About Amnesty International

[Updated: May 15,1999]

“When the first two hundred letters came, the guards gave me back my clothes

"When the first two hundred letters came, the guards gave me back my clothes. Then the next two hundred letters came, and the prison director came to see me. When the next pile of letters arrived, the director got in touch with his superior. The letters kept coming and coming: three thousand of them. The President was informed. The letters still kept arriving, and the President called the prison and told them to let me go."

A released prisoner from the Dominican Republic


Thousands of people are in prison because of their beliefs. Many are held without charge or trial. Torture and the death penalty are widespread. In many countries men, women, and children have "disappeared" after being taken into official custody. Still others have been killed without any pretense of legality. These human rights abuses occur in countries of widely differing ideologies.

Amnesty International is a worldwide movement of people acting on the conviction that governments must not deny individuals their basic human rights. The organization was awarded the 1977 Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to promote global observance of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"We could always tell when international protests were taking place ... the food rations increased and the beatings were fewer. Letters from abroad were translated and passed round from cell to cell, but when the letters stopped, the dirty food and repression started again."

A released prisoner of conscience from Vietnam


Amnesty International works specifically for:

• the release of prisoners of conscience—men, women, and children

imprisoned for their beliefs, color, sex, ethnic origin, language

or religion—provided they have neither used nor advocated


• fair and prompt trials for all political prisoners

• an end to the death penalty and torture in all cases

• an end to extra-judicial executions and "disappearances"


Amnesty International’s effectiveness depends on its impartial application of a single standard of human rights to every country in the world. The organization is independent of all governments, political factions, ideologies, economic interests, and religious creeds. It accepts no financial contribution from any government and is funded entirely by donations from its supporters. To safeguard impartiality, groups do not work for prisoners of conscience held within their own countries.


Amnesty International seeks the most effective means of helping individuals whose rights have been violated. Techniques include long-term adoption of prisoners of conscience, publicizing patterns of human rights abuses, meetings with government representatives, and, in cases where torture or death are feared, organizing a network of volunteers to send urgent telegrams indicating international concern.

Amnesty International members send letters, cards, and telegrams on behalf of individual prisoners to government officials. Constant action generates effective pressure. One well-written letter to a minister of justice is not pressure; ten letters are. Hundreds of letters were sent on behalf of an adopted prisoner detained for many years in Soviet psychiatric hospitals. Later, he said that his release had been a direct result of the letters from Amnesty. He believes they were also the key to better treatment during imprisonment.

Amnesty International members also organize public meetings, collect signatures for petitions, and arrange publicity events, such as vigils at appropriate government embassies. They work on special projects, such as the Campaign to Abolish Torture. At its launching, Amnesty members met with more than half of the United States’ congressional representatives to voice their concern and outline Amnesty International’s program to eradicate torture. Members also raise money to send medicine, food, and clothing to prisoners and their families.

Amnesty International sends missions to countries to appeal, in person, for the protection of human rights. A medical delegation to Bolivia successfully convinced the government to allow a prisoner to be flown abroad for a life-saving operation. Another group went to Gambia in response to reports that prisoners were held in leg irons and denied access to friends and relatives. Within months, Gambia’s President had taken steps to improve conditions.

"For years I was held in a tiny cell. My only human contact was with my torturers ... My only company were the cockroaches and mice ... On Christmas Eve, the door to my cell opened and the guard tossed in a crumpled piece of paper. It said, ‘Take heart. The world knows you’re alive. We’re with you. Regards, Monica, Amnesty International.’ That letter saved my life."

A released prisoner of conscience from Paraguay


When Amnesty International hears of political arrests or people facing torture or execution, it concentrates first on getting the facts. At the organization’s headquarters in London, the Research Department (with a staff of more than 200 recruited from over 30 countries) collects and analyzes information from a wide variety of sources. These include hundreds of newspapers and journals, government bulletins, transcripts of radio broadcasts, reports from lawyers and humanitarian organizations, along with letters from and interviews with prisoners and their families. Amnesty International representatives frequently go on missions to collect on-the-spot information. Amnesty legal observers often attend trials where accepted international standards are at issue.


Since it was founded in 1961, Amnesty International has worked on behalf of more than 43,000 prisoner cases of which 40,000 are now closed. These aren’t just numbers. Amnesty members give direct and effective assistance to people who become more than a number and more than a name. A released prisoner from Malaysia wrote to a group member, "Today I took out all the letters and cards you sent me in the past, reread them, looked at them again, and it is hard to describe the feelings in my heart ... these things I regard as precious jewels."

A released prisoner from Pakistan wrote, "A woman in San Antonio had written some kind and comforting words that proved to be a bombshell for the prison authorities and significantly changed the prisoners’ conditions for the better ... Suddenly I felt as if the sweat drops all over my body were drops from a cool, comforting shower."


Amnesty International has over 1,100,000 members and supporters in over 150 countries. They participate in a variety of different programs to free prisoners of conscience and stop torture and executions.

Local Groups

These are community based groups of 10 to 25 people who meet regularly to write letters, organize and publicize actions on behalf of individual Prisoners of Conscience, work against torture and the death penalty, and participate in special human rights campaigns.

Campus Groups

Members work on special campaigns and on behalf of individual prisoners, while educating their campus communities on human rights.

Urgent Action Network

Members of the Urgent Action Network are periodically called upon to send air mail letters and telegrams to assist individuals in immediate danger of torture or execution. Groups within the Network may work on behalf of colleagues and peers imprisoned abroad.

Freedom Writers Network

Members receive three prisoner appeals each month and write letters to government authorities on their behalf.

Health Professional Network

Members work for imprisoned colleagues and prisoners with serious health problems, as well as presenting educational programs on medical ethics and working to prevent medical personnel from participating in torture and executions.

Legal Support Network

Lawyers and other legal professionals work for imprisoned colleagues, assist in research, offer advice to Amnesty groups on legal issues, and present educational programs on human rights.

Human Rights Educators Network

Teachers and other interested members participate as individuals and in regional working groups to develop materials and promote human rights education, as well as working on behalf of imprisoned colleagues.

Individual Activities

Individual members participate in postcard- and letter-writing campaigns described in Amnesty International USA’s quarterly newspaper, "Amnesty Action."

Members also pay dues annually to Amnesty International USA, which, along with their work for the organization, entitles them to vote in elections for the Board of Directors.


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