Glossary of terms
A bill becomes an act once it receives Royal Assent.
- Adjournment Debate
Short debates introduced by backbench MPs on their chosen issue. A minister from the relevant department will respond.
- All Party Groups
Groups of MPs and members of the House of Lords who share a particular interest in a subject or country.
A proposal for a new law which is debated by Parliament. A bill becomes an act when it has passed through both Houses of Parliament and received royal Assent.
- The Cabinet
The group of senior ministers that decides government policy. The Prime Minister appoints ministers to the Cabinet and chairs its meetings.
- Committee stage
When a Bill is looked at line-by-line, clause-by-clause and amendments can be made. In the Commons this is undertaken by a Standing Committee. In the Lords all Peers may attend.
- Early day motion (EDM)
MPs can sign this printed statement showing their support for the issue at hand and calling for a government debate.
- First reading
When a Bill is printed and formally introduced to Parliament.
- Green paper
A consultation document introducing governmental policy proposals.
The official report of the proceedings of Parliament. It is published daily when Parliament is sitting and records everything that is said and done in both the House of Commons and House of Lords.
- House of Commons
Made up of elected representatives from all UK constituencies, the House of Commons scrutinises and approves legislation, debates the issues of the day, and scrutinises the work of the Government.
- House of Lords
The upper house of Parliament, made up of life peers, senior members of the clergy, law lords and a number of elected hereditary peers. The House of Lords will also scrutinise and revise legislation and question the Government but they are not involved in matters of taxation and finance.
A public declaration of the ideas and policies of a political party.
- Member of Parliament (MP)
An elected member to the House of Commons. Backbench MPs are those MPs who are neither a minister nor a spokesperson for their party.
MPs or Peers who are in charge of governmental departments and make up the Government. Senior ministers such as the Secretaries of State and the Chancellor of the Exchequer make up the Cabinet.
- Parliamentary questions
Questions asked by MPs in the House of Commons to the relevant Secretary of State. Oral questions are best for gaining publicity for an issue as they are answered in person on the floor of the House. Written questions are used to obtain information and statistics from government departments. On Wednesdays oral questions are put to the Prime Minister in the Prime Minister's question time.
A member of the House of Lords.
- Prime Minister's Question Time (PMQ)
This is an opportunity for MPs from all parties to question the PM on any subject. It lasts for about 30 minutes and usually focuses on the key issues of the day. The Prime Minister answers questions every week that Parliament is in session.
- Private Member's Bill
Proposal for legislation which is introduced by an individual MP or Peer.
- Queen's Speech
Speech given by the Queen at the State Opening of Parliament, announcing the legislation the Government intends to introduce in the forthcoming Parliament.
- Report stage
A debate on a Bill when the whole house looks at changes that have been made by the Standing Committee. Considerations for further amendment can be suggested.
- Royal Assent
The final stage of legislation when the royal seal of approval is formally given and a bill becomes an act.
- Second reading
When the general principles of a bill are debated in Parliament for the first time.
- Secondary legislation
Ministers use a statutory instrument to amend existing primary legislation (acts.) Statutory instruments may need to be debated and voted on by both Houses but often they become law simply if no MPs or Peers oppose them.
- Select Committees
Select committees examine the expenditure, administration and policy of each of the main government departments and associated public bodies. Select committees have the power to take evidence and issue reports to the Government.
- Shadow Cabinet
Senior MPs from the chief opposition party who would probably form the government if they came into power after a general election.
- Standing Committee
The Standing Committee conducts detailed scrutiny of legislation in the Commons committee stage. A standing committee is formed on an ad-hoc basis to debate specific legislation and is made up of around 20 MPs.
- Third reading
The final opportunity for debating a bill in its amended form before it is sent to the House of Lords or for royal assent.
- White paper
A statement of government policy, often outlining proposed legislation.
ACPHR African Commission on Human and People's Rights
AGM Amnesty's Annual General Meeting
AI Amnesty International
AIUK Amnesty International UK section
ASEAN Association of South East Asian Nations
AU African Union
CAT Convention against Torture
CEDAW Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
CERD Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
CoE Council of Europe
CORE Corporate Responsibility (NGO coalition in the UK)
CRC Convention on the Rights of the Child
CSW Commission on the Status of Women
DAW Division for the Advancement of Women
DfES Department for Education and Skills
DfID Department for International Development
DTI Department of Trade and Industry
ECHR European Court of Human Rights
EU European Union
FCO Foreign and Commonwealth Office
FGM Female genital mutilation.
FTSE Index Companies on the London stock market with the greatest profits. The overall market value of the 350 biggest companies represents somewhere around 95% of the London stock market.
G8 (Group of 8) Body to which the political leaders of eight major
industrialised nations - Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russian Federation, UK and USA - meet annually to discuss global economic and politics
GOF Global Opportunities Fund (administered by FCO)
HRA Human Rights Act (country-specific eg UK Human Rights Act)
HRAC Human Rights Action Centre
HRC UN Human Rights Committee
IACHR Inter-America Commission on Human Rights
ICC International Criminal Court
ICCPR International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
ICESCR International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights
ICJ International Court of Justice (UN)
ICM International Council Meeting of Amnesty International
ICRC International Committee of the Red Cross
ICTR International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
ICTY International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia
IHRL International Human Rights Law
ILC International Labour Conference
ILO International Labour Organisation
IMF International Monetary Fund
IOM International Organisation for Migration
IS International Secretariat of Amnesty International
MoD Ministry of Defence
NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organisation
NGO Non-governmental organisation
OAS Organisation of American States
OECD Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
OHCHR Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
UA Amnesty Urgent Action
UDHR Universal Declaration of Human Rights
UN United Nations
UNCHR UN Commission on Human Rights
UNDP United Nations Development Programme
UNESCO UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation
UNGA United Nations General Assembly
UNHCR United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
UNICEF United Nations Children's Fund
UNIDR United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research
UNIFEM United Nations Development Fund for Women
WHO World Health Organisation
WTO World Trade Organisation
Countries which do not employ the death penalty
- Action file
An Amnesty local/student/youth group can take long-term responsibility for one or more 'action files'. These include individual prisoners, investigating 'disappearances' or work on a specific country or a theme such as the death penalty.
Amnesty's Annual General Meeting
An Amnesty appeal applies direct pressure on the relevant authorities through polite but firm messages of concern.
A particular action which is coordinated for a limited time by large parts of the movement on behalf of a focused concern (for example stopping violence against women).
A programme of activity, such as carrying out coordinated actions, that encourage the public to put pressure on governments that abuse human rights.
To reduce a sentence, passed by a court, to one that is less severe. For example, to reduce a death sentence to life imprisonment.
- Conscientious objector
A person who refuses to serve in the armed forces because of their beliefs.
- Constituency lobbyists
Activists who lobby MPs on Amnesty's human rights concerns.
- Consultative status
Large non-governmental organisations, who regularly work with the UN, can apply to be recognised as an organisation that the UN will consult about human rights matters.
- Country co-ordinator
Country co-ordinators work with and inform local groups, ambassadors, and MPs on Amnesty's concerns in specific countries.
- Crisis response
A human rights crisis which requires an exceptionally high volume of response from Amnesty and its supporters.
- Cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment
Ill-treatment or punishment that does not constitute torture but is prohibited under international law.
- Death in custody
Deaths which take place in prisons or other places of detention, whether official or unofficial, including hospitals and asylums, and places where detainees remain in the custody of law enforcement or military personnel.
- Death penalty
The use of judicial execution by the state (also known as capital punishment). Countries which use the death penalty are known as retentionist.
Being held in custody.
The taking of a person into custody by the authorities or their agents. The authorities then deny the victim is held. People who have 'disappeared' are often at risk of torture or extra judicial execution. The word is used in inverted commas to show that Amnesty does not accept official explanations that these people have actually disappeared.
- Economic, social and cultural rights
Rights such as the right to work, health, education, housing and food, which are grounded in law as well as moral obligation.
- Embassy visit
A formal meeting between representatives from Amnesty's national sections and a country's diplomatic representatives.
- Extra judicial execution
An illegal and deliberate killing carried out under a government's orders or with its permission. This is often called a 'death squad' killing or a 'political' killing.
Formal process where a criminal suspect held by one government is handed over to another government for trial or, if the suspect has already been tried and found guilty, to serve his or her sentence.
- Extraordinary rendition
State handover of terrorist suspects and other enemies to countries which are known to employ torture and other degrading and inhuman methods of interrogation (see 'Rendition' below).
- Fair trial
Courtroom proceedings, which follow international standards. Amnesty assesses the fairness of trials on a case by case basis.
- Home government approach
Lobbying government officials in one's own country to ask for help with an Amnesty concern.
- HRAC (Human Rights Action Centre)
London headquarters of Amnesty International's UK section
- Human rights education
Activities aimed at increasing public awareness about human rights, such as courses held by schools or universities. Amnesty has also set up training programmes for security personnel and government officials.
- Inter-governmental organisation
An organisation of states, such as the United Nations or the Organisation of African Unity.
- International Council Meeting (ICM)
The meeting of representatives from Amnesty's worldwide membership that happens every two years. This is Amnesty's governing body which makes the main decisions about the mandate, organisation, and policy.
- International Secretariat (IS)
Amnesty's research headquarters in London that collects and researches information, as well as monitoring and organising our campaigns across the world.
The focus of Amnesty's work. This outlines the basic human rights violations and abuses that Amnesty works on.
A visit by an Amnesty representative to a country to investigate reports of abuses, observe trials, or meet government officials.
- Non-governmental organisation
A non-commercial organisation, not part of any state agency.
The principle of not forcibly returning individuals to a country where they can reasonably be expected to suffer a human rights abuse.
- Political prisoner
A person whose imprisonment has a political background.
- Prisoner of conscience (PoC)
A person imprisoned for their political, religious or other beliefs, or for their ethnic origin, sex, colour, language, national or social origin, economic status, birth or other status, who has not used or encouraged violence.
- Regional co-ordinator
Regional co-ordinators work with and inform country co-ordinators, local groups, ambassadors, and MPs on Amnesty's concerns in 13 specific world sub-regions.
A variety of practices by state authorities involving transfers of individuals from one country to another, usually in secret, without any form of judicial or administrative process such as extradition.
Countries which employ the death penalty.
A national Amnesty structure that supports, coordinates, monitors, and develops activities within a country.
- Sexual and Reproductive Rights
A range of existing human rights resting on recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health.
Amnesty International's Student Action Network.
- Urgent action (UA)
Rapid action for Amnesty's emergency concerns.
- Work on own country rule
The principle intended to establish an objective distance between the Amnesty activist and the human rights concern. Amnesty groups must not ask for, assess, or act upon information about individual cases in their own country.
- Worldwide appeals
Cases concerning individual victims of human rights violations that are featured in Amnesty magazine and the Amnesty Newsletter.