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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:
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 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.
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:
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:
2 Because every AI group is expected to maintain a reasonable and consistent level of campaigning activity, it should ensure that it:
3 Every AI group should operate in a way that does not violate the law of its own country.
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:
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.
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.
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:
Agree on the basic purpose of each meeting: Is it to train new members? To practice letter-writing? To plan for the coming year?
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?
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.
Take minutes of the decisions made _ which member agreed to do what and when. Record important questions that went unanswered.
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?
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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:
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.
Any Place, Any Country
During the next 12 months, our group will:
Our group agrees that, unless our Action File is closed and more time becomes available, during this period it will not:
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
Welcome visitors and new members
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
Sections generally take charge of approaches to national bodies, for example:
Local groups are usually responsible for approaches to regional and local bodies, for example:
Where there is no section, local groups based in the capital will often carry out some national-level contacts.
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.