Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Amnesty International of the USA Inc : National Office records, 1966-2003, bulk 1974-1993

Summary Information


The records document the founding and development of Amnesty International of the USA, Inc. (AIUSA) and its national office. AIUSA is the largest national section of Amnesty International, an international human rights non-governmental organization (NGO). The records include material related to the board of directors, executive directors, administration, operations, campaigns, casework, publicity, special projects, and the work of the organization and its membership on human rights issues.

At a Glance

Call No.: HR# 0001
Bib ID 6093730 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Amnesty International USA. National Office
Title Amnesty International of the USA Inc : National Office records, 1966-2003, bulk 1974-1993
Physical Description 107.52 linear feet (256 document boxes & 1 mapcase drawer)
Language(s) The majority of the material is in English. There is some material in French, Spanish, German, Russian, and Japanese.
Access You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library Reading Room. Please consult the Rare Book and Manuscript Library for further information.

This collection has restrictions. Restrictions for boxes and folders are noted in the series descriptions and may also be found within the contents list.



In twelve record groups.



The Amnesty International of the USA, Inc: National Office Records document AIUSA's founding, development, administration, decision-making processes, finances, fundraising, and the work of the section and its membership on human rights issues. The records also document the working relationships of the national office and the membership, other offices, sections, and the International Secretariat. The records include case files, country files, testimony files, minutes, reports, correspondence and records related to regional and annual meetings, development, events, special projects, communications, membership, and the work of country specialists, networks, and local groups

Coverage is not comprehensive. Although AIUSA was incorporated in 1966, the bulk of the office records cover the mid-1970s through 1993, the last year of the executive directorship of Jack Healey. Early AIUSA activity is best documented by the records of the Board of Directors and the Annual General Meetings.

The records of the National Office are not fully processed and available for use at this time. Processed material includes records related to Board of Directors, Executive Directors, Annual General Meetings, and Membership Coordination and Mobilization. The processed material is fully described in the finding aid.

Records that are not yet processed or available for research include records related to the communications department, the development unit, special projects, country specialists (co-groups), networks, campaigns, country files, case files, and the majority of records related to general administration and operations.

The section's primary organizational function does not include management of Amnesty International's international affairs. The archives of the International Secretariat are held by the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam.

  • Series I: Board of Directors, 1965-2003

    The AIUSA Board of Directors oversees many larger organizational issues such as budgets, fundraising, staffing, development, and policy. The Board is also responsible for representing the section's membership and participating in the larger international movement.

  • Series II: Executive Director's Files, 1964-1997, bulk 1973-1993

    This series contains the files of the executive and acting executive directors of AIUSA. The series also includes memos and other mailings sent to the national sections by the International Secretariat (IS) and the Research Department, mostly on country-specific issues. The files are arranged alphabetically as subject files, but include chronological correspondence files and "country related correspondence" files that cover a wide range of topics, including those covered elsewhere in the subject files.

  • Series III: Annual General Meetings, 1967-1997

    The files include meeting materials and information on planning, workshops, resolutions, and plenary sessions. Files are most comprehensive for meetings held in the 1980s and early 1990s. This series is arranged chronologically. A few files related to the Annual General Meetings of other national sections are placed last.

  • Series IV: Membership Mobilization, 1971-1995

    This series contains files related to the mobilization of the AIUSA membership, and to the coordination and servicing of the work of local groups and student groups. While the series does contain some material on country coordination groups (co-groups), particularly in the files of Robert Maurer, most material related to co-groups is filed in the Country Coordination Groups (Co-Group) series. The files are arranged alphabetically by the staff person's last name.

  • Series V: Country Coordination Groups (Co-Groups), 1978-1995

    Country Coordination Groups (co-groups) are volunteer groups that have expertise on a particular country or region. This program is also known as the Country Specialist Program. These groups help to manage the country-related work of AIUSA and act as liaisons on casework issues among local groups, sections and the International Secretariat.

  • Series VI: Networks, 1975-1995

    Networks serve to organize individuals who have chosen to use their professional training for human rights work.

  • Series VII: Campaign and Country Files, 1972-1997

    This series contains files on both countries and country-specific campaigns and actions.

  • Series VIII: Closed Cases, 1974-1983


    These records consist of case files for released prisoners of conscience. The files include communications between Amnesty International offices and local groups, dossiers, guidelines, and reports on case activities from local groups. Some files also include correspondence generated and received by the local groups in the course of their work on cases.

    From 1975-1978, case files were assigned numbers and filed chronologically. After 1978, closed case files were filed by region and then alphabetically by country and surname. There are two sets of these alphabetical files - the main set, and a smaller second set that is filed in the last two boxes. When known, the number of the local group responsible for the case is identified in the finding aid. Several files were labeled as "good quote cases" and may have been used as material for publication or publicity efforts.

    In general, additional information on cases would be found in office files on local groups, and within the records of both local groups and country coordination groups.

  • Series IX: Communications Department/Media Relations Files, 1973-1997

    This series contains the files of Communications Department. The records include correspondence, material related to publicity efforts, and subject files on campaigns, countries, events, issues, special projects. The records group also includes general publicity files of clippings and news-releases that were issued or maintained by the department.

  • Series X: Development Unit/Special Projects Files, 1986-1994

    This series contains records related to special events and other special projects. Most of the records relate to special concert events and tours, but there are some files related to film, television, and video projects.

  • Series XI: Administration and Operation, 1966-1997

    This series contains information on general operations and administrative issues.

  • Series XII: Separated and Restricted Materials

    In some cases, individual documents in folders required restrictions on use although the bulk of material in the folder did not require such restriction. These materials were separated from their original folders, and separately reboxed into three boxes. A sheet indicating that the item was removed and placed into these boxes was created and filed in the original location of the separated and restricted item(s).

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library Reading Room. Please consult the Rare Book and Manuscript Library for further information.

This collection has restrictions. Restrictions for boxes and folders are noted in the series descriptions and may also be found within the contents list.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. Permission to publish material from the collection must be requested from Amnesty International of the USA, Inc.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Amnesty International of the USA, Inc.: National Office Records, Subseries Name, Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.


Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact rbml@columbia.edu for more information.

Ownership and Custodial History

The material was originally deposited at the University of Colorado at Boulder by Amnesty International USA's National Office in the 1990s.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Source of acquisition--Amnesty International. Method of acquisition--Deposit;; Date of acquisition--20006.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Papers processed Harvey N. Gardiner (University of Colorado at Boulder, 1998), Stéphane Hetherington, and Catherine N. Carson 1998-.

Revision Description

2009-03-05 File created.

2009-04-16 xml doxument instance created by Patrick Lawlor

2017-12-09 xml doxument instance revised by Catherine C. Ricciardi

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

2021-01-11 Restrictions expiring in January 2021 have been lifted. Finding aid updated by CCR.

2022-01-06 Expired restrictions removed. kws

2022-06-02 Restriction on Box: I.3.5, Folder 3 removed. kws

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Annual reports Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Correspondence Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Notebooks Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
minutes (administrative records) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Amnesty International USA Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Amnesty International USA. Board of Directors Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Civil rights Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Fund raising Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Healey, Jack, 1938- Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Human rights Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Membership campaigns Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Social rights Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Student movements Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Students -- Political activity Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical / Historical

Amnesty International (AI), an international human rights non-governmental organization (NGO), was founded in London by Peter Benenson in 1961. Benenson, a lawyer, had become concerned about the case of two students imprisoned in Portugal for toasting to freedom in a bar. He published an article in the London Observer on the case on May 28, 1961, and advocated the writing of letters to the Portuguese government demanding the release of the students. The response was extraordinary. The article was translated and reprinted internationally, and readers began sending letters and support not only to Benenson, but also to prisons and labor camps worldwide.

In July 1961, an international group of delegates met and decided to establish "a permanent international movement in defense of freedom of opinion and religion." Shortly thereafter, an office and library was established in London, staffed by volunteers. Affiliated letter-writing groups were initially established in the United Kingdom, West Germany, Holland, France, Italy, and Switzerland, and expanded the following year to Norway, Sweden, Demark, Belgium, Greece, Australia, Ireland and the United States. By the end of 1962, 210 prisoners had been adopted by 70 groups in 7 countries, and Amnesty International had sent missions to Ghana, Czechoslovakia, Portugal and East Germany. By 1970, the organization had expanded to 850 groups in 27 countries.

As the organization grew, a Research Bureau and the International Secretariat -- the central office that serves as the headquarters of the international organization -- were formally established in London in 1963. That same year, the International Executive Committee (IEC), which has overall responsibility for AI's affairs, was established under the aegis of Sean MacBride, an Irish human rights advocate. National organizational structures, or sections, were also established to coordinate work within countries under the leadership of the headquarters in London. The United States section (known as Amnesty International of the USA, Inc. or AIUSA), the largest in the organization, was incorporated in 1966.

The National Office was the United States section's main professional office until approximately the early 1970s. Additional regional and program offices were established throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. Prior to 1981, the board of directors handled much of the daily administration of the section. After this time, the presence of an established professional structure allowed the board to focus more exclusively on policy issues. This expansion, professionalization, and a push for decentralization during the 1980s by allowed for the management of the section's work to expand beyond the National Office. The work of the section is carried out through the national office, regional offices, networks, country specialists (formerly known as country coordination groups or co-groups), student groups, and local groups. In addition, as the budget of the International Secretariat is financed by assessments on the national sections, AIUSA, as the largest section, provides a significant portion of the International Secretariat's budget.

In its early years, the main focus of Amnesty International's campaigns was to free prisoners of conscience. Within a short time, the organization's mandate expanded to include campaigning for prompt and fair trails for all political prisoners, to end extrajudicial executions and disappearances, and to abolish the death penalty, torture and other cruel treatment or punishment. The organization has always worked to bring perpetrators of these abuses to justice in accordance with international standards. Amnesty International was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its work in 1977.

Amnesty International underwent tremendous growth during the 1980s. By 1985, there were 3,433 groups in 50 countries, and over 500,000 members. The organization also used music concerts to raise its profile and the awareness of human rights issues. In 1986, AIUSA organized the Conspiracy of Hope Tour in the United States, which included U2, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Bryan Adams, Lou Reed, the Neville Brothers. In 1988, Amnesty International organized Human Rights Now! This tour, which coincided with the 40th anniversary of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, went to 19 cities in 15 countries and was broadcast live on Human Rights Day. By 1990, Amnesty International had 700,000 members and over 6,000 groups in 70 countries.

Today, Amnesty International has over 2 million members, supports and subscribers in over 150 countries.