Basic Tips for Writing Appeals to Government Officials
- Be factual. Refer to the details of the case as outlined by the Urgent Action. Human rights are based on international laws, agreements and obligations. Effective letters of appeal are based on these obligations as they pertain to the specific concerns of the case. Appeals should not include political judgments or jargon as they are not effective and can sometimes do harm.
- Be brief. Stay concise to keep the attention of the reader. Usually a couple of paragraphs are enough to convey your message.
- Be polite. This rule is essential. Using offensive language is not effective. Governments do not respond to abusive or condemnatory letters.
- Show respect. Assume your reader is open to reason and a respectfully worded appeal. When possible, express respect for a country’s constitution and judicial procedures and convey an understanding of any current difficulties. This will demonstrate a balanced understanding on your part which will predispose the reader to be more open to suggestions for human rights improvements.
- Be explicit in expressing your concern for the victim. Repeat the victim’s name throughout the letter to ensure that the official will recognize the name and remember the letters sent on the victim’s behalf.
- Write clearly AND in English, unless you are completely fluent in the language of the involved country. The recipient must be able to easily read your letter so if you are not typing it, please make sure that your writing is plain and legible.
- Be constructive. Try not to focus solely on what the country is doing wrong, and instead offer ways the country can support international standards of human rights.
- Be efficient. Do whatever is necessary to make your letter-writing as quick and easy as possible. Use the sample letter provided to you on each Urgent Action as a guide.
- Salutations and Closings. There is no standard international code for addressing authorities. Formalities vary according to different government structures in each country. Urgent Actions will include suggested salutations for addressing officials but in general, you may safely use the following salutations:
- Your Majesty – to Kings, Queens, and other monarchs
- Your Excellency – to all heads of state, cabinet level ministers, ambassadors and governors
- Your Honor – for judges and procurators
- Dear Sir / Madam – for local authorities, prison commanders, police chiefs
Close your letter formally by using:
- (Yours) Respectfully,
- (Yours) Sincerely,
- Referring to Amnesty International. Amnesty International’s name may be used unless the Urgent Action specifically instructs otherwise. If you do refer to Amnesty International, it may be useful to include a brief explanation of AI’s aims and principles: AI seeks to uphold human rights in a manner of impartiality and independence from any government, political faction, ideology, economic interest or religious belief.
The following examples are offered to help you write your appeal letter. Use them as a starting point but try to focus on your own comments and suggestions as those will be more impressive and effective.
I am concerned to learn of recent death threats made to __________, a member of the National Executive of the United Confederation of Workers in Bogota, Colombia on August 4. He was told that he would be killed for his trade union activity. I urge you to ensure that a full and impartial investigation is undertaken into the threats, that the results be made public and those responsible be brought to justice. I also ask that all possible measures be undertaken to protect __________ and save his life.
I am a high school teacher from the United States and a member of Amnesty International. I have been greatly disturbed by the news of the ‘disappearance’ of fellow teacher, Mrs. __________ in Ankara on June 7, 1995. I would be grateful if you would inform me of her whereabouts and give assurances that she is well-treated. I would also be grateful for news of her legal status. In this regard, I would respectfully remind you of Article 9 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights which states that ‘No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
Inadequate Medical Treatment
I write this letter to you as a physician, to ensure that Professor __________, a prisoner held in __________ Prison, is given adequate diet and medical treatment. I have been informed that he is suffering from pneumonia and urgently needs to be transferred to a hopital for immediate attention. My colleagues and I here at __________ Hospital would be pleased to hear from you as soon as you are able to ensure __________ treatment for this serious respiratory illness.
As a member of Amnesty International, the organization which opposes the use of the death penalty in all cases on humanitarian grounds, I urgently request that you commute the death sentence of __________, on the basis that his execution would be in violation of the right to life as proclaimed in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I appeal to you to ensure that no further executions are carried out in your country/state.
It has come to my attention that two well-respected lawyers in Khartoum, __________ and __________ have been recently arrested for their advocacy of the human rights of your citizens. We believe them to be prisoners of conscience, detained because of their work as legal professionals in your country. I strongly urge that __________ and __________ are immediately and unconditionally released. Until then, I ask you to assure their physical safety while in detention and guarantee that __________ and __________ are not subject to torture or other ill-treatment.
I am gravely concerned to receive reports of the arrests of University student leaders__________, __________ and __________ during October of 2007. I was particularly concerned that some of the detainees, who are being held at the __________ Detention Center, are reported to have been severely tortured. I seek your assurances that __________, __________, __________ and other detainees being held in detention will be treated fairly and humanely in accordance with international humanitarian and human rights law.