It's been several months since my last column, and in that time Alexi and I have moved into our new house and begun preparing in earnest for our baby (due early July). The group has undertaken a number of great activities, and it's been very gratifying to participate to the extent of my ability, but unfortunately I've had a particularly difficult time composing my monthly column in time for the newsletter to go out. I'm sorry to have missed the opportunities to share my thoughts with you and discuss what the group has been up to. Speaking of the newsletter, thanks to Martha for her awesome work actually putting it together every month (whether or not I get my column done!), as well as coordinating our very successful monthly book discussion group (see inside for details) and on top of all that, helping to coordinate AI's work in California to abolish the death penalty.
A particularly exciting development for the group is the opportunity to host a talk at Caltech later this month (May 29; see calendar for details) by Ray Choto, an award-winning journalist from Zimbabwe. The Committee to Protect Journalists just announced its annual list of the ten countries most hostile to freedom of the press, and Zimbabwe was prominent on the list. Choto suffered harassment, imprisonment under trumped-up charges and torture in custody (documented in recent Amnesty International reports), and his current speaking tour is sponsored by AI local groups across the country, as part of AI's ongoing Campaign Against Torture. Please try to attend the talk (and the Pizza social with Choto beforehand); it's bound to be a very informative and stimulating evening.
Special thanks to group members Robert Adams and Lucas Kamp for organizing this event from the beginning! I'm especially glad, and grateful, for their initiative and resourcefulness throughout a difficult and logistically challenging undertaking. Robert even managed to swing a radio interview with Choto on KPCC. Well done!
Our next monthly meeting (May 24; see calendar for details) we'll have two very special visitors, Sonali Kolhatkar and Jim Ingalls, who will be discussing the human-rights situation in Afghanistan and the history of US involvement in the region. Many of you will remember our collaboration with Sonali last year, when we co-sponsored the talk at Caltech by the two Afghani women, which turned out to be one of the most successful events that the group has ever been involved in. I hope you will be able to make this special monthly meeting.
Finally and most crucially, I encourage you to keep writing letters, on the actions included here and also at our festive monthly letter-writing meeting. That's how we can all make a difference, any day we can take a few minutes out of our busy schedules to learn about what someone across the globe is actually facing, and what we can do to have a chance of helping. Please make a special point of taking action for our group's prisoner of conscience, Tibetan monk Ngawang Pekar, and don't forget to send a note of encouragement directly to him, as suggested in last month's newsletter. Thanks to Robert and Joyce Wolf for coordinating our ongoing work on his behalf. Lucas has volunteered to help track the group's activity, so please drop a line to let us know about your actions.
I'll look forward to seeing you in our various activities!
Larry Romans 818-354-5809
Group Coordinator firstname.lastname@example.org
AFRICAN PRESS FREEDOM
Journalist Speaks About Government Repression
Be there Tuesday, May 29
WHAT: Ray Choto, award-winning Zimbabwean author and journalist, will speak about repression of journalists in southern Africa. In 1999, Mr. Choto was arrested and tortured by the Zimbabwean government for publishing an article that criticized government officials and policies. At the time of his arrest, he was Chief Writer of The Standard, a leading independent newspaper in Harare, Zimbabwe. He is currently a journalism research scholar at Stanford
University as a Knight Fellow.
o Tuesday, May 29 at 7:30 pm: California Institute of Technology in 119 Kerckhoff Lab (located on the east side of Wilson Avenue just south of San Pasqual Street), Pasadena
o Wednesday, May 30 at 7:30 pm: Midnight Special Bookstore, 1318 3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica (
BACKGROUND: "Enemies of the State"
Freedom of the Press is under seige in the southern African countries of Zambia and Zimbabwe. Both governments regularly use the reason of "causing public alarm" to harass, detain, and in some cases torture the editors and writers in the independent press. Zimbabwe's Official Secrets Act makes the publication of information not authorized by the government an imprisonable offence. President Mugabe has called the independent press the "enemies of the state." The Zimbabwean government recently announced that it would require all journalists to obtain official government press credentials, providing yet another means for the government to track the independent press and apply pressure to it. A similar situation exists in Zambia. The government banned the February 5, 1996 edition of The Post for revealing government plans to hold a referendum on proposed constitutional changes. When The Post published an article critical of Zambia's military capacity in March 1999, police attempted to arrest the entire staff of the paper. Twelve journalists were formally charged with espionage and later acquitted.
Ray Choto has won three national journalism prizes in Zimbabwe since he joined The Standard as Chief Writer in 1998.
Later that year Mr Choto researched and wrote a story regarding the arrest of 23 senior Zimbabwean army officers alleged to have incited their colleagues to rebel against the government of President Robert Mugabe. In January 1999, he and The Standard editor Mark Chavunduka, were illegally detained by the military and tortured for refusing to divulge sources for the story, which the government claimed was fabricated.
Released on bail, they were flown by Amnesty International to London, where they were treated for the physical and psychological effects of torture at the medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture.
In May of last year the Zimbabwean Supreme Court ruled that the laws under which they had been charged were unconstitutional. The case against them was dropped.
Both men were nominated for awards by the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, and Mr Choto received the special James Cameron prize for 1999 for his activism promoting freedom of the press in Zimbabwe.
Mr. Choto is currently a visiting journalism research scholar at Stanford University. He is past chairman of the Zimbabwe African Languages Writers Association, the current secretary-general of the Independent Journalists Association of Zimbabwe, and sits on the national executive board of the Southern African Writers Council. He is also an established novelist.
Please join us on the 29th!
JUST EARTH NETWORK
Defend Three Gorges Dam Project Protestors!
Torture/arbitrary detention/legal concern
PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA
He Kechang Ran Chongxin
Jiang Qingshan Wen Dingchun
The four farmers named above have reportedly been detained incommunicado since March. He Kechang has reportedly been tortured, and the others are also believed to be in danger. They are among thousands of people whose homes will be flooded by the Three Gorges Dam, and they were arrested when they tried to complain that local officials had embezzled funds intended to pay for resettling them.
All four are from Gaoyang township, Yunyang county, in Chongqing municipality. Gaoyang is in the centre of what will become a giant reservoir in 2003, when the dam on the Yangzi river becomes operational. The dam project has been plagued with problems, including reported widespread corruption, embezzlement of resettlement funds intended to compensate people whose homes will be flooded, and environmental problems.
The four were reportedly among eight farmers' representatives from Gaoyang, who planned to go to Beijing in early March to present a petition to the government, complaining that local officials had embezzled resettlement funds. The local police found out, and arrested Wen Dingchun on 8 March. Four of the others reportedly fled the area, while He Kechang, Ran Chongxin and Jiang Qinshan went to Beijing. Yunyang county police apparently followed them there, arrested them on 12 March and took them back to Yunyang.
All are reportedly held in the Yunyang county police Detention Centre. It is believed they may be charged with "disturbing social order" or "leaking state secrets". They are expected to be tried at the end of April.
BACKGROUND. The Three Gorges dam will be the largest in the world. Over a million people will have to be resettled by the time the dam is completed, of whom 300,000 have already moved. The government in Beijing introduced new regulations in February this year, to try to rid the project of corruption and prevent social unrest over forced resettlement. According to some experts, even though the regulations are a positive step, they fail to address some contentious issues and are being implemented without the public scrutiny that would be required to alleviate the problems surrounding the massive displacement of people.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send letters in English, Chinese or your own language:
o expressing concern that He Kechang, Ran Chongxin, Jiang Qingshan and Wen Dingchun are reported to have been arbitrarily detained by Yunyang county police, Chongqing municipality, for peacefully attempting to exercise their constitutional right to petition the government in Beijing;
o expressing concern that He Kechang has reportedly been tortured in custody, and urging the authorities to take action immediately to ensure that he and the others do not face further torture or ill-treatment, and to order an impartial investigation into the allegations;
o urging the authorities to order that the men are released immediately and unconditionally, unless they are to be charged with a recognisably criminal offence, and to ensure that while they are in custody they have access to their families, lawyers and doctors of their choosing.
Premier of the People's Republic of China
ZHU Rongji Zongli
People's Republic of China
Salutation: Your Excellency
Procurator-General of the Supreme People's Procuratorate of the People's Republic of China
HAN Zhubin Jianchazhang
Zuigao Renmin Jianchayuan
147 Beiheyan Dajie
People's Republic of China
Acting Mayor of Chongqing Municipality, Bao Xuding
PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE
Ngawang Pekar, Tibetan Monk
Group 22 remains committed to work on behalf of Ngawang Pekar, a Tibetan monk held in Lhasa's infamous Drapchi Prison since 1989, when he was arrested for participating in a peaceful demonstration.
Tibet may receive special attention from the news media this month, as the Dalai Lama is touring the U.S. May 7-28. His last stop is Los Angeles, where he will give a public talk at UCLA May 26 at 6 pm; call (310)546-6222 or go to http://www.speakersla.com/related.htm for ticket information. He will also conduct religious teachings at Pasadena Civic Auditorium May 25-27.
Tibet Awareness Day will take place Friday May 25 10am-8pm at the Pasadena Masonic Temple, 200 S Euclid. This free daylong festival will feature Tibetan food, a bazaar, a sand mandala, photo exhibit, slide shows, and more. The evening program (6pm-8pm, $15) includes sacred music and dance by the Gaden Shartse Monks and folk dancing by professional Tibetan performers. For information or tickets, phone 714-974-6118 or 310-458-6231.
We are looking into getting a table at both the Pasadena and UCLA events to distribute Pekar postcards and other Amnesty materials. If you want to help us staff this table, please contact Robert Adams at 626/441-2338 or email@example.com
UN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
Statement by William F. Schulz,
Executive Director of Amnesty International USA
(New York) - Amnesty International USA believes that the removal of the United States from the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) is due in part to an effort by nations that routinely violate human rights to escape scrutiny of their human rights' records. The commission's member governments are failing in their principal duty to protect victims of appalling human rights violations, preferring instead to preserve economic ties and strategic alliances. Despite continuing problems with the United States' own human rights record, the US was among the few nations willing to actively push for condemnation at the UNHRC of the brutal human rights violations committed by nations like China.
The Administration and the Congress have in recent years weakened US influence within the UN through a combination of neglect and wilful exceptionalism and should not make the error of taking this decision as an excuse for not providing the necessary support - including financial contributions - to the United Nations and specifically the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The administration must also take steps to end its increasing isolationism on international human rights treaties. In response to the United States’ removal from the UNCHR, James B. Cunningham, the acting US ambassador to the UN, stated that the decision would not “affect our commitment to human rights issues, in and outside the UN.” Amnesty International USA welcomes this statement and expects the Bush administration to put this commitment into practice by backing initiatives supportive of human rights at the United Nations and in other venues.
In particular, Amnesty International USA urges President Bush to signal that the U.S. joins with the world community in defending justice and human rights by opposing any effort to retract US signature of the International Criminal Court (ICC) treaty. The ICC will prosecute people accused of the most heinous crimes known to humanity - genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. It will function as a deterrent to those who would commit grave crimes under international law; as a means to justice and truth for victims and their families; and as a major step toward ending impunity for human rights violators. It will only act in cases where national courts are either unwilling or unable to meet their responsibility to investigate or prosecute these crimes. By remaining engaged with the ICC treaty and other treaty processes, the Bush Administration can help confirm its commitment to opposing human rights violations whenever and wherever they occur, and assert the principle that grave human rights abuses cannot escape scrutiny.
Amnesty’s Reponse to the Missing FBI Files
Amnesty International Calls for an Immediate Moratorium on the Federal Death Penalty
(Washington, DC) Reacting to news today that documents related to the Timothy McVeigh case were not shared with the lawyers involved in the trial of McVeigh, Amnesty International called for an immediate moratorium on the federal death penalty.
"This is an enormous blow to those who think that the death penalty system in this country works," said William F. Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA (AIUSA). "Here we have a case that was monitored and scrutinized by teams of lawyers, legal scholars, and government officials. And yet there was still a critical error. In how many cases does this happen when no one is paying attention?"
"Unfortunately, this news does not surprise us at all," said Ajamu Baraka, Director of AIUSA's Program to Abolish the Death Penalty. "It is time for the US government to wake up and realize that this is a system rife with human error -- both deliberate and accidental -- that can have fatal consequences."
The organization cited a recent Columbia Law School study on the US death penalty, which concluded that US death sentences are "persistently and systematically fraught with error." It found that the huge error rate in capital cases at a state level was mainly the result of "egregiously incompetent defense lawyers" and police or prosecutors who did discover important evidence that could have proved that a defendant was innocent or did not deserve to die, but suppressed it. The study expressed doubt that all such errors were being discovered.
"The response from the federal government to such evidence has been to hide behind federalism -- suggesting that the federal government has little or
no responsibility for errors," said Schulz. "Well, the federal government has nowhere left to hide. We now have further evidence -- if any is needed -- that the fatal flaws that plague state systems also infect the federal system."
"The only reasonable response is to declare a moratorium halting this dangerous system," said Baraka. "Regardless of whether this newly discovered evidence would have changed the outcome of this case, this is an incident that is symptomatic of a wider problem. We urge President Bush to exercise courageous leadership and institute an immediate moratorium on the federal death penalty."
ACTION. It’s not too late to send a message to President Bush calling for a federal death penalty moratorium now!
President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500
Fax: 1 202 456 2461
VIGILS. If you are interested in attending vigils or demonstrations in the event of a reschedule execution date, call the Death Penalty Coalition office for information: 213-637-7402
Borders Books & Music
475 South Lake Avenue, Pasadena
by Michael Ondaatje
Anil’s Ghost transports us to Sri Lanka, a country steeped in centuries of tradition, now forced into the late twentieth century by the ravages of civil war. Into this maelstrom steps
Anil Tissera, a young woman born in Sri Lanka, educated in England and America, who returns to her homeland as a forensic anthropologist sent by an international human rights group to discover the source of the organized campaigns of murder engulfing the island. What follows is a story about love, about family, about identity, about the unknown enemy, about the quest to unlock the hidden past--a story propelled by a riveting mystery. Unfolding against the deeply evocative background of Sri Lanka’s landscape and ancient civilization, Anil’s Ghost is a literary spellbinder? Michael Ondaatje’s most powerful novel yet.
"The layers of human history, the depth of the human body, the heartache of love and fratricide have rarely been conveyed with such dignity and translucence. I was enthralled as I have not been since The English Patient."-- Ariel Dorfman
"Ondaatje's willingness to look human suffering in the face is one of his compelling virtues, and gives his dreamlike montages their stern depth." -- John Updike, The New Yorker
New book by executive Director William Schulz
In Our Own Best Interest:
How Defending Human Rights Benefits Us All
Sierra Leone, Kosovo, East Timor, the Bronx. The nightly news brings vivid images into our living rooms of the mistreatment of people all over the world. In the secure comfort of those rooms, we may feel sympathetic to the victims of these atrocities but far removed from them. "What does all this have to do with a person in east Tennessee?" is the question, from a radio program host, that prompted William Schulz to write this book.
Schulz provides answers with an insightful work, generously laced with compelling stories of women and men from all continents, which clearly delineates the connection between our prosperity here in the United States and human rights violations throughout the globe. The book reveals the high cost of indifference not only in ethical and moral terms, but in terms of the political, economic, environmental and public health consequences in our own back yards.
Consider the high cost to U.S. military personnel and their families of radical political instability in the Balkans, for example--costs that might well have been avoided if the U.S. and the international community had conscientiously defended human rights. Or the devastating economic impact on U.S. businesses of systemic corruption in Asia. Or the serious environmental hazards of nuclear fuel leaks in Russia, the spread of drug-resistant tuberculosis and the expensive dangers of inhumane prison conditions in the U.S., to name just a few examples. At the heart of each of these problems lies the abuse of basic human rights.
Through the stories of Natasa Kandic and Alexander Nikitin, of Samia Sarwar and Han Dongfang, of Jaime Garzon and Sister Dianna Ortiz, Schulz introduces us to the front-line of the international battle for rights and builds a powerful case for defending our own interests by vigorously defending the human rights of people everywhere.
Read us on line: http://www.cco.caltech.edu/~aigp22
Martha Ter Maat, 626-281-4039 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Check “Up-coming Events” for
details. Meeting dates may
vary due to holidays!
Check “Up-coming Events” for details. Meeting dates may vary due to holidays!
From the 210 exit on Lake Avenue, head south, turn left on Del Mar
From the 110 continue on Arroyo Parkway north, turn right on California
Street parking is generally available.
Amnesty International Group 22
P.O. Box 50193
Pasadena, CA 91115-0193