AI Handbook

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Chapter 5


Advice and Guidance (Part 4)


m Raising money is an essential part of human rights campaigning. It is vital work that all AI members and groups are expected to carry out.

Why is fund-raising necessary?

In order for AI to remain independent and impartial, it neither requests nor receives money from governments. The movement must be self-supporting and its fund-raising must be broad-based.

  • each donation helps pay the practical, day-to-day expenses of the movement _ the costs of research, publications, travel, communication, and relief.

    These costs are high:

    To sustain the life-saving work of the International Secretariat alone, 1.50 must be raised every second

    Similarly, section offices could not function without the money raised by groups, members, and the public to pay for their day-to-day operations, such as producing regular information mailings, distributing press releases, and creating campaigning materials.

    Your group itself will need funds to cover the costs of making banners, printing leaflets, and organizing events.

  • each donation reinforces the credibility of AI's message by affirming the organization's independence from political pressure. Asking for a contribution is one of the best ways to show people that AI

    is exactly what it says it is _ an independent, voluntary movement relying on public sponsorship

Guidelines for fund-raising

Every AI group is required to establish a sound financial basis and to contribute to the support of the movement.

To safeguard AI's independence and impartiality, the funds that groups ask for and accept must in no way incur financial dependence upon any political organization or interest. The funds must not limit AI's freedom of activity and expression, or influence the concerns that AI chooses to take up.

Every group must observe the following guidelines:

  1. AI neither asks for nor accepts direct donations from governments.
  2. AI will not accept from any source a donation that carries conditions inconsistent with the movement's principles, or that is earmarked for a particular country or case.
  3. Unless permission is given by the section's governing body or by the International Executive Committee, a group may not accept a donation from any single source that amounts to more than 5 per cent of its annual income.

For more details about guidelines on the acceptance of funds, contact your section office or, where there is no section, the International Secretariat.

Where the money comes from

Most AI groups assess their members a regular subscription fee or an annual contribution. These charges vary in different parts of the movement, and in some individual instances they may be waived.

Many groups also carry out fund-raising projects or ongoing activities that encourage the general public to donate. The groups organize collections, sales, and entertainments whose main purpose is to raise money for the movement.

Tips for successful fund-raising

Groups and members are sometimes reluctant to take part in fund-raising activity, feeling perhaps that it is not “real human rights work”, or that it is improper to approach strangers for money.

Here are practical hints for making fund-raising a routine and enjoyable part of your group's work:

  • ask for the donation

    Don't wait for donors to take the initiative in approaching you. If you want to receive a donation, you must ask for it.

  • stress the need

    Show that human rights work _ research missions, relief, routine postage _ is expensive. Obtain from your section or the International Secretariat the most up-to-date figures on “what it costs to run AI” and use it in your publicity material.

  • show that every donation is, in fact, an appeal for human rights

    Make it clear to people that each contribution is a way of putting pressure on governments to stop human rights abuses. Every donation, no matter how small, helps to fight injustice in the world.

  • remember: many people will want to give to AI
  • Contributing to humanitarian organizations makes people feel good. You could even say that you are doing people a favour by offering them the chance to give to a worthwhile cause.

  • integrate fund-raising into all your activities

    Use every fund-raising event to generate appeals, or create publicity, or reach out to the community. Likewise, use every campaigning event to raise some funds.

  • enjoy yourself

    Although AI's concerns are serious, to be effective in its work it must carry out its tasks with enthusiasm and energy _ don't be afraid to have fun. AI groups around the world regularly organize dances, comedy evenings, dinners, fairs, and bazaars.

  • be persistent

    Keep asking for money. People who have supported AI on one occasion will realize that money is always needed. If a particular fund-raising source or project was successful once, try it again.

  • be imaginative

    Groups can ask the public for money by any means that does not violate AI's fund-raising guidelines or national laws. The scope for imagination is practically limitless.

Project ideas

The specific projects that your group will choose to take up will depend on your local culture and community, and on the group's resources and the priorities it has set in its annual plan.

Here are some examples of the fund-raising projects that groups around the world are carrying out successfully:

  • a football match where the gate proceeds are handed over to AI
  • a popular music performance during which an AI table sells T-shirts, badges, and posters
  • a benefit bring-your-own-dish international dinner serving food, prepared by group members, from the cuisine of different countries
  • a raffle of a donated prize such as a lavish cake or a travel voucher
  • a garden party or outdoor fair combining music, food, games, and entertainment
  • a community-wide street sale of large numbers of flowers, candles, and AI badges, each of which draws a low price
  • a public auction of used items (pens, books, furniture) donated by writers, political figures, and other celebrities, each of which draws a high price
  • a straightforward door-to-door collection on behalf of AI
  • a sale of local art, donated antiques, or second-hand books
  • a event in which the participant is “sponsored” _ to walk, run, fast, dance, ride a bicycle _ in aid of AI

Urgent Actions

AI's Urgent Action scheme aims to rescue people from human rights emergencies.

It is a system of rapid response that is designed to protect people whose life or physical well-being is in danger.

What victims does it try to help?

Urgent Action is taken to save prisoners who are being tortured or who are threatened with torture, who need immediate medical attention, or who face immediate execution.

It is taken at critical stages in trials to save political prisoners from being victims of an unfair hearing.

It is taken to save those people who have “disappeared” or who are being threatened by a “death squad”.

It is taken to save those asylum-seekers who are at risk of being forcibly returned to a country where they will likely become victims of the human rights abuses of concern to AI.

How does the system work?

Speed is vital. The scheme depends on swift response by a worldwide network of activists.

AI's International Secretariat, in cooperation with section offices, distributes requests for emergency help to thousands of volunteers around the world.

As soon as they can, these activists send express or airmail letters, telexes, FAX messages, or telegrams to the target government.

What information does AI distribute?

Each Urgent Action case sheet is a self-contained campaigning package. All the information you need for sending emergency messages is provided, usually on a single piece of paper.

The case sheet gives details of the individuals who are at risk, background on the situation, points to make in appeals, and the names, titles, addresses, and telex and FAX numbers of target officials.

It highlights the specific human rights concern, for example, “fear of torture” or “death penalty”. It may make mention of the occupation or the personal background of the people at risk.

Often, the case sheet will give a time limit on the action. While you should send appeals as soon as possible after receiving the request, you should not send further appeals after this cut-off date without first checking with your section office (or, where there is no section, with the International Secretariat) for any new information on the case.

Where possible, those Urgent Action network members who received the original request are sent updates to keep them informed about developments in cases they had been asked to act upon.

Does the Urgent Action scheme have an impact?

In more than one-third of the cases that are taken up, some improvement has been reported in the situation _ death sentences are commuted, people “reappear”, arrests are acknowledged, detainees are released, and seriously ill prisoners are given medical attention.

AI has first-hand evidence of one Urgent Action producing 20,000 appeals over a three-month period, and of three Urgent Actions (on the same country) producing over 30,000 appeals in one week. When thousands of AI supporters send appeals on each Urgent Action request that the movement distributes, it is not surprising that these messages make an impression on target officials.

How can our group take part in the scheme most effectively?

  • if your group has the resources, designate one member to take charge of coordinating its Urgent Action letter-writing. Make it this person's task to develop a local network of people willing to send urgent appeals in response to requests for action
  • Urgent Action case sheets are EXTERNAL and AI members are encouraged to distribute them widely. Duplicate and make them available at information stalls or at any public event

    Bear in mind, however, that because the information in Urgent Actions can quickly go out-of-date, the case sheets should not be distributed to the news media in the same manner as news releases.

    To give non-AI members some information about the scheme, attach a photocopy of this section of the Amnesty International Handbook.

  • often, an Urgent Action will request that appeals be sent by specialist groups such as health workers, lawyers, or trade unionists. Use Urgent Actions to mobilize these sectors in your community
  • an effective way to introduce new members to AI's work is to invite them to do a specific task. The Urgent Action case sheet is a practical and motivating means for taking immediate campaigning action
  • during regular letter-writing evenings, use the case sheets as a resource to train new members in AI's basic approach
  • because Urgent Actions are self-contained packages, they are ideal ways to involve human rights activists who prefer to work as individuals. Distribute them to members who cannot always attend meetings or take part in group activities
  • fashion a large poster out of an Urgent Action case sheet, display it at public events, and enrol new activists in the Urgent Action scheme
  • hold a fund-raising event and set aside the money in the group's budget to cover the cost of sending “quick” electronic appeals by telegram, telex, or FAX
  • invite a non-partisan range of political representatives to participate in the Urgent Action network
  • the words “Urgent Action” are dramatic. Use them, and samples of the case sheets, in creating interest in AI's work in the local news media

How do we join the Urgent Action network?

Contact your section or, where there is no section, the International Secretariat. Groups or individual members can be registered to receive the case sheets.

“You are not dead because too many people are concerned about you.”

_ a security agent to a political prisoner

Members of the network are expected to cover the costs of the letters and telegrams they send. In some parts of the movement, they may be asked to make an additional contribution to help pay the general expenses of maintaining the network.

No single volunteer can be expected to act upon every one of the hundreds of Urgent Action case sheets that AI issues each year. New participants in the network may be asked to specify the level or frequency of activity, and the country, profession, or background of the people on whose behalf they can make the most effective appeals.

Refugee protection

AI opposes the forcible expulsion of refugees or asylum-seekers to countries where they risk being held as prisoners of conscience, “disappearance”, torture, or execution.

The movement works to ensure that governments protect asylum-seekers from being returned against their will to a country where they are at risk, or from being sent to a third country where they will not receive such protection.

AI's work for refugees and asylum-seekers is based on international standards, such as the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. The granting of protection to those at risk of persecution is not only an act of humanity _ all states have an obligation under international law not to return refugees to countries where they will be at risk of serious human rights violations.

AI's focus

The movement concentrates on ensuring that:

  • procedures for examining requests for asylum, and the procedures followed at airports and borders, are adequate to identify asylum-seekers who are at risk
  • visa requirements and other measures that governments take to control entry are not used in a way that obstructs asylum-seekers in obtaining access to a proper refugee-determination procedure
  • if asylum-seekers or refugees are detained, they are given a prompt, fair, individual hearing before a judicial or similar authority to examine whether their detention is lawful and in accordance with international standards

What AI can do to help refugees

A large part of AI's efforts on behalf of asylum-seekers and refugees is carried out by sections in the countries where they seek protection.

AI members must not, in their role as members, campaign on behalf of individual cases of human rights violations that take place within their own country, but they can work in their own country to prevent violations happening elsewhere. Members can work on behalf of individuals seeking asylum in their own country, and they can lobby their own government for fair refugee laws.

Section-level staff and volunteers can provide:

  • information, to back up the case of a person applying for refugee status, about the human rights situation in the country the applicant has fled
  • lobbying of one's own government on behalf of a person threatened with being returned to a situation where she or he would be at risk of serious human rights violations

Local AI groups can support their section's refugee work by:

  • lobbying the home government to establish and follow refugee laws and procedures that conform with international standards _ lobbying that must be carefully coordinated with the section
  • carrying out human rights education projects that inform the public about the realities of a world where people become refugees, that insist on the need for fair and effective refugee-protection laws and procedures, and that encourage the public to demand that its government treat asylum-seekers humanely and in accordance with international standards for the protection of refugees

In the long term, AI members can best help refugees by campaigning to end the unjust imprisonment, the torture, and the state killings that cause so many people in the world to become refugees.

If your group wishes to help AI's work on behalf of refugees and asylum-seekers, contact your section or, in countries where there is no section, the International Secretariat.

Groups in countries without sections should be aware that AI work on behalf

of individual refugees can easily become overwhelming. When such groups are approached by asylum-seekers asking for AI's help, they should contact the team responsible for refugee work at the International Secretariat.

Worldwide appeals

Every month, the Amnesty International Newsletter highlights the cases of several individual victims of human rights violations.

Many section and group newsletters reprint this information so that hundreds of thousands of people _ worldwide _ are alerted to the plight of these individuals.

For many years, this action form focused on prisoners of conscience and was known as the Campaign for Prisoners of the Month.

Each case featured in Worldwide Appeals is chosen from the thousands of individual victims known to AI because it is felt that he or she will benefit from concentrated letter-writing and publicity.

The case may have been a frustrating one for AI groups that may have worked on it, and mass appeals may bring a response from the government. The person may be a prisoner who needs medical care. The individual may be one of a special group of detainees whose situation needs to be publicized.

In order to reflect the impartiality of AI's work, the cases are selected from a range of world regions and ideological backgrounds.

Each entry summarizes the case history. Often, a photograph of the individual is included.

The entry gives the name, title, and address of a senior official in the target government, and sets out the specific demand that AI is making in each case.

Updated information on the cases is printed in the Amnesty International Newsletter as soon as it becomes available.

What groups can do

The Worldwide Appeals are a primary source of case information. Developing groups can use them to build a basic program of regular letter-writing, publicity, and outreach. Experienced groups can use them to introduce new members to AI's work in a gradual way.

Here are some suggestions for campaigning on the basis of the Worldwide Appeals in your local community:

  • for each case, send not only letters of appeal, but also telegrams, and petitions containing mass signatures
  • ask your local newspaper or radio or television station to agree to publicize the Worldwide Appeals in a regular column or program
  • encourage your local political representative to subscribe to the Amnesty International Newsletter and to send appeals on her or his official letterhead
  • watch for cases of people from specific professions or social sectors, such as health care workers, trade unionists, or young people, and use the information in your group's outreach to these sectors of the community
  • photocopy the case information and distribute it during your group's public events
  • make the information available to members who may not be in a position to come to meetings or to take part in the group's activities
  • ask a non-AI body _ a trade union branch, a religious community, a business office _ to “sponsor” your group's Worldwide Appeals by paying for the stationery and the postage
  • use the “success stories” that appear in updates to demonstrate, through newsletters and displays, that human rights work does have a positive impact and to ask for donations to ensure that this work will continue

The action bulletin

This publication is distributed quarterly by the International Secretariat to individual “international members” and to groups in countries without sections.

It highlights a “good news” story and two cases of human rights abuses relating to a particular theme _ such as the death penalty, or human rights abuses inflicted upon youth or indigenous people _ and it gives action suggestions.

Like the Worldwide Appeals, this publication provides individual members and groups with a basic package of information to support a regular program of campaigning for human rights.

The Action Bulletin is designed specifically to encourage growth in AI support around the world. Members and groups can use it to build membership in parts of the world where the movement's campaigning presence is small.

Country, theme, and awareness campaigns

Periodically, many AI groups around the world join forces to address a specific human rights concern by means of actions lasting from approximately two months to a year or more.

While the term “campaigning” applies generally to all AI activities, these large-scale, focused projects are known within AI by the term “campaigns”.

Campaigns are designed to bring intense pressure from many quarters and to make an especially powerful impact on the target government. They can be used also to spread public awareness about human rights issues, and to show solidarity with human rights workers around the world.

AI's experience suggests that massive global campaigns do help to bring about positive change.

Campaign goals

Over the years, AI has mounted several types of campaigns.

Country campaigns focus action on patterns of serious human rights abuses in one country:

  • a massive letter-writing effort, in 1986, to thousands of people in South Africa alerted them to AI's concerns about widespread political detention, torture, and executions
  • a short but intense campaign in early June 1990 reminded the world about the repression of political activists that had been taking place in China since a year earlier
  • a 1987 campaign mobilized the world movement to protest against executions in the United States

Theme campaigns confront a long-standing, global pattern of violations:

  • in the mid-1980s, a two-year campaign publicized torture and ill-treatment as reported in over half the countries of the world
  • an extensive 1989 campaign condemned the use of the death penalty in dozens of countries and set out a program for worldwide abolition

Awareness campaigns aim to educate the public about human rights in general or about the work of AI:

  • the 1988 Human Rights Now! campaign used popular music to help promote knowledge and observance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on its 40th anniversary
  • the movement's 30th anniversary campaign, in 1991, stressed the urgency of AI's concerns and its outrage that many of them had still not been addressed

Listen to Vladimir Bukovsky, once a prisoner of conscience in the Soviet Union:

“... when the campaign of protest increased... the treatment would always improve... [The officials] were always at pains to show how little regard they have for international public opinion... but in fact they are very sensitive to it, much more than people realize.”

From Vietnam, a released prisoner writes:

“We could always tell when international protests were taking place .. the food rations increased and the beatings were fewer .. but when the letters stopped, the dirty food and the repression started again.”

A former torturer in El Salvador has said:

“If there's lots of pressure, like from Amnesty International, we might pass them [the political prisoners] on to a judge. But if there's no pressure, then they're dead.”

Campaign materials

Depending on the nature and scope of the campaign, the International Secretariat will produce different kinds of supporting materials.

It may distribute to sections INTERNAL circulars bearing general background information, an outline of the international strategy, recommended actions based on this strategy, outreach suggestions, case descriptions, and address lists of government authorities.

Sometimes it will produce EXTERNAL research reports, illustrated briefings, press releases, videos, and photographs. Occasionally, it will draft formal statements for public endorsement.

Sections taking part in the effort will often adapt these materials for their own groups and members. They may translate key documents, publish articles in section bulletins, and sometimes design and produce their own leaflets, posters, photo displays, printed petitions, and fund-raising appeals.

If they have the means, groups will create a similar array of campaigning materials _ public displays, postcard appeals, leaflets, and so on.

Campaign coordination

The large campaigns described here are coordinated by the International Secretariat's Campaigning Unit, working closely with the Research Department.

In sections, these projects are normally managed by the campaign coordinator, or, in the case of a country campaign, by the campaign coordinator in cooperation with the coordinator for that country.

A group that chooses to take part will usually designate a member, or a small team, to act as coordinator for the duration of the project.

Organizing for action

During a worldwide AI campaign, a local group may be encouraged to undertake the full range of techniques, such as:

  • publicizing locally the press release, plus distributing the research report or briefing
  • sending direct appeals to a list of government authorities, journalists, and professionals in the target country
  • involving the group's local government representatives
  • reaching out to sectors in the community that may have a special interest in the concern
  • staging attention-getting events, such as a demonstration at the target country's embassy
  • raising money, either to cover the extra costs incurred by the increased activity, or as a fundamental goal of the campaign

A large-scale campaign is a good opportunity for a group to draw upon its complete inventory of skills, interests, and contacts, and to create an integrated array of such techniques.

It is also an ideal chance to use the experience it has gained in other projects, such as Regional Action Networks or Action Files, that concern the same target country or the same human rights theme.

Advice that will help groups take advantage of each of these approaches to campaigning is presented in the Amnesty International Handbook.

In particular, groups that decide to join any campaign should plan carefully the level of their involvement. They should adapt the campaign goals and tasks to their own resources and those of the community, and set their own goals and tasks.

For practical suggestions on how to set up and carry out a large project such as a major campaign, see the handbook's section on project planning.

Annual Actions

AI groups can always count on these four opportunities to do local campaigning:

  • weeks surrounding International Women's Day, 8 March
  • weeks surroundingInternational Labour Day, 1 May
  • Amnesty International Week, usually in October
  • Human Rights Day, 10 December

For many of these occasions, the International Secretariat distributes supporting materials _ individual case information, or a press release _ and sometimes gives recommended actions.

Regardless of the resources that are made available, every group can plan to carry out a program of local campaigning on or around some or all of these dates. It can circle them in its program calendar, and use the actions to build long-term links in the community.

  • ask local municipal authorities to observe “Amnesty International Week” and to fly an AI banner at the city hall
  • approach women's organizations and trade unionists as early as January, and get their cooperation in sending both high-level and mass appeals
  • likewise, in October, get in touch with other human rights bodies in your community, and plan to hold a march and distribute copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on its anniversary, Human Rights Day

Death Penalty Actions

About 1000 groups around the world take part in a continuing program of Death Penalty Actions.

These short-term actions involve appeals to a target government to abolish the death penalty in law, or not to reintroduce it where it has been abolished. They may also involve campaigning on a specific issue in one country, such as the execution of juvenile offenders.

These actions are coordinated by death penalty coordinators in sections.

Limited actions

For strategic reasons, the International Secretariat occasionally approaches specific parts of the movement and asks them to campaign on current issues for a short time.

A Group-Level Action, for example, mobilizes at short notice groups that are already committed to long-term work on a target country, such as by way of an Action File.

Similarly, a Section-Level Action mobilizes those sections that may have unique resources or that likely can make a special impact on the target country.

Action Files

AI's fight for human rights began, in the 1960s, by asking local groups to work to obtain the release of individual prisoners of conscience.

This “dossier” or “case sheet” approach _ in which small circles of volunteers work together in campaigning on behalf of individual prisoners _ proved a highly motivating way to draw upon the energy and creativity of human rights activists.

The central idea is this: a group of members dedicates itself to freeing an individual prisoner through an intense and ongoing program of campaigning _ a program that normally does not stop until the prisoner is released.

Over the years, AI has identified other long-term tasks that groups can carry out effectively. It has used the basic model to develop new forms of dossiers.

All these forms are now known as Action Files.

While individual Action Files differ in their goals and in their approach, all demand a long-term commitment by a group (often working with a small network of other groups around the world) to achieve a specific task that it has been assigned. Often, this task will focus on helping an individual.

Here are some examples of areas of activity that might be taken up by an Action File:

  • adoption of prisoners of conscience

    Your group “adopts” a prisoner of conscience and campaigns for his or her immediate and unconditional release.

  • investigation and “disappearance” cases

    Your group makes enquiries of a government to try to find out whether a detainee is a prisoner of conscience, to ask when a political prisoner will receive a fair and prompt trial, or to demand to know the whereabouts of a “disappeared” person.

  • themes and issues

    Your group campaigns to end the use of the death penalty in a particular country or a state within a country, to put a stop to extrajudicial executions, to highlight deaths in custody, or to publicize deaths as a result of torture.

Materials in Action Files

When your group is assigned an Action File, it will receive from the International Secretariat, or by way of your section office, a file or dossier of background information, instructions, and advice.

This important package may contain:

  • a case sheet giving personal details about the prisoner or other individual (or group of individuals) who is of concern to AI, and basic facts about the case
  • general advice on security, coordination, reporting, and action
  • specific case instructions that should be observed closely, particularly if they prohibit or limit any of the suggestions made in the general advice or in the Amnesty International Handbook
  • lists of government authorities in the target country
  • confidential or sensitive information, such as the address of relatives of detainees, or names of AI contacts in the target country. This information is strictly INTERNAL and is not for publication or circulation outside your group
  • information to allow your group to communicate and exchange ideas with AI groups in other countries that share the Action File
  • background on the target country's political situation or security laws that may relate to the project

Level of activity

Action Files carry special responsibilities for your group.

Most Action Files are assigned to a relatively small number of groups. It is even possible that yours is the only group in the entire movement working on behalf of the victims of human rights violations who are featured in the Action File.

Your group has a responsibility, therefore, to maintain a reasonable and consistent level of campaigning activity on each Action File assigned to it.

To achieve this level of activity, your group should plan to make work on its Action File its first priority, and if necessary to carry out less work in other areas.

If your group is not able to maintain such a level of activity, it should return the Action File so that it can be re-assigned, or, your group may be asked to return it.

Security of information

Your group should also take particular care to handle Action File information with caution and discretion. Failure to do so may put at risk the very people you are trying to safeguard.

Observe the general guidelines on security that are given in the Amnesty International Handbook, and follow any special instructions that are contained in the dossier.


When your group agrees to take long-term responsibility for an Action File, you will find that you often receive messages direct from the International Secretariat, especially from the relevant research team. Please bear in mind that the Research Department deals with thousands of local groups around the world, and observe the following important points about coordination:

  • when your group needs a question answered, or advice on action, contact your section's coordinator (or co-group) for the target country, or your section office. If there is no coordinator, co-group, or section office, write to the relevant research team at the International Secretariat. To help the research team save time, clearly indicate in your letter the name of your prisoner or individual of concern, and your group's number
  • under normal circumstances, there is seldom need for your group to write to the Research Department to ask if there have been developments in a case. The research team will always inform groups automatically if new information has been obtained
  • your group should ensure that its mailing address is as permanent as possible, and that any change is reported immediately to your section and the International Secretariat

From time to time, your group will be asked to give a detailed account of its activities on each Action File. These reports are a vital part of effective campaigning. They can help AI to measure the level of pressure being directed at a target government, to assess its impact, and to suggest other activities or new approaches.

In addition to the regular reports, your group is expected to inform the relevant research team at the International Secretariat (and coordinators, and the section office) immediately of any developments in your case. In particular you should forward to these bodies copies of any official replies to your appeals you may have received.

Techniques for long-term campaigning

Occasionally, an Action File will specify limits to your group's activity on that case. The dossier may suggest, for example, that mass appeals may not be appropriate action on behalf of a particular adoption case, or, it might discourage the use of publicity during an investigation.

Normally, however, groups with an Action File should aim to use all the campaigning techniques described in the Amnesty International Handbook as far as their resources permit.

Your group should develop a strategy to mobilize the opportunities in your own community _ letter-writers, the media, local officials, professionals and other influential groups, attention-getting events, and fund-raising _ to bring relentless pressure on the target government and to achieve your assigned task completely.

Outreach tip

For each Action File your group has been assigned, prepare an information sheet summarizing the concern and providing easy-to-use letter-writing instructions.

Remember to include the name of a contact person, and mention your group's regular meeting time and place.

Regional Action Networks: RANs

What is a RAN?

A Regional Action Network, or “RAN”, is a global network of AI groups that campaign on AI's concerns in one region of the world.

AI groups that join a RAN take active measures to build expertise about human rights issues in this world region, and at the same time stand ready to respond to human rights emergencies that arise there. The RAN system assures prompt and expert AI action.

A group that enrols in, for example, WERAN, the Western Europe Regional Action Network, joins forces with several dozen other AI groups in many parts of the world that campaign against human rights violations taking place in Western European countries.

What kinds of human rights violations do RANs address?

RANs are designed to make it possible for groups to act against abuses of human rights that are difficult to deal with by other AI methods.

Any AI concern can be addressed by a RAN. The most common, however, include pre-trial detention, short-term banishment, impending floggings or executions, large-scale arrests, and “disappearances”, as well as some longer-term issues such as prison conditions or legislation.

Because the pattern of human rights violations varies from region to region, each RAN has its own characteristics and demands a unique response on the part of the group. Your group should ask your section office or, where there is no section, the International Secretariat, for details about any RAN you are considering joining.

Why are RANs an effective approach to campaigning?

Groups in a RAN can make an impact because they act expertly and promptly.

  • RAN groups work at becoming specialists

    They brief themselves about human rights in the world region they focus on. The knowledge they build allows group members to write informed, detailed, and careful letters, and to tackle matters that cannot be left to more straightforward, mass appeals.

  • RAN groups act rapidly

    When requests for action are made by the International Secretariat, RAN groups are expected to respond as quickly as they can.

It may be said that RANs have borrowed aspects of both long-term projects such as Action Files and of short-term emergency responses such as Urgent Actions.

What is a “RAN action”?

A RAN action is a specific campaigning project that groups in a RAN are asked to carry out.

Each RAN action normally lasts from one to three months. During a group's long-term participation in the network, it may be asked to carry out many such actions. The time-span of each action depends on such factors as the complexity of the situation, the scope for activity, and the level of available information.

Since they are generally issued in response to current and changing developments, the flow of RAN actions can be irregular. In most RANs, however, from eight to ten actions a year will be issued. A group can also expect to receive updates and follow-up actions.

Unlike Urgent Actions, RAN actions are not presented in a standard format. Some complex requests may run as long as twenty pages, but most are one or two pages in length.

What techniques are recommended in a RAN action?

Each action will give a list of recommended activities, such as direct appeals, publicity, or outreach, that should be the starting point for the group's planning. It is up to the group to decide how best to carry out these activities in the context of its resources and its community.

When the concern is an urgent one, most often the specific activity requested will be the careful writing of expert letters.

Sometimes, an action will suggest approaches to the media, or outreach to community sectors or to home government authorities. Since many actions last for only a matter of weeks, it is useful to establish friendly contacts with a body of people in these areas who are prepared to help at short notice.

What can a RAN group do to build its expertise?

Between RAN actions, each RAN group has the opportunity to study the region in detail and to compile a body of knowledge and of influential contacts in the local community.

AI provides background information, including copies of past RAN actions, and AI reports and external papers on countries in the area.

RAN groups can supplement this material by reading press reports about the region, scanning specialist magazines, and inviting scholars and other experts on the area to speak to the group.

How are RANs coordinated?

Many sections have appointed a coordinator for each RAN in which they are involved. This person receives action requests from the International Secretariat and circulates them, as quickly as possible, to the RAN groups in that section.

Occasionally, the coordinator will add to the action request any advice or information that may help with local campaigning.

The International Secretariat may sometimes decide not to involve every group in the RAN in a particular action. This may happen because mass pressure on the target country is not wanted, or because of concern that groups in the RANs may become overloaded with many actions. The coordinator then will select some of the section's RAN groups to act on the request, and will send it to others for their information only.

RAN groups in countries without a section are serviced by the International Secretariat.

Each group in a RAN should designate a person (or, if it has the resources, a small team) to act as local contact for RAN work and to see that the group reports regularly on its actions.

Points to remember when doing RAN work:

  • do not present the RAN _ inside or outside AI _ in a way that may give the false impression that AI is biased against specific governments or political systems

    Always make it clear that your group's campaigning in one world region is balanced by the work of other groups aimed at other regions, and by your own group's other activities.

    AI's RAN system covers every country in the world, and no country's human rights problems are “forgotten” or ignored.

    The fact that some RANs cover fewer countries than others does not mean that there are more human rights violations in those countries _ the division is purely administrative.

  • RAN actions contain many different kinds of information. Observe carefully the distinctions between material for action and material for information only, and between INTERNAL and EXTERNAL materials
  • remember that RAN actions require immediate response but also that they often carry time limits that should be respected. RAN actions should not be treated as long-term cases


In some cases, AI groups, sections, or the International Secretariat can send money or goods to victims of human rights violations and to their families.

The decision to give relief is made on a case-by-case basis. Here are some of the people to whom assistance may be given:

  • current and former prisoners of conscience and their dependants
  • victims of torture receiving medical treatment to deal with the effects of the abuse, and their dependants
  • families of people who have “disappeared” or been killed by “death squads”, if the victims would have been prisoners of conscience had they simply been imprisoned
  • people at risk of extrajudicial execution, to help them leave the country
  • refugees who risk being returned to a situation of danger

Relief assistance is intended to give these people material and moral support in dealing with the immediate problems resulting from the abuses they have suffered. The funds are not meant to compensate them for a loss of income, for the human rights violations they have suffered, or to sustain their standard of living in the long term.

Requests for relief are considered on a case-by-case basis. Here are some of the needs that AI's relief has met:

  • rent for the family whose breadwinner is in prison
  • children's school fees
  • fares for family members to visit a detainee
  • medicine, or supplements to an inadequate prison diet
  • basic needs such as clothes and blankets, or small items such as toiletries or writing materials
  • legal aid to secure the release of a prisoner of conscience
  • readjustment of a released prisoner to life in the community
  • medical and psychiatric treatment for a victim of torture


It is not always possible or advisable to send relief to people who appear to be in need of it. In some cases, for example, it can put people at risk if they receive money or goods from abroad.

Under no circumstances should your group undertake any relief operations other than those explicitly recommended by the International Secretariat.

When relief is given, the money can come from fund-raising activities by your group, or from relief funds held at the International Secretariat or at your section.

If your group is encouraged to send money or a gift, you can do so either directly to the recipients, or if this is not advisable, by some other means recommended by the International Secretariat.

The relevant research team at the International Secretariat will ask for a regular report on relief distributed by your group.

If you have more specific questions about relief policy and procedures, contact the relief officer in your section or, if there is no section, the relevant research team at the International Secretariat.


All details on the sending of relief are strictly confidential and are for use within AI only.

Government authorities frequently disapprove of efforts to send money and materials to individuals. Your group should never publicize the recipients of relief, the amounts sent to them or the channels used, or disclose this information to anyone who is not directly involved.

In exceptional instances, an AI group or section may publicize some information about a “good news” relief story for the purpose of increasing awareness of the relief program or of supporting fund-raising projects for relief. The International Secretariat must be consulted in all such instances.