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Amnesty International Campaign Manual


Cooperation with

the human rights movement

The rapidly expanding worldwide human rights movement offers tremendous potential for mutually beneficial cooperation on human rights issues. This section looks at:

N    NGOs and the broad human rights movement / 248

N    Rationale for cooperation / 248

N    Benefits of cooperation / 249

        Methods of cooperation / 250

N    Making the decisions / 251

N    Evaluating joint activity / 252

Lyndsay McAteer (second from left), women's outreach network coordinator, represents AI New Zealand in a joint event organized with Rape Crisis National Collective and Maori women. Mayor Fran Wilde speaks at the microphone.

© ai NGOs and the broad human rights movement

Although there is no single definition of a non-governmental organization (NGO), for the purposes of AI's work the term covers trade unions, church and school-based organizations, professional and business organizations, solidarity and pressure groups, arms control/violence monitoring groups, human rights education organizations, funding NGOs, academic institutions with a human rights focus, developmental NGOs, environmental groups, umbrella organizations and a wide range of groups and organizations covering civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights. The number of these NGOs has grown tremendously over the past three decades in many parts of the world.

The term “broad human rights movement” includes people who may be in a position to improve the human rights situation but who do not belong to an organization, for example teachers, community leaders, sympathetic doctors, lawyers, judges and others.

Most human rights organizations derive their mandate from international human rights treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) which, together with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) from which they spring, make up the Bill of Human Rights.

Some of the more prominent members of the international human rights movement include:

N    the International Commission of Jurists, working in the area of law, legal aid and the administration of justice;

N    the International Committee of the Red Cross, national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, working in the area of armed conflict, prisoners of war and humanitarian law;

N    the Asian NGO Coalition for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development, working on the right to development and economic rights;

N    Oxfam International, a worldwide humanitarian organization;

N    Greenpeace, working on environmental rights;

N    the World Council of Churches, working on freedom of religion;

N    International Pen, working on freedom of the press and freedom of expression;

N    Médecins sans Frontières, working internationally in the field of health;

N    Survival International, working on indigenous people's rights;

N    Anti-Slavery International, working on bonded labour and modern forms of slavery;

N    the International Organization of Consumers Unions, working on consumers' rights;

N    Food First International Action Network, which has done pioneering work to promote and realize the right to food around the world;

N    Coalition on Housing Rights and Evictions, an international organization which promotes and protects the right to housing;

N    Human Rights Internet,

forum for the exchange of human rights information set up in 1976, which now communicates with more than 5,000 organizations and individuals (www.hri.ca);

N    Human Rights Watch, monitoring human rights violations in the different regions of the world.

    However, the vast majority of NGOs work at the national or local level.

Rationale for cooperation

AI's work with NGOs aims to strengthen civil society and empower the human rights constituency, both of which help promote the observance of the principles enshrined in the UDHR.* Intrinsic to this policy is the understanding that all human rights are universal and indivisible.

The specific rights that are the focus of AI actions are inextricably linked to other human rights. The organization recognizes that the full exercise of human rights is essential to the realization of economic, social, cultural and political development. Although the specific rights on which AI campaigns fall within the range of civil and political rights, the organization promotes awareness of, and adherence to, all the rights embodied in the UDHR and elaborated in standards such as the ICCPR and ICESCR.

The recognition that social, economic, cultural, civil and political rights are indivisible is directly relevant to the way in which AI relates to the human rights movement. NGO coalitions, networks and umbrella structures involving multiple NGOs are likely to cover a broader range of issues than those contained in AI's mandate. Participating in networks that also work to promote the economic, social and cultural rights elaborated in the UDHR can show AI's commitment to these rights, even where this position is limited.

The need for AI to protect its impartiality and independence can be compatible with membership of a broad-based, multi-interest coalition, so long as AI can retain, and be seen to retain, its independent identity and control of the use of its name. Coordination with NGOs rather than competition is the direction for the future.

AI members have made it clear that adapting to the changing patterns of human rights violations worldwide involves greater collaboration with other organizations. By doing so AI can benefit from enormous expertise, local knowledge and ready-made networks of contacts.

In regions where NGOs are relatively new, or are struggling against a hostile environment, moral and campaigning support to NGOs by AI can boost an organization's profile and reputation locally or nationally.

Benefits of cooperation

AI is committed to strengthening, expanding and developing more systematic links with the broad human rights movement in ways that are mutually beneficial. It is trying to develop at different levels of the movement a closer and more interactive relationship with local, national, regional and international human rights NGOs through specific programs of cooperation.

AI benefits from cooperation with other organizations in many ways. Such benefits include expanded exchange of information and contacts; access to larger networks with greater impact on the public; strengthened AI campaigning and lobbying activities; and an enhanced reputation as a partner within the NGO community. NGOs benefit from their relationship with AI in that AI uses information on human rights violations provided by NGOs, leading to an expanded audience for their human rights concerns, and from training in areas of research, campaigning and organizational support.

AI's NGO Policy and Guidelines help in deciding what type and level of cooperation is feasible and will enhance AI's general effectiveness. They provide all parts of AI, including Sections, coordinating structures and the IS, with a common framework for work with the broad human rights movement.

Methods of cooperation

Some activities can be carried out in cooperation with NGOs without the need for any special considerations or authorization. These include providing on request and actively distributing AI external information, and receiving information from other organizations. Section involvement in some of the cooperative activities with NGOs, such as campaigning, development, promotional work, publicity, lobbying, co-sponsorship of conferences, relief work and fundraising, require special consideration and possibly authorization.

The scope for cooperation with NGOs includes major joint initiatives such as co-sponsoring an NGO Forum _ the International NGO Forum on China during AI's 1996 campaign on china, for example _ or determining a joint strategy to deal with a national crisis such as that in Rwanda. Suggested areas of cooperation are listed in the NGO Policy and Guidelines, as are channels of authorization necessary for various levels of cooperation. AI can provide access to regional and international networks of NGOs, sources of funding, advice on international law, intergovernmental organizations and UN procedures. Cases of human rights defenders working under threat of violence can be worked on by AI members in a second country. AI can include NGOs in training sessions on subjects such as organizational development, human rights education, lobbying, how to campaign on MEC/MSP issues, use of information technology and documentation techniques. For example, an AI member participated in a week-long workshop meeting in Asia in 1994 which resulted in the publication of a handbook about human rights violations. The sharing of databases and information technology systems could be mutually advantageous too.

Joint publications may be another area of cooperation involving economies of scale, expanded audiences and enhanced credibility for the contributors. Referral of cases which fall outside AI's mandate to other NGOs is another useful area of cooperation.

Cooperation with an NGO must not result in AI being prevented from implementing its own strategy. This must be made clear in advance, otherwise AI might have to withdraw and perhaps contribute to the collapse of cooperation. AI should be consistent in its work with other NGOs. Therefore all safeguards aimed at protecting the organization's independence and impartiality should always be considered.

Generally, if a local AI group wants to participate in a coalition or umbrella group, it is advisable to consult the appropriate people in the Section, or in the absence of a Section, the relevant regional or international program in the IS.

If AI decides not to cooperate with another NGO, the reasons for this should be clearly explained where possible while keeping local sensibilities in mind. AI's decision should not be seen as a judgment of any kind on the NGO concerned. Every effort should be made to ensure that no misunderstanding arises on this point.

In each case cooperation must be evaluated and decided upon by the relevant AI decision-making bodies who are best placed to judge the benefits of cooperation on a country-by-country basis.

Making the decisions

The following questions may help you decide whether or not to collaborate with a particular NGO:


g    Will the cooperation benefit AI without damaging its impartiality and independence?

g    Is there compatibility between AI's objectives and mandate and that of the organization you propose to work with?

g    Is there a degree of personal trust, based on knowledge of the organization's track record, its credibility and public image?

g    Will AI's association with an NGO show AI in an unbiased light?

Will the action mobilize a wider public?

g    Will AI retain control over the use of its name and logo, and be seen to retain its distinct identity, its impartiality, and political and financial independence?

Evaluating joint activity

The questions below may help you evaluate any initiatives you have taken with other NGOs.*


g    Is the cooperation proving to be successful?

g    Is it an effective use of resources?

g    Are targets being reached?

g    Have there been any negative effects so far?

g    Is there a need for any redirection, or further explanation of AI's position?

g    Have opportunities for publicity and membership expansion been fully exploited?

g    Has cooperation been beneficial to both AI and the NGO partner?

g    What lessons have been learned for use in future cooperation?


The basic guiding principle is that, where possible, AI structures should cooperate with other organizations if such cooperation increases the effectiveness of AI's work and helps strengthen the broad human rights movement. The new flexibility and emphasis on work with NGOs must, however, be considered in conjunction with the basic principles which help to protect AI's effectiveness _ its independence, impartiality, integrity and credibility.

* AI's NGO Policy and Guidelines (AI Index: ORG 20/01/96), written at the request of the 1993 ICM, called for improved and expanded cooperation with NGOs.


AI has many opportunities to stress that economic, social and cultural rights are human rights. It should seek to overcome perceptions that may exist that the human rights it campaigns on are the only human rights, as this can marginalize other human rights organizations.

Strengths of cooperation

Without information sent to AI by hundreds of national NGOs, AI's documentation and campaign work on Action Files and individual prisoner cases would be less efficient. In both country and thematic campaigns, the impact of AI's message is multiplied many times because of the crucial participation and cooperation of NGOs. In fact, AI relies heavily on cooperation from all types of NGOs in order to monitor, document and report human rights violations.

(left and right) The International NGO forum on human rights in China, August 1996. More than 70 people from 18 countries attended the conference hosted by the Philippine Section.

© ai


If attendance at another organization's meeting is likely to compromise perceptions of AI's impartiality or independence, it should be avoided.

Raising funds from across the world

A journalist in Rwanda was attacked and left for dead for expressing his opinions. AI representatives who were in the country helped the victim and his family to receive medical treatment in Kenya. AI was later faced with high medical fees but other NGOs in Rwanda contributed to the expenses. Another international NGO issued an appeal through the International Freedom of Expression Network on the Internet to raise funds for the victim and referred those interested in the case to AI. Several thousand dollars were eventually raised for the victim.

A broad platform

The Dutch Section and 13 other Dutch NGOs, including the National Council of Churches and trade union umbrellas, are members of a “broad human rights platform”. The platform reviews Dutch foreign policy in the field of human rights and discusses proposals aimed at improving the human rights performance of the government, companies, employers' organizations and members of the platform themselves. The platform meets about six times a year with the secretariat rotating between the member organizations. Its role is to facilitate coordination and exchange of information. Joint activities may be discussed in the context of the platform, but are then carried out by one or more organizations in their own name. It may issue joint statements if all its member organizations agree.

*A longer checklist can be found in Appendix B of AI's document, NGO Policy and Guidelines (AI: Index: ORG 20/01/96).

Amnesty International Campaign Manual