Writing letters for Amnesty - a guide
From the very beginning of Amnesty International in 1961, people have written letters on behalf of victims of human rights abuses. Today, hundreds of thousands of ordinary people throughout the world challenge cruelty and injustice by taking a few minutes to write a letter.
Writing letters is easy - and it works
Letters don't have to be long or detailed. In each appeal case, Amnesty will include the exact request to make and details of who to write to. Amnesty members who have specific knowledge about a country or a case may choose to write a more detailed letter, but all types of letters are valuable. Remember, your letter, combined with others from all over the world, can lead to a dramatic improvement in the situation of a victim of human rights abuse. Putting pressure on officials through letter writing can result in torture being stopped, access granted to doctors or lawyers, death sentences being commuted, 'disappearances' investigated, and prisoners released.
Some general tips
- Speed is vital if you are taking an Urgent Action - a brief letter, covering all the recommended action points listed in the appeal is all that is necessary. View sample letter
- Letters should be brief, factual and polite. Take special care not to sound aggressive or offensive. Write in a natural style.
- Keep letters factual and to the point. Details to include will be outlined in the action.
- Don't discuss ideology or politics - Amnesty International opposes human rights violations, not governments or political systems.
- Be positive - make a clear request and write as if the reader is open to reasoned argument.
- If you are writing on behalf on an individual case, give the full name of the prisoner or the individual/s at risk
- Say a little about yourself if you want to - for example something about your occupation or background to show that all kinds of people everywhere are concerned about human rights.
- Write in English unless you can get an accurate translation.
- You can mention that you are an Amnesty member or you can write as a concerned individual.
- Letters can be hand-written or typed.
- Use a conclusion that encourages a reply.
I am writing about the case of (name) who was arrested on (date) and (place). I understand he is in poor health, and has been held without charge for several months. Please use your influence to ensure that he receives medical treatment and that he is charged with an internationally recognisable criminal offence and promptly brought to court or released.
Please could you let me know what medical treatment (name) has received and when, and tell me when he will be charged?
I look forward to hearing from you on this important matter.
Writing to your own MP
You may be asked to write to your MP to draw attention to a human rights concern. To find out who your MP is visit See writetothem.com and enter your postcode, or call the House of Commons information line on 020 7219 4272.
Phrasing your letter
- Do not feel you have to use formal or elaborate phrases.
- Straightforward, polite wording is always acceptable.
- Always follow the instructions given by AI on the case.
- Use language that is natural to you, and always keep the tone polite. Here are a few suggestions, but please do not feel you have to follow a formula.
You can usually start by identifying yourself, or Amnesty International, or by referring to the particular case.
- I write as a member of Amnesty International - which is an impartial organisation working on behalf of prisoners of conscience, against the death penalty, torture, political killings and 'disappearances'.
- I am a taxi driver working in London, and I am interested in what's happening in the world. I was very concerned to read about the case of ...
- I understand that (name) is being detained.
Making your request
The central part of your letter should make a specific request to the person you are writing to.
- Please use your influence and authority to ensure the prompt release of (name) because, according to Amnesty International reports, she is a newspaper journalist and has not committed any offence.
- I am asking you to make sure that (name) is charged with an internationally recognisable criminal offence and promptly brought to court or released.
- Please ensure that (name) is given adequate access to medical and legal advice.
- I am writing to ask you to order an investigation into what the security forces did in the village of (name) on the night of (date).
Make the exact request that Amnesty International asks for. For example, if AI asks for a death sentence to be commuted, don't ask instead for a pardon.
Ending your letter
- I look forward to hearing from you on this important matter.
- I would be grateful if you could confirm that your government does indeed oppose such practices.
- Please can you confirm that (names) are being held in custody / are being given access to lawyers.
Try to include a phrase that encourages a reply. Make sure your name is clearly legible: printing in capitals helps. Yours respectfully or Yours sincerely are the best endings.
What to do with answers to your letters
Once in a while you may get a reply! But your letter may get no response at all. Do not despair. Someone has read your letter, and if it is one of hundreds or thousands of others it will have an impact.
If you do get a reply
Send a copy of the reply to AI, identifying the case, explaining where you saw it. It will be referred to the relevant expert who will judge what further action, if any, should be taken. If the reply is positive, send a positive letter back to the writer.
Updates on cases
Updates, where known, are given:
- in the Amnesty magazine (Worldwide appeals),
- to the Urgent Action Network,
- with the annual Greeting Card Campaign, and
- on this web site
Frequently Asked Questions
Who should I write to?
The appeals always give full details. You could also send a copy to the relevant embassy in London. You may be asked to send letters to heads of state or leaders of opposition groups, or to officials directly responsible for the victim's welfare, such as prison governors or local police chiefs.
How do I identify myself?
Always give your name and address - this shows that the letter is genuine and personal. It also shows the open nature of Amnesty's activities.
Should I use Amnesty International's name?
You can decide whether to write as an individual or as part of an international organisation.
Should I type or use handwriting?
Typing and clear handwriting are equally good - the main thing is to get the letter written and sent.
How much is the postage?
The Post Office provides a free information leaflet.
Is it worth writing appeals in a foreign language?
Write in your own language unless you are very confident of writing an accurate appeal in a foreign one.
Can I write directly to victims of human rights abuses?
Most letters are written to officials and not to prisoners. Prisoners may only be allowed to receive a limited number of letters, and their families should have priority. However, you can write directly to prisoners or victims as part of the annual Greetings Card Campaign, which runs from November to January.
Is it risky for me to sign my letters? Will that country refuse to let me visit
it in the future?
We have no record of this happening. Thousands of Amnesty members sign their letters without experiencing any problems. However if you have business or other close links with a country and have any concerns, then you may prefer to choose another appeal case.
There are many ways of getting involved in letter writing. You can write as an individual or with an Amnesty group or network. Details of current actions and appeals cases, and about how to join our local groups or specialist networks are all available online.
For further information, contact:
Amnesty International UK
The Human Rights Action Centre
17-25 New Inn Yard
London EC2A 3EA
Tel +44 (0)20 7033 1500