Amnesty International

Amnesty International

Infobox NPO
organization_name = Amnesty International
organization_motto = It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. [cite web|url= |title= History - The Meaning of the Amnesty Candle |publisher=Amnesty International|accessdate=2008-06-04]
organization_type = Non-profit, Interest group
founded = July 1961 by Peter Benenson in the UK
location = Global, general secretariat in London
key_people = Irene Khan, Seán MacBride, Martin Ennals
fields = Protecting human rights
services = Media attention, direct-appeal campaigns, research, lobbying
num_members = 2.2 million members and supporters
homepage =

Amnesty International (commonly known as Amnesty or AI) is a Western based international non-governmental organization which defines its mission as "to conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated."cite web|url= |title=About Amnesty International |publisher=Amnesty International |accessdate=2008-07-20] Founded in the UK in 1961, AI draws its attention to human rights abuses and campaigns for compliance with international standards. It works to mobilize public opinion which exerts pressure on individuals who perpetrate abuses. The organization was awarded the 1977 Nobel Peace Prize for its "campaign against torture" and the UN Human Rights Prize in 1978, but has received criticism for both alleged anti-Western and alleged pro-Western bias.cite paper|author=Don Habibi|date=July 2, 2004|url=|format=Word document|title=What's Wrong With Human Rights|publisher=|version=|accessdate=2007-08-09] Michael Mandel, "How America Gets Away With Murder: Illegal Wars, Collateral Damage and Crimes Against Humanity", Pluto Press 2004.]

Early history (1961–1979)

Amnesty International was founded in London in July 1961 by English labor lawyer Peter Benenson. According to his own account, he was travelling in the London Underground on 19 November 1960, when he read of two Portuguese students who had been sentenced to seven years of imprisonment for having drunk a toast to liberty.Ref_label|A|a|nonecite book | title=An Irish Statesman and Revolutionary: The Nationalist and Internationalist Politics of Sean MacBride| author=Elizabeth Keane | isbn=1845111257 | year=2006 |publisher=I.B.Tauris ] In his famous newspaper article "The Forgotten Prisoners", Benenson later described his reaction as follows: "Open your newspaper any day of the week and you will find a story from somewhere of someone being imprisoned, tortured or executed because his opinions are unacceptable to his government [...] The newspaper reader feels a sickening sense of impotence. Yet if these feelings of disgust could be united into common action, something effective could be done." [cite news|last=Benenson|first=Peter|coauthors=|title=The forgotten prisoners|publisher=The Observer|date=1961-05-28|url=|accessdate=2006-09-19]

Benenson worked with friend Eric Baker. Baker was a member of the Religious Society of Friends who had been involved in founding the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament as well as becoming head of Quaker Peace and Social Witness, and in his memoirs Benenson described him as "a partner in the launching of the project". [Benenson, P. (1983). Memoir] In consultation with other writers, academics and lawyers and, in particular, Alec Digges, they wrote via Louis Blom-Cooper to David Astor, editor of "The Observer" newspaper, who, on May 28 1961, published Benenson’s article "The Forgotten Prisoners". The article brought the reader’s attention to those "imprisoned, tortured or executed because his opinions or religion are unacceptable to his government" [cite news|last=Benenson|first=Peter|coauthors=|title=The forgotten prisoners|publisher=The Observer|date=1961-05-28|url=|accessdate=2006-09-19] or, put another way, to violations, by governments, of articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights(UDHR). The article described these violations occurring, on a global scale, in the context of restrictions to press freedom, to political oppositions, to timely public trial before impartial courts, and to asylum. It marked the launch of "Appeal for Amnesty, 1961", the aim of which was to mobilize public opinion, quickly and widely, in defence of these individuals, who Benenson named "Prisoners of Conscience". The "Appeal for Amnesty" was reprinted by a large number of international newspapers. In the same year Benenson had a book published, "Persecution 1961", which detailed the cases of several prisoners of conscience investigated and compiled by Benenson and Baker. [cite journal| author=Buchanan, T. |year=2002 | url= | title=The Truth Will Set You Free': The Making of Amnesty International | journal=Journal of Contemporary History | volume=37 | issue=4 | pages= 575–97] In July 1961 the leadership had decided that the appeal would form the basis of a permanent organization, which on 30 September 1962 was officially named 'Amnesty International' (Between the 'Appeal for Amnesty, 1961' and September 1962 the organization had been known simply as 'Amnesty'.) [cite book|last=|first=|authorlink=|title=Amnesty International Report 1962|publisher=Amnesty International|year=1963|pages=|doi=|id=]

What started as a short appeal soon became a permanent international movement working to protect those imprisoned for non-violent expression of their views and to secure worldwide recognition of Articles 18 and 19 of the UDHR. From the very beginning, research and campaigning were present in Amnesty International’s work. A library was established for information about prisoners of conscience and a network of local groups, called ‘THREES’ groups, was started. Each group worked on behalf of three prisoners, one from each of the then three main ideological regions of the world: communist, capitalist and developing.

By the mid-1960s Amnesty International’s global presence was growingand an International Secretariat and International Executive Committeewas established to manage Amnesty International’s nationalorganizations, called ‘Sections’, which had appeared in severalcountries. The international movement was starting to agree on its core principles and techniques. For example, the issue of whether or not to adopt prisoners who had advocated violence, like Nelson Mandela, brought unanimous agreement that it could not give the name of 'Prisoner of Conscience' to such prisoners. Aside from the work of the library and groups, Amnesty International’s activities were expanding to helping prisoner’s families, sending observers to trials, making representations to governments, and finding asylum or overseas employment for prisoners. Its activity and influence was also increasing within intergovernmental organizations; it would be awarded consultative status by the United Nations, the Council of Europe and UNESCO before the decade ended.

Leading Amnesty International in the 1970s were key figureheads Sean MacBride and Martin Ennals. While continuing to work for prisoners of conscience, Amnesty International’s purview widened to include "fair trial" and opposition to long detention without trial (UDHR Article 9), and especially to the torture of prisoners (UDHR Article 5). Amnesty International believed that the reasons underlying torture of prisoners, by governments, were either to obtain information or to quell opposition by the use of terror, or both. Also of concern was the export of more sophisticated torture methods, equipment and teaching to "client states."

Amnesty International drew together reports from countries where torture allegations seemed most persistent and organized an international conference on torture. It sought to influence public opinion in order to put pressure on national governments by organizing a campaign for the 'Abolition of Torture' which ran for several years.

Amnesty International’s membership increased from 15,000 in 1969 [cite book|last=|first=|authorlink=|title=Amnesty International Report 1968-69|publisher=Amnesty International|year=1969|pages=|doi=|id=] to 200,000 by 1979. [cite book|last=|first=|authorlink=|title=Amnesty International Report 1979|publisher=Amnesty International|year=1980|pages=|doi=|id=] This growth in resources enabled an expansion of its program, ‘outside of the prison walls’, to include work on “disappearances”, the death penalty and the rights of refugees. A new technique, the 'Urgent Action’, aimed at mobilizing the membership into action rapidly was pioneered. The first was issued on March 19, 1973, on behalf of Luiz Basilio Rossi, a Brazilian academic, arrested for political reasons.

At the intergovernmental level Amnesty International pressed for application of the UN’s Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and of existing humanitarian conventions; to secure ratifications of the two UN Covenants on Human Rights (which came into force in 1976); and was instrumental in obtaining UN Resolution 3059 which formally denounced torture and called on governments to adhere to existing international instruments and provisions forbidding its practice. Consultative status was granted at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 1972.

Recent history (1980–2008)

By 1980 Amnesty International, now a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate [ Amnesty International - The Nobel Peace Prize 1977] ] and a UN Human Rights Prize winner, [ United Nations Prize in the field of Human Rights] ] was drawing more criticism from governments. The USSR alleged that Amnesty International conducted espionage, the Moroccan government denounced it as a defender of lawbreakers, and the Argentine government banned Amnesty International’s 1983 annual report. [ [ Amnesty International is accused of espionage] ]

Throughout the 1980s, Amnesty International continued to campaign for prisoners of conscience and torture. New issues emerged, including extrajudicial killings, military, security and police transfers, political killings; and disappearances.

Towards the end of the decade, the growing numbers worldwide of refugees was a very visible area of Amnesty International’s concern. While many of the world’s refugees of the time had been displaced by war and famine, in adherence to its mandate, Amnesty International concentrated on those forced to flee, because of the human rights violations it was seeking to prevent. It argued that rather than focusing on new restrictions on entry for asylum-seekers, governments were to address the human rights violations which were forcing people into exile.

Apart from a second campaign on torture during the first half of the decade, the major campaign of the 1980s was the 'Human Rights Now!' tour which featured many of the famous musicians and bands of the day playing concerts to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the UDHR.

Throughout the 1990s, Amnesty International continued to grow to a membership of over 2.2 million in over 150 countries and territories, [cite web |url= |title=Who we are |publisher=Amnesty International |accessdate=2008-07-20] led by Senegalese Secretary General Pierre Sané. AI continued to work on a wide range of issues and world events. For example, South African groups joined in 1992 and hosted a visit by Pierre Sané to meet with the apartheid government to press for an investigation into allegations of police abuse, an end to arms sales to the Great Lakes region and abolition of the death penalty.

Amnesty International was forced to react to human rights violations occurring in the context of a proliferation of armed conflict in: Angola, East Timor, the Persian Gulf, Rwanda, Somalia and the former Yugoslavia. Amnesty International took no position on whether to support or oppose external military interventions in these armed conflicts. It did not (and does not) reject the use of force, even lethal force, or ask those engaged to lay down their arms. Instead, it questioned the motives behind external intervention and selectivity of international action in relation to the strategic interests of those sending troops. It argued that action should be taken in time to prevent human rights problems becoming human rights catastrophes and that both intervention and inaction represented a failure of the international community.

However, Amnesty International was proactive in pushing for recognition of the universality of human rights. The campaign ‘Get Up, Sign Up’ marked 50 years of the UDHR. Thirteen million pledges were collected in support of the Declaration and a music concert was held in Paris on December 10, 1998 (Human Rights Day).

In particular, Amnesty International brought attention to violations committed on specific groups including: refugees, racial/ethnic/religious minorities, women and those executed or on Death Row. The death penalty report "When the state kills"(ISBN 0691102619) and the ‘Human Rights are Women’s Rights’ campaign were key actions for the latter two issues and demonstrate that Amnesty International was still very much a reporting and campaigning organization.

At the intergovernmental level, Amnesty International argued in favour of creating a United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (established 1993) and an International Criminal Court (established 2002).

After 2000, Amnesty International’s agenda turned to the challenges arising from globalization and the effects of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States. The issue of globalization provoked a major shift in Amnesty International policy, as the scope of its work was widened to include economic, social and cultural rights, an area that it had declined to work on in the past. Amnesty International felt this shift was important, not just to give credence to its principle of the indivisibility of rights, but because of the growing power of companies and the undermining of many nation states as a result of globalization.

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the new Amnesty International Secretary General, Irene Khan, reported that a senior government official had said to Amnesty International delegates: "Your role collapsed with the collapse of the Twin Towers in New York". [cite book|last=|first=|authorlink=|title=Amnesty International Report 2002|publisher=Amnesty International|year=2003|pages=|doi=|id=] In the years following the attacks, some of the gains made by human rights organizations over previous decades were eroded. Amnesty International argued that human rights were the basis for the security of all, not a barrier to it. Criticism came directly from the Bush administration and "The Washington Post", when Khan, in 2005, likened the US government’s detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to a Soviet Gulag. [cite news|last=|first=|title='American Gulag'|pages=|publisher=The Washington Post|date=2005-05-26|url=|accessdate=2006-10-02] [cite news|last=|first=|title=Bush says Amnesty report 'absurd'|pages=|publisher=BBC|date=2005-05-31|url=|accessdate=2006-10-02]

During the first half of the new decade, Amnesty International turned its attention to violence against women, controls on the world arms trade and concerns surrounding the effectiveness of the UN. With its membershipclose to two million by 2005, [cite book|last=|first=|authorlink=|title=Amnesty International Report 2005: the state of the world’s human rights|publisher=Amnesty International|year=2004|pages=|doi=|id=] AI continued to work for prisoners of conscience.

Amnesty International reported, concerning the Iraq war, on March 17 2008 that despite claims the security situation in Iraq has improved in recent months, the human rights situation is disastrous, after the start of the war five years ago in 2003. [cite news|title=Reports: 'Disastrous' Iraqi humanitarian crisis|publisher=CNN|date=2008-03-17|url=|accessdate=2008-03-17]


Rquote|right|Amnesty International’s vision is of a world in which every person enjoys all of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards.

In pursuit of this vision, Amnesty International’s mission is to undertake research and action focused on preventing and ending grave abuses of the rights to physical and mental integrity, freedom of conscience and expression, and freedom from discrimination, within the context of its work to promote all human rights.|Statute of Amnesty International, 27th International Council meeting, 2005

There are five key areas which Amnesty deals with: Women's Rights, Children's Rights, Ending Torture and Execution, Rights of Refugees and Rights of Prisoners of Conscience. Some specific aims are to abolish the death penalty, end extrajudicial executions and "disappearances", ensure prison conditions meet international human rights standards, ensure prompt and fair trial for all political prisoners, ensure free education to all children worldwide, fight impunity from systems of justice, end the recruitment and use of child soldiers, free all prisoners of conscience, promote economic, social and cultural rights for marginalized communities, protect human rights defenders, promote religious tolerance, stop torture and ill-treatment, stop unlawful killings in armed conflict, and to uphold the rights of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers. This organization helps women all around the world.

Amnesty International targets not only governments, but also non governmental bodies and private individuals (non state actors).

To further these aims, Amnesty International has developed several techniques to publicize information and mobilize public opinion. The organization considers as one of its strengths the publication of impartial and accurate reports. Reports are researched by interviewing victims and officials, observing trials, working with local human rights activists and by monitoring the media. It aims to issue timely press releases and publishes information in newsletters and on web sites. It also sends official missions to countries to make courteous but insistent inquiries.

Campaigns to mobilize public opinion can take the form of individual, country or thematic campaigns. Many techniques are deployed such as direct appeals (for example, letter writing), media and publicity work and public demonstrations. Often fund-raising is integrated with campaigning.

In situations which require immediate attention, Amnesty International calls on existing urgent action networks or crisis response networks; for all other matters, it calls on its membership. It considers the large size of its human resources to be another one of its key strengths.


Amnesty International is largely made up of voluntary members but retains a small number of paid professionals. In countries where Amnesty International has a strong presence, members are organized as 'sections'. Sections coordinate basic Amnesty International activities normally with a significant volume of members, some of whom will form into 'groups', and a professional staff. Each have a board of directors. In 2005 there were 52 sections worldwide. 'Structures' are aspiring sections. They also coordinate basic activities but have a smaller membership and a limited staff. In countries where no section or structure exists, people can become 'international members'. Two other organizational models exist: 'international networks', which promote specific themes or have a specific identity, and 'affiliated groups', which do the same work as section groups, but in isolation.

The organizations outlined above are represented by the International Council (IC) which is led by the IC Chairperson. Members of sections and structures have the right to appoint one or more representatives to the Council according to the size of their membership. The IC may invite representatives from International Networks and other individuals to meetings, but only representatives from sections and structures have voting rights. The function of the IC is to appoint and hold accountable internal governing bodies and to determine the direction of the movement. The IC convenes every two years.

The International Executive Committee (IEC), led by the IEC Chairperson, consists of eight members and the IEC Treasurer. It is elected by, and represents, the IC and meets biannually. The role of the IEC is to take decisions on behalf of Amnesty International, implement the strategy laid out by the IC, and ensure compliance with the organization’s statutes.

The International Secretariat (IS) is responsible for the conduct and daily affairs of Amnesty International under direction from the IEC and IC. It is run by approximately 500 professional staff members and is headed by a Secretary General. The IS operates several work programs; International Law and Organizations; Research; Campaigns; Mobilization; and Communications. Its offices have been located in London since its establishment in the mid-1960s.

Amnesty International is financed largely by fees and donations from its worldwide membership. It does not accept donations from governments or governmental organizations.

*"Amnesty International Sections, 2005" Algeria; Argentina; Australia; Austria; Belgium (Flemish speaking); Belgium (French speaking); Benin; Bermuda; Canada (English speaking); Canada (French speaking); Chile; Côte d’Ivoire; Denmark; Faroe Islands; Finland; France; Germany; Greece; Guyana; Hong Kong; Iceland; Ireland; Israel; Italy; Japan; Korea (Republic of); Luxembourg; Mauritius; Mexico; Morocco; Nepal; Netherlands; New Zealand; Norway; Peru; Philippines; Poland; Portugal; Puerto Rico; Senegal; Sierra Leone; Slovenia; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; Taiwan; Togo; Tunisia; United Kingdom; United States of America; Uruguay; Venezuela

*"Amnesty International Structures, 2005" Belarus; Bolivia; Burkina Faso; Croatia; Curaçao; Czech Republic; Gambia; Hungary; Malaysia; Mali; Moldova; Mongolia; Pakistan; Paraguay; Slovakia; South Africa; Thailand; Turkey; Ukraine; Zambia; Zimbabwe

*"IEC Chairpersons" Seán MacBride, 1965–1974; Dirk Börner, 1974–1977; Thomas Hammarberg, 1977–1979; José Zalaquett, 1979–1982; Suriya Wickremasinghe, 1982–1985; Wolfgang Heinz, 1985–1996; Franca Sciuto, 1986–1989; Peter Duffy, 1989–1991; Annette Fischer, 1991–1992; Ross Daniels, 1993–1997; Susan Waltz, 1996–1998; Mahmoud Ben Romdhane, 1999–2000; Colm O Cuanachain, 2001–2002; Paul Hoffman, 2003–2004; Jaap Jacobson, 2005; Hanna Roberts, 2005–2006; Lilian Gonçalves-Ho Kang You, 2006–2007; Peter Pack, 2007–present

*"General Secretaries"


Criticism of Amnesty International may be classified into two major categories: accusations of selection bias and accusations of ideological bias. As part of the latter, many governments, including those of China, [ [ The U.S. and China This Week] , U.S.-China Policy Foundation, 16 February 2001. Retrieved 15 May 2006.] the Democratic Republic of the Congo, [" [ DR Congo blasts Amnesty International report on repression] ", "The Namibian", 14 January 2000. Retrieved 15 May 2006.] Israel, Russia, [" [ Russian official blasts Amnesty International over Chechnya refugees] ", Human Rights Violations in Chechnya, 22 August 2003. Retrieved 15 May 2006.] South Korea, [ [ A report on what the government calls a biased investigation on the candlelight vigils against the importing of US beef] , JOINS Korean news agency, 10 July 2008. Retrieved 20 May 2008.] the United States, [ [ Press Briefing By Scott McClellan] , The White House, 25 May 2005. Retrieved 30 May 2006.] and Vietnam [" [ The Cream of The Diplomatic Crop from Ha Noi.] ", THIÊN LÝ BỬU TÒA. Retrieved 15 May 2006.] have attacked Amnesty International for what they assert is one-sided reporting or a failure to treat threats to security as a mitigating factor. Criticism has also come from companies, such as Total. [ [ Total travaille son Amnesty] ] [ [ Amnesty France s’intéresse de plus en plus aux entreprises] ] The actions of the criticized have been the subject of human rights concerns voiced by Amnesty.

ee also

* Human Rights
*The Secret Policeman's Balls


a. Note_label|A|a|none Anthropologist Linda Rabben refers to the origin of AI as a "creation myth" with a "kernel of truth": "The immediate impetus to form Amnesty did come from Peter Benenson’s righteous indignation while reading a newspaper in the London tube on November 19, 1960."cite journal
last = Rabben
first = Linda
title = Amnesty International: Myth and Reality
journal = AGNI
issue = 54
publisher = Boston University
location = Boston, Massachusetts
date = 2001
url =
accessdate = 2008-09-25
] Historian Tom Buchanan traced the origins story to a radio broadcast by Peter Benenson in 1962. The 4 March 1962 BBC news story did not refer to a "toast to liberty", but Benenson said his tube ride was on 19 December 1960. Buchanan was unable to find the newspaper article about the Portuguese students in "The Daily Telegraph" for either month. Buchanan found many news stories reporting on the repressive Portuguese political arrests in "The Times" for November 1960.cite journal
last = Buchanan
first = Tom
title = 'The Truth Will Set You Free': The Making of Amnesty International
journal = Journal of Contemporary History
volume = 37
issue = 4
publisher =
location =
date = Oct., 2002
pages = 575-597
url =
accessdate = 2008-09-25


Further reading

*cite book|last = Amnesty International|first = |authorlink = |title=Amnesty International Report 2006: The State of the World’s Human Rights|publisher=Amnesty International|year=2005|pages = |doi = |id = ISBN 0-86210-369-X
*cite book|last = Clarke|first = Anne Marie|authorlink = |title=Diplomacy of Conscience: Amnesty International and Changing Human Rights Norms|publisher=Princeton University Press|year=2001|pages = |doi = |id = ISBN 0-691-05743-5
*cite book|last=Hopgood|first=Stephen|authorlink =|title=Keepers of the Flame: Understanding Amnesty International|publisher=Cornell University Press|year=2006|pages = |doi = |id = ISBN 0-8014-4402-0
*cite book|last = Power|first = Jonathan|authorlink = |title=Amnesty International: The Human Rights Story|publisher=McGraw-Hill|year=1981|pages = |doi = |id = ISBN 0-08-028902-9
*cite book|last = Sellars|first = Kirsten|authorlink = |title=The Rise and Rise of Human Rights|publisher=Sutton Publishing Ltd|month=April | year=2002|pages = |doi = |id = ISBN 978-0750927550

External links

* [ Amnesty International website]
* [ Is Amnesty International Biased?] , 2002 discussion by Dennis Bernstein and Dr. Francis Boyle
* [ Unsubscribe Me MySpace page] Official Amnesty International MySpace page highlighting human rights abuses in the war on terror
* [ Tear It Down site] Amnesty International's global initiative to close Guantanamo and end illegal U.S. detentions in the war on terror

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