Are You Going to Chicago for the Midwest Regional?

amnesty st. louisEvery year, Amnesty International has both a national conference (known as the Annual General Meeting) and a regional conference. This year’s Midwest Regional Conference is at Northern Illinois University in Chicago on Nov. 9 and 10. Our chapter is going, and we’d love for you to join us and hundreds of other activists from the region to learn more about what Amnesty International is doing, and what more we can do for human rights. This year’s conference theme is, “Same Mission, New Technology.”

If you want to attend the conference, make sure to register online. Of course, you can just show up and register there, but it’s always better to register online. It costs $25 to attend, $15 for students and seniors.

Below is the schedule of events for the Midwest Regional Conference, as well as additional information regarding travel and accommodations. We hope to see you there!


4:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Registration and Member Services

5:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.

Ideas Fair


Midwest Regional Conference Welcome & Opening Reception
o NEIU President (Invited)
o Ed LeMaster, Former Prisoner of Conscience

6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Amplify Your Activism – Training & Skill Building Session
Program and Campaign Roundtable – Michelle Ringuette

8:00 p.m. – 9:15 p.m.

Resolutions and Dessert
o Tom Benner, Midwest Resolutions Representative, AIUSA

8:00 p.m. – 9:15 p.m.

Human Rights Festival – An evening of fellowship with musicians, poets, a film screening, a photo booth and ice cream social


8:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.

Registration and Member Services

8:00 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Ideas Fair

8:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m.

Townhall & Breakfast with Regional Planning Group (RPG) –Nick Kissel

9:00 a.m. – 10:50 a.m.

Opening Plenary – Same Mission, New Technology
o Kyra Stoddart, Online marketing Manager, AIUSA
o Emma Ruby-Sachs, Campaign Director at
o Joe Baker, vice President of Causes and Advocacy at Care2
o Jackie Zammuto, Program Assistant for WITNESS

11:00 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.

Workshop Session I

Social Media (runs until 1:30 p.m.)
• Kyra Stoddart, Online Marketing Manager for AIUSA
• Chris Eaton,

Writing for Rights Write-a-thon and Event Planning
• NEIU Student Group

Fundraising: Inviting People to Join the Largest Human Rights Organization in the World – US!
• Nick Kissel, Chair RPG
• David Stamps, North African Coordination Group Chair

Womens’ Rights in South Asia, special focus on Pakistan, Afghanistan & Sri Lanka
• Alice Dahle, AIUSA Women’sHuman Rights Co-Group
• Jim McDonald, AIUSA South Asia Co-Group, Sri Lanka Country Specialist
• Ellen Bennett, AIUSA South Asia Co-Group, Pakistan Country Specialist

Abolition of the Death Penalty: Learning from the Illinois Victory and Beyond
• Jeremy Schroeder, National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

12:15 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Networking Luncheon

1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.

National Board of Directors Strategic Plan Session – Rafia Zakaria

2:45 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Workshop Session II
Now or Never!: Effective Rapid Response
• Michelle Ringuette, Chief of Campaigns AIUSA

MENA Update and Strategic Action
• Beth Ann Toupin, Iraq & BahrainCountry Specialist
• Elise Auerbach, IranCountry Specialist

Human Rights and the LGBT Community
• Nancy Matthews, NEIU Professor
• Erin Hamilton, Student Group Coordinator AIUSA
• Dr. Shelly Bannister, Moderator
Building Bridges- Outreach and Publicity Techniques
• Mohamad Badreddine, Student Group Leader AI U of M Dearborn

Effective Public Speaking: Speaking for Activists
• Hamzah Latif – former SG Coordinator U of M Dearborn

4:10 p.m. – 7:10 p.m.

Resolution Plenary – Tom Benner, Regional Representative National Resolution Committee

7:15 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Closing Ceremony
Charge to the Members – Michelle Ringuette,
Chief of Campaigns AIUSA
Final Awards Presentation


If you’ll need some help with travel and accommodations, below is some information about that. We understand the list of hotels originally secured has sold out for the weekend; therefore we have secured a limited number of rooms at another hotel with the rate of $99.00 + tax.  If you are still in need of a room see the information below.  The deadline to reserve a room is November 2, 2012. 


Holiday Inn

5300 W. Touhy Ave

Skokie, IL 60077


Group Code: AMN


There will be parking available on campus at NO CHARGE.  We are awaiting the University to notify us of the specific parking lot, once we receive notice we will provide the information to the members (and on our blog).


There will be shuttle service provided from the hotel to the University each morning and evening during the conference.

Amnesty St. Louis Book Club – The New Jim Crow

The New Jim CrowIf you didn’t know already, the Amnesty International St. Louis chapter has its own book club, where we read human rights book on a bi-monthly basis and discuss the topics. Most recently, we read The Unheard Truth: Poverty and Human Rights, by Irene Kahn, the first woman, first Asian, and first Muslim to head Amnesty International as Secretary General from 2001-2009.

Our next book, of which we’ll be discussing at our Nov.13 general meeting, is the The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander. This book was highly recommended to us at the Denver conference, and since we haven’t read a human rights book in a while, we are revamping the book club with the New Jim Crow. Below is a description:

“Jarvious Cotton’s great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Klu Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation; his father was barred by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole.”

As the United States celebrates the nation’s “triumph over race” with the election of Barack Obama, the majority of young black men in major American cities are locked behind bars or have been labeled felons for life. Although Jim Crow laws have been wiped off the books, an astounding percentage of the African American community remains trapped in a subordinate status–much like their grandparents before them.

In this incisive critique, former litigator-turned-legal-scholar Michelle Alexander provocatively argues that we have not ended racial caste in America: we have simply redesigned it. Alexander shows that, by targeting black men and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of color blindness. The New Jim Crow challenges the civil rights community–and all of us–to place mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in America.

If interested in participating in our book club, please read this book by Nov. 13, and join our discussion. We hope to see you there!

Bahrain: Teachers face further jail time after ‘nightmare’ verdict

Bahrain Teachers Association

Former BTA leaders Mahdi ‘Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb and Jalila al-Salman

The Latest News from Amnesty International

Two former leaders of the Bahrain Teachers’ Association (BTA) received prison sentences on Sunday when an appeal court upheld a guilty verdict in what Amnesty International called another injustice.

Family members called the ruling a “nightmare”. Mahdi ‘Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb was sentenced to five years in prison while Jalila al-Salman – who was not present in the courtroom – was handed a six-month sentence. The new ruling reduces their sentences from 10 years’ and three years’ imprisonment, respectively.

Following his arrest after calling for a teachers’ strike early in 2011, Abu Dheeb has already spent some 18 months in prison, while al-Salman spent five and a half months in prison before being released on bail. Amnesty International considers Abu Dheeb to be a prisoner of conscience and will grant the same status to al-Salman if she is returned to jail.

“With this guilty verdict, Bahrain’s justice system has added to a growing list of outrageous injustices. Mahdi ‘Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb is a prisoner of conscience who must be released immediately and unconditionally, and Jalila al-Salman must not be put behind bars – these convictions must be quashed as a matter of urgency,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International.

“All these teachers did was to call for a strike in their role as trade union leaders – this is merely exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association and is certainly not a crime.”

Their lawyers have said they will appeal the decision before Bahrain’s Court of Cassation.

Abu Dheeb and al-Salman were initially sentenced before a military court last year for, among other things, using their positions as vice-president and president of the BTA to call for a strike by teachers, halting the educational process, “inciting hatred of the regime” and “attempting to overthrow the ruling system by force”.

Prior to that, they were held in solitary confinement, where they say they were subjected to torture or other ill-treatment and forced to sign “confessions” that they did not even read.

Amnesty International urges the Bahraini authorities to investigate fully the allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in custody, make the results public, and hold those responsible to account.

Following Sunday’s verdict, Abu Dheeb’s daughter Maryam Abu Dheeb told Amnesty International: “I was sure this was coming to an end. This is a nightmare.”

Minutes after the verdict, she also posted the following message on social media site Twitter: “Mama’s tears are heartbreaking .. 563 days were hard .. 5 years are a nightmare.”

Amnesty International believes neither or them used or advocated violence and is not aware that any such evidence was presented during their trials.

Monthly Human Rights Letter Writing Meeting Tomorrow

human rights letter writing meetingOn Tuesday, Oct. 23, the St. Louis Amnesty International chapter will be having its monthly human rights letter writing meeting. From 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., we will be at Hartford Coffee Company writing letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience around the world, while enjoying the presence of other activists and the great food and drink of Hartford (the Vietnamese Iced Coffee is delicious!)

For those who don’t know, Hartford Coffee Company is located at 3974 Hartford Street, 63116. It is located one block south of Arsenal, on the corner of Hartford and Roger Pl. You don’t have to stay for the whole hour and a half, nor do you have to arrive right at 7 p.m. if you can’t. Even if you’re able to spare just 20 or 30 minutes, we’d love to see you there.

This is also the second to last letter writing meeting of the year (we don’t typically meet in December because of the holidays). In the coming weeks, prepare for posts that cover what we’ve accomplished this year, and what we hope to accomplish in 2013. In the meantime, please attend a letter writing meeting and make a difference!

We Need to Continue Action on VAWA


It may not have been in the news in recent weeks, but that doesn’t mean that the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is over and done with. In fact, since both houses of Congress passed separate versions of the bill, the next step is a conference committee, where members from both houses must come together to come up with a final version of the bill.

The House passed a version of VAWA that fails women. If this version prevails:

  • Tribal courts will have no power to prosecute non-Native perpetrators of sexual violence against Native American women.
  • Immigrant women will have little legal protection to prevent abusers from using immigration status as a tool of exploitation and control.
  • LGBT persons will continue to face discrimination and denial of social services.

This is why action needs to continue, even though this committee is likely to take place after the election! These provisions include protections for Native American, undocumented immigrants, and gay, lesbian, and transgender victims. Because of this, we need to continue advocating for this issue, and making sure that the final legislation that is passed by Congress includes these provisions.

Below is a statement from Frank Jannuzi, head of Amnesty International’s Washington D.C. office:

“This vote is a devastating blow to legal protections for all women. H.R. 4970, as it currently stands, fails to protect some of the most vulnerable sectors of our society: immigrant women, LGBT individuals, Native American and Alaska Native women who fall victim to domestic violence and sexual assault. The House bill removes existing protections and severely limits access to essential resources provided for under the Senate-approved bill. In fact, in comparison with existing law, the House version represents a retreat for women’s rights.”

“The facts are grim. Murder is the third leading cause of death for Native women, and Native American and Alaskan Native women are two-and-a-half times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than other women in the United States. These unfortunate statistics demonstrate the need for a more comprehensive piece of legislation that would guarantee the protection of all women. It is imperative that Congress passes a bill that protects all women.”

Below is the contact information for Missouri’s representatives and senators. Please demand that the final version of this bill protects ALL women, not just ones that the Republicans support!


William “Lacy” Clay

2418 Rayburn House Office Building

Washington D.C., 20515

Phone: 202-225-2406



Todd Akin

117 Cannon House Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20515

Phone: 202-225-2561



Russ Carnahan

1710 Longworth House Office Building

Washington DC, 20515

Phone: 202-225-2671



Blaine Luetkemeyer

1740 Longworth House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

Phone: 202-225-2956


Senator Claire McCaskill

Hart Senate Office Building, Ste. 506

Washington, D.C. 20510

Phone: 202-224-6154


Senator Roy Blunt

260 Russell Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

Phone: 202-224-5721

October Human Rights News Roundup

human rights newsIt’s been a few months since we’ve done a human rights news roundup, and we can’t forget that there are tons of issues that we need to at least be aware of. Our chapter is also in the middle of a waiting game, as we won’t have any updates from the Reggie Clemons case until January, so we do need some other issues to learn about and to focus on. To help with that, here’s a human rights news roundup, covering some really good human rights issues from the past week or so.

Her ‘Crime’ was Loving Schools – New York Times – This is one of the biggest human rights stories of the past week, so it would be a surprise if you haven’t heard about it yet. Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old Pakistani girl, was shot in the head while riding the bus to school. She was shot for being an outspoken advocate for girls’ education, and was threatened more than once by the Taliban for her work. Yousafzai has since been transferred to a hospital in the UK, where she is predicted to recover from her wounds. The Taliban have said that if she survives, they would try and kill her again. Amnesty International has an urgent action on this case.

Pussy Riot Member Uses Freedom to Resume Protests Against Vladimir Putin – The Guardian – The girls of Pussy Riot have become a priority case for Amnesty International. Pussy Riot was sentenced to several years in prison for singing a protest song in Red Square. Their exact charge is “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” One of the members, Yekaterina Samutsevich, has been released. While Amnesty is continuing action on getting the other two released, Samutsevich has said that she will continue the struggle of the group.

Speaking of the Guardian, they did some great work covering the Reggie Clemons hearings at the end of September. We’ve linked to their articles.

National Coming Out Day: A Straight Perspective – Huffington Post – Friday, Oct. 12 was National Coming Out Day (something that wasn’t mentioned in the VP debate, and one that I hope will be discussed in the next presidential debate). Thought this was a great essay on the topic of gay marriage.

What’s Going On At Guantanamo This Week? Shhh…It’s A Secret – Amnesty International Blog – Did you know that this week, the pre-trial motion hearings are taking place for the military commission case against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the four other alleged co-conspirators in the 9/11 attacks? Probably not, as everything the defendants know, say, or write is “preemptively classified”, whatever that means. A big reason why this is wrong, according to Amnesty, is that if the defendants know of or have experienced any sort of human rights violations, then all that is classified and cannot be discussed. Amnesty also believes that “the blanket policy of presumptive classification is inconsistent with the defendants’ right to a fair trial and seriously undermines the defendants’ ability to challenge the evidence against them.”

Egyptian Rights Group: No End to Police Abuses – Voice of America – Egypt may have been the birthplace of the Arab Spring, but it isn’t in the clear and perfect yet (like any country is perfect). There’s been documentation of rape, wrongful deaths, and torture ever since President Mohammed Morsi came to power. According to the reports, many of the victims were protesters and that President Morsi hasn’t made any institutional changes since becoming president. Part of the rise in crime and abuses is also due to the fact that much of police force fled at the beginning of the Arab Spring.

Sample Death Penalty Urgent Action Letter

death penalty urgent actionAmnesty International unconditionally opposes the death penalty. It is considered cruel and unusual punishment, and is a violation of human rights. We work on behalf of those who are on death row who may be innocent of their crimes, or who did not face a fair trial upon sentencing. We do not try to downplay the seriousness of the crimes committed, nor do we believe that every person sentenced to death is innocent of their crime.

This sample death penalty letter is in concern for 40-year-old Bobby Hines, who is due to be executed in Texas on October 24 for a murder committed when he was 19. The jury that sentenced him to death heard no expert mitigation evidence about the impacts of his severely abusive childhood. Call on the state of Texas to halt this execution. If you want to take action on this case, please click the link and do so online. Otherwise, take this sample death penalty letter as a way to use letter writing to bring awareness to our government and representatives about human rights issues.

I am writing to urge you to take all actions necessary to prevent the execution of Bobby Hines (inmate no. #999025) who is scheduled to be put to death in Texas on October 24. There is no doubt the crime he committed was serious, and caused great suffering, but I am concerned that he is being put to death despite a childhood of abuse, poverty, deprivation and neglect, and despite the fact that his sentencing jury never new about the potential effects of that childhood.

As a child, Mr. Hines experienced repeated violent assaults at the hands of his father, and witnessed both his mother and sister being physically and sexually abused. The trauma of this environment was enhanced by a life in poverty featuring frequent periods of hunger and homelessness, and his development may also have been hampered by low intellectual functioning.

In capital cases, the jury is supposed to hear about these kinds of mitigating factors, but Mr. Hines’ jury heard nothing about how such a horrific upbringing might have affected his actions, including the murder he committed at the age of 19. The sentencing phase of his trial lasted only one day.

I believe that with a more complete picture of Bobby Hines’ childhood and its effects on his actions Texas jurors would not have voted for death in this case. As you are responsible for executive clemency, you are in a unique position to step in and prevent this unjust execution, and I urge you to do so without delay.

Thank you for your consideration of this most serious matter.

“How To Survive A Plague” movie opening in STL


HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE is the story of the brave young men and women who successfully reversed the tide of an epidemic, demanded the attention of a fearful nation and stopped AIDS from becoming a death sentence. This improbable group of activists bucked oppression and, with no scientific training, infiltrated government agencies and the pharmaceutical industry, helping to identify promising new medication and treatments and move them through trials and into drugstores in record time. In the process, they saved their own lives and ended the darkest days of a veritable plague, while virtually emptying AIDS wards in American hospitals in the process. The powerful story of their fight is a classic tale of empowerment and activism that has since inspired movements for change in everything from breast cancer research to Occupy Wall Street. Their story stands as a powerful inspiration to future generations, a road map, and a call to arms. This is how you change the world.

Young Illegal Immigrants Eligible for Driver’s Licenses

getting a driver's license

Getting a driver’s license is now something immigrants in California can do.

News from the immigration front today! Driving is a privilege, not a right, and young illegal immigrants in California will be able to earn that privilege. The state will soon begin to issue driver’s licenses to hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who came to the country as children. The bill has been approved by state legislators, and is headed to the governor’s desk right now to be signed into law.

The Obama Administration approved a federal deportation relief law where young illegal immigrants who meet certain criteria can apply for two years of deportation relief. This law grants work permits, and it’s up to the states to decide whether or not to issue driver’s licenses, to offer in-state tuition, and other services. California has decided to grant these services once the work permits are issued. The directive applies to immigrants 30 years old or younger who are students or high schools graduates. Applicants must have also been in the country for at least five years, must have been brought to the US before the age of 16, and have no criminal record. Even though California driving law bans driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants, those who qualify for deportation relief will be considered “temporary legal residents” and could get a driver’s license.

However, those who can now get a driver’s license won’t automatically get one in the mail. They have to earn it by taking the driver’s test, just like everyone else. The best way to prepare and to ensure that you pass the test is with California DMV practice tests. These practice tests will make it easier to take the real thing. These practice tests will also be helpful to those who speak English as a second language, where the questions and answers can be extra tough. It’s important to note that the California driver’s test has 36 questions on it, and at least 30 of them must be answered correctly in order to pass the test. These practice tests mentioned only help with the written portion, not the on-road driving portion.

Illegal immigrants in California who want the privilege of driving are able to get that privilege once they have work permits. But, they do need to pass the driver’s test, and you only have three tries to pass the test. This makes California DMV practice tests so crucial, especially for a population that wouldn’t want to mess up this opportunity. It’s a great step forward in the rights of immigrants in the United States; we just need more states to participate to give more people in the country a chance at social mobility.

What else do you think our government should do to grant more rights to the immigrant population? Do you at least think this is a step in the right direction?

What to Bring to the Amnesty General Meeting Tomorrow

amnesty general meetingAs with every second Tuesday of the month, we will be having our general meeting at Hartford Coffee Company in the Tower Grove neighborhood. It will start promptly at 7 p.m., at the corner of Roger and Hartford, in the coffee shop’s new study/meeting area through the back door. So, just what is it that you will need to bring?

Yourself, obviously, as well as your thinking cap. We will be having a guest speaker talk us about human rights in Burma and some of the country’s history. If you are unfamiliar with our group, we’ve been focusing on Burma for several years now with specific assigned to the chapter and to the region. It’ll be a good time to ask questions, as well as learn why what we do as an Amnesty International chapter is so important.

If you haven’t attended a general meeting in a while, or at all, then THIS is the meeting to attend. The group will be caught up on what’s going on in Burma, as well as some of the issues we might target for the next several months. We might be able to do a few things with Burma, but our work on the Reggie Clemons case is done for now. We will get started on event planning, so tomorrow is the best time to start getting involved, or to start getting back involved.

And all you have to bring is yourself to Hartford, and perhaps order something delicious. The meeting will run until 8:30 p.m. Hope to see you there!