Home | Site Map | Internal | Public Resources | Hosted Groups

Amnesty International Campaign Manual



Optimism, energy and creativity are all qualities associated the world over with youth and students. It is therefore important to build a partnership with youths and students. This section looks at:

N    Why youth activists are important to AI / 218

N    Developing an outreach strategy / 218

N    Outreach in practice / 219

        Working within the education system / 220

N    Supporting young members / 221

N    Checklist: What you can ask youth and students to do / 222

Children participate in the launch of AI's campaign on China by the Philippine Section, March 1996

© ai Why youth activists are important to AI

Youth and students, and their organizations, are not necessarily influential in society (yet), or in relation to target societies, but there are many reasons which make outreach to them important.

N     Students may have ready access to resources as well as the time to be active.

N     The organizational infrastructure for students _ such as student federations that link up with regional or national bodies, or the administrative systems of universities or colleges _ may be of benefit to human rights campaigning.

N     Students may have access to specialist knowledge: students are trained in professional skills and research, and have access to academic materials as well as to specialists in their area of study. They may therefore be in a position to undertake specialist work for AI Sections.

N    Youth and students may be more willing to initiate and take part in public and direct forms of campaigning action than other AI members.

N    Attitudes and associations formed while young and during student life can be enduring. Youth should therefore be brought into AI's campaigning in a dynamic way, through full involvement in the design of campaigns and in the leadership of the organization.

N    There are international youth organizations and networks that can provide a valuable opportunity for dialogue and action on AI's concerns.

N    Outreach to young people and adapting AI materials and message to youth culture can enhance AI's credibility with an appeal to a large cross-section of the population.

Developing an outreach strategy

Generally, the most effective way to mobilize young people and students is to empower them to moblize themselves. Some or all of the questions below may help young people in your Section to develop an outreach strategy for youth.


g    What issues are young people in your country most motivated by?

g    Which organizations are most effective in mobilizing young people and why?

g    What youth organizations exist in your country? Are there national student associations, scouting organizations, youth wings of political parties, or youth bodies attached to religious, social justice or environmental organizations? How many members do they have? Do they have their own media? Do they influence public opinion or government? Do they generate action from their membership? Do they have international affiliations?

g    Could AI do a joint outreach project with a youth organization, or just learn about how that organization does its outreach and membership work with students and youth?

g    What is likely to be the most effective way of approaching youth and student organizations? Is it through particular individuals?

g    What media target youth? What sort of information may they be interested in receiving from AI?

g    Will it be necessary to produce specialised materials to reach out to youth, to generate action and to retain support? What resources will be needed to do this?

g    Do you have the resources to make contact with youth organizations? Are there influential or large youth organizations near you? Are they planning any big meetings in which AI could be involved?

Outreach in practice

It is important to know how you can best encourage the participation of youth and students. Some of the particular skills and facilities which young people and students have to offer are listed below. Once you have identified these skills, you may need to provide training and support in order to utilize these skills effectively.

N    General skills gained from their studies

Students have access to vast amounts of information in their places of education. Their training in research can be utilized by the Section in particular projects, for instance in researching details of home government legislation and human rights.

N    Particular skills gained from their courses

M    language students may be able to help translate materials and may link up with AI groups in the countries where they spend time improving their languages;

M    business students who spend a year working in industry can be encouraged to raise discussions in the workplace on ethics and human rights in the business sector, or to undertake research on attitudes in the business community towards human rights;

M    medical students can highlight issues of human rights and the medical profession (such as organ transplants, executions and torture) in their medical schools;

M    law students can bring legal analysis to actions or give talks on international human rights law;

M    international students can give input on their own cultures and to discussions on the situation in their own country;

M    student teachers can design classes on human rights education;

M    marketing students can survey attitudes to or awareness of AI or human rights in the community or among specific sectors of the community;

M    public relations or communications students may be able to help produce campaigning and media strategies and materials, or to stage events;

M    design students may be able to design materials for AI campaigns.

M    students may be aware of the debate on military service and conscientious objection: this can be put to use in working on cases of conscientious objectors imprisoned in other countries, or on ill-treatment of young people performing military service.

Working within the education system

Find out about common rules and regulations within the school system that affect how youth groups are formed and run. Are there restrictions on fundraising in schools? Do most schools require the mail for a school club to go to a teacher (regardless of the teacher's role in the group)? Give advice about how youth members can cope with these situations and be effective activists.

N    Adapt to the students' timetable

Adapt your calendar of campaigning actions to fit in with the academic year in your country. When major international campaigns fall at an awkward time for youth activities, for instance when a campaign straddles the major school or college holidays thought needs to be given to arranging activities so that effort is sustained or a second push is made after the holidays.

Encourage youth groups to remain active during the main holiday period by sending a mailing at the beginning of the holidays to these groups containing ideas specifically for this period. When groups are disbanding for the holiday period, individual members in the groups can be encouraged to sign up for actions. At the end of the holiday period, these members can be sent a special mailing strongly encouraging them to take out formal individual AI membership.

N    Encourage the talents of young people

Young people's energy to undertake imaginative actions and respond quickly to actions requiring an urgent response offers a tremendous advantage over some local groups who work to different schedules and cannot always be available for immediate large-scale action. It is worth considering how student and youth groups can be integrated into the Section's plans for crisis response work.

For sheer volume of appeals and strong publicity, youth groups are often unbeatable. It is worth considering, however, which campaigns would most benefit from the special talents of youth and student members, and which may benefit more from the input of other groups in society.

Decide what sort of issues may be most appealing for young people. Talk to others who work with young people and work out what some of the key motivating issues are in your context. For example, is it important to find cases of youth/children/student victims of human rights violations for youth members to work on?

Supporting young


Youth and students are a major part of the membership in many Sections. In some they are organized in specific youth and student groups. There are many issues that should be addressed associated with servicing this membership and retaining their support.

Firstly you must establish that you have the resources to keep the young members. Second, you should think about how you will ensure that some of the youth maintain their interest in AI in the future. It should not be taken for granted that the young members of today will remain involved in AI as adults. We need to recognize that youth is a time of exploration, and not assume that the young members of today will be AI's future. However, a positive experience in AI while people are young may lead to further involvement later on.

If youth members do not go on to develop their interest in human rights issues, then skills learned are not built upon and a huge and influential potential membership is lost.


c    Try to make a concerted effort to develop young leadership by involving youth in supporting youth work. If young members are excluded from the decision-making process, Sections risk alienating and losing them. Talk to youth and student leaders inside and outside AI about outreach work with young people.

c    Look for opportunities to support youth activism in general, not solely youth or student groups. Find ways to help multi-issue youth clubs (such as youth groups associated with a place of worship) to get involved in human rights activism. Many skills are transferrable across issues. Helping youth as activists makes AI a credible activist option for youth and may encourage people to continue in AI as adults.

c    Ensure that there is continuity in contacts between AI youth/student groups and the Section. It is often suggested that youth groups are not the most suitable groups to take up cases of Action Files for long-term work. However, they should not be excluded from taking on Action Files if they show commitment and continuity. How can you help to make this happen?

c    Involve teachers in youth groups. In the Canadian Section (francophone), each school group has an animateur _ a teacher who supervises the group and keeps in contact with the Section office.

c    Share Action Files between several groups in the same area. It has been suggested that if continuity cannot be regularly found at the group level, then a structure must be created to “house” the stability and expertise needed for effective Action File work. This structure could take the form of a coordinating body, perhaps consisting of trained youth field workers, a Section staff member and other interested volunteers. These people could then be the point of contact for the youth groups and the relevant people in the IS. They would be a key resource for assisting participating groups in developing strategies for their Action Files. Such a model would mean that there would be no need for a direct link between the IS and single youth/student groups. The Action Files would be assigned directly to the coordinating body.

c    Encourage and support joint activities between local groups and youth groups, such as fundraising, public awareness, demonstrations and outreach work to other sectors.

c    Consider holding regional meetings of youth and student groups to establish a network and focus on activist skills and human rights knowledge development. Such meetings can be highly motivating.

c    Help improve the image of youth groups inside local groups (and vice versa): show the local groups what the young members have been doing; report their successful activities in the Section newsletter.

c    Train local groups in how to deal with new members effectively. Young members joining a local group after leaving their school or college group may find themselves patronized and their experience and energy unrecognized and unused.

c    Make sure there is some continuity for graduating student members as they move into the world of paid work. For example, provide them with details of their local group and continue mailings to their home address. AIUSA puts an advertisement in its end-of-year edition of the newsletter, entitled “Don't graduate from Amnesty International”.



j    Help raise awareness in the community.

j    Participate in mass letter-writing, demonstrations, street theatre, lobbying, petitions, public meetings, vigils, symbolic events, etc.

j    Help with building contacts with youth in the target country.

j    Work with youth and student organizations in the target country.

j    Become involved in crisis response activities.

j    Twin with groups in other countries.

j    Promote and undertake human rights education.

j    Stage international dinners, serving food from countries being worked on by groups.

j    Organize art competitions with a human rights theme, with the entries being displayed in a public place.

j    Organize concerts or dances, to raise money, educate and have fun! For the Children's Day Action in 1995, youth groups in countries that had ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child researched when their country had reported to the Committee, and whether its report was accurate.

In Grenoble, France, a student journal with a circulation of 4,000 devotes two pages a month to AI.

Youth-friendly materials

Sections should think about modifying their “standard” material to make it more accessible to youth groups. The Canadian Section (English-speaking), for example, creates campaign packages which are used by both local groups and youth and student groups. In addition to this, there is a specialized mailing for the youth program. If specialised mailings for youth are to be planned, then Sections could consider focusing on key months of the year, such as the start of each academic term, and offer advice, such as how to recruit and keep new members.

Scandinavian delegates to the 13th World Festival of Youth and Students in 1989 in Pyongyang, North Korea, protest at

the absence of AI delegates, who

were unable to attend because the

North Korean authorities delayed the issuing of their visas.

© Paul Sveistrup

Scouting for success

The Dutch Section made a big impact in the Scouting World Jamboree, held in the Netherlands in 1995. More than 30,000 young people attended the event. One of the major themes was human rights, including a focus on the death penalty. The Dutch Section produced imaginative materials for the jamboree, in cooperation with youth coordinators in other Sections. Their aim was to get a high percentage of the scouts and visitors to the jamboree involved in AI's work on return to their own country.

In Ontario, Canada, the Teachers' Federation has subsidized an Internet account, including a certain number of free hours, for all schools. They approved a proposal for schools to receive Urgent Actions electronically.

Calling on Europe

An action was issued by the IS in October 1995 at the time the Council of Europe was running a Campaign against Racism, Xenophobia, Antisemitism and Intolerance. The action called for youth members in European countries to contact the National Campaign Committee of the Council of Europe in their country and ask them to look at AI's report on Romania. While the scope of the Council of Europe's Campaign went beyond AI's mandate, there was some overlap offering campaigning opportunities.

It is estimated that AIUSA student groups wrote more than 480,000 letters during 1995 alone.

Students at a design college approached an AI Section offering to contribute a Public Service Announcement for free, as they needed to design an announcement as part of their studies.

Friendship bracelets

To highlight the human rights violations of street children and as part of a fundraising appeal, a Section organized petitions which were sent to schools along with two friendship bracelets made by street children in Guatemala. Students then organized extra bracelets and sold them, using the opportunity to create awareness, take action and raise funds.

Amnesty International Campaign Manual