History

Amnesty International has been involved in undertaking strategic litigation since at least 1987.

Over the last 30 years, we have built a solid reputation for successfully litigating landmark cases across a range of jurisdictions.

Our approach to litigation

The overall purpose of our strategic litigation work is to support victims of human rights violations and human rights defenders, and to achieve systemic change.

Supporting victims of human rights violations and safeguarding human rights defenders often involves being involved in legal proceedings (litigation). Litigation is the term used to describe proceedings initiated between two opposing parties to enforce or defend a legal right. 

In human rights, litigation is “strategic” when it is consciously designed to advance the clarification, respect, protection and fulfilment of rights. The idea is to change laws, policies and practice, and to secure remedies or relief following violations. Strategic litigation is also often about raising public awareness of an injustice.

Our strategic litigation work combines our legal expertise with that of Amnesty International’s researchers, campaigners and advocates throughout the litigation process.

We also work in collaboration with other prominent human rights organizations worldwide.

STRATEGIC LITIGATION ENABLES US TO ADVOCATE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS FOR ALL

HOW WE WORK

We are actively involved in strategic litigation at the national, regional and international levels, through courts, tribunals, committees and other international bodies.

We do this by bringing cases as a primary litigant and through the submission of third party briefings to courts, as well as supporting others bringing litigation and collaborating with prosecutorial authorities.

Draft
Drawing on our expertise researching human rights violations by governments and others, our staff prepare detailed factual and legal analysis
Submit
We submit our analysis to courts, human rights bodies and international tribunals, in anticipation of a ruling with a wide-reaching effect
Influence
We use the outcome to influence governments, companies and decision-makers to change their laws, policy and practice, creating change beyond any legal victory

Our Impact

Amnesty International jointly intervened in a case concerning the UK government’s involvement in rendition to Libya. In 2017, the UK Supreme Court found that the government could not rely on state immunity or sovereignty to prevent the case from proceeding to a full trial.
Amnesty International participated in a joint intervention in a case involving the eviction of a family in Spain from their privately rented accommodation. In 2017, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights found that the family’s eviction had violated the right to housing.
Amnesty International intervened in a case challenging abortion legislation in Northern Ireland. In 2018, although unable to issue a full ruling for procedural reasons, a majority of judges at the UK Supreme Court stated that the existing legislation violated the right to private life.
Amnesty International assisted with the implementation of two judgments from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, ordering the return of land to Indigenous communities in Paraguay. After extensive campaigning work, both communities were eventually allocated lands, although barriers to full implementation remain.
Amnesty International intervened in the legal proceedings following the arrest of former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet in London in 1998. In a pivotal moment for international law, the UK House of Lords held that Pinochet could be extradited from the UK to Spain to face trial for crimes against humanity.
Amnesty International jointly intervened in a series of five cases involving European states’ complicity in CIA rendition and detention programmes. Between 2012 and 2018, the European Court of Human Rights found violations in all five cases, and each judgment cited Amnesty International’s research reports.
Amnesty International assisted the Nigerian organization SERAP in bringing a complaint over environmental damage caused by multinational oil companies in the Niger Delta region. In a ground-breaking decision in 2012, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court found the Nigerian government responsible for the damage caused by the companies’ operations.
Amnesty International intervened in a case challenging Austrian legislation preventing second-parent adoption for same-sex couples. In 2013, the European Court of Human Rights found that the legislation was discriminatory; it was subsequently amended by the Austrian Parliament.

Specific issues we work on

Amnesty International has undertaken litigation across a wide range of thematic issues, including: torture and other ill-treatment; international justice; detention; the rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants; children’s rights; censorship and freedom of expression; maternal health and reproductive rights; the death penalty; discrimination; and economic, social and cultural rights.

Past litigation successes

  • Challenging Northern Ireland’s near total abortion ban in the UK Supreme Court
  • Playing a key role in the legal proceedings against former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet in the UK
  • Opposing CIA rendition programmes at the European Court of Human Rights
  • Holding the Nigerian government to account over pollution in the Niger Delta 
  • Challenging laws enabling mass surveillance in the UK

Contact us

If you need to contact us, please email on [email protected]