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Amnesty International Campaign Manual



Many adherents of different religious beliefs find that their faith gives them a particular motivation for human rights work. AI can provide practical ways of expressing their support for human rights. This section looks at:

N    Why religious groups are important to AI / 224

N    Why religious groups may contribute to AI's work / 225

N    Developing an outreach strategy / 225

N    Who you can approach / 226

N    Understanding different religions / 226

N    Ensuring AI's impartiality / 227

N    Outreach structures / 227

N    Checklist: What you can ask the religious community to do / 228

Ian Martin, former Secretary General of AI, with the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Emilio Castro, April 1991

© ai Why religious groups are important to AI

Since the formation of AI many individuals, groups and communities from all of the world's major faiths have been deeply involved in AI's work. Many of the victims on whose behalf AI has campaigned have been imprisoned for the peaceful exercise of their religious beliefs, and people of religious affiliation in other countries have been actively involved in the campaigns on these and other cases.

In many societies religious faiths are central to the values of the wider society. Religions often have a central role to play in the promotion of tolerance or intolerance, which in turn influence the rights on which AI campaigns. People in positions of religious authority may:

N    influence the opinions and actions of the religion's adherents;

N    represent that opinion;

N    help shape wider community opinion;

N    influence those in secular authority.

This was highlighted during the 1994 and 1995 UN World Conferences in Cairo (on population) and Beijing (on women), where official representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and Muslim bodies had a strong influence over certain governments in debates on issues of relevance to AI.

Outreach to different religions and their organizations is important for many other reasons.

N    Many of the world's religions have established international networks that provide channels for contact and dialogue between people of different societies. People travel and work in different places, hold conferences and meetings that bring people together and provide opportunities for pursuing human rights issues. In some cases this may include passing on information to AI about human rights violations.

N    Religious bodies often establish means of communications, including journals, newsletters and radio and television channels. These provide opportunities for getting AI's message across and persuading people to act for human rights and to join AI. Examples you might like to take up are:

    M    diocesan newsletters in the Christian churches, which reach a large number of people. Find out how to get an introductory article about AI into such publications;

    M    if there is a religious correspondent on your local radio station, see if you could have a “spot” highlighting a recent campaigning activity by AI.

N    Many religions in different societies play a key role in the provision of education, which may or may not incorporate a human rights education component. Education has the potential of promoting toleration and the values of human rights. In this way religion has an important role in preventing human rights violations. Religious affiliated schools have significant practical involvement in some AI Sections.

Why religious groups may contribute to AI's work

Belief in the sanctity of human life is reflected in many religious traditions. Issues of justice and peace are also at the heart of some traditions. Many religions have organizations that strive at a grassroots level for civil, political, economic and social rights within communities.

Some religions have a practical, social component. They therefore welcome involvement and work with AI on behalf of people of all faiths who are victims of human rights abuses.

Developing an outreach strategy

The questions below, not all of which need be addressed, may help you determine an outreach strategy:


g    What are the important religious organizations in your society?

g    What is the relationship between these religious organizations or leaders and the government or state?

g    What is the role of religious organizations or leaders in shaping public opinion or the opinion or position of specific sectors of society?

g    What religious media exist in your society?

g    What international links do these religious organizations/ leaders have?

g    What is the involvement of religion in the educational system?

g    Does the campaign/country strategy or other information suggest that particular religious organizations or leaders in the target country may be able to influence the human rights situation of concern to AI?

g    Are there connections between the religious communities or leaders in your country and those in the target country?

g    Does the country/campaign strategy suggest that action from a particular religious leader or organization in your country may carry some weight with the government in the target country?

g    Are religious NGOs in your country employing people working in the target country or which have a particular interest in the target country (for instance, Roman Catholic organizations in Europe working in Indonesia/East Timor)? If so, could you organize sharing of information or joint meetings with them? What potential do they have to act on AI's concerns?

g    Is there willingness among religious groups in your country to campaign on behalf of their fellow-believers and others in the target country? Do you know of any visits planned by religious leaders that could be useful to campaigning?

g    Are religious people the victims of repression in the target country on which you are campaigning? If so, could this provide an opportunity for outreach to members of that religious community in other countries to raise the profile of AI's work?

g    Would appeals from religious communities in your country give the campaign a more diverse image and help to convince the target country that AI's concerns are not based on any single cultural or religious perspective?

g    Do you know of a major meeting of a religious organization during the course of an AI campaign at which it may be possible to encourage some discussion or a statement on human rights concerns?

Who you can approach

Depending on the campaign/action, you may be trying to mobilize some or all of the following in your religious outreach work:

N    officials, leaders and members or followers of various religious faiths at the national and local levels;

N    national and local churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, gurdwaras and other worship centres; N    national and local publications of the various religious faiths;

N    academic institutions, individual scholars and experts in theology;

N    human rights groups or advocates among the various religious faiths;

national religious organizations.

Understanding different religions

N    Make sure that you learn some background information about the structure and basic tenets of the religious body you are planning to approach.

N    Make sure you know something of the attitudes to human rights, peace and justice issues in the religious group you are approaching.

N    Ensure that the information you provide is balanced. If you are approaching, for example, a Sikh community for the first time, take cases of Sikhs who have been victims of human rights violations. However, one of the aims of religious outreach is to involve religious groups in campaigning against human rights violations in general, not just against one sector of the population. It is therefore advisable that at your first meeting you give a broad overview of AI's work on people of all faiths or none.

N    Find out about the major festivals of the faith and be sensitive about asking people to take action around these dates.

Ensuring AI's


The following questions may help you avoid misrepresenting AI's position:*

g    QUESTIONS &             ANSWERS

g    Is AI affiliated to any particular religious tradition?

No. AI members include believers from many different faiths. The movement takes no position on any religion, nor does it present its appeals to governments in terms of the teachings of any religious tradition.

g    Do the principles of human rights which are inherent in AI's mandate originate from particular religious traditions?

No. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), on which AI is based, has been affirmed by governments of all political ideologies and religious affiliations. The UDHR reflects the values shared by many different faiths, traditions and cultures.

g    How do some governments connect human rights violations with religious teachings?

Some governments justify human rights violations _ for example, the use of the death penalty _ by referring to particular interpretations of religious teachings. However, each of the major faiths includes certain teachings that some people regard as the basis for their opposition to human rights violations, including the death penalty. This means that a member of any faith can, on the basis of the teachings of that faith, be a member of AI. Because AI does not make religious arguments in its appeals, it does not quote these teachings.

g    During AI meetings, is it appropriate for a group to include prayers or other forms of religious expression?

No. The principle of inclusiveness of all people who support the AI mandate must be respected. It would therefore be inappropriate for a group to include prayers during an AI meeting. Those members who are interested in sharing religious expression can do so outside the context of a formal AI meeting.

g    In AI meetings at which there are guests who are members of religious communities, how do we allow for the religious expression of these communities?

Working together effectively with people of diverse cultures necessitates respecting and to some degree understanding those cultures. It must be clear to the co-organizers of meetings that AI is not a religious or political organization. However, there should be a certain freedom for the guests to present their perspective in a way which is true to their interpretation of their own traditions. At the same time it needs to be clear that any religious expression belongs to the invited guest, not to AI.

g    Can AI provide speakers in religious services?

Yes, provided that AI's principles of independence and impartiality and the fact that AI is not a religious organization are made clear during the presentation.

g    Can religious arguments be used in AI letter-writing?

No. Arguments used in letters in the name of AI should be based on international human rights agreements and the country's own constitution. It is unwise to confuse the picture by quoting religious arguments.

Outreach structures

There are a variety of structures formed in different sections with regards to religious outreach. The primary aim of forming an outreach structure should not be to take up only the cases of human rights violations against people with the same identity. If this is the case, the structure can end up as a network searching for cases within a narrow subject area and ignoring other cases.


What you can ask the religious community to do

j    Introduce specific cases into their regular activities, such as in their acts of worship, perhaps by inviting AI members to speak at these services.

j    Feature concerns/cases in national or local publications produced by their community asking for supporting action.

j    Issue a statement or send an open or private letter addressed to the target government, or to others in the target country or to the home government, condemning the violations of human rights and urging them to take concrete steps.

j    Encourage others to take action to protect human rights.

j    Contact their co-religionists in the target country to foster discussion and to support the human rights community there.

j    Raise funds for human rights work, make a donation to AI.


Outreach to religious organizations needs to be done with sensitivity. In some cases it is controversial within AI's membership; in other cases it can simply be impractical or unsafe.

AI is a secular organization. This is an affront to many in different religious faiths. Laws and practices that violate human rights have sometimes been justified by reference to different religious texts and by particular religious leaders and followers. In campaigning against these practices it is important that AI is never seen as being for or against any religion. It is best to argue against the violations that result from religious laws by referring to the universal values enshrined and agreed in the UDHR.

Nein Pagoda in Myanmar, with Buddhist monks in the foreground. Pagodas were often the meeting place of demonstrators during 1988 protests against one-party rule.

Meeting the Cardinal

During AI's 1994 campaign on Colombia the Australian Section learned that a Roman Catholic delegation would shortly be attending an international meeting at the Vatican at which the Cardinal from Colombia would also be present. The strategy had identified the Roman Catholic Church as having an important role to play in supporting the legitimacy of human rights activism. Following AI's approach, these concerns were raised directly by the Australian delegation with the Colombian Cardinal.

Candle Day

In Australia the involvement of many Roman Catholic schools has been central to the success of AI's most important annual fundraising event, “Candle Day”. Each year thousands of school children take to the streets to sell badges for AI, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for human rights work.

Teachers often help to promote AI, and local AI groups provide speakers. Some of the Roman Catholic religious orders advertise for volunteers to help out in the AI offices.

International standards on freedom

of religion

N    UN Declaration on the Elimination

of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 36/55 on 25 November 1981

N    European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Article 9

N    International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 18

N    Universal Declaration on Human Rights, Article 18


People who are active in a religious community may be interested in human rights issues but have too many commitments already to become actively involved with AI. Be sensitive about this. During your first contact, do not ask too much. Giving a talk at a regular meeting or worship event may be the most practical way of making contact with members of the faith.

Religious groups and congregations might have links with other outreach sectors. Here, a Roman Catholic priest says mass

for the safety of the work force during a strike occupation in a warehouse in Guatemala, 1984.

* The Canadian Section (English-speaking) has produced a very helpful set of

guidelines, Guidelines for Religious Activities and Outreach in AICS (ES), from which this series of questions is taken.


Be aware that people in the group you are approaching may have personal experience of human rights violations of the sort you are describing. The Baha'i community, for example, have been severely persecuted in Iran and Iraq because of their religious faith. This may mean they are particularly open to AI's campaigning. It may also mean that they do not want to be involved for security and personal reasons.

Amnesty International Campaign Manual