Amnesty International Group 22 Pasadena/Caltech News
Volume VI Number 1, January 1998
The holiday party was a great success! We had a great turnout, considering
it was the first night of El Niño's vengeance - and it was pouring outside!
We had lots of fun making and eating Tibetan-style momos - and we even had
an expert, Dipankar Sarkar, who knew how to make them and brought a pot
designed for cooking them perfectly. And - we discovered there is
definitely a knack to making momos. Sadly, I do not have the "momo gene"
but almost everyone else made up for it with their culinary proficiency.
Now that the holidays are over and we all are getting back into the swing
of everyday life, it's time to renew our activist efforts. The new AI
campaign celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights --UDHR 50-- is just the vehicle. See more on this subject in
accompanying articles, but I want to mention that Martha Ter Maat recently
attended a training session put on by AI that gave her many ideas about how
we can all get involved in the campaign. She has already given training
sessions on the UDHR and it will be the topic of our next monthly meeting.
Larry Romans has added information about the campaign to our group's web
site and is recording the actions taken to increase awareness of the UDHR -
an important part of the campaign. Check it out:
The recent killings in Algeria and Mexico remind us that there is much work
to do. There are related actions on these topics posted on AI's web site
and we will include them at our letter writing meetings. I heard the
executive director of AI speak on KPFK-90.7fm- on the massacres in Algeria.
The apparent involvement of the government and the number of people,
including many children, who have been brutally murdered is quite
discouraging. It is important for us to let them know the world is
watching - and that these actions are not acceptable to us.
Joe Baker, Deputy Regional Director, gave us some good news at the recent
GLAD meeting. (GLAD stands for Greater Los Angeles Area Development and is
a cluster of all AI groups in the L.A./Orange County area, that meets on
the 1st Monday of the month at AI's regional office.) Joe told us Akin
Adesokan, a Nigerian journalist arrested in November (and a personal friend
of Joe's), has been released unconditionally. Akin reportedly is weak from
being held in what was basically a dungeon and is suffering some
psychological trauma, but otherwise is all right. Thank you to those who
wrote letters calling for his release.
More good news - don't miss the letter from Wei Jingsheng in this issue.
It is terribly moving -and I plan to frame it and have it on hand when
people ask me at tabling and other outreach events, "What good does just
writing a letter do?" As you know, it can work miracles.
I hope to see all of you this year at our meetings and may 1998 be a
wonderful year for all of us!
Revae Moran 818-249-1419
Group Coordinator email@example.com
Note our new monthly meeting location!!
THURSDAY, January 22, 7:30 PM, Monthly Meeting at the EQL lounge. Because
the Y has relocated and no longer has a place for meetings, our group will
meet at the EQL lab (environmental quality lab), located on Lura St. off of
Wilson Ave and just south of Del Mar. There is a parking lot directly next
to (west) of the lab. It's in a small 2-story house - the entrance is on
the opposite side of the building away from the parking lot.
SUNDAY, February 1, 1:00-4:00 PM. Avery Center Library, Caltech. (Avery
Center is the large new building On Del Mar between Chester and Holliston
Aves.) Special training on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. See
below for details.
MONDAY, February 2, 7:00 PM. GLAD (cluster) meeting at the regional office
(9000 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City). Special Guest Dylan Presman will
tell us about an up-coming symposium on the International Criminal Court.
TUESDAY, February 10, 7:30 PM, Letter-writing Meeting in the Athenaeum
UDHR Training Offered at Caltech
Group 22 joins area groups in "50 for 50" campaign
A special workshop on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Fiftieth
Anniversary campaign will be held on Sunday, February 1, from 1:00-4:00 PM
at the Avery Center Library at Caltech. Members of all local and student
groups in the L.A./Orange County area will be invited and interested
community members are also welcome. The workshop will give an overview of
campaign goals and resources and presentation of strategic planning and
coalition-building frameworks for Amnesty groups, but more importantly will
begin a year-long dialogue among local AI members about the meaning of
"universal rights" both globally and in our own communities. Please mark
the date! Bring cash for socializing/dinner afterwards at a local
restaurant, if interested. Call Martha at 626-281-4039 for more info.
Group 22 is also participating in an effort to chart group progress on the
UDHR50 campaign called "50 for 50: 50 ways to celebrate the UDHR50" All
area groups are reporting their activities and these are being recorded on
the Group 22 website, as well as in a planned area newsletter. Already,
several groups including Group 22, have held Human Rights Day events which
count towards our 50 event total. It is hoped that this project will
promote greater communication between groups and a sense of accomplishment
when we finish the year.
50th ANNIVERSARY CAMPAIGN Q&A
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Are governments legally required to respect the principles outlined in the
Yes. While the record shows that most of those who adopted the UDHR did not
imagine it to be a legally binding
document, the legal impact of the Universal Declaration has been much
greater than perhaps any of its framers had imagined.
Today, direct reference to the UDHR is made in the constitutions of many
nations that realized their independence after the document was adopted.
Prime ministers, presidents, legislators, judges, lawyers, legal scholars,
human rights activists and ordinary people throughout the world have
accepted the Universal Declaration as an essential legal code. Dozens of
legally binding international treaties are based on the principles set
forth in the UDHR, and the document has been cited as justification for
numerous United Nations actions, including acts of the Security Council.
As oppressed individuals turn increasingly to the Universal Declaration
for protection and relief, so governments have come to accept the document
not just as a noble aspiration, but as a standard that must be realized.
Because it is universal, a central and integral part of our international
legal structure, the Universal Declaration is widely accepted as a primary
building block of customary international law -- an indispensable tool in
upholding human rights for all.
UDHR 50: DEFEND THE DEFENDERS
Democracy Activist Jailed in Nigeria
Each month during Amnesty International's year-long campaign marking the
50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we are
presenting the case of a human rights defender for your action. This month,
we feature the case of Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti of Nigeria.
A staunch defender of democratic rights and freedoms in Nigeria for many
years, Dr. Ransome-Kuti is the Chair of the Campaign for Democracy, a
coalition of pro-democracy and human rights groups. He is also a founder of
the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights, a former president of the
Nigerian Medical Association and a leader of the international Commonwealth
Human Rights Initiative.
Dr. Ransome-Kuti and Shehu Sani, Vice-Chair of the Campaign for Democracy,
have been imprisoned for their work on behalf of prisoners tried in secret
for treason in 1995. The two men were themselves convicted of being
accessories to treason and sentenced to life terms, which were later
reduced to 15 years.
The prisoners aided by Dr. Ransome-Kuti and Shehu Sani were among 43 people
accused of plotting to overthrow the government in March 1995 -- a plot
whose existence is widely doubted. The defendants were found guilty of
treason and related offenses after grossly unfair trials conducted in
violation of Articles 10 and 11 of the UDHR. They were tried by a Special
Military Tribunal headed by a member of the government. They could not
choose lawyers or defend themselves, and they had no right of appeal to a
Dr. Ransome-Kuti was arrested in July 1995. He has been held in solitary
confinement since his conviction in Katsina, more than 700 miles from his
home in Lagos. Shehu Sani is jailed in Aba, nearly 600 miles from his
family in Kaduna. They are allowed only brief, supervised monthly visits
from two relatives and no written communication with anyone. The doctor's
health is reportedly very poor; he is constantly feverish with malaria,
physically weak and emaciated, and he requires medical tests that cannot be
undertaken with facilities available at the prison.
Please send letters asking for the immediate and unconditional release of
Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti and Shehu Sani. For alerting the world to the
practice of unfair trials in Nigeria, they have been denied rights that the
world has said should never be violated.
Send your appeals to:
General Sani Abacha
Chairman, Provisional Ruling Council
Abuja, Federal Capital Territory
MARTHA'S WEB TIPS FOR JANUARY
(Listing in Web Tips does not imply
endorsement of website contents by AIUSA)
International Criminal Court
This page from the Coalition for an International Criminal Court and charts
the progress of efforts to form the ICC with extensive documentation from
governments, and non-governmental organizations as well as the United
Nations. A very useful resource for AI's push to make the ICC a reality as
part of the UDHR50 campaign.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights Campaign
Official Amnesty Web Site
This is AI's official campaign web site with all the usual stuff including
the defenders actions, an on-line form for signing the pledge to uphold the
UDHR, background, links and a "UDHR Caravan" which will chart the
activities of AI chapters around the world as they celebrate the 50th.
This is the fourth 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.
Inadequate medical facilities at ins terminal island detention center may
negatively affect ability of refugees to gain political asylum
After interviewing asylum seekers detained in the INS detention center on
Terminal Island as well as lawyers representing asylum seekers and Public
Health Service (PHS) personnel, and after visiting the Public Health
Service facilities in Terminal Island, Amnesty International monitors have
concluded that there are problems with the facility which could unfairly
hinder or discourage refugees from pursuing political asylum claims.
Persons fleeing persecution in the form of torture, execution or jail for
their beliefs or for being a member of an unpopular group can fall sick
while detained in INS detention centers or INS supervised jails. Indeed,
many refugees arrive at our shores with existing medical problems (such as
injuries sustained under torture). Refugees who arrive at U.S. ports of
entry without proper documents are immediately incarcerated. Thus refugees
must apply for asylum and pursue their asylum claims from inside prison
walls. Adding to the difficulty of pursuing a claim from prison is the
possibility of falling ill. One can logically conclude that sick or
injured persons can hardly effectively pursue asylum claims (e.g. meeting
with legal counsel, if they have one; attending hearings; etc.).
Amnesty International has found the following conditions at Terminal Island
which give rise to serious concerns:
INS detention centers originally were envisioned as places of very brief
detention (a few weeks at most) while people were "processed" for
deportation. This probably accounts for the sparse medical facilities.
The detention of asylum seekers for years instead of weeks is fairly common
in actual practice, however, and is another argument for more extensive
on-site medical facilities.
ACTION REQUEST: 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.
Request that he review conditions of medical care in Terminal Island with
appropriate officials of the Public Health Service to ensure that asylum
seekers are not unfairly discouraged from pursuing asylum claims due to
medical problems inadequately treated while in the custody of the INS.
Write to: Mr. Richard Rogers
Director - District 16
Immigration and Naturalization Service
300 N. Los Angeles Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Copy to: Doris Meisner
Immigration and Naturalization Service
425 Eye Street, NW
Washington, DC 20536
Please send copies of any replies to Jim Roberts, 2215 E. First Street,
Long Beach, CA 90803. You may send letters on this action any time before
2-1-98. For further information and material, consult
http://www.cco.caltech.edu/~aigp22/monitor/ or contact L. Romans
- The PHS facility has no beds. If a detainee/patient needs to be confined
to bed, he/she must use his/her regular bunk in the pod. If the detainee
is considered to be contagious, he/she is placed in solitary confinement
in an isolation cell.
- The PHS facility has virtually no diagnostic testing facility or equipment.
- The PHS facility has no emergency or trauma treatment capability. In
such cases, especially after business hours, they have to call L.A. County
- PHS personnel get little or no training in the recognition of signs of
torture or the special treatment of torture victims.
- If detainees require medical treatment at an outside facility such as a
hospital in San Pedro or Long Beach, regulations require special security
arrangements which are expensive and may disrupt administrative routine or
draw on scarce manpower resources at Terminal Island. It is felt that this
provides a disincentive to sending detainees outside the facility for
necessary treatment or testing.
PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE - CHINA/TIBET
The POC which Group 22 has "adopted" is Ngawang Pekar, a 37-year-old
Tibetan Buddhist monk who was arrested by Chinese authorities in 1989 for
his participation in a peaceful demonstration for Tibetan independence in
the city of Lhasa. Pekar subsequently served an 8 year prison sentence for
these "treasonous" activities, and, 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 human rights
organizations. Amnesty International is concerned that not only has Pekar
been imprisoned solely for voicing his conscience, but also that, like many
other Tibetans, including other monks and nuns, he has been subjected to
gross mistreatment during his imprisonment.
This month, lets direct our appeals to Qian Qichen, head of the Chinese
Ministry of Foreign Affairs. With the recent developments in U.S./China
relations, including the visit of Chinese President Jiang Zemin and our
government's appointment of Gregory Craig as Special Coordinator for
Tibetan Affairs, perhaps Qian Qichen will be more open to suggestions on
how to improve China's image regarding human rights. After all, Wei
Jingsheng was finally released for just this reason! Please write to Qian
Qichen, informing him that you and many others in the U.S. are aware of
Ngawang Pekar's case and urging him to bring Pekar to the attention of
other Chinese officials so that his release may be quickly obtained.
Remember that, out of deference to the Chinese government, the region of
Tibet with which we are concerned should be referred to as the "Tibet
Autonomous Region," and Drapchi prison, where Pekar is being held, should
now be referred to as "Tibet Autonomous Region Prison No. 1." Below is a
sample letter which you may either copy or use as a guide in composing your
As a supporter of human rights and a member of Amnesty International, I am
writing to you out of concern for a prisoner being held in Tibet Autonomous
Region Prison No. 1. The prisoner's name is Ngawang Pekar.
Ngawang Pekar, a Tibetan monk, was arrested in 1989 for participating in a
peaceful demonstration and sentenced to 8 years in prison. Recently, his
sentence was increased by 6 more years. I am concerned that he has been
imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of
expression and about reports that he has been beaten and denied access to
medical care since his arrest. I am also concerned that the 6-year increase
in his sentence was an extremely harsh punishment for keeping a list of his
fellow prisoners and that he was subsequently held in an iron cell for 3
months after the list was found.
I respectfully urge you to request that Ngawang Pekar's case be reviewed
and that he be immediately and unconditionally released in accordance with
international law. If that is not deemed possible, then I would hope that
his sentence can at least be reduced as a demonstration of the regard which
the People's Republic of China has for human rights.
I thank you for your assistance in this important matter.
Address your letter to:
QIAN Qichen Buzhang
People's Republic of China
(For postage, use a 60-cent airmail stamp.)
For more information see the web site:
LETTER FROM WEI JINGSHENG
Thank you to all my Amnesty International friends!
When I learned of all the hard work that friends at Amnesty International
have done for those suffering from political oppression around the world,
I was deeply moved by your compassion and staunch determination.
I don't often like to, nor am I very good at, writing words of praise, so
let me tell you a story instead: when I was in prison, my treatment would
vary from good to bad at different times. At first I couldn't understand
the reasons for this, but later I figured out that pressure exerted by the
international community and various governments played an important role.
Yet sometimes, the situation would improve suddenly for no apparent reason.
During one of these times, a guard who never usually spoke to me struck up
a conversation. We chatted casually for a bit and then I asked him very
nonchalantly, I guess fewer letters have been coming for me lately, right?,
the guard then looked at me and exclaimed incredulously, fewer? Old Wei,
you get so many letters!. When he finished saying this he realized what he
had told me and suddenly stopped speaking and hurried out of the room.
I then remembered how in 1979 my friend Marie Holzman had told me about the
work of Amnesty International and how many people worked silently for years
sending letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience. The mental
inspiration this gave me greatly surpassed any small improvement in my
Your work is of enormous value to those suffering from political oppression.
It is perhaps more successful than you yourselves have ever realized.
The message I would like to give to all of you is: please keep the faith.
Your eternal friend,
What does amnesty international do for people who try
unsuccessfully to leave their own country?
The right to leave one's own country is recognized in the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights. Amnesty International adopts as prisoners of
conscience people who have been imprisoned for trying to exercise this
right when their motives for wanting to leave their country are linked to
their political views, religious beliefs or their origins, or can be
assumed to be in cases where detailed information is not available at the
time of arrest, Amnesty International draws its own conclusions from all
the circumstances and takes into account the established behavior of the
authorities and would-be emigrants in the country concerned, particularly
where such people are commonly imprisoned for seeking their right to
SPEAKING OUT FOR FREEDOM:
Wole Soyinka, Nobel Laureate
Two years ago last November, human rights activists around the world
protested the execution by the Nigerian military government of writer and
environmentalist Ken Saro Wiwa. AI activists at the Regional Conference in
Tucson were inspired by Hafsat Abiola, the daughter of the imprisoned
democratically elected president of Nigeria, who is seeking to carry on the
activist tradition of her mother who was assasinated more than a year ago.
In New Orleans at the Annual General Meeting, activists heard Wole Soyinka
winner of the 1986 Nobel Prize for Literature and Nigeria's most famous
political exile. Below are some excerpts from Soyinka's speech. Plan ahead
now to join AI activists in March in San Francisco where there is sure to
be more to inspire at the 1998 Annual General Meeting.
"Why," mused Soyinka, "do Westerners always ask, 'Is Africa ready for
democracy?' But they never ask, 'Is Africa ready for dictatorship?'"
Soyinka sought to debunk traditional Western views of Africa as a place of
poverty, chaos, despotism and hopelessness, and African citizens as
incapable of grasping the concept of democracy.
"One of the most frequent noises with which you are likely to be assailed
whenever some African despot is asked to remove the substance from his
fingers -- to which the nation's resources appear to stick permanently --
is that it is nothing but Western propaganda," said Soyinka.
"The fact that the first to recommend a rough-textured sponge and powerful
delousing chemicals happens to be the leader's own people from all classes,
from the predictable intellectual rabble-rousers such as myself to the
market trader, becomes irrelevant," he continued.
"Indeed, the voices of the leader's own people become soundless, like a
film whose soundtrack has been turned off. Other images that show the
people in rags, eaten by misery and crippled by torture, are interpreted
now to prove the people themselves lack the refinement and sensibilities of
other peoples and do not really experience anguish as others do. They do
not mind the brutality of the state. The same standards of conduct do not,
therefore, belong to them or their violators."
This is the one-dimensional image, Soyinka argued, that receives the most
prominence in the Western media, distorting public perceptions of African
Last March, in an effort to silence his outspokenness, the Nigerian
Government charged Soyinka with treason, a crime punishable by death. Human
rights experts agree that the charges leveled against him are absurd.
Soyinka has been living in exile in the United States since November 1994.
EDITOR'S LAST WORD:
Submissions welcome. Deadline is generally the second Friday of the month,
check to be sure. Read us on line:
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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