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Coordinator's MusingsIt's been a big month for AI and UDHR activities (Universal Declaration of Human Rights). As most of you already know, we're shooting for "50 for 50" - 50 events that celebrate the UDHR's 50th anniversary later this year. And we're well on our way! Thanks in large part to Martha Ter Maat's efforts to get us going and set up things for the campaign, the groups in Southern California have collectively participated in over 30 events - led by Group 22! And many more are scheduled.
At our February monthly meeting, the group decided to pursue the following events for the UDHR 50 campaign:
A few other ideas were discussed, but this list is a good start! Right away, Martha wrote a letter to her congressman Marty Martinez and received a pledge from him and a nice letter in return. That should inspire us to obtain pledges from all our local representatives!
Larry Romans has continued with his efforts to improve and refine our web site - and it really looks great with its new format! Check it out: http://www.cco.caltech.edu/~aigp22/. He has also set up web sites for the other AI groups in southern California. His work was featured in the AI publication NOW for this quarter. The article has info on two great web sites - and Group 22's site is one of them. I'll bring copies of the publication to the next meeting if I can get my hands on some extras.
By the time you read this, some group members will be on their way to the AGM. It is this weekend - March 20-22 in San Francisco. Expect a full report at the next monthly meeting.
Which reminds me to mention that Group 22 has found a new, permanent home for our monthly meetings! It's at the new Graduate Student Council office at 1052 E. Del Mar on the top floor (between Catalina & Wilson). The space is really nice and has a kitchen, big meeting rooms, a VCR, etc. Come and check it out at our next meeting on Thursday, March 26th at 7:30pm.
I hope to see everyone there!
UPCOMING EVENTSNOTE NEW PERMANENT MONTHLY MEETING LOCATION!!!
50th ANNIVERSARY CAMPAIGN Q&AUniversal Declaration of Human Rights
Can the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights be enforced?
Yes. A founding principle of the United Nations is "to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person [and] in the equal rights of men and women..." The Universal Declaration recognizes respect for human rights as the "foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world." Accordingly, along with the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration has provided the moral and legal basis for United Nations action, including action by the Security Council, against violators of human rights.
Actions undertaken by the United Nations have included the dispatch of UN investigators, called Special Rapporteurs, to monitor and report on abuses, the establishment of human rights field missions in trouble-spots where the UN conducts peacekeeping operations, and the imposition of economic and political sanctions.
Of course the struggle to fully implement human rights is ongoing. In recent years, the UN Security Council has created two international tribunals to bring to justice those individuals responsible for acts of genocide and other crimes against humanity committed in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. The UN is currently working to establish a permanent International Criminal Court that will hold individual human rights abusers accountable and vigorously pursue justice for the individual victims of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
But enforcement of human rights principles goes beyond the UN system. Countries have included the language and principles of the UDHR in their national constitutions, and in their statutory laws and regulations. Lawyers appeal to the principles of the Universal Declaration as they litigate in defense of clients. Non-governmental organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch use the powerful principles and language of the UDHR to advocate for the release of political prisoners and the relief of those who suffer abuse. As these organizations and others have demonstrated, public exposure and condemnation of rights violations has proven to be a surprisingly effective remedy.
MARTHA'S WEB TIPS FOR MARCHAIUSA Mideast
This is the AIUSA country website for the Middle East. It features
country-specific background information and actions.
Another resource for those wanting to learn more about human rights in the Middle East is this non-AI site. This year marks the 50th anniversary of both founding of the Israel state and the uprooting of the Palestinian people. The Al Nakba site seeks to memorialize the destruction of Palestinian villages and the Deir Yassin massacre through photos, witness testimony, bibliography and links.
STOLEN CHILDREN, STOLEN LIVESThe Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan armed opposition group, is systematically abducting thousands of schoolgirls who are held and raped by LRA soldiers. Senior officers are offered four girls as a reward for their loyalty. This sexual slavery is effectively condoned by Sudan, which supplies the LRA with weaponry and secure bases in return for LRA assistance in attacking Sudan's own armed opposition in the South.
In the northern Gulu district of Uganda, a bloody civil war is being fought between the government and the rebel forces of Joseph Kony's LRA. The LRA claims that it seeks to establish a government based on the Ten Commandments, but it apparently is prepared to rape, torture and execute the children of Uganda in pursuit of this mission.
Children are safe nowhere in northern Uganda. On 10 October 1996, 139 schoolgirls were abducted from St. Mary's School in Aboke, but 100 were freed due to the efforts of their teachers. The other 30, deemed the "most beautiful" became sexual captives of the LRA. This raid was typical of the LRA pattern of assaults on schools as a method of quickly capturing large numbers of children. Raids on boy's schools are used to "recruit" "soldiers" and raids on girl's schools are used to recruit "wives". It is estimated that 5 to 8 thousand children have been abducted and forced to join the LRA's ranks, carrying equipment and looted property back to the camps in Sudan. Perhaps 3,000 of these children have escaped. An unknown number have died.
Those who manage to escape continue to suffer from the memories of the acts they have witnessed and been forced to perform. They find it almost impossible to reintegrate into Ugandan society and rebuild their lives. The girls, mostly between the ages of 13 and 16, are "owned" by the LRA leadership. They are used as sexual slaves by these men, who "marry" them, providing nothing but a semantic cloak of decency as a guise to the rape of children. This abduction and forced marriage is the cornerstone of the movement's internal organization. The "wives" are used to reward loyal male soldiers. By the time they escape, nearly 100% of these girls are suffering from sexually transmitted diseases, in addition to the physical and psychological scars of their sexual slavery.
Amnesty International has launched an international action calling on the LRA to release all children held as captives or child soldiers and condemned the Sudan government's assistance to the LRA. Much more immediate aid to victims is needed for rehabilitation.
Write to your Congressional representatives, calling for more funding from USAID to increase assistance for rehabilitation efforts for children who are the survivors of this torture in Uganda.
REP. MARTINEZ MAKES UDHR PLEDGE!Group 22 is very pleased to announce that Congressman Matthew "Marty" Martinez has signed the pledge to work to uphold the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights! In his letter to constituent Martha Ter Maat he writes: "Amnesty International is truly a champion of human rights which has earned the respect of virtually every Member of Congress. I'm therefore pleased to be able to participate in this worthwhile endeavor. I would also like to take this opportunity to commend you for your activism in promoting human rights." We believe that Martinez is the first California congressman to sign. Group 22 members have plans to approach other San Gabriel valley lawmakers in the near future. Thanks Marty!
ARREST NOW!A month of action for the women of Bosnia
To press for U.S. leadership on the arrest of persons indicted for rape and, other war crimes in Bosnia, the Arrest Now! Campaign is launching a Month of Action for the Women of Bosnia on International Women's Day, March 8.
As part of this effort, Arrest Now! is gathering signatures on an open letter to President Clinton. Add your name to those calling on President Clinton to ensure that all indicted war crimes suspects are brought to justice by doing one of the following by April 15:
For further information, see Balkans Coordination Group website at http://www.amnesty-usa.org/country/balkans
OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT CLINTON:President William J. Clinton
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Clinton:
We welcome your past statements of support for women's human rights. As we celebrate International Women's Day this month, we urge you to take concrete action to ensure justice for Bosnian women victims of war.
We are deeply concerned about NATO's failure to arrest all persons indicted for rape and other war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina. While rape by soldiers has long been a brutal reality in time of war, in Bosnia it frequently operated as a weapon of war itself. Soldiers, paramilitaries and militiamen raped and sexually assaulted women as part of a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing. In some cases, women were interned in camps and houses and subjected to repeated rape and sexual assault.
By issuing indictments for rape, the international community sent a strong message that there can be no impunity for violence against women in time of war. Yet few of those indicted have so far faced justice. Of the seventy-nine persons indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), 50 remain at large, including twenty-two indicted for rape and sexual assault. Only four indicted suspects charged with rape are in custody.
Successful arrest actions in Prijedor, Vitez and Bijeljina demonstrate that the NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) has both the means and the mandate to apprehend indicted war crimes suspects. While the recent voluntary surrenders by three suspects at the urging of Bosnian Serb Premier Milorad Dodik are encouraging, most indicted suspects in Bosnia reside in areas under the control of Radovan Karadzic and other hardliners, who persist in their refusal to cooperate with the ICTY. Unless NATO arrests indictees in these areas, it is extremely unlikely that they will ever stand trial.
You and your administration's leadership helped end the war in Bosnia. The establishment of the ICTY under U.S. leadership created a real hope for justice in the country. Yet, that hope will remain unfulfilled until all persons charged with rape and other war crimes face trial for their alleged crimes. We appeal to you to exercise U.S. influence as a leading member of NATO to ensure the immediate apprehension of all indicted war crimes suspects in Bosnia.
PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE - CHINA/TIBETNgawang Pekar, Tibetan Monk Our group continues to seek freedom for prisoner of conscience (POC) Ngawang Pekar, a 37-year-old Tibetan Buddhist monk from Drepung Monastery in the city of Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region. He was arrested by Chinese authorities in 1989 and sentenced to 8 years in prison for participating in a peaceful demonstration in support of Tibetan independence. 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. Amnesty International is concerned that Ngawang Pekar has been imprisoned solely for peacefully voicing his conscience and that, during his incarceration, he has been subjected to gross mistreatment.
Though nothing new concerning our POC has come to light this month, the more that Chinese officials can be made aware that the world community knows of Ngawang Pekar's plight and that he cannot just be "hidden away," the better are the chances that he will be granted the rights and dignities which should be shared by all. This month, I ask that we direct our appeals to Xiao Yang, Minister of Justice of the People's Republic of China. Although "justice" may be somewhat of a relative term, please write to the Minister and urge him to work with others in the Chinese government to insure that Ngawang Pekar is accorded justice in a truer, more universal sense. Below is a sample letter which you may either copy or use as an aid in composing your own letter:
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 could 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 and would greatly appreciate any further information that you may be able to provide.
Address your letter to:
(For postage, use a 60-cent airmail stamp.)
AMNESTY BASICSWhat does Amnesty International do about political trials and imprisonment without trial?
In many countries, either under the ordinary law or states of emergency, the authorities put people in prison without a trial. In some cases imprisonment lasts for decades. A fair and public hearing within a reasonable time is a basic human right as is the right to freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention. To imprison people for a long period without proving a case against them is a violation of these rights.
Amnesty International opposes the detention of any political prisoner without a trial within a reasonable time. It has called on various governments to end administrative internment and other procedures that allow for prolonged political detention without trial.
Amnesty International also opposes trial procedures in political cases that do not conform to internationally agreed standards. For example, secret trials take place. Sometimes they are nominally public, but only those selected by the authorities are allowed to attend. Prisoners are denied a defence lawyer of their choice- or the defense is not allowed to call witnesses or present evidence. Cases are heard by special tribunals and military courts whose composition is incompatible with an impartial hearing or whose procedures fall short of those in ordinary courts.
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
Here is a partial list of Group 22's contributions to the "50 for 50" L.A. cluster goal for the UDHR campaign. Group 22 members have also participated in cluster sponsored activities such as tabling at the California Teachers Association conference and the International Criminal Court Symposium.
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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