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Amnesty International Campaign Manual



Health professionals are often concerned about human rights issues and many human rights violations have a direct bearing on medical ethics and practice. This section looks at:

N    Why the medical sector is important to AI / 230

N    Why health professionals might be interested in AI's work / 230

N    Outreach structures / 230

N    Setting up a health professionals' network / 231

N    Support received by network groups / 231

N    Checklist: What you can ask health professionals to do / 233

The Irish Section stages an anti-death penalty demonstration during a visit to Ireland by US President Bill Clinton. Many health professionals are involved in campaigning work against the death penalty and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

© ai Why the medical sector is important to AI

There are a multitude of reasons why outreach to health professionals is important to AI's campaigning. Many of the human rights violations that fall within AI's mandate have a health perspective. Often, there is a cross-over between the ethics of the medical sector and human rights standards. Health professionals are usually influential members of society _ both at home and in target countries. In most countries they have national associations to represent them, which are usually part of international medical associations.

Why health professionals might be interested in AI's work

Among the reasons why health professionals might help AI's campaigning are:

N    Health professionals, particularly physicians, are involved in administering the death penalty in some countries. In others, they supervise punitive mutilation and corporal punishment. In some, physicians have been implicated in certifying fitness for torture and even in applying torture.

N    Prisoners are often held in cruel, inhuman or degrading conditions without adequate access to medical care. They are also the victim of a variety of breaches of medical ethics, such as lack of confidentiality, disregard for the need for informed consent and lack of respect for personal autonomy.

N    Health professionals are themselves not immune to human rights violations. As prominent members of their communities, often with political views that they express peacefully, they frequently find themselves the victims of abuses. Medical neutrality is often violated in situations of conflict. Health professionals fulfilling their humanitarian obligations with impartiality find themselves targeted by one or both sides to a dispute.

Outreach structures

The most common model in AI Sections for outreach to the medical sector is a health professionals' group. Such groups consist of doctors, dentists, nurses, physiotherapists, psychologists, medical students and others who work together within the AI mandate to oppose violations of human rights. Currently, the AI health professionals network has groups in more than 30 countries.

The advantages of such groups are:

N    Health professionals have a special understanding of the health implications of human rights violations. Many of them want to join a group that works on human rights from the health perspective.

N    Within a professional environment, a health professional with a concern for human rights may feel isolated and uncertain about the way to act on that concern. A network group provides contact with other interested health professionals who are already working for human rights.

N    The voices of health professionals carry special credibility when it comes to the medical side of human rights. AI needs that credibility to campaign against violations.

N    Health professionals provide expertise within the AI movement. The contacts generated by a network group, for instance, may enable treatment to be arranged for a released prisoner who has been tortured.

N    Members of AI network groups are in a unique position to educate the health professions about human rights.

There are also several reasons why a health professional would want to be part of an AI health professionals network group:

    M    The support and information provided by AI enable health professionals to focus their efforts where they are most needed, so that they maximize the impact of the time they devote to human rights.     M    Network groups provide contact with colleagues who share human rights concerns and they allow health professionals to speak with a collective voice when individual voices may not be heard.

Setting up a health

professionals' network

Identify other health professionals who are enthusiastic and interested in working in a network group. Once active, a group will probably find it easier to make contact with other health professionals who want to work for human rights.

Choose a coordinator _ a member who is prepared to act as a central organizer for the group and who will do secretarial tasks. The coordinator will be the point of contact with the AI Section and with the medical office at the IS. Information coming from the medical office to the coordinator forms the basis of much of the group's activity.

There is no blueprint. Some groups are very large and organized on a national basis. Others are local and all the members know each other. In several countries there are local branches that fit into a national network.

Some groups meet regularly, anything between once a month and once a year. Other groups never meet, communicating by letter, phone, fax and e-mail.

The internal working arrangements of each group are decided by its members in conjunction with the AI Section. There may be a single coordinator or a steering committee. Functions within the group are allocated in various ways. These arrangements will depend on the local realities faced by the Section and group.

A network group may start off with three people who meet face-to-face and a fourth member 200 kilometres away who stays in contact by letter and telephone. Five years later it might consist of three sub-groups with a central organizing committee that is elected annually. Network groups change as they grow and conditions change.

Different conditions demand different styles. What really matters is for each group to work out the best way to work effectively on the issues that matter to it.

Support received by network groups

N    Medical office. The medical office at the IS provides information and support to AI health professional network groups worldwide.

N    Medical Actions. Prompt access to reliable information is the life-blood of effective human rights work. The medical office provides a steady flow of information on health-related human rights violations in the form of Medical Actions, which are sent to the coordinators of AI network groups around the world. They are then passed on to the individual group members. Medical Actions raise the alarm over specific cases of refusal of medical care to prisoners, of health professionals who have suffered human rights violations, and of wider issues of medical ethics in the context of human rights. They give detailed information and suggest campaigning strategies to be used by network groups, including letter-writing appeals, that have been planned to maximize the impact of AI's protest. Medical Actions provide the foundation for much of the human rights work performed by network groups.

N    Campaigns. Network groups contribute to general AI country campaigns by exposing the health aspects of human rights violations in the country or of the issue in question. They can also conduct outreach to other members of the medical profession domestically, where called for in national strategies.

N    Newsletter. The medical office publishes a newsletter which is sent to all groups and other interested health professionals and institutions. The newsletter contains information about the activities of the AI health professionals network, as well as articles of human rights interest from the general and medical press. It also carries notices of forthcoming relevant meetings and publications. N    Other publications. Other publications are produced by the medical office in response to perceived needs in health-related human rights. Recent publications include a bibliography of human rights literature, an international survey of rehabilitation centres for victims of human rights violations, and a compendium of the major international ethical codes and declarations relevant to health professionals.

N    General support network. The medical office provides advice to network groups on other matters that they may take up, such as planning meetings on human rights for health professionals. When the entire network is campaigning on a health-related human rights theme, the medical office provides support in the form of planning, information resources and coordination.

N    AI Sections. Network groups coordinate their work with the AI Section in their country. The Section ensures that network group activity fits in with other AI work and helps network groups maximize their impact. The Section offers practical advice and supplies the full range of reports and policy documents produced by the IS. In addition, it may help groups with administrative facilities, such as office space, telephone, fax and photocopiers.

N    Network groups. Contacts with other AI health professionals network groups may be a valuable source of support in terms of advice and experience.


What you can ask health professionals to do

j    Send letters

Letters can be politically neutral appeals to governments, prison officials, police and national associations, or letters of support to prisoners themselves.

Letters sent by medical networks carry extra weight when the subject of an appeal is a fellow health professional or a person deprived of medical care, or when the writers protest against a human rights violation that is also a breach of medical ethics. The Medical Actions sent out by the medical office at the IS identify specific cases and give the addresses to which appeals should be sent for maximum effect. Much of the most effective work done by AI health professionals network groups is achieved by this simple means.

j    Arrange for publicity _ in medical journals, through mailings to doctors, through displaying AI posters and leaflets in waiting rooms, etc.

j    Approach national associations _ ask them to take positions and raise particular cases and issues with the home government, other governments and professional counterparts in other countries.

j    Publish a letter or article

These can be about a case featured in a Medical Action for publication in the general or medical press.

j    Make a medical ethics presentation

Such presentations should have a human rights theme and could be made at a professional meeting.

j    Conduct a survey

Carry out a survey of awareness of a human rights issue, such as the death penalty, among professional colleagues, and use the results to campaign for greater human rights education.

j    Contact the IS If a medical professional is travelling professionally to a meeting or to work in a country where human rights violations are happening, ask them to contact the IS to see if there is anything it can do.

j    Organize a petition

This could be done on the case of a professional colleague in detention or under threat.

j    Join a delegation

Offer to join an AI delegation to an embassy when there is a medical component to AI's concerns.

j    Circulate a newsletter

This could be distributed to network group members and to medical libraries and professional bodies.

j    Investigate medical treatment

Seek information in your country about possibilities for medical treatment for victims of human rights violations.

j    Educate professional colleagues

Ask them to offer their services to organizations that care for victims of human rights violations.

j    Urge your government to contribute to the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture

j    Monitor the press

Watch out for important press articles on human rights and send a copy to your Section or the IS.

j    Film shows

Organize a screening of a film highlighting medical human rights concerns, such as the AI video “Doctors and Torture”.

j    Volunteer

Volunteer your professional services to refugee organizations working with victims of human rights violations.

j    Raise medical human rights issues

Raise such issues at the general meeting of your national association and seek resolutions in favour of the protection of human rights.

j    Organize a human rights group within your national professional association.

j    Sponsor a human rights speaker at a public meeting.

j    Share material

Share medical human rights campaigning material with other AI network groups.

j    Inform the IS

Inform the medical office at the IS of issues on which you think the network should be campaigning.

j    Collect information

Collect information and campaign consistently on a medical human rights issue, such as physician participation in corporal punishment.

j    Raise funds

Organize a fundraising day at your workplace.

The Pakistan Section began as a group of doctors, before spreading out and attracting a broader membership from society.

In May 1995, representatives of the AI health professionals' network met in London to discuss the role of doctors, nurses and other health workers in AI's campaign for human rights. Participants attended from 21 countries.


If medical concerns are a major issue, invite a leading health professional to launch an AI report at a press conference, or to be on the panel.

Human Rights and the Health Professions is produced at the IS for the health professionals' network

Amnesty International Campaign Manual