A few months ago, Donatella Rovera was under rocket fire in Misrata, Libya. A couple of weeks ago Salil Shetty was in the slums of Suez, in Egypt, meeting with the families of the first casualties of the Egyptian uprising.

On Friday they were both seated on a sunny deck in Katama, sipping iced water and looking just like any of those other globe-trotters who concentrate here in summer. Except that in their case, the expression citizen of the world really means something.

To be a true world citizen, you need more than simply a well-stamped passport. You need to be engaged in those places you visit.

Donatella Rovera
Donatella Rovera. — Ivy Ashe

And Mr. Shetty and Ms. Rovera, respectively the secretary general of Amnesty International and the organization’s senior crisis response advisor, are engaged. Wherever they go, they go with an agenda, not simply an itinerary.

Appearances to the contrary, they had an agenda on the Vineyard too. For this 24-hour period, their work was engaging with and educating a large number of people about the work their organization does, on the occasion of Amnesty’s 50th anniversary.

At a Friday evening event held at the home of Mike and Mary Wallace on West Chop, they, along with others — Aliakbar Mousavi Khoeini, a former member of the Iranian Parliament and Internet freedom specialist; Dr. Hani Mowafi of Boston University and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and Amnesty’s Bahrain mission delegate; and Ronan Farrow, special adviser to Secretary of State for Global Youth Issues and; most powerfully of all, long-time Amnesty activist Harry Belafonte — spoke of Amnesty’s past successes and continuing challenges.

In an interview with the Gazette earlier in the day, Mr. Shetty and Ms. Rovera spoke about their work and that of the organization which now has grown to have some 3.2 million members and supporters and 2,000 staff across the globe.

Aliakbar Mousavi Khoeini
Aliakbar Mousavi Khoen was once in Iranian Parliament. — Ivy Ashe

Its growth has been immense, not only in membership but in the scope of its concerns, since it was started in July in 1951 by Peter Benenson, a British lawyer who was appalled by the unjust imprisonment of a couple of Portuguese students, and who began a letter-writing campaign in support of their release.

Now wherever there is war or civil disturbance in the world, Amnesty is there, bearing witness in the cause of human rights. And even where there is no immediate crisis, it lobbies for reform. It takes no money from any government or corporation and spares none from scrutiny.

That growth in Amnesty’s mission, said Mr. Shetty, was entirely a logical extension of those first letter-writing campaigns.

“It started with people in prison. Then people in prison were being tortured, or executed. So it expanded into campaigning against torture and the death penalty,” he said.

Ronan Hani
Ronan Farrow prompts Dr. Hani Mowafi. — Ivy Ashe

“Then governments were getting smarter, and were not actually imprisoning people; they were disappearing them. That led to the whole genre of work around holding them accountable.

“There were not so many women in prisons, but there was discrimination of other kinds, which led us there, then to discrimination against religious, ethnic and other minorities.

“And over the past decade our work has expanded again, into the whole area of economic and social rights, which we see as being as important as civil and political rights.”

The track record has been impressive.

“Tens of thousands of prisoners have been released,” he said. “When we began there were only 16 countries not practicing the death penalty. Now we have 135 or so. Then there is the work we’ve done on torture [which led to] the United Nations convention on torture. And all of that led to the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977. It’s almost impossible to think of human rights over the past 50 years without thinking of Amnesty.”

Harry Belafonte calls for moral courage about U.S. human rights concerns. — Ivy Ashe

The organization’s main focus at the moment, of course, is events in the Middle East and North Africa, and the activities of Ms. Rovera and Mr. Shetty there are further testament to the many levels of its engagement.

Ms. Rovera represents the front line. For two decades she has worked in areas of conflict in different parts of the world, mostly in the Middle East, sometimes under fire herself, collecting information about abuses. Most recently, she was in Libya. A couple of weeks from now, she will be in South Sudan.

“In Libya and many other countries we do our own primary research on the ground, not only taking witness statements, but cross-checking information,” she said.

“We talk to different people, separately, about the same event, to see how the accounts tally. If somebody says there was a lot of shooting, there will be some evidence of that. You can look at the impact on the wall and assess what kinds of weapons were used. You take photographs. You get pieces of shrapnel. You get serial numbers.”

Art for Amnesty founder Bill Shipsey helped to organize 50th anniversary event. — Ivy Ashe

After 20 years, she said, “you get to know what a piece of mortar shell looks like.”

Sometimes it’s harder, as in Libya, where the state used the cluster bombs made in Spain “of which there are very few around the world, and they were sold to Libya very shortly before the [2008 international] ban came into being,” she said.

But what she calls “the technical stuff” is only a part of it. Behind that is the “invisible work of Amnesty.”

“Look at Tunisia,” she said. “It was not on anybody’s political radar screen. Who would have thought that’s where the first big changes in the Middle East would have started there? But at Amnesty we work on every country, so when something happens there is a background of years of knowing who is who and doing what, who is allied with whom and so on. Without that background, you can’t see the same return in terms of information and analysis and knowing who is trustworthy.”

With that evidence, Amnesty has a powerful tool for change and justice. Mr. Shetty cited one example: having identified the weapons that dictatorial regimes use against their people, pressure could be placed on the suppliers of those weapons.

Longtime Amnesty supporter Rose Styron acknowledged. — Ivy Ashe

“So we have put pressure on the U.K. government to revoke the licenses of arms traders doing business with Libya and Bahrain. Those arms transfer deals are now under review,” he said. “At one level our work is very much focused on the individual. At another, we are focused on the macropicture.”

In Egypt, he spoke with the mothers of the first two victims of the security forces in the morning, and later he spoke with the head of the country’s supreme council of the armed forces. There he pushed an agenda for change.

First he argued that the new regime should get serious about accountability and justice issues, “because a lot of the people were involved in human rights violations.”

To that end he offered access to Amnesty’s decades of files documenting those violations over many decades “because they are probably better, more comprehensive, than anyone else’s.”

Second, he pushed for lifting the state’s emergency law in the run-up to the elections, “because it could easily be misused.”

Third, he called for an end to military trials, of which there have been some 6,000 — often taking only a few minutes each — and a return to the civil judicial system.

As Mr. Shetty said: “The excitement of the revolution is over; now we face the hard slog of creating institutions and the rule of law.”

Even after the dictators have fallen the machinery of dictatorship will take a long time to disassemble.

But that commitment to the long run is one of the key attributes of Amnesty. Other nongovernment organizations respond to crises and then move on to other crises. Amnesty stays engaged. It will keep pushing for changes to the constitutions, the legal systems, the other institutions of Egypt and Tunisia and other places conflicted by the Arab revolution for years and decades to come.

And not only those countries either, as Harry Belafonte reminded the 250-odd guests at the Wallace home on Friday night.

“The place which is most under-discussed, undernourished in terms of debate and ideas and thought, is the United States,” Mr. Belafonte said.

He said this country, too, had war criminals, who should be “hauled before the institutions of justice and made to answer . . . for the part they have played in all the chaos and pain and difficulties people are experiencing globally,” he said. He continued:

“There are still people in Guantanamo being interrogated.

“The United States of America still has not signed the international declaration on the human rights of the child. We have not stepped in because we are afraid of making ourselves vulnerable globally for all the inhumane and cruel things we do, mostly in secret.”

He said his hope was that before Amnesty celebrated its next 50 years, the great powers would have come to practice themselves what they ask of others.

“I think until we do that and do that with a sense of moral courage and integrity, we’re not going to get very far talking about how to change the world from an American perspective,” he said.