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Coordinator's MusingsThere were 3 representatives from our group at Amnesty's Annual General Meeting (AGM) in San Francisco last month: Larry Romans, Martha Ter Maat, and me. It was a well-attended event and a lot of fun. Our group's Prayer Flag Project was one of the highlights of the group displays - and certainly the most colorful! Thanks, Martha.
Saskia Abrait has been busy with Amnesty activities (in between marrying her Austrian Caltech postdoc student boyfriend). She set up a display at the Pasadena Library (in front of the Children's Library section) on the UDHR 50. Check it out! The display will be up through the end of April. Saskia also arranged for us to table at Pasadena City College's Students for Progressive Equality event last week. Thanks to her, Advoquita Stude, and Olga-Nitaina-Uhuru Russi Roman for tabling. We obtained a lot of signatures on petitions and several names of people interested in being on the group's mailing list. Let's hope this garners us some new members and helps set up a new partnership with PCC.
Turn out at the March monthly meeting at our new, permanent location (at the Graduate Student Council office on the top floor of 1052 E. Del Mar) was great. Welcome to Adrienne Urbina and Emily Brodsky who attended for the first time. Adrienne works for NBC's Dateline and Emily is a grad student at Caltech in the geology department.
Plans for tabling at Caltech's Earth Day celebration are on schedule - there will be tables set up on the Olive Walk between 11:30 am and 2 pm on Friday, April 24th. Please join us if you can!
The execution of Horace Kelly was postponed pending the outcome of his sanity hearing. See web tips and article in the newsletter for more information or call the Death Penalty Hotline: 213-673-3693 for updates. Vigils will be scheduled at All Saint's around this or any other executions coming up in California later this year.
We'll be tabling outside the Body Shop at Santa Anita mall in May. The Body Shop is publicizing information on the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and has agreed to let Amnesty groups table at all of its stores in May. More details will be provided at the next monthly meeting on April 23rd.
Jim Smith had everyone at the monthly meeting sign a letter to James Rogan asking him to support the UDHR 50 and to schedule a meeting with our group soon. A date has been set and Jim will be getting a planning group together to discuss our presentation very soon. Jim mentioned that Rogan's web site has a picture of him shaking hands with the Dalai Lama I hope this means that he will be willing to support officially adopting our POC Ngawang Pekar!
I won't be able to attend the next monthly meeting as I'll be in Washington, D.C. visiting friends and playing tourist. I'll miss seeing all of you but I'm sure Martha Ter Maat will do a great job of filling in for me. Have a great April and I'll see you in May!
UPCOMING EVENTSNOTE NEW PERMANENT MONTHLY MEETING LOCATION!!!
CALIFORNIA EXECUTION ALERTThe Horace Kelly Case U.N. condemns U.S Death Penalty
This information comes from "The Catalyst," a monthly bulletin about the death penalty put out by Death Penalty Focus of California. You can receive their bulletins via e-mail or fax by contacting email@example.com or call 415-243-0143.
The Horace Kelly case currently lurching its way through Marin County courts clearly shows why two international bodies recently declared the United States a virtual outlaw nation for its continued use of the death penalty. United Nations human rights investigator Bacre Waly Ndiaye, based upon on-the-scene investigations in the U.S. in 1997, concluded last week that the death penalty here is so tainted by arbitrariness, racism, economic discrimination and political expediency that the U.S. is operating outside the boundaries of international law. Ndiaye, an independent legal expert hired by the UN Commission on Human Rights to investigate the death penalty worldwide, called for an immediate moratorium on capital punishment.
"Race, ethnic origin and economic status appear to be key determinants of who will and who will not receive a sentence of death [in the United States]." - UN Commission on Human Rights
Just days ago, despite pleas for a postponement by the government of Paraguay and the International Court of Justice in the Hague, Paraguayan national Angel Francisco Breard was killed by the state of Virginia for a murder he committed in 1992. Virginia admitted that it had violated an international treaty by not informing Breard of his right to legal assistance from Paraguayan consular officials, but executed Breard anyway.
A SANITY TRIAL FOR THE DEATH PENALTY. For the first time since 1951, the state of California must determine the sanity of a condemned man who, while declared sane at the time of his trial, now clearly is not. Numerous psychiatric examinations of Horace Kelly have concluded that he is unable to understand his current legal position and is unable to make rational choices with respect to current court proceedings. Initiated by the warden of San Quentin, Kelly's "sanity trial" is necessary because California law and the U.S. Supreme Court agree that executing insane prisoners is illegal, reflecting the common law tradition which demands that a defendant be aware of the penalty's existence and purpose.
UNCHARTED GROUND. Almost as soon as proceedings in the Kelly case began, defense and prosecution attorneys began arguing whether the procedure constituted a "trial" or a "hearing." "The whole process is on uncharted ground," one reporter concluded. Despite the gravity of the proceedings, the judge ruled that the defendant may not appear in his own defense, and there can be no appeal from the jury's decision. He also declared that the case could be decided by a 9-3 count - not the unanimous decision 12-0 decision traditionally required in a criminal trial. No wonder the UN's Ndiaye, a former senior official of Amnesty International, concluded that "the imposition of death sentences in the United States continues to be marked by arbitrariness."
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Write or call Governor Pete Wilson (State Capitol, Sacramento, CA 95814; Ph: 916-445-2841); Fax: 916-445-4633; Pete.Wilson@ca.gov). Tell him to stop the execution of the mentally impaired - and abolish the death penalty. Ask him to commute Horace Kelly's sentence to life in prison without parole.
For updates please call the Death Penalty Focus hotline at 213-673-3693. See also "Web Tips" for this month.
GOVERNMENT ACTION NETWORKHuman Rights Information Act: Exhume the Truth!
April 15, 1998 - Congress is considering a bill called The Human Rights Information Act to release (declassify) U.S. intelligence files about human rights violations in Guatemala and Honduras. It would support truth and reconciliation, may help families learn the fate of loved ones, and will strengthen the rule of law. The National Security Council and your Congress person must exhume the truth!
Internal conflicts in Guatemala and Honduras left thousands dead or "disappeared" as the security forces pursued a "dirty war." Because these countries' military or intelligence agencies have not released useful information, the U.S. is potentially an invaluable source. U.S. officials and intelligence services were active in both countries, documenting and meticulously reporting on events.
The Human Rights Information Act orders U.S. foreign policy and intelligence agencies to release records in 150 days and ensures a review of any delay in the release of documents. The bill also has safeguards to prevent the release of information that would endanger U.S. agents or threaten U.S. national security.
The Human Rights Information Act was introduced in both houses of Congress. Please write your Representative and Senators to ask them to co-sponsor it (bill numbers - H.R. 2635 in House and S. 1220 in Senate).
There will be a hearing by the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee on May 11 and the Administration will be invited to testify. It is important that the Administration be supportive of the Act by the time of the hearing. Please write Sandy Berger, President Clinton's National Security Adviser, and ask him to issue a statement of support in time for the hearing (You can also ask your Congresspeople to attend or send someone to the hearing.)
WRITE OR E-MAIL:The Hon. ______, U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20515
The Hon. _______, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515
PHONE: Capitol Switchboard (202) 225-3121
Martha's Web Tips for AprilHorace Kelly Website
AI Southern California Death Penalty Page
Those of us trying to follow the progress of the Horace Kelly sanity hearing have been frustrated at the initial lack of media interest in this ground-breaking case. Fortunately, Kelly's attorney has provided a web site with extensive documentation about Kelly's psychiatric problems and history of abuse. In addition, this site can be reached via a page at the AI Southern California website which will list local death penalty activities and useful abolition links for AI members. The recent LA Weekly article on Horace Kelly can be accessed at both sites.
UN Special Rappateur's Report
on the U.S. Death Penalty
A recent issue of the L.A. Times headlined the report of the United Nations Special Rappateur's report on the death penalty in the U.S. You can read his findings at the UN High Commission for Human Rights web site.
Human Rights Information Act
Here is an AI resource for more information and action opportunities on the Human Rights Information Act, an important bill now being considered by Congress. See the Government Action Network action on this subject elsewhere in this newsletter.
Refugee Monitor Team ActionInadequate language interpretation/translation facilities at INS Terminal Island Detention Center may negatively affect ability of refugees to gain political asylum
This is the fifth in a series of actions related to conditions AI monitors have found within the INS detention system, which we feel affect the ability of asylum seekers to file or pursue their claims.
The INS detention facility on Terminal Island in the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor area holds a diverse population of undocumented persons. Unlike detention facilities along the U.S.-Mexico border which hold primarily Spanish-speaking persons, the Terminal Island prison/court complex (officially, the San Pedro Processing Center) literally takes in people from all over the world. As a result, the number of languages spoken by detainees if large. On any given day languages such as Arabic, Mandarin, Cantonese, Fhuchinese, Swahili, Urdu, Russian, Farsi, Serbo-Croatian and Portugese (among others) may be heard inside the jail pods of Terminal Island.
Among the people speaking these languages are refugees seeking asylum in the U.S.
The INS is supposed to provide language interpretation services in the following circumstances for undocumented persons whom they have arrested including asylum seekers (who enjoy no special status in detention):
The form in which interpretation services are provided to detainees by the INS is most commonly through AT&T Language Services whereby the INS calls AT&T which has interpreters on duty or on call 24 hours a day. The AT&T interpreter then performs the service for the parties over the phone.
As one can see, except for medical emergencies, INTERPRETATION IS ONLY PROVIDED WHEN THE INS OR IMMIGRATION COURT HAS OFFICIAL BUSINESS THEY WANT TO CONDUCT.
Persons detained in jail by the INS have legitimate needs for language interpretation outside of official meetings and hearings. If an asylum seekers speaks only Tagalog and there are no Tagalog/English speakers among the other detainees in his/her pod, how does he/she ask about available legal services? How does this person explain to a guard that he/she cannot stand up for more than a short time due to spinal injuries incurred while undergoing torture? How does one even begin to ask how to make a phone call, or, indeed, ask IF they can make a phone call? They cannot. For refugees whose lives will be placed in danger if deported, these are not matters of mere inconvenience.
The fortunate few asylum seekers who are represented by legal counsel may find interpreters privately with their lawyer's help. These are a very small minority, however.
Write a courteous letter to the District Director citing the conditions above as being inimical to the interests of legitimate refugees detained in the INS system who are trying to obtain asylum.
Please send copies of any replies to Veronica Kon, 1217 1/2 S. Alfred St., Los Angeles, CA 90035. You may send letters on this action any time before 6-1-98.
PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE - China/TibetNgawang Pekar, Tibetan Monk Ngawang Pekar, a Tibetan monk arrested by the Chinese government in 1989 for participating in a peaceful demonstration and sentenced to 8 years in prison, is the prisoner currently assigned to our group. Amnesty International is concerned that he was tortured or otherwise mistreated after his detention in 1989 and that he was unfairly sentenced to 8 years in prison simply for peacefully expressing his conscience. They are also concerned that he has been denied access to medical care since being imprisoned. Shortly before he was due to be released last year, he was sentenced to an additional 6 years for allegedly trying to smuggle out a list of other prisoners to international human rights organizations. Many Tibetan monks and nuns in Tibet Autonomous Region Prison No. 1 in China list of other prisoners to international human rights organizations. Many Tibetan monks and nuns in Tibet Autonomous Region Prison No. 1 in China have been subjected to mistreatment, including long periods of solitary confinement, and a few have died.
Be aware that AI takes no position on Tibet's claim of independence from China or China's claim to Tibet, so please refer to the Tibet Autonomous Region in your letters to Chinese officials. This month let's write a letter to the prison governor. Who knows maybe one of our letters might make its way somehow to Pekar himself!!
Jianyuzhang (prison governor)
I am writing to you regarding NGAWANG PEKAR, a monk who was arrested in August 1989 and sentenced to 8 years in prison for his peaceful participation in a demonstration, and whose sentence was recently increased by 6 years. He is being held in your prison in the Tibet Autonomous Region.
NGAWANG PEKAR was arrested for the peaceful expression of his beliefs, and is considered a prisoner of conscience. As such, he must be immediately and unconditionally released.
In addition, I am concerned over the extension of his sentence by 6 years, including 3 months in an iron cell, for keeping a list of prisoners being held in Drapchi prison, and by reports that he has been receiving inadequate medical care during his imprisonment. These are serious allegations, and I ask that you look into this matter immediately.
A reply with any information on NGAWANG PEKAR's legal status or physical condition would be most appreciated.
Respectfully and sincerely,
(For postage, use a 60-cent airmail stamp.)
AMNESTY BASICSHow does amnesty international use the term "political prisoner"?
Amnesty International uses a broad interpretation of the term "political prisoner" so as to cover all cases with a significant political element. The offense itself may be of a clearly political nature, such as belonging to a banned political party. In other cases, however, a person may be charged with an ordinary crime, but the context in which it is said to have been committed is political, such as a political demonstration. Or it is possible that the accused person may have committed a criminal offence, but for political motives. In other cases, the authorities may be holding a prisoner for political reasons, even though the individual is said to be suspected of a criminal offence. False criminal charges may be brought against political activists (the charges could be currency offences. for example), when the real reason is to punish them for their political activities- or to deter others from opposing the government.
It is important to bear in mind that Amnesty International applies this broad interpretation in assessing political trials and the cases of political prisoners. Apparent contradictions between Amnesty International and governments do arise because each uses such terms in its own way. Some governments say they hold no political prisoners, only criminals or criminal suspects, because all its prisoners are charged or convicted under the normal criminal law. Amnesty International, however, may still speak of "political imprisonment" or "political trials" in such a country if the cases have a political element of any of the sorts described above.
It is important to note that Amnesty International does not oppose political imprisonment as such or ask for the release of all political prisoners. Amnesty International needs to establish whether there is a political element in a particular case solely for the purpose of determining whether it falls within the scope of the organization's concern about fair and prompt trials for political prisoners.
The specific category "prisoner of conscience" is distinguished form thegeneral one "political prisoner" in the following important respects. Prisoners of conscience are precisely defined by Amnesty International's Statute as those held "by reason of their political, religious or other conscientiously held beliefs or by reason of their ethnic origin, sex, colour or language". The category "prisoner of conscience" do not include those whose imprisonment may reasonably attributed to their having used or advocated violence.
A crucial difference to bear in mind is that whereas in the case of all political prisoners Amnesty International seeks fair and prompt trials, it is only in the cases of prisoners of conscience that Amnesty International says that the individuals should not be in prison at all and asks for their release.
Editor's Last Word:Submissions welcome. Deadline is generally the second Friday of the month, check to be sure. Read us on line: http://www.cco.caltech.edu/~aigp22/
Martha Ter Maat, 626-281-4039
Amnesty International works impartially to free individuals jailed solely for their beliefs, ethnic origin, language, or sexual orientation, provided they have not used or advocated violence, to ensure fair trials for all political prisoners, and to abolish torture and executions worldwide. It is funded by members and supporters around the world.
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