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Making Amnesty international: connections, disconnections, and the uneven geography of international human rights, 1961-2001

Project description

A closer look at Amnesty International’s history

Established in London in 1961, Amnesty International has evolved into one of the most prominent NGOs worldwide. To achieve this international status, the organisation had to undergo a process marked by significant limits and obstacles. Understanding these limits and their impact on the work done in the name of human rights is necessary today. The EU-funded MAKEINTL project will explore Amnesty International’s history by examining how it became international as well as which barriers of political, social, economic and cultural nature it had to confront and how it did so. The project will map Amnesty International’s development from its founding until 2001. It will use case studies and deliver the historical geography of human rights.


How does an organisation become international? How does it overcome the political, social, economic, cultural and material barriers to transnational collaboration - and what happens when it can't overcome them? This project explores this question by taking a global look at the creation of Amnesty International, one of the most well-known international non-governmental organisations in the world. This project will map the development of Amnesty from its origins in Europe in 1961 to its uneven spread across the globe throughout the following four decades, up until 2001. Using case studies from within the organisation it will clearly identify the factors that both facilitated and hindered its growth in different places, explaining why, after taking root in north-western Europe, some international branches proved fruitful while others withered. This difficult process of internationalising the organisation suggests that there are important limits and borders that global activism and international ideas must traverse. These limits are rarely examined, but without an understanding of them and the impact they had on the work done in the name of human rights, we are left with a distorted view of one of the most important political concepts of our time. Amnesty is commonly characterised as playing a crucial role in shaping contemporary understandings of human rights. The project analyses the ways that the uneven geography of Amnesty’s development shaped these understandings. As such, it constructs a historical geography of human rights that will be relevant to scholars, teachers and practitioners in the fields of international human rights cooperation and international organisations.


Net EU contribution
€ 178 320,00
3000 Leuven

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Vlaams Gewest Prov. Vlaams-Brabant Arr. Leuven
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 178 320,00