, 1984, review of Amnesty International, p. 393.
Guardian (London, England), May 12, 2001, Jonathan Power, article on Amnesty International and Like Water on Stone: The Story of Amnesty International, p. 3.
Library Journal, October 1, 1995, Wilda Williams, review of A Vision of Hope: The Fiftieth Anniversary of the United Nations, p. 102; October 1, 1995, Wilda Williams, review of A Vision of Hope, p. 102.
London Review of Books, August 23, 2001, Alex de Waal, "The Moral Solipsism of Global Ethics Inc," review of Like Water on Stone, pp. 15-18.
New Statesman, April 2, 1976.
Publishers Weekly, July 30, 2001, review of Like Water on Stone, p. 72.
School Librarian, May, 1996, review of A Vision of Hope, p. 83.
Social Education, summer, 1985, review of Amnesty International, p. 526.
Spectator, March 27, 1976.
Times (London, England), June 6, 2001, Tariq Ali, "How Amnesty Fought the Enemy Inside and Out," p. 13.
Washington Monthly, December, 1981, Michael Hiestand, review of Amnesty International, p. 58.
Penguin UK Web site,http://www.penguin.co.uk/ (October 7, 2001), interview with Jonathan Power.