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Amnesty International Campaign Manual



The world is likely to witness an increased number of human rights and humanitarian crises. AI needs to react to these quickly and effectively, as we are expected to do by victims, AI members, the human rights community and the general public. This chapter looks at how AI does this and how the organization is developing this area of work.


Criteria for launching a crisis response /74

A beginning for long-term work /74

Aims of crisis response /75

AI policy and crisis response /75

Section objectives /76

Mobilizing for action /76

    Money /78

    Crisis response coordinators /78

    Groups and membership /78

Mobilizing a large-scale reaction / 81

Campaigning techniques /81

    Media /81

    Lobbying /82

    Letter-writing /84

    Outreach /84

    Evaluation /84

“When written in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.”

John F. Kennedy, former US President, in a speech made in 1959 Criteria for launching

a crisis response

AI must respond swiftly to human rights crises. In order to sustain the commitment of our activists and broader public support, we must find ways to respond effectively to situations of massive human rights violations. As this is a relatively new area of work, AI's response to crises is still evolving (see Appendix 4: Mobilizing the IS during Crisis Response).

AI's Secretary General is responsible for judging when it is necessary to invoke AI's crisis response mechanisms. Each decision takes account of the following four criteria:

N    an upsurge of human rights violations within AI's mandate on a scale which is very serious in the context of that country or region _ or the risk of a serious upsurge of human rights violations;*

N    previously agreed action plans and resources are insufficient to respond effectively to the situation;

N    the need to manage within the IS the overall institutional response to the situation;

N    the need to mobilize rapidly the

capacity of the whole movement in order to respond effectively.

The crisis response mechanism will normally be operational for only a few months and will end when an ongoing country strategy has been developed that takes into account changes in the country situation.

The IS will establish a process for identifying potential human rights crises as part of the country strategy development and review process in order to take preventive action where possible and to prepare contingency plans.

The four criteria, which were developed in consultation with the membership, are important because without them AI risks:

N    taking too much time to decide on each crisis;

N    sliding from crisis to crisis;

N    only reacting to crises which are already in the limelight;

N    reacting to crises which are of interest to those Sections in a good position to influence the IS;

N    unleashing competition within the IS to launch many crisis responses.

A beginning for

long-term work

As a crisis response can by definition only be a short-term exercise, the long-term strategy to deal with any crisis country is of paramount importance. Attention of media, politicians, public, members and AI's leadership will soon be drawn to yet another crisis. Much fear has been expressed that after a crisis response is finished, the country would be forgotten. This should not be the case. Whereas AI's contribution to stopping violations in the midst of a crisis might often be limited, it could be in a position to make a major contribution at a later stage. Any crisis should motivate AI to:

N    develop an extensive post-crisis strategy;

N    raise money for the immediate crisis response as well as for long-term work;

N    reprioritize staffing and resources, organize the movement better and expand the program on the country.

Sections need to remember this when working on a crisis. What will the long-term consequences be of a period of intense effort on a particular country or region? How will you maintain links with all those outreach contacts you worked with? How will you ensure that the public (possibly even new members), motivated to act with AI because of their outrage over gross human rights violations in a particular country, do not feel three months later that this country has been abandoned by AI? Aims of crisis response

Many of the world's worst crises are much more than human rights disasters. They are crises of civil war, collapsing states and international confusion. Expectations of AI may be too large. We cannot solve the total crisis, so it is essential to make clear:

N    the specific human rights aspects of the crisis that AI can address;

N    what AI and the people it seeks to mobilize can contribute to the effort to resolve those human rights aspects;

N    any other purposes, besides addressing the specific crisis, that should be pursued.

In the light of this, we should consider the level of our response.

Although AI must be realistic in what it can achieve, each individual helped represents success. Nobody is obliged to succeed, but we do have an obligation to try. Our contributions fit into the following categories:

N    help prevent, stop, diminish or relieve human rights violations in the target country;

N    focus world attention on forgotten crises;

N    add an authoritative voice about human rights violations in the face of rumours, exaggeration, propaganda or fragmented reporting;

N    provide analysis of human rights aspects in the crisis;

N    suggest solutions to be pursued by others;

N    help prevent future violations.

There are other aims to pursue which go beyond the immediate situation. These include:

N    improvements in the preparedness of the international community for future crises, such as the reinforcement of intergovernmental human rights mechanisms and of early warning systems;

N    alerting the world to the need for preventive actions in the crisis region or elsewhere;

N    ending practices which may contribute to human right violations such as the export of military, security and police transfers;

N    creating human rights awareness, knowledge and willingness to campaign;

N    AI publicity, membership recruitment and fundraising to support the movement's activities in relation to the crisis and in general.

AI policy and crisis response

A perfect organizational system for crisis response is useless if AI has not developed its policies relevant to crises. Issues pertinent to crises, such as military intervention, cooperation with other organizations on research, security risks for the membership and staff deployed to the field require attention.

Clear answers are needed for these difficult issues and at times expectations of what we can do in relation to a particular crisis situation will have to be modified.

Section objectives

Sections should consider which aims outlined in an international strategy they are particularly well placed to pursue. Does their society's relationship with the crisis country provide particular opportunities to influence the situation which would merit additional aims? Sections will also have to decide which aims they have the capacity to pursue.

However, Sections must act speedily on the international aims that are set, otherwise the response of the movement as a whole will lose impact. This means that there is less scope for extensive discussion and consultation. Decision-making needs to become faster, more directed, and competencies need to be very clear. At the same time, those with most knowledge about a situation should play a key role in decision-making and quality control.

During crises emotions run high, the organization gets stretched and people feel stressed. That is why communication about what is expected of the movement is so important during crises. Malfunctioning communication at such times divides the movement. Good communication will unite it, motivate it and strengthen its effectiveness.

It is the responsibility of everyone in the movement to communicate and respond in a timely and appropriate way. Once decisions are made we all need to stick to them.

As crises often have a high media profile, no unilateral initiatives should be launched. Sections should consult the IS on their initiatives and pursue the internationally agreed objectives. Common action initiatives should be shared and supported by all in the movement.

Mobilizing for action

A crisis situation may require much creative thinking to find ways in which the membership can contribute to often unclear, complicated and chaotic situations. In many Sections, big or small, mostly centralized action will take place in the early stages of a crisis because speed is vital. Centralized Section structures for crisis response therefore need to be clear.

Sections need to set up structures for dealing with crises, operating in parallel with the IS.* Each Section will need to adapt the suggestions below to their local circumstances.


What Sections can do

j    Alert all relevant people of the crisis response, including Section staff, volunteers and some intermediate structures.

j    Form a crisis committee. This should include key people in the Section, such as Section director, campaign coordinator, press officer, fundraiser, administrator, relevant co-group and/or Regional Action Network (RAN) group representative. Agree who will coordinate the team and who will have final decision-making authority.

j    Agree one central contact person between the IS and your Section and inform the IS immediately. If possible, provide a contact number outside working hours.

j    Feed into strategy consultation requests from the IS.

j    Consider how best to use membership structures to take action. It is important to proactively develop actions and proposals once international objectives are clear. Our experience is that while some Sections have developed creative and dynamic activities, others have been paralysed by the enormity of the problem and frustrated by the lack of recommendations about what they should do.

j    If relevant, identify at least one person at Section level able to work in English pending translation of materials. At times of crisis it will often not be possible for the IS to issue materials at short notice in languages other than English.

j    Agree division of other tasks within the crisis committee and review regularly. Use the committee to brainstorm for creative ideas in responding to the crisis. A set meeting slot each day should be available, even if it is not always used.

j    Assess administrative needs for the crisis. Good administration is vital to running a crisis response. From evaluations of past crises, the IS has identified the provision of additional administrative support as a priority. You may need help with mailings, photocopying, translations, etc. For many Sections, additional administrative support will come from volunteers.

j    Review existing communication plans. What mailings or newsletters to members or others are in production or planned? Do these offer opportunities for getting across AI's message, showing AI is acting and starting action and fundraising.

j    List relevant sources of information and possible targets for action and make contact with them:

M    relevant government departments;

M    local UN offices which may have useful background documents;

M    media contacts, particularly journalists going to or returning from the crisis area;

M    local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with operations in the crisis area or surrounding region.

    Consider how they can support AI's efforts and vice versa. For example, some Sections have found an informal NGO working group useful for crisis situations. Others have directed journalists to other NGOs/UN offices for information on the crisis in the absence of, or to supplement, AI reports.

j    React to initial requests for action, information gathering and NGO liaison from the IS. Some Sections may also need to consider requests for deployment of their staff or Section contacts to work at the IS or join missions.

j    Consider fundraising initiatives which enable AI greater flexibility in its crisis response. Some Sections have placed special advertisements, putting AI's position and seeking funds. Others have found that an emergency slip of paper mentioning the crisis included in scheduled direct mail appeals has been effective in raising funds.

j    Consider the best way of keeping the membership informed and involved. A weekly bulletin can be useful to keep everyone in the Section up to date, but this may be costly and/or time consuming. Consider including a telephone number in the regular newsletter advertised as a “crisis hotline”. This could be a recorded message, giving the latest news and ideas for action.

    A daily or weekly meeting to update people of developments can be a good way of establishing a shared sense of purpose, relevance and momentum. It can also provide a good opportunity for people to provide ideas and suggestions for action.

    Getting crisis response information to groups and members is important _ and vital if you need them to act. Usual communication channels to the membership may be too slow. Decide early on who in the membership really needs action information fast, make this a priority and look at the options for faster methods of communication.


If at all possible, set aside money in your budget to be used only for crisis response work: new actions, travel, translation or additional staff.

Decide criteria for the use of this budget and who authorises such expenditure before you need to use it. If no extra money is available then be clear about who has the authority to cut resources in other areas.

Crisis response coordinators

Crisis mechanisms in Sections will need clear decision-making structures and processes to adjust priorities. These will not be uniform, as they need to suit the structure of each Section. However, where the capacity exists, appointing a crisis response coordinator could help to organize these functions. She or he should enable your Section to operate better in conjunction with the international system. A Section may feel it is justifiable to recruit someone specifically to such a post. Alternatively, it may be the campaign coordinator, the head of the campaigning department, or, in smaller Sections, the director who are used to coordinating the work of many people in the Section.

The crisis response coordinator should have the authority to make things happen or have easy access to those who may need to take immediate decisions. The list below gives some ideas on the role of this person. A crisis response coordinator:

N    triggers the crisis response mechanism in the Section and coordinates the work of those involved;

N    is the central contact for communication with the IS; s/he will be expected to react to requests for information or consultation quickly;

N    informs the IS of actions taken and of new Section initiatives;

N    mobilizes extra staff and volunteers within the Section;

N    initiates activities to support the international effort and facilitates the search for Section staff and volunteers to be deployed by the IS;

N    controls a crisis budget;

N    develops the crisis response capacity of the Section in an ongoing way;

N    participates in the development of AI's international crisis response capacity and policy by participating in international workshops, evaluation and training exercises where appropriate.

Groups and membership

Mobilizing local groups and the wider membership during crises may often prove more difficult than activating at the central Section level. For a start, it takes time. When a crisis develops quickly and the situation changes continuously it is a challenge to keep your membership up to date with new action suggestions and background information.

So, should the Section resign itself mainly to centralized action? Many Sections think not. Among their reasons are:

N    displays of public dismay, outrage and action in response to human rights crises can have an enormous effect on decision-makers in your own country and, either directly or indirectly, on those committing human rights abuses;

N    large-scale or symbolic actions can provide enormous moral support for victims and human rights defenders: there are times when grassroots pressure can greatly enhance and support efforts made at the Section level in lobbying, media work, outreach, etc;

N    not involving the wider membership risks missing important opportunities _ including using the skills, knowledge and influence of AI's members: if members feel the crisis is being handled by “experts” at the centre they may not realize that their contribution is needed;

N    many of the crises will be in the public eye: groups and members will want to do something and if an effective role for them is not found they will become increasingly frustrated and demoralized.

However, it is important to get some strategic action almost immediately. Showing AI members that the crisis is being acted upon might mean changing the front cover of the newsletter or the content of an appeal letter, or including a special letter with the newsletter.

A “red alert” system may be necessary. This means mobilizing certain elements of your membership to work on the crisis with an assumption that their other work is suspended for a set period. Make sure this system is clearly explained to your membership.

With this in mind, do you set up new structures to deal with crises or work with those you already have? Below are some ideas. You can use a combination of some or all of them.

Urgent Action network

Your UA network has often received action requests on the crisis country before crisis mode is officially declared. Over the crisis period the network is likely to be mobilized again. The very nature of the network is to respond quickly, so you probably have many rapid forms of communication with members _ e-mail, telephone trees, etc.

Some members of the network might be willing to sign up for crisis response activities using techniques which are similar to those they employ on UAs (letter-writing, faxing, local press work). Training needs are therefore minimal as members are already familiar with such work.

Such an option would require consultation with the network and your UA coordinator(s). It is likely that if the UA network was used in this way, strict guidelines would need to be agreed to avoid overburdening the network or undermining their main work.

Crisis response network

Sections could consider setting up a separate pool of their groups or individual members who are prepared to be mobilized at short notice. (You might consider using such a pool for rapid response actions too if the frequency and level of action was felt to undermine enthusiasm for such a project.)

Experiences from setting up your UA network, particularly the practical aspects, will be valuable on such a project. You will also need to think about:

N    How to encourage groups/members to get involved Working on a crisis situation is very different from working on behalf of individuals. The scale of crises can create feelings of paralysis in terms of what AI or you as an individual can achieve.

N    Setting realistic expectations and boundaries for the network

You may find that in some cases the very mention of a crisis is attractive to your members. You will also need to consider how to keep the network motivated when there is no crisis response and how large the network should be. You will need to maintain a balance between crisis work and the ongoing program.

N    Communications

Look at how your UA network currently functions: the potential for rapid communication varies enormously between Sections. Tailor the expectations of the network to the speed at which it can work and the servicing that is realistic to provide.

N    The network's relationship with the Section and intermediate structures

Make sure that reporting lines and division of tasks between the Section, intermediate structures (such as the relevant co-group) and the network are clear.

N    Training and preparing the network

Try not to wait until a crisis happens before thinking about solutions to problems or providing relevant training. Being prepared will make the network's response more effective. What will you want people to do in a crisis? Is there specialized training that could help, for example in communications technology?

N    Evaluating, improving and maintaining the network

Make sure that any system you put in place includes a set time for evaluation. Try to do this after the system has operated over two crises. If you want network members to give you feedback make sure you give them some. Tell them about AI's successes regarding the crisis and how the movement intends to continue work on the particular country in the long term. Do not let the network feel that a country has just been dropped. Tell the IS crisis response team about your experiences so that lessons learned and positive experiences can be shared with others.

Country/RAN coordinators and their groups

You have country/regional interest and expertise on tap here so use it for crisis work. If a country coordination group exists on the crisis country, heavy demands can be made of them. At times RAN coordinators can also be in this position, particularly when there is no co-group. Below are some tips to consider if you want this part of your membership to take action during crises:


c    If at all possible the Section should make efforts to reinforce country coordination groups covering possible crisis countries. One Section has considered a “floating resource” coordinator whose speciality would be crisis response and who could assist country coordinators with response to an action. Another has looked at a crisis coordination group with the same function, formed and run in the same way as a country coordination group and essentially part of that intermediate structure, attending the same meetings, etc.

c    Ensure that systems for rapid communications between the Section and the group are put in place. Some Sections have thought about providing fax machines for the co-group where they do not have one or have helped connect them to e-mail.

c    If a particular country is classified “at risk” through the Review of Country Strategy, look at strengthening the co-groups for those countries (or try to set up a group if one does not already exist) in advance of a potential crisis.

c    Look at the issues that may be particularly important in a crisis, or the actions that are likely to be a priority. For example, if it is media work then identify particular journalists with an expertise and begin to establish a relationship with them. Provide them with information and briefings, etc. If it is lobbying then seek to develop a positive working relationship with departmental officials responsible for this country and try to establish which individuals may be in a position to influence government policy.

c    Consider strengthening and supporting relevant RAN coordinators and groups active in that RAN.

c    Combine training for the RAN and co-group coordinators in crisis response work, looking at plans for both practical and strategic issues should a crisis break.

c    Make sure responsibilities between the RAN and co-group are clear and that the tasks are divided so the work is shared. Ensure lines of communication and responsibilities between Section and co-group and/or RAN coordinator are agreed. If a crisis coordination committee is formed at Section level, consider how best to involve the co-group and/or RAN coordinator in this.

c    Familiarize RAN groups, through your RAN coordinator and RAN group training, with the demands of crisis response work. A fast RAN may be issued as part of the actions for the crisis.

c    Build in evaluation of the systems you use and the impact these are having, not just on the target country but also on other ongoing program work.

Mobilizing a large-scale reaction Large-scale actions involving wide support from your members and the public can be an extremely important element of your crisis response. A way of mobilizing a large part of your membership to offer an outlet for outrage is often as vital as targeted action from specific elements of your membership.

    The following are some tips on how to try and make sure AI members and others know quickly that the crisis is being acted upon.


c    Run a simple announcement on radio or in newspapers (especially if you can get free or reduced-price space) saying what AI is doing and calling on people to contact AI if there is action for them join.

c    If you have a mass action you want people to take part in, or just want to provide more information about the crisis, give out a telephone “hotline” number at the Section, which people can call for more details. (This could be a recorded message.)

c    Consider forming a telephone tree to communicate that crisis mode has been declared and that members can call the Section office with ideas and receive information. For example, each member of the crisis response network could be asked to call five other local group contacts.

c    Groups and individual members could be encouraged to prepare a list of organizations and inviduals they could mobilize at short notice and the ways they will do this.

c    If your Section has an AI site on the Internet, or is planning one, think of ways to use it to publicize the crisis and provide action ideas.

c    Make a special appeal for volunteers at the Section office if you have tasks that need doing. For some people, being involved practically in the office is as important as taking more direct action on the crisis country itself.

c    Start a debate immediately in your newsletter to groups and members or in meetings about how the broader membership could be involved in human rights crisis situations. Ideas from them are likely to provide you with realistic and effective answers.



Campaigning techniques to react to crises are in principle the same as those we apply to other situations. However, the severity of crisis situations forces us to make more creative use of those techniques and to implement these at speed. Much will depend on the particular situation and the analysis of what will have an impact. Some of the key areas are outlined below.


At times of crisis the IS will try to get out at least a public holding statement to Sections within the first days of the crisis. Such a statement may not contain much news but will aim to help Sections to respond to media inquiries. The IS endeavours to have a presence in the crisis area as soon as possible. Often this will lead to possibilities for media work, initiated either directly from the region or from the IS.

If the crisis is being covered in the media, journalists may be interested in a “local angle”, which you can provide through campaigning actions such as vigils, demonstrations or symbolic actions.

The media can become the most dramatic public expression of AI's position. AI's message, if well packaged and visualized in creative, demonstrative actions, can be conveyed to both those responsible for violations and those who have an influence on them through the media. The media may also be a vital source of information about the crisis. Journalists are likely to have access to the latest information through news agency and correspondents' reports. Although AI Sections cannot base actions solely on these reports, they can help to make sure that AI's comments are relevant and up to date by providing the latest background knowledge.

Make contact with journalists either travelling to or returning from the crisis area. Persuade them to include human rights issues in their reporting of the crisis.

If human rights concerns are not being covered, or if reporting lacks analysis, offer to hold a briefing for journalists.

Ask members to write letters to the editors calling for coverage.

Offer journalists a service. Direct journalists to reliable sources of information such as UN reports or those from NGOs, in addition to AI material, particularly if AI has not been able to issue detailed information immediately.

Assess whether media reporting is pressing your government into action.

Make contacts with “academics” or “experts” on the crisis country who may be interviewed by the media. Keep them informed of AI's concerns and try to get human rights issues covered in their briefings to the media.


During any crisis AI will have strong opinions about what action foreign governments, individually or combined in the UN and/or regional intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), should take. Some governments will be very willing to take action. They may have established their own crisis team in their foreign affairs department, which could be an invaluable source of information and pressure on the target country.

The first steps before deciding your strategy are:

N    find out the relevant official to contact;

N    find out what they have done about the crisis so far;

N    find out what they are currently doing and what they are planning to do;

N    ask whether they already have details of AI's position and information;

N    ask if they have been discussing the situation with other governments and find out the outcomes of these discussions;

N    find out what action the embassy is taking on the ground in the crisis country, and what action is being taken at the IGO level;

N    find out what they believe will be the most effective action;

N    find out how they propose to consult/liaise with NGOs, including AI, over future actions.

Sometimes it will be important to involve the membership in this lobbying. Local groups may be able to put pressure on the government to act, as may other organizations.

Where letter-writing is seen as ineffective _ either to the target country because of internal chaos or to your own government because of the need for speed _ petitions, public events, or face to face lobbying of local representatives can provide good vehicles for AI's message.

Sections in the same region as the crisis country will be particularly important in putting pressure on their own government and regional organizations. Where limited capacity exists, this may require the energy of most of your groups and members, as well as the Section.


Where central authority is clearly defined, our traditional membership approach of letters, faxes and telephone calls will often be an important part of our response.

Where state authority has broken down, or communication lines are disrupted, letter-writing and similar techniques may still be an important channel of pressure, but directed towards the diplomatic representatives of the crisis country, including those at IGOs. Another target might be your own media or home government. Outreach

During a crisis, some organizations will be more involved with issues directly related to AI's mandate than others. It may be that these organizations are not the usual ones your Section reaches out to.

These are likely to be human rights, development, and medical or other emergency relief organizations, which are often present in the field and witness what is happening. Human rights issues become an integral part of their work. Quickly identify which of these organizations will be particularly relevant by:

N    exchanging information about the human rights situation;

N    sharing insights for strategies to fight abuses;

N    exploring how their actions (for example, towards your own government) complement AI's work and looking at where common action could be effective.

Some Sections manage to set up or participate in ad hoc groupings with other NGOs to facilitate this.

Information gathered from national NGOs with a presence in the field should be shared with the IS. Contacts with such organizations will be extremely helpful both for AI's work and their own.

In addition, key Sections might be asked to take on consultation with particular regional or international NGOs.


It is essential that our crisis response work is evaluated. Evaluations might look at impact (in terms of the aims for each response), process and organization.

While the crisis response team at the IS is normally responsible for initiating evaluations for the movement as a whole, the role of Sections in cooperating with such evaluations and ensuring that the process of evaluation is mirrored at Section level cannot be stressed enough. Tanzanian Section's refugee coordinator Joseph Muganda interviews children in the Mtanga Refugee Camp who have lost their parents when families fled from the former Zaire

© ai

* Possible indicators would include the demise of those institutions which should protect human rights, such as the collapse of state authority, withdrawal of human rights monitors, etc.

This is how a planned crisis response might look in table form. In practice, events dictate how and when responses are required and they may not coincide exactly with the schedule.

Seeking volunteers

The Irish Section ran an advertisement in its newsletter asking for volunteers to help during crisis response. They were looking for a team of volunteers that could be called upon at very short notice who also lived within easy reach of the office. They quickly recruited six people.

* Sections committed themselves to this in Decision 4, 1993 International Council Meeting, Boston.

In February 1996 the Belgian Section placed 840 pairs of shoes in front of the European Union building to symbolize those who had “disappeared” or been killed in Burundi during the Great Lakes crisis

© Frank Huysmans

Effectiveness demands that you are selective about who receives action material quickly. Rapid communications are usually more expensive. So, try and target your actions so that you can mobilize quickly.

During the Rwanda crisis in 1994, it was not until there was sustained media interest in the situation that many governments began to act. Understanding the relationship between your government and the media regarding the crisis will determine your most effective focus or angle.

An AI mission to Tanzania during the Great Lakes crisis response attracted an impressive amount of media attention in Tanzania. Media coverage was also reported in Denmark, the USA, Austria and Canada. From left: David Bull, Director of AIUK; Everest Mbuye, Chair of AI Tanzania; Mr Brahim, Head of the Refugee Division of the Tanzanian Ministry of Home Affairs; government official (unintroduced); Firoze Manji, former director of IS Africa program.

© ai

AI launched the Great Lakes crisis response on 31 October 1996 after escalating conflict in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo

(former Zaire)


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