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Coordinator's MusingsIt is with a great deal of bittersweet feelings that I say goodbye to all of you in Group 22. I feel that I was just getting my bearings as coordinator and now it's time to leave. My husband and I are moving to Washington, D.C. in mid-October. Although I'm looking forward to his not having to be out of town so much any more for work, I will miss all of my friends in southern California - and the weather! - very much.
Thanks to all of you for your wonderful support and enthusiasm for the group's activities. I know that Larry Romans, who will take over for me as Group Coordinator, will do a great job.
Thanks to Larry for hosting the last monthly meeting in my absence. And thanks to everyone for the great turnout at the letter writing meeting/ Doo-Dah Parade planning meeting. Here's what was decided at that meeting:
In honor of Group 22's participation in the 22nd annual Doo-Dah Parade on the 22nd of November, we entered 22 marchers in the parade for our group. Our theme will be "Animals for the Ethical Treatment of People." No offense is meant to PETA, it's just a way to highlight the importance of human rights. We are going to wear plain black clothes (or black t-shirts printed up at Caltech - Emily Brodsky is looking into this) and brightly painted papier mâché masks and animal tails made of cloth or rope.
We scheduled two mask-and-tail-making dates: Wednesday, Oct. 7th at 7:30 PM and Sunday, Oct. 25th at 10 AM. Both meetings will be at the regular monthly meeting spot at 1052 E. Del Mar. If you want to march in the parade - or just help make the masks for others - please come ! And, if you have any good pictures of animal faces and/or masks- bring them !
Many thanks to Martha Ter Maat for getting Group 22 in the international Amnesty spotlight! Her Tibetan prayer flag project will be displayed at an exhibition in Paris on December 10th, International Human Rights Day as part of the international celebration of the 50th anniversary of the UDHR. Congratulations, Martha! The prayer flag project will also be featured in an upcoming issue of "The Fourth R"- the publication of AI's Educators Network. Copies will be distributed to the group at a future meeting.
Thanks also to Martha for her efforts in promoting Amnesty's new death penalty initiative, the National Weekend of Faith in Action. She has helped plan local and statewide activities in conjunction with this first time effort to organize the religious community. See inside for details.
In another bittersweet moment, Group 22 members gathered at Burger Continental on September 11th to bid adieu to Jim Smith who leaves at the end of the month to live and work in Sweden for a few years. We will miss his leadership, participation, and creativity very much! Good luck, Jim, Cathy, and Anna!
Finally, thanks to Robert Adams for volunteering to take over as group treasurer and Lucas Kamp for agreeing to host the letter writing meetings in order to free Larry up for his stint as group coordinator. It will make his job a lot easier to have your help!
I will see all of you on Thursday, September 24th at my last Group 22 monthly meeting. A chance to say goodbye and tell all of you how much I have appreciated working with all of you!
PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE - China/TibetNgawang Pekar, Tibetan Monk
Group 22 continues to work on behalf of prisoner of conscience (POC) Ngawang Pekar (naw-wan pee-kar), an approximately 38-year-old Tibetan Buddhist monk from Drepung Monastery. In 1989, he was arrested by Chinese authorities and sentenced to 8 years in prison for participating in a peaceful demonstration in the city of Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, in support of Tibetan independence, 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 international human rights organizations. Amnesty International is concerned that, like many others in Tibet, Ngawang Pekar has been imprisoned solely for peacefully voicing his conscience and that, during his incarceration, he has been subjected to gross mistreatment.
Unfortunately, there is nothing new to report regarding our POC this month, and it is still unknown what, if any, role he played in the unrest which occurred this past May at Drapchi Prison (officially known as "Tibet Autonomous Region Prison No. 1"), where Pekar is being held. It is also unknown if Pekar was among those injured during the unrest - we can only hope that he is okay and that "no news is good news."
Although we intend to continue pursuing other actions aimed at obtaining the release of Ngawang Pekar, including soliciting various officials in the U.S. government and local community leaders to write letters on his behalf, one of our strongest tactics remains letter writing by the general AI membership. We need to keep the name of NGAWANG PEKAR alive in the minds of Chinese officials, let them know that we are aware of and concerned about the violations of his basic human rights, and that we will continue to work for his release for as long as it takes.
This month, let's direct our letters to one of the top members of the Chinese government, Zhu Rongji, the Premier of the People's Republic of China. Zhu Rongji was fairly recently installed as Premier and replaces Li Peng, who now serves as Chairman of the National People's Congress. Please write to Zhu Rongji and inform him that you and many others in the U.S. are aware of Ngawang Pekar's case and urge him to utilize his position to see to it that Pekar is unconditionally released in a timely manner. Remember, despite how you may feel, to maintain a respectful tone in your letter and that your sole aim in writing this letter is to aid Pekar - Amnesty purposefully, and for good reason, takes no official position on Tibetan independence from China. Below is a sample letter which you are free to either copy verbatim or simply use as a rough guide 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 utilize your position to request that Ngawang Pekar's case be reviewed and that he be immediately and unconditionally released in accordance with the international laws to which China subscribes. 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. I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your appointment as Premier of the People's Republic of China and wish you good fortune in all of your future endeavors.
Address your letter to:
ZHU Rongji ZongliFor postage, use a 60-cent airmail stamp. Include your name and mailing address at the top of the letter on the off chance that you may actually receive a reply, and please notify the Group 22 coordinator if a reply is received.
Celebrate Nigerian Prisoner Release!Orange County Area Coordinator, Norma Edwards had a startling experience tabling at a Nigerian pro-democracy event recently. A Nigerian man came up to her table and pointed at one of the UDHR50 campaign postcards. It took her several minutes before she realized that this was the man featured on the card! Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti was equally surprised to learn that he had been prominently featured in Amnesty's worldwide campaign to "Defend the Defenders of Human Rights." Here's an action to celebrate his release.
Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti of Nigeria was jailed for exposing unfair treason trials that took place in Nigeria in 1995. Amnesty members are urged to welcome his release and call on Nigeria's new head of state to release all remaining prisoners of conscience. Send your appeals to:
General Abdulsalam Abubakar
National Weekend of Faith in Action Against the Death Penalty:
State and Local Events
Amnesty International is spearheading an initiative to stimulate more visible opposition to the death penalty in the religious community with the National Weekend of Faith in Action Against the Death Penalty, October 9-11. Here in Pasadena the occasion will be marked by a workshop offered at All Saints Church on Saturday, October 3 from 8:30 to 1:00 PM. Featured speakers will be Rev. Clara Mills of the United Church of Christ speaking on her experiences as the mother of a murder victim, George Horan, Associate Director of Detention Ministries for the Catholic Archdiocese sharing his insight into life on death row and Maya Hamburger, a Pasadena attorney who will explain legal aspects of the death penalty. Don't miss this opportunity to meet some great resource people for on-going death penalty work.
On October 8-11 a statewide conference of religious leaders, "Changing Hearts and Minds" will take place at St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco. This will be the first interfaith campaign to mobilize California's communities of faith against the death penalty. The conference will feature the release of an Interfaith 'Statement of Conscience,' the first pledge by religious leaders in California to bring a moral voice into the death penalty debate across the state.
Several prominent religious leaders from the Los Angeles area will participate in this event including Rabbi Leonard Beerman, Leo Baeck Temple; Rev. Dr. George Regas, All Saints Episcopal Church, Pasadena (keynote speaker) and Rev. James Lawson, Holman United Methodist. The conference is sponsored by Death Penalty Focus. Call 415-243-0143 or check out www.deathpenalty.org
On Sunday, October 11, All Saints Church and AI groups statewide will also participate in an action aimed at the California gubernatorial candidates. This postcard action will serve to remind both Dan Lungren and Gray Davis who are on record as favoring capital punishment that they have constituents who oppose the death penalty. You can participate too! Write a letter or postcard stating your opposition to the death penalty (you can use the statement below or write your own) and send it to both candidates!
Please address your cards to:
Lt. Gov. Gray Davis
Attorney General Dan Lungren
Interview with Human Rights Defender Mirjana GaloAmnesty International's Mid-Atlantic Regional Director, Jodi Longo toured parts of the former Serb-held Krajina region of Croatia to visit and interview Mirjana Galo, the prominent Croatian human rights defender featured in Amnesty's campaign promoting the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
History: The entire war in Bosnia was based on a policy of deliberate population displacement that brought about more than two million refugees - with all sides contributing to the pain and suffering. It was during 1991 that Serbian forces launched a violent campaign against the Croats in an effort to create an autonomous Serbian state within Croatia. More than 80,000 Croats were forcibly expelled from the Krajina region as Serb forces stole, burned and destroyed Croat property, including Croatian religious and cultural institutions.
Four years later, Croatian forces would retaliate by launching a brutal military advance known as "Operation Storm" on August 4, 1995. The Croatian Army, in an offensive that only lasted thirty-six hours, captured the area and crushed a five-year-old separatist ethnic Serb rebellion. In only a few days time, the world would witness the biggest single forcible displacement of people in Europe since World War II. An estimated 200,000 Serbs were forcibly displaced as Croatian forces carried out this campaign of ethnic cleansing. Croatian soldiers swept through Serb villages, and openly killed men, women and children, stole all valuables, looted, and burned more than 20,000 Serb houses.
AI: How did you get involved in human rights work and how did your organization HOMO (Let's Go) come into being?
MG: When the war started back in 1991 it didn't take long for us to realize just how bad things were getting by witnessing, daily, what was happening to our Serb and Muslim friends, coworkers and neighbors in Pula, Croatia. My firsthand experience with this discrimination was at my job as a teacher. I witnessed how the school administration began targeting Muslims and Serbs. They established a new rule where each teacher had to teach a certain number of classes each. To make sure the Croat teachers met this criteria they took classes away from the Muslim and Serb teachers so they would then be able to say, "You're not doing your work." People were demoted or fired, evictions without explanation were a regular occurrence, and then the Croatian government launched a public campaign aimed at cultivating ethnic hatred. One of it's techniques was to publish in the daily newspaper, under the headline of "Your Enemies", lists of Serb and Muslim families, their names and addresses. They even broadcast these lists on TV.
What we realized was no one was asking questions about these abuses, and no one was documenting them. With a little research we learned there was an organization in Zagreb doing this sort of work and we began talking and exchanging information. Our activities grew there and HOMO, which is Istrian slang for "Let's Go", was launched as a husband and wife learn out of their apartment in 1993. We began documenting the discrimination and abuses, as well as organizing "freedom meetings" and discussions about human rights.
AI: Tell us a little about some of your experiences in the early years?
MG: One of our first events was an anti-war demonstration in Pula, Croatia in 1991. It was organized and attended mostly by women, as a mother's protest against the Croatian government's mobilization of their sons for the army. We numbered only 100 or so, but we sent an important message. As a filmmaker, Igor was there filming the demonstration. Only a few days passed before the police paid a visit to our apartment and demanded the film. He refused and they left, but returned a few days later saying they were going to revoke his working permit. That was our first, but not our last experience with the police.
Even so, there was no question in our minds, we had to do this, play this role and we made that decision despite the risks. Our family members were very strongly against us doing this work, and we lost a lot of friends, or rather, discovered who our real friends are.
AI: Give us a better sense of the mandate and mission of your organization?
IG: We are an organization that works for the protection and promotion of human rights and citizen freedoms in the Republic of Croatia. That translates into...too much unfortunately. One of our main objectives is to try and create conditions for the return of Serbian and Croatian refugees to their homes. We have a staff attorney that provides legal help and advice to all people on everything from obtaining citizenship documents to figuring out the complicated process for trying to get their homes and property back. We provide refugees with information on the circumstances in their village or town so they can make a better decision about returning. We also maintain a comprehensive database of all area activities, contact information about who has returned to what village and when, which families are interested in returning, what property was stolen, and human rights violations. We also provide some humanitarian aid to the most needy families.
Recently, we have expanded our work somewhat by organizing trainings about solutions to conflict that help people learn to live together again, starting a human rights summer camp for children, trying to do more human rights education through music concerts, and art exhibits, and we are also working on children's human rights book.
AI: You have been the target of a number of intimidation efforts - tell us about what kind of risks your work involves?
MG: Well, the Amnesty UDHR picture postcard that features my case was taken the night of one such experience. It was on the evening of 17, 1996. We knew our phones had been tapped, it was obvious someone had been going through our files, and our Vrhovine field office had already survived two arson attempts. We were also being harassed by a former member of the Croatian special forces who had been resettled in Vrhovine. He has since been elected Deputy Mayor. The night that picture was taken he was very drunk and broke the glass on the front door of office with his bare hands, entered and began attacking me and a visiting journalist from the Feral Tribune, the country's leading opposition paper. With his blood all over us, we ran out of the office to the police station and he followed us. We explained what had happened to the police and succeeded in getting the Deputy Mayor of the town locked-up, if only for one night. We were fearful and hesitated to move forward with a lawsuit for two years. But after AI featured us in its campaign, we felt we had the additional protection we needed - President Tudjman and the Croatian government now realized people around the world knew who we are. We filed a court case in June of 1998, but already have proof that our legal documents have been tampered with. The Deputy Mayor was given a month to secure an attorney and we have been told that the case will most likely be heard in the Fall 1998.
AI: How did you feel when you were first informed that Amnesty wanted to feature you and your work in its UDHR 50 campaign?
MG: We were tremendously honored and excited and still are. When we learned that AI members from all around the world would be writing on our organization's behalf we knew immediately the positive effect this could have on our work. AI members played a very important role in communicating a critical message to the Croatian government on our behalf - that people around the world would know of our efforts and goals and they support our right to do this work. At the same time, they would learn more about The Croatian government's human rights abuses and the victims we are dealing with regularly, this might even inspire some to read more and take action on human rights issues throughout the whole region.
AI: What does the Universal Declaration of Human Rights mean to you?
MG: It's an amazing document that encompasses the most fundamental and basic human rights that everyone should know they have and that every government should know they better respect. Croatia is keeping us very busy right , but by believing so much in the UDHR and using it as a foundation , helps us understand we are part of much larger effort, a global effort.
AI: Do you get frustrated that more people don't help or get involved in human rights in Croatia?
IG: Absolutely, but I understand why they are fearful. I wish we could instill just a little more courage in them. I remember that first demo in Pula we helped organize with the mother's of young men who had been mobilized into the military. Other women were either too scared to join us or came to the conclusion that they didn't need to - their sons hadn't received a recruitment notice. But it was only a matter of time before they might be mobilized. Mirjana and I don't have any sons, but we realized the importance of speaking out. Now the goal is to figure out a way to help other people understand how rewarding this work can be. Through our public events and education we are hoping for a chain reaction - where other people will be moved to act.
AI: Why is this work so important for you? What is your motivation?
MG: If you don't react and respond to something you disagree with - what do you stand for? It's a philosophy we have both supported for years. Our motive is somewhat of a selfish one in that this is the most gratifying experience of our lives. When we got involved in this work, we thought, "yes, that's right, we'll be helping others", when the reality is we get more back from this work than we could ever give. This work has helped us to do an inventory of our lives and helped us realize what is really important and what's not. It's the only way to experience how meaningful life can be.
Last But Not Least!!!
Time for my own farewell to Jim Smith and Revae Moran: Jim was one of the
"founding" members along with myself of the current incarnation of Group
22. As our first coordinator he really set the tone for the kind of
ambitious group we have become. Revae has contributed not only as
coordinator but in the shaping of our action file work and was
indispensable to the success of numerous special events we have done over
the years. We will miss you both very much, you've been (and will continue
to be) great friends - Good luck and stay in touch! - Martha