Netherlands > Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis


Amnesty International. International Secretariat Archives

(1947-) 1961-2017 1961-2012
Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis
( Cruquiusweg 31 , 1019 AT Amsterdam , Nederland )
Finding aid is in English
Collection Summary

Scope and content


Records of the International Secretariat of Amnesty International in London consisting of agenda papers and other documents concerning the International Council Meetings (ICM) 1961-1983, agenda papers and other documents concerning the International Executive Committee (IEC) 1963-2002; circulars sent to sections (AI Indexed Documents, including publications and newsletters) in English 1961-2010, in French (1975-) 1978-2010, in Spanish 1975-2010 in Arabic 1980-1999 and Urgent Actions 1974-1979, 1981-1991; transcripts of interviews 1983-1986, 1990, correspondence and other documents concerning the Oral History Project 1961-1969 (-1978).

Microfilms of correspondence and other documents of the International Executive Committee (IEC) 1963-2002; documents concerning the ICM 1961-1985; circulars sent to sections (AI Indexed Documents, including publications and newsletters) in English 1961-2010, in French 1978-2010, in Spanish 1975-2010 in Arabic 1983-1997; correspondence with governments 1980-1992 ; Secretary-General Office files 1961-1991; correspondence and other documents of the Campaign and Membership department, Research department, Legal and International Organizations department and other departments of the IS 1962-1998; closed cases in various countries 1961-1995; country research files on various countries in Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East and Northern Africa 1961-1997; papers of Eric Baker 1961-1976; other documents 1960-2002.

Papers of Eric Baker 1961-1976.

Papers of Cornelis van der Vlies 1966-1967, 1972-1975.

Accruals 2002-2003, 2007-2008, 2015: additions to the first part of the records covering mainly the periode 2000-2012.

Accrual 2017: 'Report to Amnesty International on my visit to South Viet Nam' by Lakshman Kadirgamar and some correspondence between Amnesty International (Martin Enthoven) and Adam Roberts 1964.

Records creator's history

Historical Note

Amnesty International was founded in 1961. The initiative was taken by the British lawyer Peter Benenson (born in 1921) after reading an article in the newspaper concerning the arrest of two Portugese students who raised their glasses in a toast to freedom. Benenson had the idea to bombard the government with letters to help these 'prisoners of conscience'. Together with Louis Blom-Cooper , an internationally known lawyer and Eric Baker, a prominent Quaker, he launched the campaign 'appeal for amnesty'. In an article in The Observer (28th May 1961) Benenson announced this appeal. The aims of 'Appeal for Amnesty 1961 ', as the organization was named the first year of its existence, were "to work impartially for the release of those imprisoned for their opinion, to seek for them a fair and public trial, to enlarge the Rights of Asylum and help political refugees to find work and to urge effective international machinery to guarantee freedom to opinion". To reach this they formed groups (Groups of Threes) who adopted individual prisoners of conscience: one in the western world, one in the communist world and one in the Third World. Soon groups were formed outside Great Britain. In 2000 Amnesty International had more than one million members in 140 countries, and 7800 voluntary groups in 100 countries. Nationally organized sections exist in 58 countries. Over the years the mandate has been expanded. The organization now aims for the abolishment of the death penalty and torture and for the ending of disappearances and extrajudicial execution. Amnesty not only opposes abuses committed by governments, but also by non-state actors (individuals and non-governmental entities). AI's International Secretariat has its seat in London, policy decisions for the movement as a whole are decided by the International Council, which meets annually and which elects the International Executive Committee (IEC); appointed by the IEC the Secretary General is responsible for the International Secretariat, which carries out research on prisoners, provides information for groups, organizes publicity and arranges missions; AI has a consultative status with the United Nations, the UNESCO and the Council of Europe.

Archival history

Custodial History

Together with the archives of the International Secretariat the IISH received the archives of Eric Baker (1920-1975), who together with Peter Benenson was joint director of 'Appeal for Amnesty 1961'. He was a prominent Quaker and academic who was at the time serving as general secretary of the National Peace Council in Great Britain. When the British section of Amnesty International was founded he became Chairman. He also was Vice Chairman of the International Executive Committee of Amnesty and Chairman of Amnesty's Sub- committee for the Abolition of Torture.

In 1998 the IISH already had received the papers of Cornelius van der Vlies , a clergyman and a board member of the Dutch section of Amnesty (1968- 1970). At the International Council Meeting of 1966 he became member of the International Executive Committee which he stayed until August 1968. These papers have been added to the Amnesty International archives.

Apart from their archives Amnesty International donated the IISH a huge collection of microfiches. These microfiches contain press clippings on the political and human rights situation in the world during the years 1960 till 1981. The collection is arranged conform the AI Index System. There are 7 binders with indexes to the collection.

Processing information

Processing Information

Inventory (inv. nos 1-1320) made by Marja Musson in 2004.

List Accruals 2002-2003, 2007-2008, 2010 and 2015 by Alisse van de Ven in 2016, accrual 2017 by Bouwe Hijma.

System of arrangement


The central part of the archives on paper are the so called AI Indexed Documents. These documents are divided in two parts: country documents and non-country documents. The non- country documents deal with subjects like the organization, actions and techniques, policy etc. Each document has its own unique index number. An explanation of this classification can be found in 'The Amnesty International Index System'. The same classification is also used for the arrangement of the press clippings, documents concerning the International council Meeting (ICM) and the International Executive Committee (IEC). Although the Amnesty International books and leaflets are catalogued separately these publications can also be found on their specific index number in the archives in order to keep the AI Indexed Documents as complete as possible. These AI Indexed Documents include the Amnesty International Newsletter and the Amnesty International Yearbook.

An interesting part of the Amnesty archives on paper is the Oral History Project. The idea for this project came from Priscilla Ellsworth, member of an Amnesty Group in New York City. Ellsworth and Andrew Blane interviewed 16 people who took part in the early stages of the Amnesty International movement. The interviews were held in the years 1983-1985. The 31 tapes are stored in the Image and Sound Department of the IISH and the transcripts can be found in the archives. A by-product of the project was a collection of written and printed documents kept by various persons working for Amnesty in its early days. Although these documents are all Amnesty International archival materials they have been kept together, because these documents were donated by individual members of the organization and were not a part of the archives formed by the International Secretariat itself. An exception has been made for the papers of Eric Baker, joint director in 1961. On the original folders was indicated that these papers were taken from his archives. They have been returned to his part of the archives. The existing arrangement of the documents of the Oral History Project has not been altered.

Apart from the archives on paper the IISH also received a collection of more than 2000 microfilms with filmed archival materials. Most documents on paper can be found on these microfilms. Not included are: the documents concerning The Oral History Project, the papers from Cornelius van der Vlies, the press clippings in which Amnesty is mentioned, books and pamphlets from 1961 up to and including 1981 and Urgent Actions from 1974-1976. On the other hand however, these microfilms contain a lot of archival materials which are not available on paper. There are for instance files with correspondence from the Research Department with governments, sections and other contacts concerning human rights (abuses) in countries, correspondence from other departments of the International Secretariat with sections and groups, correspondence from IEC members, files from the office of the Secretary General, closed cases, mission reports, membership development etc. A survey of these filmed materials can be found in the Microfilm Register in which is also indicated the year till these files are closed. This register can be consultated in the Reading Room of the Institute. See also the appendices for more details concerning the microfilms.

See also Scheme of the archives

Arrangement accruals 2002-2003, 2007-2008, 2010, 2015 based on the code list of the International Secretariat of Amnesty International.

Conditions governing access



Closed numbers: Staff (inv. nos. 962-965); missions (nos.966-967); IEC papers (inv. nos. 283-411, 1321-1332, 1321-1332); ANNEX: closed 1317-1319 (including the microfilms mentioned in this part); a part of the microfilm collection is closed. List of all closed and open microfilms in file in the reading room. For more information see Policy for Granting Research Access to Amnesty International’s Internal Archives

Conditions governing reproduction

Restrictions on Use

Oral History Project (inv. nos. 976-1036): there are some restrictions in use. Each interviewee has his/her own accounts concerning consultation and use of the interview. Please ask the staff in the reading room.

Direct access to digital material is currently not possible, please contact the reading room of the IISH:

Existence and location of copies

Alternative Form

Microfilms nos. 1-2049 (mostly AI Indexed documents)

Preferred citation

Preferred Citation

Amnesty International. International Secretariat Archives, inventory number ..., International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam


124.10 m. item, 2049 microfilms, 774 MB bytes, 192 files file

Other descriptive information

Appendix I Survey of aids relevant to consultation of the archives

AI Index System

The Amnesty International (AI) Index System is a general classification system for AI documents. The internal and external circulars issued by the International Secretariat (AI Indexed Documents) are given an unique AI Index number, but other documents are often arranged conform this classification as well. The last updated AI index System (including an explanation) in the archives (DOC 20/03/97) can be found in box no. 1320.

Policy for Granting Research Access to AI's Internal Archives

This document gives information concerning classes of information, closure periods and conditions for acces. The document (AI DOC 21/01/96) can be found in box no. 1320.

List of Acronyms and Abbreviations Commonly Used within Amnesty International

This document (AI DOC 20/03/95) can be found in box no. 1320.

Microfilm Register

List of the microfilms (originally an Excel file). Arranged by microfilm number with information (for each microfilm) like series description, details of this description, source of the series (department or committee), closure periods, year it will be open for research etc. The Microfilm Register can be found in box no. 1320.

Appendix II Survey of the printed lists available

There are printed lists with more detailed information on the records on the microfilms (file level). They concern the microfilms with documents from the International Executive Committee, the International Council Meetings, the Campaign and Membership Department, the Research Department, the Secretary General Office, the Head of Research Office and Legal Office and some smaller departments. A survey of these printed lists can be found below. The lists themselves can be found in boxes no. 1317-1319. These numbers are closed. Some of the microfilms are still closed too. For microfilms which can be consulted, please contact the Reading Room.

Inv. no Film no
1317 Amnesty International (AI) feature articles on microfilm (film no. 595).
1317_1 Secretary General Office (SGO) general. film no. 448-483, 770-777, 924, 1000, 1051-1052, 1247- 1253
Secretary General Office (SGO) particular.
High level country files (film no. 1- 15).
Section files (film no. 15- 25).
Eric Baker files (film no. 266- 272).
SGO-IEC files (film no. 788-796, 1001-1003, 1147- 1153).
SGO-ICM files (film no. 778-784, 923, 1052).
International meetings (film no. 785- 787).
1317_2 International Executive Committee (IEC) correspondence.
A-Z (film no. 547-550)
General (film no. 551).
International treasurer (film no. 552- 554).
1318 International Executive Committee (IEC) papers.
December 1963-July 1980 (film no. 243- 251).
August 1980-September 1992 (film no. 251-254, 263-265, 376-377, 511- 512, 618-619, 740, 929, 1053, 1154).
1318_1 International Council Meeting (ICM) papers 1961-1978 (film no. 255- 256).
1318_2 International Council Meeting (ICM) reports and minutes 1961-1982 (film no. 256).
1318_3 Campaign and Membership Department (CMD) campaigns.
CMD general (film no. 754- 756).
CMD campaign general (film no. 765-766, 1328).
CMD campaign against torture (film no. 277-292, 764, 1371- 1373).
CMD campaign against death penalty (film no. 292, 757-763, 918-920, 1380-1381).
CMD Group Records Case Sheets Team (membership files) (film no. 767- 769, 1142-1144).
CMD Medical Office files (film no. 528-534, 906-909, 1327).
CMD Urgent Action (film no. 901- 905).
CMD Campaign Action Team (film no. 1254-1259).
1319 Campaign and Membership Department (CMD) membership. NB. Additional digital lists concerning documents of this department can be consulted in the Reading Room.
1319_1 CMD membership general (film no. 319, 910- 911).
1319_2 CMD Africa section / country files (film no. 313-318, 301-302, 304, 307- 308).
1319_3 CMD Americas section / country files (film no. 317-318, 306, 308-309, 484-490, 538-542, 596-604, 815, 912- 917).
1319_4 CMD Asia section / country files (film no. 313-319, 294-313, 492-493, 535-538, 608-610, 1145).
1319_5 CMD Europe section / country files (film no. 314-319, 294-313, 492-493, 535-538, 608-610, 1145).
1319_6 CMD Middle East section / country files (film no. 313- 319).
1319_7 Research Department country files.
Africa (film no. 1023-1026, 1120-1122, 990- 992).
Americas (film no. 1064-1071, 1137, 1027-1030, 79, 1158-1161, 1129- 1135, 1030-1032).
Asia (film no. 1136-1137, 1033, 993-994, 1034- 1042).
Europe (film no. 1043- 1044).
Middle East (film no. 1045).
Research Department regional files.
1319_8 Africa general (film no. 707- 713).
Americas general (film no. 714- 722).
Asia general (film no. 723- 725).
Europe general (film no. 726- 728).
Middle East general (film no.729- 732).
1319_9 Head of Research Office (HORO, later RMP) / Legal Office (LO).
Head of Research Office (film no. 555-563).
Mission reports (film no. 564-566, 925).
Administration / relief files (film no. 747-753, 1141, 1386- 1387).
Legal Office / Legal and Intergovernmental Office Program (LIOP) (film no. 822-837, 881-900).
1319_10 Defunct departments and units.
Refugee coordinators files (film no. 629- 632).
Promotion Department (film no. 634- 637).
Head of Program (film no. 617, 655).
Press and Communications (film no. 656- 657).
Press and Publications (South Asia Publications Service SAPS) (film no. 926-928).
1319_11 Information Service Department (Documentation Centre). NB. Including some government correspondence catalogues.
Government correspondence (film no. 494-499, 930-937, 1185-1190).
Head of Documentation Centre files (film no. 643- 646).
Costa Rica Seminar (film no. 821).
Weekly summaries (film no. 26-27, 521, 1050- 938).
Archives files (film no. 647).
Audiovisual Team files (film no. 638- 642).




Human rights organizations

Political prisoners/Political trials

International organizations
Geographic names:

United Kingdom
Personal names:Benenson, Peter Ennals, Martin
Personal names: Louis Blom-Cooper
Corporate names: 'Appeal for Amnesty 1961
Titles of related works:

The Observer
Personal names: Eric Baker Peter Benenson
Corporate names: National Peace Council
Personal names: Cornelius van der Vlies
Titles of related works:

Amnesty International Newsletter

Amnesty International Yearbook

Language of the material

English , French , Spanish , Arabic

Records creator


Amnesty International.

Other Creator:

Baker, Eric ; Vlies, Cornelius van der

Content provider

International Institute of Social History

( Cruquiusweg 31 , 1019 AT Amsterdam , The Netherlands )