Basic Tips for Writing Appeals to Government Officials
Be factual. Refer to the details of the case as outlined by the Urgent Action or Freedom Writers Bulletin. 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 one page is enough to convey your message.
Be polite. This rule is essential and invariable. Using offensive language is not effective. Governments do not respond to abusive or condemnatory letters, however well deserved.
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. For example, create and save a generic form letter for each Urgent Action topic of concern and modify as necessary to address individual cases and topics. See our Sample Letters for ideas on how to do so.
Salutations and Closings. There is no standard international code for addressing authorities. Formalities vary according to different government structures in each country. Urgent Actions and the Freedom Writers Bulletin 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
Dear Admiral, General, Captain, etc – for military officials
Close your letter formally by using:
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. Also indicate, where appropriate, that AI opposes torture and the imposition of the death penalty and seeks a fair and speedy trial in all cases and without reservation. Letters sent in a private or professional capacity, using titles or professional letterheads, may add to effectiveness by impressing authorities and suggesting that the writer is someone of influence.
The following phrases and sentences are offered to help you write your letter of appeal. Use them as a functional starting point but try to focus on your own heart felt comments and suggestions as those will be more impressive and effective.
I wish to appeal to you on be half of __________ who is the subject of my deepest concern.
My family and I are very worried about __________ who is said to be unjustly detained in your country.
I write to you out of deep concern for the current state of health of recently imprisoned __________.
__________ is said to be currently imprisoned in your country. Please investigate.
I would like to take the opportunity to call your attention to the case of __________ .
I am writing to you at this time to seek your assistance in the situation of a detainee, ________.
We hope, in the name of all people concerned with human rights, that we will hear from you about this matter at the earliest possible opportunity.
I hope to hear from you in the very near future.
I, and those who share my concern, would be gratified by a reply from you as soon as possible.
Finally, in view of the above mentioned information, we urge you to act quickly to correct this situation and ask that you inform us of the outcome of your investigation.
Thanking you in advance for your time on this important and urgent matter, I am respectfully,
In awaiting your reply, be assured of my most respectful sentiments.
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.
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.
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.