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Amnesty International Campaign Manual



International human rights standards and agreements make governments accountable, both individually to each other and through regional and global intergovernmental organizations (IGOs). AI and other organizations have an important responsibility to make sure they do. IGOs and international human rights standards are of fundamental importance to AI's campaigning on themes and as part of specific country strategies. AI constantly refers to international standards and seeks to strengthen and improve them. It also lobbies international organizations to promote and protect human rights and seeks to build the capacity and effectiveness of their human rights work.

International human rights law / 98

Global and regional human rights standards / 98

Standards on specific subjects / 99

    UN institutions dealing with human rights / 99

    Regional intergovernmental organizations / 104

The importance of intergovernmental organizations / 105

The importance of international human rights standards / 106

Strengthening the international human rights framework / 107

Using the international human rights framework / 107

"Non-governmental organizations have a responsibility to maintain their vigilance over the system they have helped to establish in the legitimate expectation that it can and should be made to serve the cause of human rights and fulfil the aspirations set by the UN Charter."

Helena Cook, former director of the Legal and International Organizations Program (LIOP) at the International Secretariat

International human rights law

The 1993 UN World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna reaffirmed that states must respect all rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR and other international instruments at the UN and regional IGO level specify governments' responsibilities for the protection and promotion of human rights, domestically and internationally. The Vienna Conference also reaffirmed that human rights are not simply the domestic concern of individual nation states. Treaties such as the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment include obligations on governments to prevent and end human rights violations and create mechanisms for international monitoring, reporting and accountability.

The specific rights enshrined in the UDHR have been given a more detailed and often legal character in several international and regional standards. These standards take the form of declarations, treaties, protocols, and other instruments. They provide a legal framework for protecting human rights worldwide.

Some of these standards are designed to protect people from abuses such as discrimination, genocide, torture or slavery. Others are meant to safeguard members of specific groups whose rights are often violated, such as refugees, women and children. Others address concerns such as freedom of information, hunger and the peaceful use of technology. Many of these standards are legally binding and mechanisms have been established for their enforcement.

Only some of these standards, or specific articles in them, relate to AI's mandate. These are useful to include when making appeals. However, AI members are not expected to be expert in these standards, although it is essential to have a general understanding of the standards that relate to our work.

Global and regional human rights standards

N    Universal Declaration of Human Rights: adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948. It is not a treaty but most of its guarantees have become so authoritative that they are considered binding on all states as customary international law.

N    International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR): in force from 1976 and protects, for example, the right to form a trade union and the rights to food, health and education.

N    International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR): in force from 1976 and protects, for example, the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of life or to be tortured; the rights to a fair trial, freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly; and the right not to suffer discrimination. The (first) Optional Protocol recognizes the right of an individual claiming to be a victim of the violation of the ICCPR to make a complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee. The Second Optional Protocol abolishes the death penalty.

N    American Convention on Human Rights: came into force in 1978 and protects mainly civil and political rights.

N    African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights: came into force in 1986 and protects civil and political rights, as well as some economic, social and cultural rights plus some group rights (such as the right to self-determination). Nearly all members of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) are parties to this treaty.

N    European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms: came into force in 1953 and protects civil and political rights. When a state becomes a member of the Council of Europe it must become a state party to this treaty. Standards on specific subjects

There are a variety of treaties and other standards which protect particular vulnerable groups or particular abuses. Some examples of such specific standards are:

N    Selected UN treaties

    M    Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (came into force in 1987);

    M    Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1981);

    M    Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990);

    M    1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1954).

N    Selected UN Declarations and other non-treaty standards

    M    Safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty (adopted in 1984);

    M    Declaration on the Right to Development (1986);

    M    Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment (1988);

    M    Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials (1990);

    M    Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (1992);

    M    Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993).

UN institutions dealing with human rights

N    Commission on Human Rights

The Commission on Human Rights is the main UN human rights body. It can deal with any aspect of human rights. It is an intergovernmental _ or political _ body, which means that the diplomats at Commission meetings represent their governments. The Commission consists of 53 states that are elected for four years. It meets in Geneva for six weeks every year in March-April. NGOs such as AI that have consultative status with the UN may be present during the Commission and make written and oral statements. This access allows NGOs to lobby governments at the Commission. The type of action the Commission can take includes:

    M    Passing a resolution of condemnation or concern. The Commission can call for concrete action by the government concerned. This might include requesting the state to invite a thematic mechanism, such as the Special Rapporteur on torture, to carry out an investigation. A resolution can represent strong criticism.

    M    Appointment of a special rapporteur (on a country). The rapporteur is mandated to investigate human rights violations in a country and report back to the next session of the Commission and recommend action. This is agreed by a resolution and is the strongest action that can be taken. The Commission is composed of government representatives and can find it difficult to muster the political will to act. It also lacks powers of enforcement. Governments go to great lengths to avoid public sanction, indicating that this public comment can be an effective source of pressure.

    M    Establishing thematic experts (special rapporteurs and working groups). Over the years the Commission has appointed individual experts (special rapporteurs) or groups of experts (working groups) to focus on particular themes. There are thematic experts (or mechanisms) on subjects such as torture, extrajudicial executions, "disappearances", arbitrary detention, violence against women, independence of the judiciary, religious intolerance, the internally displaced, and on development. Most carry out on-site visits to investigate abuses, if a government allows them into the country. These reports are public and can contain detailed recommendations for reform of law and practice. Some of the experts also send urgent humanitarian appeals in individual cases on the basis of reports they receive from NGOs such as AI. In their annual reports submitted to the Commission, they also make general recommendations about how the world should tackle the particular violations. AI often argues that the Commission must take action when its own thematic (or country) experts expose violations in a country. The experts' reports are available from UN information offices around the world and from the UN Internet websites (see margin). The IS, and not Sections, approach the experts directly.

    M    Drafting new human rights standards or carrying out studies. Many of the UN human rights treaties or other standards are drafted by working groups of the Commission in which government representatives negotiate the text. In most cases NGOs are also able to speak and participate in the working groups. Often, the initiative for creating a new standard has come from NGOs who find a state to take it up and introduce it into the UN system. Sometimes, the Commission will ask for studies to be made on particular subjects before it makes a decision.

    M    Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities

Members of the Commission also elect the 26 experts who make up the Sub-Commission. Unlike the Commission, these experts are meant to be independent and not represent any government, although in practice how independent they are varies a great deal. The Sub-Commission's main work is to study themes, such as impunity, states of emergency or compensation for victims. Some of their studies lead to the Commission adopting new standards or setting up a new thematic mechanism. NGOs can observe and speak at the Sub-Commission as at the Commission. The Sub-Commission meets in Geneva every August.

N    The High Commissioner for Human Rights

The leading figure in human rights in the UN is the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who is appointed by the UN Secretary-General for a four-year term. Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland, became the High Commissioner in September 1997.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in Geneva, provides expert and administrative support for the human rights program of the UN, including the treaty bodies, thematic mechanisms, human rights field operations and the Commission on Human Rights.

The High Commissioner can be very influential if she speaks out against human rights violations in particular countries or in support of new human rights standards. She can visit countries to persuade the government to cooperate with the UN and end violations. She can take practical steps like offering the government technical and advisory services to help change law and train officials or set up human rights field operations, such as those in Burundi, Rwanda and Colombia.

The High Commissioner plays an important role in making sure that other parts of the UN that deal with development, humanitarian assistance, peace-keeping or women's affairs, integrate human rights into their own work rather than leaving it all for her office.

N    Treaty monitoring bodies

Several human rights treaties have a group of experts (called a treaty-monitoring body) that monitors whether the states parties are implementing their obligations under the treaty. Most of them meet two or three times a year in Geneva or New York for about two weeks. The experts are elected by the states that have ratified the particular treaty and are not meant to represent any government.

    Every four or five years states parties have to submit a report to the experts showing how they have implemented the particular treaty. The treaty body looks at the report, questions government representatives in a meeting and makes conclusions (usually in writing) about what changes the government should make. NGOs such as AI often provide detailed information and advice to guide the experts in their questioning. If the recommendations are good, NGOs can then campaign for them to be implemented. NGOs often also expose that many of the states parties submit their reports very late or not at all.

    Increasingly the treaty bodies are taking action in between sessions to react to urgent situations, including calling for emergency reports or putting immediate pressure on a government. Some of the treaty bodies also make general comments about how their treaty should be interpreted_ these can be influential in understanding what the obligations mean in practice.

Some of the treaty bodies are:

    M    The Human Rights Committee has 18 experts and supervises the ICCPR. It meets three times a year in either Geneva or New York. Where states have ratified the (first) Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, individuals can make complaints to the Committee about violations by their government of their rights under the ICCPR.

    M    The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights also has 18 members and supervises the ICESCR. There is no right of individual petition, although there is growing pressure for this right to be created.

    M    The Committee against Torture has 10 members and supervises the Convention against Torture. It meets twice a year in Geneva. AI is campaigning for a new body, which might be linked to this Committee, which would inspect places of detention throughout the world and make recommendations to governments about how to prevent torture.

    M    The Committee on the Rights of the Child monitors the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It has been one of the most innovative committees, pioneering closer relations with NGOs and making some on-site visits to states parties.

    M    The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has 23 experts and meets in New York to supervise the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

    M    The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has 18 experts who monitor the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

N    Other political bodies in the UN

Other political bodies of the UN also deal with human rights in different ways. The General Assembly, which is composed of all 185 member states of the UN and meets in New York, discusses all the work of the UN, from development and arms control to drug abuse, refugees, law of the sea and outer space. One of its committees (the Third Committee) deals specifically with human rights. The General Assembly can condemn violations, appoint expert investigators or even set up field operations. It was the General Assembly that created the High Commissioner for Human Rights, appointed an expert to look at children in armed conflict and worked on the proposal for a permanent international criminal court. NGOs cannot speak or participate in the General Assembly.

    The role of the Security Council is to maintain international peace and security _ i.e. to prevent or end wars. It has five permanent, and 10 rotating, members. The Security Council says that it does not deal with human rights. But in practice much of its work is related to human rights _ including condemning violations of the laws of war, setting up a peace-keeping operation that has a human rights component or creating the two ad hoc international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

N    UN specialized and other agencies

The UN has several agencies with decentralized field operations throughout the world that are increasingly dealing with human rights issues. The work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees has always included the protection of refugees and asylum-seekers from being returned to countries where they may face persecution. It also provides food, health care and other practical assistance to refugees. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) are increasingly recognizing that their work should include helping to build institutions in a country that guarantee the rule of law and using their voice to promote adherence to human rights standards that support their development work. UNICEF, for example, expressly says that it works to ensure implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. AI's work increasingly includes developing working relations with such agencies. You can find out more about any operations these agencies may have in your country from their offices in your country.

Regional intergovernmental organizations

AI devotes considerable resources to working on regional IGOs as well as on the UN. Africa, the Americas and Europe all have regional IGOs with human rights bodies. Although the Middle East and Asia do not have similar regional human rights institutions, they do have regional organizations which are worth targeting to take up human rights issues as part of their political, security and economic work.

The Organization of African Unity (OAU),the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe, and the Organization of American States (OAS) all have intergovernmental or political bodies that meet at least annually and lead the work of the organization. They are often AI's principal targets, as they have the power to bring human rights more into the IGOs' work. All but the OSCE have at least some way for individuals to make complaints about violations by their governments, with varying degrees of effectiveness. The human rights courts in the OAS and Council of Europe systems are the most highly developed.

The experts on the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, both of which report to political bodies in the OAU and OAS respectively, have quite wide-ranging powers to investigate country situations by visiting the country and making reports. The Council of Europe and the OSCE also have parliamentary assemblies that can be a useful way of generating support and putting pressure on the intergovernmental structures.

AI at times targets a range of other IGOs as opportunities arise, including the Commonwealth, the Francophonie or meetings of the G7, the Organization of Islamic Conference and the Non-Aligned Movement.

There are thousands of other IGOs in the world. AI has a developed a program of work on only a handful, but will exploit other openings as this appears useful for particular country or thematic work.

The importance of

intergovernmental organizations

IGOs are government clubs. Most states wish to be part of these clubs and states can use many types of pressure to hold their peers accountable to the rules and spirit of the organizations.

AI has devoted much effort to ensuring that discussion and action on human rights is high on the agenda of international organizations, and to ensuring that AI and other NGOs have a place at the table when they are discussed.

Collectively governments remain one of the influential actors on the international human rights stage. The fact that these are organizations of government is both their strength and their weakness for AI.

As organizations of governments they can express international will in a way and with an authority that few other bodies can. To some degree many governments care about the judgment of their peers in international organizations. Sometimes this is because of their national self-image. At other times it is because they are concerned that there will be economic consequences if they are internationally acknowledged as human rights violators. The fact, therefore, that AI and others have succeeded at all in persuading governments to build mechanisms that actively encourage this judgment of peers is a remarkable achievement. However, the fact that IGOs primarily comprise governments means that discussions are highly politicized and subject to the interplay of conflicting economic, cultural, security and military interests. There can also be pressure for compromise and consensus on human rights that result in inaction or agreements based on the lowest, but weak, area of shared ground.

Some IGOs have established human rights bodies that AI consistently relates to. However, all the functions and areas of responsibility of IGOs are relevant to AI's work and the organization therefore approaches and lobbies any part of an IGO when it becomes necessary.

For example, although the UN Security Council has no explicit human rights role, it has been central to AI's campaigning strategies on countries such as Angola, Bosnia, Iraq, Liberia, Rwanda and other countries where the issues of security and war are mixed with human rights violations.

AI is opening up new opportunities to influence government thinking on human rights in economic and trade organizations, such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC), that have no human rights charters or bodies dealing with human rights.

AI's strategy in relation to IGOs is partly aimed at ensuring that they acknowledge the human rights dimensions of all aspects of their functions, whether in peace-keeping operations, law enforcement standard-setting, development policy, economic policy, or refugees. IGOs at the regional level also provide AI with a huge range of options for action.

One aim of AI's work is to get statements and resolutions from IGOs. It is often hard to judge the impact of these on patterns of human rights violations. One indicator of their effectiveness is the reaction of governments to such criticism. Another is the lengths to which some governments go to avoid such criticism.

UN and other mechanisms can make detailed recommendations for action to end violations based on their expertise. These recommendations carry considerable weight, particularly when added to the recommendations and campaigning of AI and other organizations. In some countries it has been possible to see a marked decrease in the incidence of particular violations once recommendations have been adopted.

Other areas of the work of IGOs which AI seeks to influence include on-site missions, peace-keeping, human rights monitoring, behind-the-scenes representations, formal investigations, and contributing to the building of civil society.

The importance of

international human rights standards

AI's original appeal in the Observer newspaper was founded on two articles (18 and 19) of the UDHR which guarantee freedom of conscience and expression. As the organization has expanded its mandate, it has continued to show how the practises against which it campaigns violate internationally agreed human rights standards, or it has campaigned for new standards to fill gaps. This is important for the following reasons:

N    It shows that the values that AI seeks to uphold are universal rather than the views of one organization or culture. This emphasizes AI's independence and impartiality.

N    International standards are the result of long negotiations between governments and as such represent the rules of behaviour that governments themselves have accepted.

N    International standards establish internationally acceptable practice, some of which over time take on the weight of international law. As most governments are reluctant to be defined as law-breakers, standards can in themselves act as a constraint on behaviour.

N    International standards set a broad framework of acceptable law and practice against which national law and practice can be measured.

N    Once agreements on standards have been reached it is possible to focus international discussion and action on mechanisms for upholding and monitoring compliance with them.

N    International standards emphasize that respect for human rights is not simply the internal concern of any individual government. For these reasons and others, a key part of AI's strategy on campaigning has been to develop and strengthen international standards. It has, for example, campaigned consistently for the death penalty to be recognized in international law as a violation of human rights. Evidence that it is gradually succeeding can be found in the growing number of governments supporting the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, aiming at abolition of the death penalty in peacetime. This helps erode the argument of some governments that the death penalty is a law and order question rather than a human rights one.

However, standards in and of themselves are only one step along the way. Clearly, the main aim is to ensure that governments respect them. AI and other organizations therefore put considerable energy and resources into developing effective international mechanisms for holding governments to account for standards they have promised to uphold.

Strengthening the

international human rights framework

AI began working with the UN in 1964. AI has formal consultative status (Category II) with the UN (through the Economic and Social Council -- ECOSOC), which was granted in 1969. This provides AI with formal international standing and access and the right to attend and speak at relevant UN meetings.

AI and other NGOs have campaigned hard and to good effect to expand the practical interpretation of that access and participation in order to lobby for action on individual countries and improved standards.

Every part of AI has been involved. Its research of country situations and monitoring of international organizations identifies the continuing violations and the weaknesses of, and opportunities for, action by international organizations. Consultations within AI and with NGOs and individual experts identify what changes are needed and which governments need to be persuaded to act. The campaigning by AI members in Sections persuades governments to support AI's proposals.

Knowledge of the UN machinery and drafting expertise has enabled AI to take advantage of opportunities for standard-setting. It has also allowed it to remain alert to threats to existing or proposed standards.

AI continues to help sustain the work of established mechanisms through lobbying for resources and the provision of human rights information. At least one rapporteur has publicly stated that three quarters of the information he receives comes from AI.*

Using the international human rights


The UN and regional IGOs are integral to AI's strategies on many countries and their potential role and influence are always taken into consideration when preparing country strategies.

In situations where the state has collapsed or lost effective control, IGOs can be the most important actors affecting human rights. In many regions, regional IGOs have taken on an increasing role and importance, and AI is working to ensure that its lobbying and other campaigning on these IGOs is coordinated between the membership structures in these countries.

AI primarily relates to the UN and regional IGOs through the IS offices in London, New York and Geneva. Strategies for reform of the international system are also coordinated from the IS. Because of the coordination role of the IS, Sections should not directly approach IGO secretariat headquarters, leading figures such as the High Commissioner for Human Rights, or bodies such as treaty bodies and thematic experts. There is a separate European Union (EU) office in Brussels responsible for AI's relations with the EU and reporting to Sections.

Although AI's relationship with IGOs is the responsibility of the IS, AI Sections play an important role in this area of work. In advance of meetings such as sessions of the UN General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights, Sections raise AI's concerns with their own country's representatives to these meetings. Individual AI members are often asked to attend meetings of intergovernmental bodies as representatives of the AI movement. Sections are often asked to lobby their government for action by an IGO, as part of AI's urgent response to armed conflict or human rights crises.

In general AI is most effective when it can generate public pressure on governments, from within their own countries, to take action on an issue and then complement this with detailed lobbying on specific proposals at the level of national governments and, where relevant, at international meetings and conferences.


c    Find out to which international bodies your government belongs

It is useful to know which international bodies your government belongs to, such as the UN Security Council, UN Commission on Human Rights, etc. In the UN General Assembly and other bodies all governments get one vote. Presidencies of these various international bodies rotate between countries and may provide new campaigning opportunities.

c    Sessions on the Commission on Human Rights for new government members

If your government has recently become or is about to become a member of the Commission for the first time, then your Section could offer to provide a training session for officials on how the Commission works. This could include AI's concerns and the status of NGOs at the Commission. Contact the IS for assistance.

c    Media briefings for journalists

If you think public pressure may persuade your government to take a positive stand in an IGO, or if you want to get publicity for the human rights situation in particular countries being discussed, consider holding a briefing for journalists. UN and other IGO meetings are not very "media friendly", so it is important to think carefully about the journalists you want to invite and how you can present the issues in a way that will be interesting and relevant to their audience.

c    Integrate IGO work into campaigning strategies

When drawing up national AI campaigning strategies on different countries check the AI documents/campaigning circulars to see what reference is made to international standards, and to action by IGOs. Breaches of recognized international standards can be highlighted in approaches to home governments, as can failure of governments to cooperate with international mechanisms, for example, by denying access to UN special rapporteurs. You may want to make these major features of your campaign and publicity work.

c    Use UN human rights reports

The country reports of the UN theme mechanisms and treaty bodies can be a source of useful background information when preparing campaigns or actions. It can sometimes be useful to refer journalists and others to these reports, as they can emphasize the seriousness of the situation and help build greater public awareness of the mechanisms. The reports should be available from your nearest UN Information Office.

c    Provide information on standards and mechanisms to other interested NGOs

Help build awareness among the wider NGO community of these standards, and the mechanisms and bodies established to implement and supervise them, so that they can decide how they can contribute to their campaigning for human rights.

Useful terms in international law

N    Declaration: A general statement of principles that, while not necessarily legally binding, may have considerable authority.

N    Convention/Covenant:

A formal, legally binding treaty or agreement between sovereign states.

N    Protocol: A formal, legally binding agreement between sovereign states that is normally a supplement to another treaty or agreement.

N    Ratification or accession: A decision by a sovereign state to adhere to a treaty or agreement and to be bound by its provisions.

N    State Party: A country whose government has ratified or acceded to a treaty or agreement and is legally bound to follow its provisions.

N    Signature: Expression by a sovereign state of its intention to refrain from acts that would defeat the purpose of a treaty or agreement, and at some future date to ratify or accede to the treaty.




Lobbying around the current session of the UN Commission on Human Rights. AI strengthens its presence in Geneva during the Commission. Experience has shown that close contact with Sections can enable important last-minute lobbying and campaigning to be done with governments.


Lobbying for the forthcoming session of the UN General Assembly.


Lobbying for the following year's UN Commission on Human Rights session. The UN Commission on Human Rights meets for six weeks from mid-March. Many governments begin discussing their positions on countries and issues on the Commission Agenda from the preceding September/October.

Example of the process of a strategy on an AI theme

N    Analysis finds gaps in existing human rights standards or a lack of a mechanism to enforce the standards.

N    Consult experts, other NGOs, survivors and agree on reforms needed.

N    Campaign to persuade governments to agree to reform and strengthen standards and mechanisms.

N    Campaign to hold government accountable to stronger standard through new, effective mechanism.

N    Evaluate and analyse effectiveness, suggest improvements, etc.

This is an ongoing process which from beginning to end can take many years.

"The international human rights system is fundamental to Amnesty's credibility and legitimacy. The human rights treaties and other standards provide it with a consistent and uniform code by which to assess every government and a defence against accusations of bias or the imposition of personal standards or values. This is imperative for an organization that sets great store by its independence and impartiality."

Helena Cook, former director of LIOP at the IS

Useful websites

For the UN: http://www.un.org

For an index to all UN organizations (French and English):


For the European Court of Human Rights (French and English):


AI's work with intergovernmental organizations

AI's work with IGOs aims to:

N     stop or prevent violations in individual cases (such as the large number of cases AI sends to thematic and other mechanisms);

N    stop or prevent patterns of violations in countries;

N    make human rights law a more powerful tool for the human rights movement (standard-setting), and strengthen the capacity of IGO institutions to protect human rights (institution-building);

N    influence the international discourse on human rights (such as on the universality of human rights).

    In addition, AI's work with IGOs:

N    emphasizes that human rights are the proper subject of international scrutiny and that individual governments are accountable for their actions;

N    ensures that individuals and NGOs are recognized as part of the international community and have a legitimate role in scrutinizing government action on the promotion and protection of human rights;

N    provides further opportunities for dialogue with governments;

N    enables AI to offer expertise and advice to other NGOs without the same resources or access.

Working for a new human rights mechanism

An example of AI's impact was the campaign to establish the position of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the lead-up to and following the UN World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993.


AI provided an analysis of the shortcomings of the existing human rights system and made proposals for reform, including the creation of the post of High Commissioner.

October 1992

The proposal was formally launched at the World Conference preparatory meeting in Africa and AI started to work with other NGOs to build support for it.

January 1993

Sections and the IS lobbied Latin American governments and the proposal was adopted by the Latin American preparatory conference.

January to June 1993

Sections lobbied home governments using lobbying meetings, public campaigning activities, outreach to other NGOs and media to gain support for the proposal.

June 1993

AI's lobbying in capital cities and directly at the UN, and campaigning, together with pressure from other NGOs and key governments secured support for the idea in the final Vienna Declaration.

December 1993

Intensive lobbying and media work resulted in the vote to create the High Commissioner for Human Rights by the UN General Assembly in New York.


Some members of the Commission on Human Rights change annually. It is important to know when your government is a member as this is likely to give it added influence in relation to particular human rights situations.

AI's worldwide theme campaign against torture and the steady campaigning of the membership was a major factor in the adoption of the UN Convention against Torture. The campaigning involved AI local groups working on individual cases, letter-writing to governments, Section campaigners doing lobbying and media work in relation to their governments, and IS staff lobbying and providing expertise at many meetings.

Left: Eleanor Roosevelt with a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She was the chairperson of the committee that drafted the declaration. Right: An AI appeal for the release of all prisoners of conscience being presented at the UN in 1983: (left to right) Javier Pérez to Cuéllar, former Secretary-General of the UN, Thomas Hammerberg, former Secretary General of AI, and Suriya Wickremasinghe, former chairperson of AI.

AI's major theme campaigns have often focused on the international human rights framework as being most relevant to challenging a worldwide pattern of violations and the inadequacies of the international response to them. Consequently a common aim of such campaigns is to build momentum for new or stronger standards and mechanisms.

Example of an AI IGO strategy on a country _ Sri Lanka

N     In the 1980s AI researched and documented systematic "disappearances" in

Sri Lanka.

N     AI and other NGOs submitted up to 12,000 individual cases to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, which described this as the largest number of cases from any country in its reports to the UN Commission on Human Rights.

N     AI and other NGOs campaigned for the Commission to take action because its own experts on "disappearances" had documented such a serious problem. The Commission called on the government to accept on-site visits by the Working Group.

N     The Working Group (and AI) visited Sri Lanka and made detailed recommendations for change.

N     AI and other NGOs campaigned at the following sessions of the Commission for political pressure on government to implement recommendations _ many were implemented.

N     AI's research showed that the changes contributed to a dramatic drop in the number of "disappearances".

Ian Martin (right), former Secretary General of AI, at the UN during a meeting organized by AI to promote ratification of international human rights treaties, 1988.

*Bacre Waly Ndiaye, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary


A postcard that was used during an international appeal to the President of the UN General Assembly

Amnesty International Campaign Manual