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Chapter 5


Advice and Guidance (Part 1)

This chapter is a practical guide to AI's international campaign for human rights.

It gives advice about how you can work effectively in your own community to put pressure on governments _ pressure to safeguard the victims of human rights violations, to prevent similar violations from happening again, and to promote a long-term awareness of human rights and a commitment to their protection.

It draws on the experience of AI members and groups around the world, and shares their ideas for getting publicity in the news media, sending direct appeals, mobilizing local politicians to take up the cause, reaching out to other sectors of society, holding dramatic public events, and raising money to pay for these activities.

It sets out the most important rules and guidelines you should know in order to carry out this work within the mandate and policies of AI.

It shows how, with the help of your friends, neighbours, and others in your community, you can help set free a prisoner of conscience, ensure a fair trial for a political detainee, stop torture, save a person from execution, prevent “disappearances”, or protect a refugee from being sent back to persecution.

A note about the format of this chapter

The information in this chapter is organized into self-contained “packages” or units. These units are designed to enable users of this handbook to copy and distribute them to other AI members. They are meant to be portable “tools” that can help many more activists carry out their AI work more effectively.

Use copying equipment to create:

  • background leaflets to accompany Urgent Action case sheets
  • handouts for use in training sessions on outreach
  • booklets for the benefit of group members who have volunteered for specific tasks, such as coordinating the group's Regional Action Network

Be mindful that these units do not try to cover every aspect of each particular topic. If you have questions about any area of AI's work, please consult the full handbook, or contact your section office or, if there is no section, the International Secretariat.

AI groups: organization and management

The fundamentals


AI encourages all persons who support the movement's objectives and principles to become members.

Many members participate in AI by joining and working with groups that are based in their everyday community. This community might be their local neighbourhood, village, or town, or it might be their workplace, school, or place of worship.

To help safeguard the movement's principle of impartiality, each AI group should aim to have a broad-based membership. People with different backgrounds and political orientations should be invited to join and participate.

New groups

In different parts of the movement, new AI groups are known by different terms: “groups-in-formation”, “developing groups”, “groups-under-establishment”, “pre-groups”, or “initiative groups”.

Each new group participates in a training period that usually lasts approximately six months. During this time, the members carry out a limited campaigning program while they concentrate on learning about AI and on building the group's resources.

Once its members have demonstrated that they have the knowledge and the means to do consistent, effective campaigning, the group is accredited in the movement _ that is, it is authorized to represent AI in its local community, to speak in AI's name, and to take on the full range of AI group tasks.

The process of group training and accreditation takes different forms in different parts of the movement. Activists who wish to start an AI group should contact their section office or, in countries where there is no section, the International Secretariat.

The role of an AI group

The role of an AI group is to campaign on AI's concerns:

  • to make direct appeals on behalf of the victims of human rights violations _ by sending letters, telexes, telegrams, making telephone calls, and organizing delegations
  • to enlist the support of others in AI's work _ by creating publicity, distributing AI's information, and involving in its activities individuals and other community groups and organizations
  • to contribute to the financial support of the movement _ by raising money
  • Commonly, these activities are carried out in the context of:
  • n large-scale AI campaigns that focus on particular countries or human rights issues
  • n actions that address individual concerns, such as Urgent Action case sheets, Worldwide Appeals, or Action Bulletin cases
  • n long-term group work under-taken in agreement with the International Secretariat, such as responsibility for an Action File or membership in a Regional Action Network

What every group must do

1 An AI group is an official unit of the organization, and it represents the movement in its local community. Every group, therefore, must observe the AI Statute and the fundamental principles of the organization as set out in the Amnesty International Handbook. Every group must:

  • be committed to the entire AI mandate, and, if it is the only group in its area, strive to campaign actively across the full range of mandate issues during the course of the year
  • ensure political impartiality and independence in its campaigning
  • observe the decisions of the elected governing bodies of the movement
  • operate in an open and independent way, and, if it is the only group in its area, aim to attract members from the widest possible spectrum of society

2 Because every AI group is expected to maintain a reasonable and consistent level of campaigning activity, it should ensure that it:

  • has at least five active members
  • establishes a coordinating structure _ an executive board or planning committee that holds office and that functions with the general support of the group
  • keeps a reliable mailing address
  • develops and carries out training programs for its members
  • reports on its activities every six or 12 months to the section or to the International Secretariat
  • maintains a financial base adequate to support its own work and to allow for contributions to the international movement

3 Every AI group should operate in a way that does not violate the law of its own country.

Leadership roles

To function efficiently, every group will wish to assign roles or tasks to its members. How this is done will depend on the group's size, resources, and cultural context.

Commonly, AI groups maintain at least:

  • a contact person who may also act as general chairperson and overall coordinator
  • a treasurer to handle the group's finances and its bank account
  • a secretary to record decisions and keep a register of members

New or developing groups are strengthened by the appointment of a person to organize fund-raising projects and a person to recruit and welcome new members.

As well, groups often assign to specific people the responsibility for making approaches to the news media or to officials in the home government.

If the group is large and has many resources, it may appoint a member or even a small team to organize areas of activity such as Urgent Actions, Action Files, country campaigns, or special events.

Renewing the leadership

To ensure fresh ideas and a revitalization of the work, each group should consider handing over its management to new leaders regularly and systematically.

One way that groups can foster new leaders in key posts is by designating “apprentices” or alternates. These people receive their training in the course of helping to carry out ongoing activities.

Making decisions

AI has no formal procedures setting out the way groups must choose leaders, settle disputes, or make other decisions. Groups differ widely on how they deal with such matters.

There is a basic expectation, however, that AI members will cooperate to build within the movement an atmosphere of understanding, mutual support, and democracy.

When everyone can take part in discussions and decision-making, the morale, motivation, and energy of activists will remain high, and the work that they do will have more impact.


Wherever in the world the group may be situated, whatever its size or structure, the routine of the typical AI group will revolve around meetings. For its work to be effective, its meetings should be efficiently run.

Most groups choose to meet once a month, although many operate on a different schedule. To allow members to plan their time, and to publicize the group in the community, in general the meetings are held at a regular time and place.

Group members themselves should determine the meeting's style of discussion. Some groups hold relaxed, informal meetings, while others prefer to conduct business on the basis of rules of order.

Here are a few tips for holding effective meetings _ meetings that move the group toward the achievement of its goals:

  • set an agenda
  • Agree on the basic purpose of each meeting: Is it to train new members? To practice letter-writing? To plan for the coming year?

  • try to make clear, realistic decisions
  • When considering whether to undertake an activity, ask: Who will carry out this task? When? What will the project cost? How will it fit into our general plans?

  • delegate
  • Entrust people with tasks. Foster leadership, and create a feeling of “belonging” to the group by sharing responsibilities and by involving every member in its work.

  • keep notes
  • Take minutes of the decisions made _ which member agreed to do what and when. Record important questions that went unanswered.

  • evaluate the meeting itself
  • At the end of each meeting, ask the participants: What was good about this meeting? What would they like to see changed at the next meeting?

  • follow-up
  • Find out the answers to the unanswered questions and check that the decisions made were carried out. Report to the group at its next meeting.

To enliven meetings...

  • invite a speaker, such as an experienced AI member, a former prisoner of conscience, or a local journalist or academic who can give a talk on human rights
  • show an AI film or slide-show
  • carry out a project, such as creating a display
  • be sure the agenda is balanced with a mix of business and social time _ build in a regular break or rest period when people can relax

Make a plan

It is futile for an AI group to aspire to reach all the human rights goals that need to be achieved. Each group, therefore, should develop a plan of action.

To make a plan is simply to make a choice of goals _ the group decides that it will take on a limited range of tasks. It chooses tasks that will most effectively use the group's unique skills, resources, and energies.

  • a plan makes it easy to see your goals
  • AI is interested in results. Its members seek to bring about real change in the world. A plan is inspiring. It gives members a clear, focused vision of their goals.

  • a plan makes it easy to reach your goals
  • A plan unites. It creates a shared understanding of a desired outcome and reduces the chance of confusion and conflict. If people agree on the ends to be achieved, they will more readily agree on the steps that must be taken to reach them.

  • a plan makes it easy to assess when goals have been reached
  • A plan allows for evaluation of the group's action. When a goal is carefully expressed, in terms that can be seen or measured, the progress that is being made toward achieving it can be monitored.

Your group's plan must observe the four important points about action planning that are given on the next page, and it should reflect any overall program that may have been agreed by your section. Within this framework, planning should not be a complicated process.

Planning is simply deciding what your group will achieve during a specified period of time, adjusting these goals to the group's energies and resources, and stating these goals clearly.

A good plan is simple. Because it is meant to guide the work of busy volunteers, it should be short, quickly read, and easily remembered. A useful rule is to limit the plan to less than ten brief statements.

A good plan is a practical instrument. It is not filed away and forgotten, but it should be taken into account every time the group makes a decision. Display the plan, on a blackboard or chart-paper, at all group meetings, or use the plan to create an activity calendar that is given to group members.

A good plan sets goals that are measurable or observable. It avoids general statements, and instead states precisely what the group will aim to achieve.

A good plan sets realistic goals that are within the means of the group's limited resources. While it may contain a vision of what the group wishes to achieve, its goals state clearly what the group really can achieve. The key message of a good plan is “one step at a time”.

A good plan sets priorities. By stating what the group will aim to achieve, it provides an ongoing, limiting guide. The plan allows the group to say “yes” to some activities and “no” to others.

An important note about action planning

When setting its annual campaigning agenda, each AI group must observe these points:

1 During the course of the year, every AI group is expected to build an integrated campaigning program, and to do some work in all these campaigning areas:

  • send appeals on behalf of the victims of human rights violations
  • enlist other people to take action on behalf of AI's concerns
  • raise money for the support of the movement

2 During the course of the year, within any local region, overall group activity should address the full range of AI's mandate.

This guideline ensures that the work of the movement as a whole is balanced among the different parts of the mandate, and that new members and the public are presented with a complete and accurate picture of AI's concerns.

If a group is the only AI group in its region, it could, for example, meet this guideline by responding during the year to death penalty, torture, and unfair trial issues through the Urgent Action scheme, take responsibility for an Action File on a “disappearance” case, and work on behalf of prisoners of conscience by way of Worldwide Appeals or the Action Bulletin.

Or, the same group might take part in a three-month death penalty action that focuses on unfair trials, and following that, join a country campaign that includes cases concerned with prisoners of conscience, torture, and extrajudicial execution.

Or, two groups based in the same local region might choose to combine their plans in a way that presents to the public a complete picture of AI's work.

3 During the course of the year, every AI group is expected to do some work on human rights concerns in diverse world regions and political systems.

This guideline helps ensure the movement's political impartiality. Groups that focus on only one world region or one political system risk giving their community a false impression of AI's objectivity.

To meet this guideline, a group could, for example, choose any two of these three options: work in the Middle East Regional Action Network, join a short-term campaign concerned with political detainees in China, or send Urgent Action appeals on imminent executions in the United States.

4 AI groups with responsibility for an Action File are expected to maintain an adequate, sustained level of work on behalf of the individuals, situations, or events that are the

focus of each case. They must maintain an ongoing, month-to-month program based on the actions recommended in the file.

Plan of Group Number ____

Any Place, Any Country


During the next 12 months, our group will:

  • send 10 appeals a month on behalf of our Action File concern
  • provide the community newspaper with one article describing the Urgent Action scheme
  • meet once with our local political representative and discuss the death penalty
  • raise 25% more money than we did last year
  • add six new members to the group and conduct one training session for them
  • hold a vigil during Amnesty International Week
  • organize a public march on Human Rights Day
  • review and evaluate this plan, and set a new plan for the subsequent year

Our group agrees that, unless our Action File is closed and more time becomes available, during this period it will not:

  • take part in any large-scale country campaign
  • join a Regional Action Network

Renewing your group

Every healthy AI group is in a constant state of change. In the natural course of the group's life, its members join and leave, or they raise and lower their activity level.

In order to work consistently and steadily toward reaching its goals, the group needs to attract new members and to involve them in its program in a routine manner.

Publicize your group's activities and meetings

  • make leaflets or posters advertising the meeting place and time, and place them in community centres, post offices, and schools, or on street billboards
  • write or stamp the name and address of your group on all general AI leaflets you distribute
  • ask that the meetings be announced in community news media, and ensure that the group is mentioned in any AI story that appears in local newspapers, radio, or television
  • request that upcoming meetings be publicized at religious gatherings, at trade union meetings, and at the workplace
  • have group members tell their relatives, friends, and colleagues

Welcome visitors and new members

  • when new members arrive at a group meeting or public activity, make the person feel welcome. Experienced members can volunteer to act as “friends” with newcomers and to be on hand to answer their questions
  • suggest to new participants that they leave their names and addresses on an attendance sheet so that they can be kept informed about group news and involved in the group's activities
  • one good way to encourage first-time visitors to return to the group is simply to give them something to do. Show that AI is an activist organization that carries out practical, public work. Invite the visitor to make a commitment: sign a petition, write an appeal on an Urgent Action, make a donation, join a march. Ask the person what special skills he or she can bring to the work of the group

John, the yes-man

The following story, unfortunately, is a familiar one in AI:

John is a deeply committed AI activist. He believes that the more human rights work he volunteers to do, the better the world will be. Every time he is asked to take on an AI task, therefore, he says “yes”.

Soon, John has agreed to do a great many tasks. Although he labours efficiently for long hours, before long he finds that he cannot meet the many deadlines that he has set for himself.

One day, John feels that the AI demands are so overwhelming he can no longer cope with them. He feels angry at the work itself. Suddenly he leaves the movement, and he does not return for a year.

Every committed AI activist needs to remember:

  • more work is not necessarily more effective work
  • sometimes you can help the movement by saying “no”
  • it's better to do one task well than three tasks poorly

Each voice makes a difference

Many human rights activists campaign effectively by working as individuals.

It may be that there is no AI group established near their home. Or, they may not be in a position to attend group activities. Or they may prefer to work independently.

Here are some practical ways an individual activist can support AI's struggle for human rights:

  • join the Urgent Action network and send emergency appeals
  • subscribe to the Worldwide Appeals (or the Action Bulletin) and build around it a program of routine activity
  • distribute to libraries and bookstores in your community AI's publications and reports
  • alert your own political representatives to AI's concerns
  • donate money to AI
  • carry the AI message to your family, friends, neighbours, and colleagues
  • wear an AI T-shirt or badge
  • write letters to the editor of your local newspaper about international human rights concerns
  • when reports of human rights abuses appear in your local newspaper, clip the story and mail it to the embassy of the offending country with a short note asking politely whether the story is true
  • join a group, but ask if you can receive its information (such as its Action File materials) by mail or by some other means

Teamwork: coordinating activities

AI's task is to protect the dignity and security of people.

AI's instrument in this task is the credibility of its statements.

AI is hundreds of thousands of people working together for the same cause. Every member is part of the worldwide team, and every member is responsible for making sure that AI _ while speaking in its many voices _ sends a consistent message to the world.

Today's instant global communications make it vital that AI's statements _ whether made in Mexico, Sweden, or Japan, or whether made by a local group or by the International Secretariat _ are based on the same accurate information and reflect the movement's common mandate and policy.

To ensure that their statements are accurate and credible, sections and groups should take three measures:

  • assign responsibilities carefully and clearly
  • Appoint experienced and reliable people to take charge of sensitive areas of work, such as press relations and approaches to politicians. Circulate up-to-date lists of these assignments to others in the movement who will normally deal with these people. Let everyone know who is responsible for specific tasks.

  • n alert others to projects that are being planned
  • Before launching any new action, check _ as early as possible _ with the section office, other groups, or other parts of the movement that could be affected by the project or that may have a reasonable interest in knowing about it.

  • as the project moves forward, tell others what is happening
  • Report, as appropriate, to groups or other sections, to your section office, to the country coordinator, or to the International Secretariat. Ask: Who needs to be kept informed?

These three steps build good working relationships, help to send clear, consistent messages to the world, and increase the movement's effectiveness.

Good coordination: practical examples

Given the complexity of the movement and the large number of projects that its members undertake, it is impossible to make a list covering every instance where consultation is advised.

Here, however, are some examples of the kinds of day-to-day precautions that careful AI activists will carry out:

  • a group that shares an Action File with groups in other countries assigns to one of its members the task of maintaining regular contact with the other groups
  • n a section office warns its groups well in advance of an upcoming country campaign, and likewise, interested groups inform the office, well in advance, of their intention to take part
  • before a section features in its members' newsletter a prisoner of conscience case that has been assigned for adoption to a group in the section, it consults with that group
  • before a section arranges to visit an embassy on its own initiative, it informs the International Secretariat, and it involves the section's coordinator for that target country in the planning and possibly in the delegation itself
  • before a group calls formally upon a local politician, it speaks with any other local AI groups that may have a base within the politician's constituency
  • media contact people in groups stay in regular communication with the section's media officer (who is in close touch with the International Secretariat) and with other groups in the area
  • a group advises the section of a new and unusual local activity it plans, such as a novel fund-raising initiative likely to attract widespread publicity

Members' travel

AI members travelling outside their own country, in their personal capacities, are not authorized to undertake AI business or to visit prisoners or their families without advance approval from the International Secretariat.

Members often visit other members, groups, and sections in other countries. They are encouraged to advise their own section office, or the International Secretariat, when planning to do so.

Asking for Support

When AI makes an appeal to a target government, our message is usually strengthened if it arrives in different forms from many members situated all over the world.

On the other hand, when AI asks other bodies to support its work, our request is more likely to be successful if it is sent in a direct fashion by the most appropriate part of the movement.

To accomplish this, AI observes a general guideline: any formal approach seeking to involve other bodies in the support of its work is the responsibility of the parallel level of AI.

The International Executive Committee and the International Secretariat organize approaches to international bodies, for example:

  • intergovernmental organizations, such as the United Nations
  • international non-governmental organizations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross
  • international news services, such as the BBC World Service, Agence France Presse, or the Middle East News Agency
  • leaders of major religions, such as the Pope
  • the world's population as a whole, such as in the case of global fund-raising or worldwide awareness campaigns

Sections generally take charge of approaches to national bodies, for example:

  • national levels of non-governmental organizations
  • national associations of doctors, lawyers, and other professionals, and national trade unions
  • domestic news services and mass media, such as a country-wide television network, or a highly influential newspaper
  • senior government officials and the national parliament
  • religious figures with a national profile
  • the country's general population

Local groups are usually responsible for approaches to regional and local bodies, for example:

  • local or regional bodies of non-governmental organizations or professional associations, such as regional bar associations or trade union locals
  • local community newspapers, radio, and television
  • municipal politicians or district representatives of the national parliament
  • community religious figures
  • the local population

Where there is no section, local groups based in the capital will often carry out some national-level contacts.

Security of information

AI members are expected to treat information responsibly.

AI's information may have an impact on the personal safety of those for whom the movement works, as well as of its members. People may be placed at risk if sensitive material is not handled confidentially.

All circulars issued by the International Secretariat to sections, to coordination groups, or to groups are marked either:

I N T E R N A L (for AI members only)


E X T E R N A L (for general distribution)

INTERNAL documents are for circulation to AI members only. They contain recommendations for action and information for members.

INTERNAL documents must be securely stored. Under no circumstances should they be given to journalists, government officials, or other organizations, sent to contacts within the country concerned, or given to people who are not AI members.

Letters from the International Secretariat _ even if they do not contain confidential information _ are INTERNAL documents, and should not be circulated outside the membership.

Action Files and other materials issued by the International Secretariat often carry detailed security advice that should be observed by AI members. When such files and materials are re-packaged (for example, for the benefit of the local press) confidential information should be withheld.

Often, an EXTERNAL document will be accompanied by some INTERNAL pages.

Care should be taken to ensure that the INTERNAL pages are detached before the document is copied.

When sections and groups reproduce, re-package or translate INTERNAL documents for distribution among their members, these new documents should also be clearly marked INTERNAL.

EXTERNAL documents may be

used by anyone. They contain important information for sections, groups, the public, and other organizations. They should be reproduced, translated, and freely circulated.