Amnesty International (commonly known as Amnesty or AI) is a British non-governmental organization focused on human rights. The organization claims it has more than seven million members and supporters around the world.
The stated mission of the organization is to campaign for "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 instruments."
Amnesty International was founded in London in 1961, following the publication of the article "The Forgotten Prisoners" in The Observer on 28 May 1961, by the lawyers Peter Benenson and Philip James. Amnesty draws attention to human rights abuses and campaigns for compliance with international laws and standards. It works to mobilize public opinion to generate pressure on governments that let abuse take place. Amnesty considers capital punishment to be "the ultimate, irreversible denial of human rights." The organization was awarded the 1977 Nobel Peace Prize for its "defence of human dignity against torture," and the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights in 1978.
Amnesty International was founded in London in July 1961 by English labour lawyer Peter Benenson along with Professor of Law and friend Philip James. According to Benenson's own account, he was travelling on the London Underground on 19 November 1960 when he read that two Portuguese students from Coimbra had been sentenced to seven years of imprisonment in Portugal for allegedly "having drunk a toast to liberty". Researchers have never traced the alleged newspaper article in question. In 1960, Portugal was ruled by the Estado Novo government of António de Oliveira Salazar. The government was authoritarian in nature and strongly anti-communist, suppressing enemies of the state as anti-Portuguese. In his significant newspaper article "The Forgotten Prisoners", Benenson later described his reaction as follows:
Benenson worked with friend Eric Baker. Baker was a member of the Religious Society of Friends who had been involved in funding the British 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". 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 28 May 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" 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, whom 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 nine prisoners of conscience investigated and compiled by Benenson and Baker (Maurice Audin, Ashton Jones, Agostinho Neto, Patrick Duncan, Olga Ivinskaya, Luis Taruc, Constantin Noica, Antonio Amat and Hu Feng). In July 1961 the leadership had decided that the appeal would form the basis of a permanent organization, Amnesty, with the first meeting taking place in London. Benenson ensured that all three major political parties were represented, enlisting members of parliament from the Labour Party, the Conservative Party, and the Liberal Party. On 30 September 1962, it was officially named "Amnesty International". Between the "Appeal for Amnesty, 1961" and September 1962 the organization had been known simply as "Amnesty".
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 growing and an International Secretariat and International Executive Committee were established to manage Amnesty International's national organizations, called "Sections", which had appeared in several countries. 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 prisoners' families, sending observers to trials, making representations to governments, and finding asylum or overseas employment for prisoners. Its activity and influence were 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.
In 1967, Peter Benenson resigned after an independent inquiry did not support his claims that AI had been infiltrated by British agents. Later he claimed that the Central Intelligence Agency had become involved in Amnesty.
During the 1970s, Seán MacBride and Martin Ennals led Amnesty International. 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 acquire and 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 by the superpowers to "client states", for example by the United States through some activities of the CIA.
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 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 to 200,000 by 1979. 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 19 March 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 in 1976; and was instrumental in obtaining additional instruments and provisions forbidding the practice of maltreatment. Consultative status was granted at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 1972.
In 1976, Amnesty's British Section started a series of fund-raising events that came to be known as The Secret Policeman's Balls series. They were staged in London initially as comedy galas featuring what the Daily Telegraph called "the crème de la crème of the British comedy world" including members of comedy troupe Monty Python, and later expanded to also include performances by leading rock musicians. The series was created and developed by Monty Python alumnus John Cleese and entertainment industry executive Martin Lewis working closely with Amnesty staff members Peter Luff (Assistant Director of Amnesty 1974–78) and subsequently with Peter Walker (Amnesty Fund-Raising Officer 1978–82). Cleese, Lewis and Luff worked together on the first two shows (1976 and 1977). Cleese, Lewis and Walker worked together on the 1979 and 1981 shows, the first to carry what the Daily Telegraph described as the "rather brilliantly re-christened" Secret Policeman's Ball title.
By 1980 Amnesty International 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 Argentinian government banned Amnesty International's 1983 annual report.
Throughout the 1980s, Amnesty International continued to campaign against torture, and on behalf of prisoners of conscience. New issues emerged, including extrajudicial killings, military, security and police transfers, political killings, and disappearances.
Towards the end of the decade, the growing number of refugees worldwide became a focus for Amnesty International's. 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, two major musical events took place to increase awareness of Amnesty and of human rights (particularly among younger generations) during the mid- to late-1980s. The 1986 Conspiracy of Hope tour, which played five concerts in the US, and culminated in a daylong show, featuring some thirty-odd acts at Giants Stadium, and the 1988 Human Rights Now! world tour. Human Rights Now!, which was timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), played a series of concerts on five continents over six weeks. Both tours featured some of the most famous musicians and bands of the day.
Throughout the 1990s, Amnesty continued to grow, to a membership of over seven million in over 150 countries and territories, led by Senegalese Secretary General Pierre Sané. Amnesty 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 African Great Lakes region and the abolition of the death penalty. 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 and the "Human Rights are Women's Rights" campaign were key actions for the latter two issues.
During the 1990s, 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, 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 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 who sent troops. It argued that action should be taken to prevent human-rights problems from becoming human-rights catastrophes, and that both intervention and inaction represented a failure of the international community.
In 1990, when the United States government was deciding whether or not to invade Iraq, a Kuwaiti woman, known to Congress by her first name only, Nayirah, told the congress that when Iraq invaded Kuwait, she stayed behind after some of her family left the country. She said she was volunteering in a local hospital when Iraqi soldiers stole the incubators with children in them and left them to freeze to death. Amnesty International, who had human rights investigators in Kuwait, confirmed the story and helped spread it. The organization also inflated the number of children who were killed by the robbery to over 300, more than the number of incubators available in the city hospitals of the country. It was often cited by people, including the Congresspeople who voted to approve the Gulf War, as one of the reasons to fight. After the war, it was found that the woman was lying, the story was made up, and her last name was not given, because her father was a delegate for Kuwait's government at the same congressional hearing.
In 1995, when AI wanted to promote how Shell Oil Company was involved with the execution of an environmental and human-rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa in Nigeria, it was stopped. Newspapers and advertising companies refused to run AI's ads because Shell Oil was a customer of theirs as well. Shell's main argument was that it was drilling oil in a country that already violated human rights and had no way to enforce human-rights policies. To combat the buzz that AI was trying to create, it immediately publicized how Shell was helping to improve overall life in Nigeria. Salil Shetty, the director of Amnesty, said, "Social media re-energises the idea of the global citizen". James M. Russell notes how the drive for profit from private media sources conflicts with the stories that AI wants to be heard.
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, and the Decl music concert was held in Paris on 10 December 1998 (Human Rights Day). 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 his arrest in London in 1998 by the Metropolitan Police, Amnesty International became involved in the legal battle of Senator Augusto Pinochet, former Chilean dictator, who sought to avoid extradition to Spain to face charges. Lord Hoffman had an indirect connection with Amnesty International, and this led to an important test for the appearance of bias in legal proceedings in UK law. There was a suit against the decision to release Senator Pinochet, taken by the then British Home Secretary Mr Jack Straw, before that decision had actually been taken, in an attempt to prevent the release of Senator Pinochet. The English High Court refused the application, and Senator Pinochet was released and returned to Chile.
After 2000, Amnesty International's primary focus turned to the challenges arising from globalization and the reaction to the 11 September 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 what it saw as the growing power of companies and the undermining of many nation states as a result of globalization.
In the aftermath of 11 September 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." In the years following the attacks, some believe that the gains made by human rights organizations over previous decades had possibly been 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.
During the first half of the new decade, Amnesty International turned its attention to violence against women, controls on the world arms trade, concerns surrounding the effectiveness of the UN, and ending torture. With its membership close to two million by 2005, Amnesty continued to work for prisoners of conscience.
In 2007, AI's executive committee decided to support access to abortion "within reasonable gestational limits...for women in cases of rape, incest or violence, or where the pregnancy jeopardizes a mother's life or health".
Amnesty International reported, concerning the Iraq War, on 17 March 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 earlier in 2003.
In 2009, Amnesty International accused Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement of committing war crimes during Israel's January offensive in Gaza, called Operation Cast Lead, that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis. The 117-page Amnesty report charged Israeli forces with killing hundreds of civilians and wanton destruction of thousands of homes. Amnesty found evidence of Israeli soldiers using Palestinian civilians as human shields. A subsequent United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict was carried out; Amnesty stated that its findings were consistent with those of Amnesty's own field investigation, and called on the UN to act promptly to implement the mission's recommendations.
In February 2010, Amnesty suspended Gita Sahgal, its gender unit head, after she criticized Amnesty for its links with Moazzam Begg, director of Cageprisoners. She said it was "a gross error of judgment" to work with "Britain's most famous supporter of the Taliban". Amnesty responded that Sahgal was not suspended "for raising these issues internally... [Begg] speaks about his own views ..., not Amnesty International's". Among those who spoke up for Sahgal were Salman Rushdie, Member of Parliament Denis MacShane, Joan Smith, Christopher Hitchens, Martin Bright, Melanie Phillips, and Nick Cohen.
In July 2011, Amnesty International celebrated its 50 years with an animated short film directed by Carlos Lascano, produced by Eallin Motion Art and Dreamlife Studio, with music by Academy Award-winner Hans Zimmer and nominee Lorne Balfe. The film shows that the fight for humanity is not yet over.
In August 2012, Amnesty International's chief executive in India sought an impartial investigation, led by the United Nations, to render justice to those affected by war crimes in Sri Lanka.
On 18 August 2014, in the wake of demonstrations sparked by people protesting the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old man, and subsequent acquittal of Darren Wilson, the officer who shot him, Amnesty International sent a 13-person contingent of human rights activists to seek meetings with officials as well as to train local activists in non-violent protest methods. This was the first time that the organization has deployed such a team to the United States. In a press release, AI USA director Steven W. Hawkins said, "The U.S. cannot continue to allow those obligated and duty-bound to protect to become those who their community fears most."
In February 2016, Amnesty International launched its annual report of human rights around the world titled "The State of the World's Human Rights". It warns from the consequences of "us vs them" speech which divided human beings into two camps. It states that this speech enhances a global pushback against human rights and makes the world more divided and more dangerous. It also states that in 2016, governments turned a blind eye to war crimes and passed laws that violate free expression. Donald Trump signed an executive order in an attempt to prevent refugees from seeking resettlement in the United States. Elsewhere, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Thailand and Turkey carried out massive crackdowns, while authorities in other countries continued to implement security measures represent an infringement on rights. In June 2016, Amnesty International has called on the United Nations General Assembly to "immediately suspend" Saudi Arabia from the UN Human Rights Council. Richard Bennett, head of Amnesty's UN Office, said: "The credibility of the U.N. Human Rights Council is at stake. Since joining the council, Saudi Arabia's dire human rights record at home has continued to deteriorate and the coalition it leads has unlawfully killed and injured thousands of civilians in the conflict in Yemen."
In December 2016, Amnesty International revealed that Voiceless Victims, a fake non-profit organization which claims to raise awareness for migrant workers who are victims of human rights abuses in Qatar, had been trying to spy on their staff.
Amnesty International published its annual report for the year 2016–2017 on 21 February 2017. Secretary General Salil Shetty's opening statement in the report highlighted many ongoing international abuses as well as emerging threats. Shetty drew attention, among many issues, to the Syrian Civil War, the use of chemical weapons in the War in Darfur, outgoing United States President Barack Obama's expansion of drone warfare, and the successful 2016 presidential election campaign of Obama's successor Donald Trump. Shetty stated that the Trump election campaign was characterized by "poisonous" discourse in which "he frequently made deeply divisive statements marked by misogyny and xenophobia, and pledged to roll back established civil liberties and introduce policies which would be profoundly inimical to human rights." In his opening summary, Shetty stated that "the world in 2016 became a darker and more unstable place."
In July 2017, Turkish police detained 10 human rights activists during a workshop on digital security at a hotel near Istanbul. Eight people, including Idil Eser, Amnesty International director in Turkey, as well as German Peter Steudtner and Swede Ali Gharavi, were arrested. Two others were detained but released pending trial. They were accused of aiding armed terror organizations in alleged communications with suspects linked to Kurdish and left-wing militants, as well as the movement led by US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Amnesty International supported the UN treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. James Lynch, Head of Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International, said: "This historic treaty brings us a step closer to a world free from the horrors of nuclear weapons, the most destructive and indiscriminate weapons ever created."
Amnesty International published its 2017/2018 report in February 2018.
In October 2018, an Amnesty International researcher was abducted and beaten while observing demonstrations in Magas, the capital of Ingushetia, Russia.
On 25 October, federal officers raided the Bengaluru office for 10 hours on a suspicion that the organization had violated foreign direct investment guidelines on the orders of the Enforcement Directorate. Employees and supporters of Amnesty International say this is an act to intimidate organizations and people who question the authority and capabilities of government leaders. Aakar Patel, the Executive Director of the Indian branch claimed, "The Enforcement Directorate's raid on our office today shows how the authorities are now treating human rights organizations like criminal enterprises, using heavy-handed methods. The current Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, has been criticized for harming civil society in India, specifically by targeting advocacy groups. Modi has cancelled the registration of about 15,000 nongovernmental organizations under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA); the U.N. has issued statemenets against the policies that allow these cancellations to occur. Though nothing was found to confirm these accusations, the government plans on continuing the investigation and has frozen the bank accounts of all the offices in India. A spokesperson for the Enforcement Directorate has said the investigation could take three months to complete.
On 30 October 2018, Amnesty called for the arrest and prosecution of Nigerian security forces claiming that they used excessive force against Shi’a protesters during a peaceful religious procession around Abuja, Nigeria. At least 45 were killed and 122 were injured during the event .
In November 2018, Amnesty reported the arrest of 19 or more rights activists and lawyers in Egypt. The arrests were made by the Egyptian authorities as part of the regime's ongoing crackdown on dissent. One of the arrested was Hoda Abdel-Monaim, a 60-year-old human rights lawyer and former member of the National Council for Human Rights. Amnesty reported that following the arrests Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) decided to suspend its activities due to the hostile environment towards civil society in the country.
On 5 December 2018, Amnesty International strongly condemned the execution of Ihar Hershankou and Siamion Berazhnoy in Belarus. They were shot despite UN Human Rights Committee request for a delay.
In February 2019, Amnesty International's management team offered to resign after an independent report found what it called a "toxic culture" of workplace bullying, and found evidence of bullying, harassment, sexism and racism, after being asked to investigate the suicides of 30-year Amnesty veteran Gaetan Mootoo in Paris in May 2018 (who left a note citing work pressures), and 28-year-old intern Rosalind McGregor in Geneva in July 2018.
In April 2019, Amnesty International's deputy director for research in Europe, Massimo Moratti, warned that if extradited to the United States, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange would face the "risk of serious human rights violations, namely detention conditions, which could violate the prohibition of torture".
On 24 April 2019 an alliance of different groups of Kurdish activists occupied the reception of Amnesty's London offices, to protest against Amnesty's inaction in ignoring the human rights abuses against Kurds in Turkey, including the incarceration and isolation of their leader, Abdullah Øcalan. There were claims that Amnesty's inaction had been driven by undue deference to the Turkish and Qatari regimes. A hunger strike was declared by the occupiers. On 26 April Amnesty called on the Police forcibly to eject the demonstrators, and the offices were cleared. There was subsequent public criticism of this action.
On May 14, 2019, Amnesty International filed a petition with the District Court of Tel Aviv, Israel, seeking a revocation of the export license of surveillance technology firm NSO Group. The filing states that “staff of Amnesty International have an ongoing and well-founded fear they may continue to be targeted and ultimately surveilled” by NSO technology. Other lawsuits have also been filed against NSO in Israeli courts over alleged human-rights abuses, including a December 2018 filing by Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz, who claimed NSO’s software targeted his phone during a period in which he was in regular contact with murdered journalist Jamal Kashoggi.
In August 2019, the Global Assembly elected five new Members to the International Board - Peter Fa'afiu (New Zealand), Dr Anjhula Singh Bais (Malaysia), Ritz Lee Santos III (The Philippines), Lulu Barera (Mexico) and Aniket Shah (USA) as Treasurer. Given Fa'afiu received the most votes, his term will be for four years and others three years. Bais and Santos become the first Malaysian and Filipino elected. Fa'afiu the first of Pacific descent. They join at a significant time in the organisation's history - financial challenges, organisational restructure, development of a new global strategy, ever shrinking civil society space, and a demand from its younger members and partners to move into non-traditional areas such as climate change.
In September 2019, European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen created the new position of “Vice President for Protecting our European Way of Life”, who will be responsible for upholding the rule-of-law, internal security and migration. Amnesty International accused the European Union of "using the framing of the far right" by linking migration with security.
Amnesty International is largely made up of voluntary members, but retains a small number of paid professionals. In countries in which Amnesty International has a strong presence, members are organized as "sections". Sections co-ordinate basic Amnesty International activities normally with a significant number 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 co-ordinate 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 Board (formerly known as the International Executive Committee [IEC]), led by the International Board Chairperson, consists of eight members and the International Treasurer. It is elected by, and accountable to, the IC, and meets at least two times during any one year and in practice meets at least four times a year. The role of the International Board 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 International Board. It is run by approximately 500 professional staff members and is headed by a Secretary General. The Secretariat operates several work programmes; 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 Sections, 2005Algeria; Argentina; Australia; Austria; Belgium (Dutch-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, 2005Belarus; Bolivia; Burkina Faso; Croatia; Curaçao; Czech Republic; Gambia; Hungary; Malaysia; Mali; Moldova; Mongolia; Pakistan; Paraguay; Slovakia; South Africa; Thailand; Turkey; Ukraine; Zambia; Zimbabwe
- International Board (formerly known as "IEC") ChairpersonsSeán MacBride, 1965–74; Dirk Börner, 1974–17; Thomas Hammarberg, 1977–79; José Zalaquett, 1979–82; Suriya Wickremasinghe, 1982–85; Wolfgang Heinz, 1985–96; Franca Sciuto, 1986–89; Peter Duffy, 1989–91; Annette Fischer, 1991–92; Ross Daniels, 1993–19; Susan Waltz, 1996–98; Mahmoud Ben Romdhane, 1999–2000; Colm O Cuanachain, 2001–02; Paul Hoffman, 2003–04; Jaap Jacobson, 2005; Hanna Roberts, 2005–06; Lilian Gonçalves-Ho Kang You, 2006–07; Peter Pack, 2007–11; Pietro Antonioli, 2011–13; and Nicole Bieske, 2013–present.
- Secretaries General
In the UK Amnesty International has two principal arms, Amnesty International UK and Amnesty International Charity Ltd. Both are UK-based organizations but only the latter is a charity.
The core principle of Amnesty International is a focus on prisoners of conscience, those persons imprisoned or prevented from expressing an opinion by means of violence. Along with this commitment to opposing repression of freedom of expression, Amnesty International's founding principles included non-intervention on political questions, a robust commitment to gathering facts about the various cases and promoting human rights.
One key issue in the principles is in regards to those individuals who may advocate or tacitly support resorting to violence in struggles against repression. AI does not judge whether recourse to violence is justified or not. However, AI does not oppose the political use of violence in itself since The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in its preamble, foresees situations in which people could "be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression". If a prisoner is serving a sentence imposed, after a fair trial, for activities involving violence, AI will not ask the government to release the prisoner.
AI neither supports nor condemns the resort to violence by political opposition groups in itself, just as AI neither supports nor condemns a government policy of using military force in fighting against armed opposition movements. However, AI supports minimum humane standards that should be respected by governments and armed opposition groups alike. When an opposition group tortures or kills its captives, takes hostages, or commits deliberate and arbitrary killings, AI condemns these abuses.
Amnesty International opposes capital punishment in all cases, regardless of the crime committed, the circumstances surrounding the individual or the method of execution.
Amnesty International primarily targets governments, but also reports on non-governmental bodies and private individuals ("non-state actors").
There are six key areas which Amnesty deals with:
- Women's, children's, minorities' and indigenous rights
- Ending torture
- Abolition of the death penalty
- Rights of refugees
- Rights of prisoners of conscience
- Protection of human dignity.
Some specific aims are to: abolish the death penalty, end extra judicial 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, decriminalize abortion  , 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, protect LGBT rights, stop torture and ill-treatment  , stop unlawful killings in armed conflict  , uphold the rights of refugees  , migrants, and asylum seekers, and protect human dignity.
Additionally, Amnesty International has developed ways to publicize information and mobilize public opinion. The organization considers the publication of impartial and accurate reports as one of its strengths. Reports are researched by: interviewing victims and officials, observing trials, working with local human rights activists, and 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 of its key strengths.
The role of Amnesty International has a significant impact on getting citizens on board with focusing on human rights issues. These groups influence countries and governments to give their people justice with pressure and in human resources. An example of Amnesty International's work is writing letters to free imprisoned people that were put there for non-violent expressions. The group now has power, attends sessions, and became a source of information for the UN. The increase in participation of non-governmental organizations changes how we live today. Felix Dodds states in a recent document: "In 1972 there were 39 democratic countries in the world; by 2002, there were 139." This shows that non-governmental organizations make enormous leaps within a short period of time for human rights.
Amnesty reports disproportionately on relatively more democratic and open countries, arguing that its intention is not to produce a range of reports which statistically represents the world's human rights abuses, but rather to apply the pressure of public opinion to encourage improvements.
The demonstration effect of the behaviour of both key Western governments and major non-Western states is an important factor: as one former Amnesty Secretary-General pointed out, "for many countries and a large number of people, the United States is a model," and according to one Amnesty manager, "large countries inﬂuence small countries." In addition, with the end of the Cold War, Amnesty felt that a greater emphasis on human rights in the North was needed to improve its credibility with its Southern critics by demonstrating its willingness to report on human rights issues in a truly global manner.
According to one academic study, as a result of these considerations the frequency of Amnesty's reports is influenced by a number of factors, besides the frequency and severity of human rights abuses. For example, Amnesty reports significantly more (than predicted by human rights abuses) on more economically powerful states; and on countries which receive US military aid, on the basis that this Western complicity in abuses increases the likelihood of public pressure being able to make a difference. In addition, around 1993–94, Amnesty consciously developed its media relations, producing fewer background reports and more press releases, to increase the impact of its reports. Press releases are partly driven by news coverage, to use existing news coverage as leverage to discuss Amnesty's human rights concerns. This increases Amnesty's focus on the countries the media is more interested in.
In 2012, Kristyan Benedict, Amnesty UK's campaign manager whose main focus is Syria, listed several countries as "regimes who abuse peoples' basic universal rights": Burma, Iran, Israel, North Korea and Sudan. Benedict was criticized for including Israel in this short list on the basis that his opinion was garnered solely from "his own visits", with no other objective sources.
Amnesty's country focus is similar to that of some other comparable NGOs, notably Human Rights Watch: between 1991 and 2000, Amnesty and HRW shared eight of ten countries in their "top ten" (by Amnesty press releases; 7 for Amnesty reports). In addition, six of the 10 countries most reported on by Human Rights Watch in the 1990s also made The Economist's and Newsweek's "most covered" lists during that time.
Amnesty International is financed largely by fees and donations from its worldwide membership. It says that it does not accept donations from governments or governmental organizations. According to the AI website,
However, AI has received grants over the past ten years from the UK Department for International Development, the European Commission, the United States State Department and other governments.
Criticism and controversies
Criticism of Amnesty International includes claims of excessive pay for management, underprotection of overseas staff, associating with organizations with a dubious record on human rights protection, selection bias, ideological and foreign policy bias against either non-Western countries or Western-supported countries, or bias for terrorist groups,. A recent report also shows an internal toxic work environment.
Governments and their supporters have criticized Amnesty's criticism of their policies, including those of Australia, Czech Republic, China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Iran, Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Russia, Nigeria and the United States, for what they assert is one-sided reporting or a failure to treat threats to security as a mitigating factor. The actions of these governments, and of other governments critical of Amnesty International, have been the subject of human rights concerns voiced by Amnesty.
The Sudan Vision Daily, a daily newspaper in Sudan, compared Amnesty to the US National Endowment for Democracy, and claimed "it is, in essence, a British intelligence organization which is a part of the Government decision making system."
Amnesty International suspended Gita Sahgal, its gender unit head, after she criticized Amnesty in February 2010 for its high-profile associations with Moazzam Begg, the director of Cageprisoners, representing men in extrajudicial detention.
"To be appearing on platforms with Britain's most famous supporter of the Taliban, Begg, whom we treat as a human rights defender, is a gross error of judgment," she said. Sahgal argued that by associating with Begg and Cageprisoners, Amnesty was risking its reputation on human rights. "As a former Guantanamo detainee, it was legitimate to hear his experiences, but as a supporter of the Taliban it was absolutely wrong to legitimise him as a partner," Sahgal said. She said she repeatedly brought the matter up with Amnesty for two years, to no avail. A few hours after the article was published, Sahgal was suspended from her position. Amnesty's Senior Director of Law and Policy, Widney Brown, later said Sahgal raised concerns about Begg and Cageprisoners to her personally for the first time a few days before sharing them with the Sunday Times.
Sahgal issued a statement saying she felt that Amnesty was risking its reputation by associating with and thereby politically legitimizing Begg, because Cageprisoners "actively promotes Islamic Right ideas and individuals". She said the issue was not about Begg's "freedom of opinion, nor about his right to propound his views: he already exercises these rights fully as he should. The issue is ... the importance of the human rights movement maintaining an objective distance from groups and ideas that are committed to systematic discrimination and fundamentally undermine the universality of human rights." The controversy prompted responses by politicians, the writer Salman Rushdie, and journalist Christopher Hitchens, among others who criticized Amnesty's association with Begg.
After her suspension and the controversy, Sahgal was interviewed by numerous media and attracted international supporters. She was interviewed on the US National Public Radio (NPR) on 27 February 2010, where she discussed the activities of Cageprisoners and why she deemed it inappropriate for Amnesty to associate with Begg. She said that Cageprisoners' Asim Qureshi spoke supporting global jihad at a Hizb ut-Tahrir rally. She stated that a bestseller at Begg's bookshop was a book by Abdullah Azzam, a mentor of Osama bin Laden and a founder of the terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba.
In a separate interview for the Indian Daily News & Analysis, Sahgal said that, as Quereshi affirmed Begg's support for global jihad on aBBC World Service programme, "these things could have been stated in his [Begg's] introduction" with Amnesty. She said that Begg's bookshop had published The Army of Madinah, which she characterized as a jihad manual by Dhiren Barot.
In February 2011, newspaper stories in the UK revealed that Irene Khan had received a payment of £533,103 from Amnesty International following her resignation from the organization on 31 December 2009, a fact pointed to from Amnesty's records for the 2009–2010 financial year. The sum paid to her was more than four times her annual salary (£132,490). The deputy secretary general, Kate Gilmore, who also resigned in December 2009, received an ex-gratia payment of £320,000. Peter Pack, the chairman of Amnesty's International Executive Committee (IEC), initially stated on 19 February 2011: "The payments to outgoing secretary general Irene Khan shown in the accounts of AI (Amnesty International) Ltd for the year ending 31 March 2010 include payments made as part of a confidential agreement between AI Ltd and Irene Khan" and that "It is a term of this agreement that no further comment on it will be made by either party."
The payment and AI's initial response to its leakage to the press led to considerable outcry. Philip Davies, the Conservative MP for Shipley, criticized the payments, telling the Daily Express: "I am sure people making donations to Amnesty, in the belief they are alleviating poverty, never dreamed they were subsidising a fat cat payout. This will disillusion many benefactors." On 21 February 2011, Peter Pack issued a further statement, in which he said that the payment was a "unique situation" that was "in the best interest of Amnesty's work" and that there would be no repetition of it. He stated that "the new secretary general, with the full support of the IEC, has initiated a process to review our employment policies and procedures to ensure that such a situation does not happen again." Pack also stated that Amnesty was "fully committed to applying all the resources that we receive from our millions of supporters to the fight for human rights".
On 25 February 2011, Pack sent a letter to Amnesty members and staff. In 2008, it stated, the IEC decided not to prolong Khan's contract for a third term. In the following months, IEC discovered that due to British employment law, it had to choose between three options: offering Khan a third term; discontinuing her post and, in their judgement, risking legal consequences; or signing a confidential agreement and issuing a pay compensation.
In February 2019, Amnesty International's management team offered to resign after an independent report found what it called a "toxic culture" of workplace bullying. Evidence of bullying, harassment, sexism and racism was uncovered after two 2018 suicides were investigated: that of 30-year Amnesty veteran Gaetan Mootoo in Paris in May 2018 (who left a note citing work pressures); and that of 28-year-old intern Rosalind McGregor in Geneva in July 2018. An internal enquiry report by the Konterra group with a team of psychologists was conducted in January 2019, after the 2 employees had killed themselves in 2018. The report stated that Amnesty had a toxic work culture. Elaborating on this the report mentioned that bullying, public humiliation and other abuses of power are common place and routine practice by the management. It also claimed the us versus them culture among employees and the severe lack of trust in the senior management at Amnesty .
In April 2019, 30 Kurdish activists, some of whom are on an indefinite hunger strike, occupied Amnesty International's building in London in a peaceful protest, in order to speak out against Amnesty's silence on the isolation of Abdullah Öcalan in a Turkish prison. The hunger strikers have also spoken out about "delaying tactics" by Amnesty, and being denied access to toilets during the occupation, despite this being a human right. Two of the hunger strikers, Nahide Zengin and Mehmet Sait Zengin, received paramedic treatment and were taken to hospital during the occupation. Late in the evening of 26 April 2019, the London Met police arrested 21 remaining occupiers.
Awards and honours
In 1977, Amnesty International was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for "having contributed to securing the ground for freedom, for justice, and thereby also for peace in the world".
In 1984, Amnesty International received the Four Freedoms award in the category of Freedom of Speech.
In 1991, Amnesty International was awarded the journalistic prize Golden Doves for Peace by the "Archivio Disarmo" Research Center in Italy.
A Conspiracy of Hope was a short tour of six benefit concerts on behalf of Amnesty International that took place in the United States during June 1986. The purpose of the tour was not to raise funds but rather to increase awareness of human rights and of Amnesty's work on its 25th anniversary. The shows were headlined by U2, Sting and Bryan Adams and also featured Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed, Joan Baez, and The Neville Brothers. The last three shows featured a reunion of The Police. At a press conferences in each city, at related media events, and through their music at the concerts themselves, the artists engaged with the public on themes of human rights and human dignity. The six concerts were the first of what subsequently became known collectively as the Human Rights Concerts – a series of music events and tours staged by Amnesty International USA between 1986–1998.
Human Rights Now! was a worldwide tour of twenty benefit concerts on behalf of Amnesty International that took place over six weeks in 1988. Held not to raise funds but to increase awareness of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on its 40th anniversary and the work of Amnesty International, the shows featured Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman, and Youssou N'Dour, plus guest artists from each of the countries where concerts were held.
Amnesty International, through its "Artists for Amnesty" programme has also endorsed various cultural media works for what its leadership often consider accurate or educational treatments of real-world topics that fall within the range of Amnesty's concern:
- A is for Auschwitz
- At the Death House Door
- Blood Diamond
- Catch a Fire
- In Prison My Whole Life
- Lord of War
- The Constant Gardener
- Tibet: Beyond Fear
- Trouble the Water
- 12 Years a Slave
- Django Unchained
- The Help