Interest Group Research
An interest group, also called an advocacy group, pressure group or a lobbying group is a loosely or tightly organized organization whose aim is to promote or avert changes in public policy, without in any way trying to be elected. In most cases, such a group is mainly made up of people with the same policy goals whose entry in a political process is aimed at pursuing particular goals.
Additionally, they mostly specialize in specific policies. Interest groups attempt to shape policy by employing lobbyists who influence on members of Congress to support or reject policies that are of interest to the general public. Due to the fact that public opinion ultimately makes its way to policy makers, some interest groups reach out to the public for support, mostly after cultivating a good public image. In order to learn how they are organized and their ways of operations, this paper will dwell on one of the interest groups in the United States, called Amnesty International.
History of Amnesty International
Amnesty International started as a result of one man’s resentment as well as his audacity to do something about it. In 1961, two Portuguese students were incarcerated for lifting up a toast to freedom. As a result, Peter Benenson, a British lawyer, published an article in the Observer newspapers titled “The Forgotten Prisoner”.
Consequently, the article led to the launching of the “Appeal for Amnesty 1961”, a global campaign, which motivated incredible reactions all over the world. Benenson’s call to action reverberated with the ideals as well as the hopes of individuals all over the world. This is actually how Amnesty International began (NPP, 2012).
Eventually, a committee was created with the aim of getting amnesty for all prisoners of conscience all over the world. In the process of working towards this cause, the committee realized that they had to continue with the work on a temporary basis. It is on this backdrop that comprehensive documentation of prisoners of conscience was seen to be necessary (NPP, 2012). This was as a result of the large number of prisoners of conscience who were facing several challenges all over the world.
As an organization, Amnesty International is a movement that operates all over the world, with the aim objective being the protection of human rights. All its operations are autonomous of all administrations. As a result, it is impartial in its relations with political groups, religious organizations as well as different ideologies (NPP, 2012).
The organization is mainly concerned with the release of people who have been put behind bars, because of their convictions, race, ethnicity, or religion. However, it is worth noting that the organization only works for the release of people who have not used force or pushed others to choose violence as an alternative. By and large, ever since it began campaigning in 1961, Amnesty International has worked in the United States and in other countries in order to stop the abuse of human rights (NPP, 2012). As a matter of fact, the organization now has 2.2 million subscribers as well as supporters in well over 150 countries in every continent in the world.
The Vision and Mission of Amnesty International
According to Amnesty International, its vision is for each and every woman and man in the world to enjoy all the rights which are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as other international human rights standards (AI, 2001). Being independent of any government, economic interest, religion, or political ideology, the organization is mainly funded by public donations as well as its membership.
As its pursues its vision, Amnesty International has the mission of carrying out research and actions with the aim of averting severe abuses of the rights to physical and mental integrity, freedom of conscience and expression, moreover, the liberty from favoritism. The mission of Amnesty International is democratically made its highest policy making body, the International Council. In this way, the mission of Amnesty International is actually shaped by the collective moral beliefs of its members (AI, 2001).
The mission of the organization is founded on international human rights standards, based on the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the Convention against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (AI, 2001). Amnesty International’s mission also lays down up-to-the-minute principles (AI, 2001). Most of its work involves pleading with governments to honor human rights law as well as the set standards, most of which are already internationally agreed.
However, at times, the organization is forced to set its own standards, which may be beyond the internationally agreed standards. A good case in point involves its opposition to death penalty, as well as the involvement of children under the majority age in armed conflicts. Apparently, these very standards have provoked discussions over standards on these critical issues.
Another key mission of Amnesty International is the support of general awareness of human rights. In this regard, the organization works hard in order to encourage individuals to accept the fact that human rights ought to be protected. Amnesty International also works to oppose specific abuses of human rights. In this regard, it carries out research to prevent the abuse of human rights.
For instance, the organization believes that torture, which is regularly used in a number of countries to extort information from criminals, is wrong and so must be opposed in the strongest possible terms. Amnesty International also opposes ‘disappearances’, by campaigning for the fate as well as the revelations of the whereabouts of the people who are missing.
Most of the people who are thought to have ‘disappeared’ are actually people who have been taken into custody by either armed political elements or government authorities. In most cases, their locations are usually kept secret. Unfortunately, the government authorities or the armed political elements usually refute that they have taken people into detention.
The Methods Used by Amnesty International to pursue it Goals
One of the methods, used by Amnesty International, is to make known human rights abuses, which it does promptly and with determination (AI, 2001). The organization also carries out methodical and independent researches on the facts of cases as well as patterns of human rights abuses. Eventually, the organization publishes its findings with members, supporters as well as staff being mobilized to compel the governments in addition to the concerned parties to put a stop to the said abuses. Amnesty International also addresses governments, armed political groups, non-state actors and firms (AI, 2001).
Another method used by the organization is to push for the observation of the rule of law as well as ratification and execution of human rights standards (Sindelar, 2012). In addition to this, the organization performs comprehensive educational activities on its vision and mission. It also goes a long way in inspiring organizations along with individuals to prop up and value human rights (AI, 2001).
How Amnesty International Is Organized
The organization of Amnesty International is founded on an international voluntary membership which is made up of sections, affiliated groups, together with individual members. The organization has an International Council, which is the final authority that carries out the affairs of the organization (AI, 2001). The International Council, therefore, plays a number of roles. Apart from focusing on strategy, the International Council sets the organization’s core values, vision, and its mission (AI, 2001).
The International Council is also bestowed with the authority of holding sections, structures as well as other departments accountable. It also appraises the organization’s performance against its conventional policies and strategies (AI, 2001). The council is also charged with the responsibility of setting up systems and bodies of authority in addition to the entrustment of the organization.
International Executive Committee
The International Executive Committee within Amnesty International is charged with the responsibility of providing guidance and stewardship to the entire organization. It is the organ of the organization that takes global decisions on behalf of the whole organization (AI, 2001).
The International Executive Committee also makes certain that there is an appropriate financial policy, which is put into operation without fail (AI, 2001). This organ also ensures compliance with the Statute as well as holding other sections, structures and organs of Amnesty International accountable in accordance with the reports presented to the International Council (AI, 2001).
The International Secretariat
All the affairs of Amnesty International are conducted by the International Secretariat, which is led by a Secretary General. The Secretary General is guided by the International Executive Committee (AI, 2001). The International Secretariat is headquartered in London. It is the role Amnesty International’s governing bodies to send delegations, gather and assess information and more than that work on the abuses of human rights in any country it so wishes (AI, 2001).
At Amnesty International, an auditor appointed by the International Council carries out an annual audit, which is prepared by the International Secretariat and presented to the International Council and to the International Executive Committee (AI, 2001).
The Impact of Amnesty International
Freedom of Expression
All over the world, people have continually faced persecutions as well as incarcerations as a result of exercising their right to autonomy of expression. According to a report by Amnesty International, communities have been informed on their rights and are actually the driving force behind the struggle for human rights (USCB, 2012). Over the years, Amnesty International has campaigned on behalf of several prisoners of conscience, by maintaining that these people have to be immediately and unconditionally released from prison (Hopgood, 2006).
In some countries, governments have used national security as justification to suppress political opposition. This has been on the rise, especially, as a result of the rise in terrorist activities, whereby legislation is introduced, thus suppressing freedom of expression (USCB, 2012). Consequently, Amnesty International has advocated for open debate as well as the respect of human rights as the only structure in which national security can be enhanced (Power, 2001).
According to its report, Amnesty International issued more than 400 urgent actions on behalf of people who are believed to be at direct risk. Therefore, the organization supports and defends those who speak up and express opinions openly and freely all over the universe. These include journalists, community workers, trade unionists, as well as environmentalists fighting for the land rights of indigenous people (AI, 2012).
According to Amnesty International United States chapter, the achievements of the organization lie in the fact that it has become synonymous with fighting for the defense of human rights. The organization has also been instrumental not just in defending the people whose rights have been violated, but also making the world aware of the need to defend those very rights.
Abolishment of the Death Penalty
One the worst denials of human rights are death penalty. It is not premeditated, but it is also brutal killing of human beings by governments. It is clearly a contravention of the right to life, an aspect which is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (AI, 2012). Over the years, Amnesty International has been instrumental in opposing human rights irrespective of the nature of the crime, the personality of the criminal, or the method used by the state to do away with the criminal. The campaign by Amnesty International in the United States has borne some fruits in Illinois, becoming the 16th state to abolish the death penalty (AI, 2012).
Challenges Faced by Amnesty International
Over the past couple of years, Amnesty International, a highly regarded interest group in the United States and the world, has faced accusations of political biasness and erroneousness. It has been accused of devoting more pages in its annual reports to the violation of human rights in the United States and Britain than in other parts of the world like Saudi Arabia, where atrocities take place often (Steinberg, 2007).
Evidence has been provided indicating that there has been methodical predisposition, especially, by making use of carefully selected “eyewitnesses” in Lebanon, Colombia and Gaza. The organization has also faced accusations of singling out some countries like Israel to a far greater scope than others like Iran, Syria, and Sudan (Steinberg, 2007).
In this regard, while the organization was purely formed for fighting for the release of political prisoners, it is alleged that its key officials have failed to issue statements for the release of Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hamas or Hezbollah (Steinberg, 2007). Apparently, some of these prisoners of conscience have never been heard since their incarceration.
According to a report published by NGO Monitor, Amnesty International seems to have veered off its path and is thus no longer well-thought-of as it used to be. Such deep-seated deficiencies have also been reported by a Bogota-based conflict think tank, the University of London, as well as the Conflict Analysis Resource Centre (Steinberg, 2007). According to their reports, Amnesty International has resorted to using non-systematic approaches like opaque sourcing.
Additionally, there have been complaints with regard to lack of transparency as well as having a poor system of checks and balances (Steinberg, 2007). Some officials are also accused of exercising absolute power and control over the massive budgets for many years, without considerable challenges or opposition. As a result, the credibility of the organization has been put in question (Steinberg, 2007).
Previously, Amnesty International has also been accused in the United States of applying double standards in its reports (Zunes, 2005). For instance, the organization was accused of having been duped by Communists in 1982, after it reported how the Guatemalan army leader, Efrain Montt, was involved in the mass slaughter of thousands of Indian villagers. Moreover, in the recent past, the organization has also been discredited by the Bush Administration whenever it criticized its allies (Zunes, 2005).
To sum up, being one of the notable interest groups in the United States, Amnesty International has been instrumental in fighting for the rights of prisoners of conscience not only in the United States, but also in the world at large (Wong, 2008). In addition to this, it has been on the forefront in fighting for the abolition of the death penalty, which is still in force in several countries and in some states of the United States. In spite of the challenges it has faced, the organization has been able to make notable achievements, like the abolition of the death penalty in Illinois. Consequently, the organization needs the support of all and sundry.