AI Handbook

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Chapter 5


Advice and Guidance (Part 3)

Home government approaches

The influence wielded by domestic government officials can make a forceful impression in support of any AI campaign.

AI's mandate covers a range of matters that concern politicians of all shades of opinion. Furthermore, government officials are often victims of human rights violations. Many politicians are likely to react sympathetically to an AI approach.

Groups should try to establish good links with their local political officials, meet with them regularly, and ask them to help with both international and domestic concerns.


Politicians are busy people who receive many requests for help. If they are to respond positively to AI, every approach must be carefully planned and coordinated.

Local groups commonly take responsibility for approaches to municipal or regional politicians, and to local representatives to the national assembly. Section-level governing bodies, staff, or volunteers deal with senior government officials and with the national assembly as a body.

To guard against conflicting requests being made of the same official, therefore, groups should maintain contact with:

  • the section's coordinator for home government approaches
  • any other AI groups that are based in the same constituency

To ensure this coordination, each group (being mindful of its limited resources and its overall plan) should consider appointing an experienced member to take charge of this area of work. The most important task of this person is to develop a long-term relationship of trust and confidence between the group and the government official.

Lobbying for help in international campaigning

Just as AI might approach any influential sector of society, groups reach out to government officials, senior administrators, and political parties, and ask them to join in AI's international campaigning.

They invite political figures to take advantage of their prominent positions and wide contacts to help AI make a stronger appeal to foreign government authorities.

Here are some practical approaches a local group can make:

  • ask the person to send appeals to the target government on official letterhead
  • remind the official to promote general human rights awareness in all speeches and public appearances
  • encourage the official to use international meetings, such as the world congresses of political parties, to present AI's message to counterparts in target governments
  • suggest that the person raise your group's concern in the assembly and also forward the official record of the speech to the target government
  • arrange with the official to alert the group to opportunities for contact with foreign authorities during upcoming international meetings, visits, or exchanges
  • invite members of political parties to speak to AI group meetings about their policies on human rights issues
  • enquire whether the AI group can speak to local branches of political parties about AI's mandate and work
  • enlist the support of a non-partisan range of political figures in any local media approach, public event, or fund-raising drive

Lobbying on a domestic concern

AI members, when acting publicly on behalf of the movement, must not campaign against specific human rights violations that take place in their own country. This rule safeguards the impartiality of the organization's work and the principle of the international protection of human rights.

AI members may campaign publicly in favour of certain measures that support the AI mandate:

  • legislation that abolishes or limits the death penalty
  • ratification of international human rights standards
  • laws or regulations that encourage human rights education programs for public officials and security personnel

Members may campaign also for domestic legislation that discourages violations elsewhere:

  • laws that safeguard refugees or asylum-seekers who are threatened with return to a country where they risk being held as prisoners of conscience, or subjected to “disappearance”, torture, or execution (AI may also ask government officials to take action in favour of individual asylum-seekers)
  • laws preventing the international transfer of military or police equipment or expertise that may be used to commit human rights violations

Lobbying for legislative changes such as these is generally initiated by the section, often in consultation with the International Secretariat. In some cases, the approval of the International Secretariat or of AI's International Executive Committee is required before such an initiative is launched.

Whenever any such campaigns are being considered, sections and groups must coordinate their activities carefully. A well-timed combination of high-level and local lobbying, in which AI's case is made simultaneously in the assembly halls and in the streets, reinforces the action and increases the possibility it will be successful.

Members should be particularly mindful of the danger that some political forces may try to use AI in a partisan way. In all its contacts with political figures, AI should aim for a balance among conflicting parties and ideologies so that the movement is seen to be broad-based and impartial.

Visiting your political representative

Forming a good working relationship with local government officials can enhance a group's all-round campaigning.

Here are some basic points to keep in mind when meeting with political figures:

  • always remember: coordinate the meeting with the section and with other groups in your area
  • keep the AI delegation small _ no more than three people
  • bring to the meeting some background material that tells the official what AI is and the activities the local group has been carrying out
  • make a specific request. Ask the official to write a letter of appeal, bring forward a human rights issue in the assembly, read a current AI report, or pass the group's concern to a senior government minister
  • ask the politician for advice on the most effective way to convey information to her or him. Politicians are in the business of being lobbied, and should be happy to give guidance on how best to gain their attention
  • remember to foster good relations with the official's staff, who often wield a great deal of control over a representative's time and agenda
  • ask for a follow-up meeting in six months or a year
  • send a note of thanks
  • report on the meeting to the section coordinator for home government approaches, or if there is no section, to the International Secretariat.


Your AI group can join with other organizations to build pressure for the protection of human rights.

Groups can increase support for their campaigning by reaching outward to work with “target sectors” _ professional organizations and other social and cultural groupings.

Some sectors of society are likely to respond positively to AI's call for help. Trade unionists, members of religious communities, teachers, journalists and writers, lawyers, health care workers, politicians, and community activists are often committed to the struggle for social justice. People from these walks of life are themselves often the victims of human rights violations.

In these same sectors, and others, there may be many who have never considered working for human rights or had the opportunity to do so. AI groups can help motivate these people to become activists even if they may not wish to become members of AI itself.

AI's aim is to get all of society committed to working for human rights.

AI's allies _ who are they?

  • Agricultural workers
  • Aid and development organizations
  • Artists and musicians
  • Business people
  • Doctors, nurses, and other health workers
  • Children's organizations
  • Community workers
  • Environmental activists
  • Ethnic or minority groups
  • Human rights monitors
  • Indigenous peoples
  • Lawyers and other legal professionals
  • Military personnel
  • Peace campaigners
  • Police officers
  • Political parties
  • Religious bodies
  • Scientists
  • Students and youth
  • Teachers
  • Trade unionists
  • Women's organizations
  • Writers and journalists

Why reach out?

Outreach is a routine part of all AI action. It can be seen not as a marginal or optional activity, but as a way of thinking about all campaigning. Imaginative outreach magnifies the impact of every effort that a group makes.

Outreach expands the campaigning forces that are mobilized:

  • more activists

    AI can identify large numbers of supporters simply by using the networks these people already belong to. Forming links with existing institutions extends AI's own networks, in effect, and makes it easier to generate greater numbers of appeals. Outreach gains support for the movement also because it speaks to people in terms that they recognize. Trade unionists, for example, will readily take up the cause of persecuted colleagues.

  • In the long term, outreach encourages the growth and diversification of AI's own membership, and it creates a wider base of general human rights awareness.

  • influence and prestige

    Leading figures in the community can help AI by lending the weight of their official positions or personal standing.

    Heads of large trade unions, respected religious leaders, prominent lawyers, and eminent physicians can be valuable in lobbying other powerful forces such as home government authorities.

  • money

    Religious bodies and trade unions, high-income professionals, and artists and musicians all can help AI in raising funds to support its relief efforts and its programs.

  • technical and professional skills and services

    Trade unions can offer practical help such as the use of a printing facility. Lawyers can give specialist advice. Medical workers can bring their expert perspective to strengthen AI's protests against torture and ill-treatment. Teachers, acting in their professional capacity, can give courses in human rights education.

Coordination of outreach

Whenever AI asks another organization for its support, the approach must be properly coordinated.

As a general rule, any request for support from other bodies is the responsibility of the parallel level of AI.

  • AI groups deal with the local, community, and regional branches of other organizations
  • section governing bodies, staff, and outreach coordinators make approaches to the national levels of these organizations
  • AI's international level deals with the offices of international organizations

To lessen the chance of sending conflicting messages to the target organization, it is good practice for groups also to inform other AI groups in their community of the outreach activities they are planning.

As in all sensitive areas where AI's public image is at stake, groups _ if they have the people available _ might consider appointing members to act as outreach contacts or specialists. These people can take charge of outreach in general, or they can focus on specific sectors where they may already have close links.

Cooperation with other organizations

Even though it is important for AI to involve other bodies in work on shared concerns, the movement must carry out this activity in ways that do not give the community a wrong impression about AI's mandate, or threaten AI's reputation for impartiality and independence.

AI can give EXTERNAL information to other organizations and encourage them to take action. It can also send representatives to speak to other organizations about AI's mandate and work.

In the case of an activity whose concern falls completely within AI's mandate _ such as torture or the death penalty _ the movement may be able to join with other bodies in public campaigning.

If a public event is open to a large number of organizations (such as a parade) AI can take part as one of these identifiable organizations.

AI can work with other bodies also on long-term projects in human rights education that aim to make people aware of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Although the topics that AI deals with must fall within its limited mandate, the issues taught by other organizations may fall outside this mandate.

The first approach

Here are some general tips on making the opening approach to an organization in your community:

  • check first with your own group members _ perhaps a member is already linked with the organization in some manner, and can advise on the best way for the group to make the connection
  • try to find out which member or official in the organization is the best person to contact
  • be clear on your goals. What kind of practical help does the group want from the other organization? Direct appeals? Donations? Lobbying?
  • plan for the long term. Look for ways to involve the organization in an extended working relationship (being mindful, however, of your group's resources and capacity to maintain this relationship)
  • at the first encounter, remember to bring along some basic background information about AI
  • ask the organization to suggest how it can best help stop those human rights abuses that are of concern both to it and to AI
  • before the meeting ends, aim to agree that at least one practical action will be undertaken
  • maintain the dialogue. Arrange for follow-up contact _ a meeting, telephone call, or correspondence

How to work together

Here are some of the practical suggestions that an AI group might make to another organization:

  • issue a formal endorsement of AI's goals that can be used in approaching individual members of your organization
  • give AI permission to publicize widely in the community your organization's support for the movement
  • send appeals to a target government on your official letterhead
  • at your next meeting, propose a formal resolution on behalf of a human rights concern
  • circulate an AI petition among your members and staff
  • make a donation of money to AI's relief program or to support the movement in general
  • contribute a prize for a fund-raising contest
  • sign up to receive Urgent Action appeals and make a commitment to take action regularly
  • make available the use of equipment or in-house services, such as copying or mailing machines, or photo and film studios
  • invite AI to send a speaker to your meetings or to set up an information table or display
  • send a speaker to address an AI meeting about your organization's human rights policies
  • distribute AI pamphlets to your members by way of your regular mailing to them
  • publish in your newsletter a feature story about AI or reproduce, on a routine basis, the Worldwide Appeals or cases from the Action Bulletin
  • “adopt” a particular AI issue and carry out long-term work
  • lobby home government authorities on an AI concern
  • approach diplomatic representatives of the target government in support of an AI concern
  • make direct appeals to the target government whenever members of your organization are travelling in that country
  • try to activate your counterpart bodies in the target country
  • appoint an in-house human rights committee or a contact person who will work regularly with the AI group and advise it on how best to make its approaches
  • mobilize the professional activities or skills of individuals in your organization _ artists to produce posters, lawyers to draft carefully-worded legal arguments, people of faith to hold religious events, and so on

Resources and opportunities

Specialist groups

In some sections, people have come together to form AI “specialist groups” of health care workers, lawyers, teachers, artists, journalists, or police and military personnel.

These groups campaign directly on behalf of victims who come from a similar background. They also apply their skills and contacts on behalf of a wide range of victims. They try to inform their colleagues, at home or in the target country, about AI's concerns.

Many of these AI groups function as national coordination groups for the section's outreach to that area. They also focus on making their specialist expertise available to AI community groups and other parts of the movement.


Regularly, the International Secretariat circulates Medical Actions and Lawyers' Actions that are designed to involve members of those professions in working on a current concern. Many sections re-package and distribute these materials to legal and medical workers. Some sections assemble and circulate similar materials that are appropriate for other outreach areas.

The International Secretariat also indexes action documents (such as Urgent Actions) to highlight opportunities for outreach to specific social groups. As well, outreach suggestions are often made in the context of general campaigning advice.

Annual outreach actions

Every year, the movement carries out an International Women's Day Action (8 March) and an International Trade Union Action (1 May).

The International Secretariat distributes case materials and recommends outreach activities. Many sections and groups use these materials (which they sometimes translate or re-package for the benefit of local audiences) to mobilize women's organizations, trade unionists, their own members, and the general public.

Sensitive approaches

From time to time, AI takes advantage of the international contacts held by military and police establishments, and by business and financial institutions, and it asks these bodies to convey the movement's appeals to authorities abroad.

Because of the risk that the organization's mandate and principles may be misunderstood, it handles outreach to these sectors with care.

Making requests for help from military and police officials, for example, is particularly complex. Unlike other sectors whose members are frequently the victims of human rights violations, it is often the military and police that commit these acts.

Approaches to companies are delicate because there is a risk AI will be seen _ wrongly _ to endorse economic or trade sanctions.

When a group is considering making such approaches, it should consult with the section or, in countries where there is no section, with the International Secretariat.

Human rights education

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees every person freedom, justice, and equality. One of AI's objectives is to make all people of all ages aware of the basic rights and responsibilities that each possesses, and in the long term, to build a “culture of prevention” of human rights abuses.

When AI talks about human rights education, it is referring not only to the specific rights that are set out in its mandate, but to the full range of human rights that are set out in the Universal Declaration. Although AI takes action on behalf of a limited number of rights, it is convinced of the importance and of the interdependence of all human rights.

Human rights education is an area where AI is actively interested in working in partnership with other bodies. While the materials it distributes and the issues it presents must fall within its own mandate, AI aims to cooperate with other organizations in the long-term promotion of the full range of human rights.

Every activist can foster broad-based awareness of human rights by joining in the publicity, outreach, and lobbying activities that are part of the ongoing work of AI and of many other organizations. Teachers and students, however, are particularly well-placed to help build a new “human rights generation”.

The steps your group chooses to take in this area will depend on its own resources and on those of other organizations and teaching institutions in your community. Here are some practical ideas:

  • check with your section's outreach coordinator or teachers' coordinator _ many sections are developing human rights education programs and are creating teaching kits and other useful resources
  • contact other human rights bodies in your community, and together develop a strategy for introducing human rights education into the curriculum of local schools and colleges
  • look for support not only from individual teachers and students but also from teachers' unions and from parents' associations
  • send an AI speaker to a school to give a talk or to show a film
  • send to teachers' journals articles about AI and about human rights education
  • set up an AI poster display in a school
  • invite a class to write letters on behalf of Urgent Actions or Worldwide Appeals, or to collect signatures on a petition
  • encourage the creation of an AI group within the student body
  • give all students a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and discuss with them what it means
  • raise with producers of radio and television educational programs the idea of carrying a series about human rights
  • encourage the school theatre group to produce a play with a human rights theme, and suggest human rights topics for school writing and art projects
  • hold a “Human Rights Week” in the run-up to Human Rights Day, 10 December

Symbolic events

m To increase AI's support in the community, many groups will carry out dramatic public actions.

The immediate purpose of these events is to get attention. The publicity they generate can support a current campaign, raise money for the movement, attract new members to the group, or increase human rights awareness in the community.

The type of public events your group will choose to carry out will depend on your overall plan for the year, your resources, and your political and cultural context.

AI groups around the world have held a wide range of public events. Here are some examples:

  • marches and demonstrations displaying signs and banners, and using masked or costumed figures
  • street theatre staging a symbolic funeral, or presenting a mock cage in which a prominent local person is “imprisoned”
  • solemn vigils interwoven with readings of poetry, prison literature, or the names of victims of human rights violations
  • fund-raising dinners and other events based on food
  • fasts
  • events based on music, such as rock concerts and street dances
  • moments of silence
  • information events, from street-side tables or stalls to public forums that present guest speakers and panel discussions
  • film shows or comedy evenings with a human rights theme
  • sporting events at which the proceeds are donated to AI
  • letter-writing marathons or “write-a-thons”
  • formal ceremonies where a flag is raised, a tree planted, or a plaque unveiled

The assembly

One of the most dramatic of public events is the simple gathering of people in an important public place, such as a city square.

Assemblies make it possible for every person _ regardless of his or her resources _ to make a statement about human rights.

The very idea of a gathering _ of a coming together of people on behalf of those who can not attend because their rights have been denied _ expresses the community, tolerance, and humanity that are at the heart of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The city square is a powerful symbol of the fight for human rights. When we think of the struggle for justice and freedom, we think of such plazas and boulevards as Wenceslas Square, or the Plaza de Mayo, or Tiananmen Square. These are the public meeting places of the world, where people gather when they demand human rights.

Planning a public event

Public events demand careful preparation. Here are some tips:

  • delegate responsibility for coordinating the project to a team of group members
  • be clear on your goals. What practical outcomes will the event try to achieve? A story on the local news? More members or donations for the group? Distribution of letter-writing information? Domestic pressure on the home government?
  • contact other AI groups in the community to ensure there is no conflict in activities and to invite their participation
  • contact the section office if the event (such as a demonstration at an embassy or at the national assembly) will have a section-level impact or a national scope
  • set a time and place for the event that will make it convenient for large numbers to attend. Check that your project will not clash with some other occasion (such as a public holiday) that may diminish its impact
  • “design” the event to be dramatic and photogenic. Use action and colour
  • invite attention-getting celebrities such as politicians, musicians, and actors to take prominent roles
  • make arrangements with the police and other authorities for whatever permits may be needed
  • publicize the event widely, and well in advance
  • ensure that an informed member is on hand to deal with the news media
  • encourage passers-by to make donations to AI
  • prepare and distribute a handout _ an AI leaflet, an Urgent Action requesting emergency letter-writing, or a handbill announcing the group's next regular meeting

Making publicity with other organizations: what AI can do

To safeguard AI's independence and impartiality, the movement avoids any appearance of taking a stand on political causes or on issues that are not within its mandate. As a general practice, therefore, AI does not share with other organizations the responsibility for holding public events.

There are several ways, however, that AI can cooperate with other groups in public campaigning:

  • AI can send a representative to speak about AI's concerns at another organization's event _ unless it is a news conference
  • when the cause falls clearly within AI's mandate _ such as opposition to torture or “disappearances” _ AI may be able to co-sponsor an event with another organization. In deciding whether to take part in such events, AI should consider any risk that other sponsors will make statements on issues outside the cause at hand in a manner that suggests that AI shares in these statements
  • when the event is open to a range of organizations _ such as a public parade, or an “information fair” where there is a wide array of types of displays _ AI can participate as one identifiable organization among others

Individual members of AI may, of course, take part in any public activity _ provided they do so in their personal capacities and not as representatives of the movement.

Likewise, members of other organizations who are not members of AI can take part in AI's public events, provided they do so in a way that does not give the impression their organization is co-sponsoring the activity.

Does AI use “civil disobedience”

to generate publicity?

An AI group must not operate in violation of the laws of its own country.

It must not use “civil disobedience” tactics, where local laws are broken. This includes non-violent activities such as obstructing roads or trespassing.