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Letter-Writing Tips

Here are a few simple rules for letter writing:

  1. Always be polite. This rule is essential and invariable. Your aim is to help stop human rights abuses, not to relieve your own feelings. Governments don't respond to abusive or condemnatory letters (however well deserved).
  2. Always go on the basis that the government concerned is open to reason and discussion.
  3. It is important where possible to stress a country's reputation for moderation and justice, to show respect for its constitution and judicial procedures and an understanding of current difficulties. This will give more scope to point out ways in which the human rights situation can be improved.
  4. Follow strictly the instructions given by Amnesty International in the case in question. For instance, if you are asked to appeal for medical treatment for a prisoner, make sure that you request this, and not a speedy trial or release which might be appropriate in another case.
  5. Never use political jargon. Don't give the impression that you are writing because you are ideologically or politically opposed to the government in question. It is far more effective to stress the fact that your concern for human rights is not politically based in any way, but in keeping with basic principles of international law.
  6. It is preferable to give an indication of who and what you are. This indicates that the letter is genuine and also shows that people from varying walks of life are following events in the country concerned.
  7. If you have any special interest or link with the country, it is a good idea to mention this in your letter. For instance, you may have visited it, studied its history or been a member of a local association for friendship with it.
  8. Be brief. A simple, one-line letter is adequate and is certainly better than no letter at all. A good rule is not to write more than one page (i.e., one side). Long letters are less likely to be read. Only in exceptional cases are long letters effective.
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