Our 100th Post: 8 Human Rights Books to Read This Summer

human rights booksEven though the summer equinox hasn’t arrived yet, it sure feels like summer! School is out, the weather is hot, and there’s no better time to catch up on some great reading. If summer reading is your thing, or you’re looking for a few good books to plow through over the next few months, then here are eight human rights books that you ought to read this summer. A couple of these were book club books, or may become a book club book for the chapter, but that’s all the more reason to read them (or even read them again!)

Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights and the New War on the Poor

Paul Farmer, if you don’t know, has done some amazing work in public health in third world countries. Since we live in a country where healthcare is considered a privilege and not a right, his perspective is critical as it shows the relationship between human rights and health. This book written by Farmer, while another on this list is a book about Farmer and his work in Haiti. He is that awesome, and Haiti is a country in such desolate conditions.

Pathologies of Power uses harrowing stories of life–and death–in extreme situations to interrogate our understanding of human rights. Paul Farmer, a physician and anthropologist with twenty years of experience working in Haiti, Peru, and Russia, argues that promoting the social and economic rights of the world’s poor is the most important human rights struggle of our times. With passionate eyewitness accounts from the prisons of Russia and the beleaguered villages of Haiti and Chiapas, this book links the lived experiences of individual victims to a broader analysis of structural violence. Farmer challenges conventional thinking within human rights circles and exposes the relationships between political and economic injustice, on one hand, and the suffering and illness of the powerless, on the other.

Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, Revised Edition, With a New Preface

I’m actually going to make it a point to read this one. I’m interested in learning how multinational corporations are utilizing slavery. In fact, I’m going to reserve a copy at the library for this book right now.

Slavery is illegal throughout the world, yet more than twenty-seven million people are still trapped in one of history’s oldest social institutions. Kevin Bales’s disturbing story of contemporary slavery reaches from Pakistan’s brick kilns and Thailand’s brothels to various multinational corporations. His investigations reveal how the tragic emergence of a “new slavery” is inextricably linked to the global economy. This completely revised edition includes a new preface. All of the author’s royalties from this book go to fund antislavery projects around the world.

Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West

This book is a contender as our next book club choice, and I’m rooting for it because it sounds like a good one. It would be interesting to look at the world of political prisoners, especially since that is a big part of Amnesty International’s mission.

In Escape from Camp 14, acclaimed journalist Blaine Harden tells the story of Shin Dong-hyuk and through the lens of Shin’s life unlocks the secrets of the world’s most repressive totalitarian state. Shin knew nothing of civilized existence-he saw his mother as a competitor for food, guards raised him to be a snitch, and he witnessed the execution of his own family. Through Harden’s harrowing narrative of Shin’s life and remarkable escape, he offers an unequaled inside account of one of the world’s darkest nations and a riveting tale of endurance, courage, and survival.

The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine

This is a must-read for anyone who has watched Half the Sky (another book on this list). It’s the memoir of Somaly Mam, just about one of the coolest and most incredible people on the planet. If you are not inspired by her, then you just have no soul.

Written in exquisite, spare, unflinching prose, The Road of Lost Innocence recounts the experiences of her early life and tells the story of her awakening as an activist and her harrowing and brave fight against the powerful and corrupt forces that steal the lives of these girls. She has orchestrated raids on brothels and rescued sex workers, some as young as five and six; she has built shelters, started schools, and founded an organization that has so far saved more than four thousand women and children in Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos. Her memoir will leave you awestruck by her tenacity and courage and will renew your faith in the power of an individual to bring about change.

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World

This is the book about Farmer and the great work he’s done in public health and human rights, particularly in Haiti. I’ve spoken with public health students who have been able to hear him speak, and they say that he’s an inspirational person despite his string bean frame.

At the center of Mountains Beyond Mountains stands Paul Farmer. Doctor, Harvard professor, renowned infectious-disease specialist, anthropologist, the recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant, world-class Robin Hood, Farmer was brought up in a bus and on a boat, and in medical school found his life’s calling: to diagnose and cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. This magnificent book shows how radical change can be fostered in situations that seem insurmountable, and it also shows how a meaningful life can be created, as Farmer—brilliant, charismatic, charming, both a leader in international health and a doctor who finds time to make house calls in Boston and the mountains of Haiti—blasts through convention to get results.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

Of course, this book was our latest choice for our book club, and it is a must-read! Please read this before watching the documentary too, as the two compliment each other. The documentary shouldn’t be viewed as a “movie version of the book”, where you can get everything from just one of them. Both offer stories and lessons that the other doesn’t.

With Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as our guides, we undertake an odyssey through Africa and Asia to meet the extraordinary women struggling there, among them a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery and an Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries in childbirth. Drawing on the breadth of their combined reporting experience, Kristof and WuDunn depict our world with anger, sadness, clarity, and, ultimately, hope.

They show how a little help can transform the lives of women and girls abroad. That Cambodian girl eventually escaped from her brothel and, with assistance from an aid group, built a thriving retail business that supports her family. The Ethiopian woman had her injuries repaired and in time became a surgeon. A Zimbabwean mother of five, counseled to return to school, earned her doctorate and became an expert on AIDS.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

This is one of our most recent book club choices, one that came highly recommended from others in the Amnesty and human rights community. Prepare to have your mind blown about the U.S justice system and racial relations as it stands today.

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.

Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace… One School at a Time

This one has been removed from our list, since it has come to our attention that some aspects of the book could be fraudulent. Christian Science Monitor has more.

May Human Rights News Roundup – US Foreign Policy Edition

human rights newsThis month’s human rights news roundup includes articles regarding US foreign policy and how the country is handling international human rights issues or the violations in other countries. Primarily, the emphasis in on drones, but that’s not the only thing the administration is focusing on. Catch up with what President Obama and other officials are doing in this news roundup.

Obama Drone Oversight Proposal Prompts Concerns Over ‘Kill Courts’ – The Guardian – In the president’s national security speech last week, he said that he has asked Congress to consider establishing a special court or oversight board to authorize lethal action outside of war zones. He also said that the attacks will be limited and will be carried out by the US military instead of the CIA. Obama said in the speech that with a court or oversight board, it bring in an additional branch of government into the process. This worries human rights and civil liberties groups because it doesn’t change the perspective that the US has a legal right to kill suspected terrorists abroad without trial. It also continues the ‘global war on terror’ and other human rights violations associated with it, such as indefinite detention and unlawful killings.

Kerry, in Africa, Presses Nigeria on Human Rights – The New York Times – Secretary of State John Kerry made this point when he visited the country last week, urging the Nigerian armed forces to keep human rights violations in check when defending itself and the country against Islamic militants. There have been reports in the northeast provinces that the Nigerian army and policy have committed extrajudical killings against both militants and civilians. Kerry did say that the Nigerian government acknowledges the abuses, and that he supports the right of the government and the military to defend itself against the militants.

Did Myanmar President Thein Sein Deserve a Warm Welcome? – Amnesty International – Myanmar/Burma has made great progress in human rights over the past few years, most notably its release of several hundred political prisoners. However, the country and President Thein Sein still have a lot of work to do to further improve human rights in the country. In particular, it needs to build the rule of law, transparency, and accountability, and a prime example of this is with the Rohingya. They are subject to many discriminatory practices as well as growing anti-Muslim violence, but no one in government is denouncing the discrimination.

US: Take Lead Against Lethal Robotic Weapons – Human Rights Watch – Today, for the first time, countries will debate the challenges posed by fully autonomous weapons, sometimes called “killer robots,” at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Drones aren’t fully autonomous, but are very close. A UN special rapporteur has asked for a halt on fully autonomous robotic weapons. The introduction of drones and fully autonomous weapons has drastically changed warfare, and that a directive of self-restraint (which is what the US has presently regarding these weapons) isn’t enough. It would be hard to uphold if other countries start using these weapons without similar restraint.

Human Rights in Russia: Pussy Riot Takes Part in Committee Debate – European Parliament News – Although this article has nothing to do with US foreign policy, the Pussy Riot case is something that Amnesty International has been following and working on for some time. So far, only one of the three women of Pussy Riot, Ekaterina Samutsevich, has been released. The other two are still in prison serving sentences. One of them, Maria “Masha” Alekhina, is a single mother who was not allowed to defer serving her sentence until her son turned 14.

You can still take action on this issue by sending a letter to the Prosecutor General.

Related Links:

Sex Trafficking in the United States [Slideshow]

The President and Human Rights

Drones and Lethal Force: The Issue and the Action

Don’t Forget Tomorrow’s Letter Writing Meeting!

letter writing meetingWhile today is Memorial Day and we spend our time with our families and remembering our fallen soldiers, we also need to remember that tomorrow is our monthly letter writing meeting. There’s no better way to start the work week then to join us and to write a few letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience around the world. There are plenty of people that need our help! Hope to see you there!

Letter Writing Meeting Details

When: 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Where: Hartford Coffee Company

Who: Amnesty International members, or anyone else is interested in human rights

What: Writing letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience around the world. Paper, pens, and case information will be provided.

Why: Writing letters makes a difference, and it makes more of a difference than doing than doing nothing or talking about doing something.

Related Links:

Sample Prisoner of Conscience Letter

How to Start an Amnesty International Chapter

Human Rights Blogging: How Far We’ve Come

4 Issues You Can Focus on as an Amnesty College Chapter

human rights issuesEven as many schools wrap up for the school year (or have already wrapped up), it isn’t too late to start thinking about issues to focus on as an Amnesty International college chapter. Of course, you don’t have to spend the entire summer planning, but it you want to waste too much time at the beginning of the year getting started and thinking about what to do, then this article is for you. Here are a few issues you can focus on as a chapter come August or September. In the meantime, as your review these issues, you can keep the gears turning by going over event ideas or doing research on the issues that interest you.

Death Penalty

If the death penalty is still the law in your state, then this would be a good issue to focus on this coming school year. It’s an issue that the organization has been prioritizing for a while, so there are plenty of resources to help you get started. Also, some states with the death penalty are actively executing people, so part of your advocacy could be reducing the sentence to life in prison. Abolishing the death penalty isn’t about getting criminals off or not being tough on crime. It’s about making sure that we’re not executing innocent people, or mentally impaired people, or people who were convicted of the crime before the age of 18. It’s about the economic impact and the inconsistency of justice. All of these things merit giving capital punishment a second look.

Women’s Rights

Women’s rights covers a variety of topics: gender-based violence, maternal mortality, education, sex slavery etc. The great thing about making women’s rights the emphasis for your college chapter is that there are many directions you can take it. Women’s rights would also include a lot of other human rights issues, such as LGBT rights, children’s rights, and poverty. There’s something for everyone here, while being something that many people can get behind and that many would want to learn more about.

If this an issue that you think your chapter would be interested in, or that you would love to carry out next semester, then consider partnering with the Women’s Studies program or the feminist group on campus (if you have both or either of them). Such partnerships could bring more people to your events and more resources to amplify your message.

Security and Human Rights

This is another domestic issue, but security and human rights covers Guantanamo Bay, illegal and indefinite detention and fair trials. Security and human rights is a very timely issue, and is a good one to focus on if you or your chapter would focus on human rights in the United States or human rights having to do with war.

Prisoners and People at Risk

This issue is the bread and butter of Amnesty International, and is a good one to include as part of the agenda. Prisoners and people at risk involves anyone imprisoned solely for expressing their human rights (freedom of speech, religion, assembly etc.) and/or those who are defending human rights activists (lawyers, non-profit leaders, political leaders etc.). Actions for prisoners and people at risk are on a case by case basis, meaning that who you’re advocating for could change regularly, which is why this is a good issue to include as just part of the agenda. Spend a meeting writing letters on behalf of a prisoner, or collect signatures for a petition on another. Sounds simply, but for this issue that’s typically what Amnesty International wants its members to do.

Related Links:

How to Run an Amnesty International Meeting

Why I-VAWA is the Next Step in Stopping Violence Against Women

How to Start an Amnesty International Chapter

Half the Sky Showing: Part II

Half the SkyIf you missed the April film showing of “Half the Sky” you’re in luck!  We failed to finish the whole series at Kate and Paul’s home.  So, on May 31 at 6 p.m, we will be showing disc 2 of the series.  If you didn’t get a chance to watch the first half (disc 1) please do not worry.  The series is composed of self contained short stories from a handful of countries.  This means anybody can BEGIN watching at ANY POINT. The members that have already seen the film or read the book are talking about launching a fundraiser to help an organization from the series. There is also a copy of the disc that is available to group members for those that want to watch the whole series. The documentary is also available on iTunes, on Netflix, and on Amazon if you’d like to watch the first part of the series on your own.

The showing will be at 3540 Juniata St (1st fl. left door) South City. Parking is available on the street. Please join us for all or part of the screening.


6 p.m.:  Watch the first half of Disc 2. This includes maternal mortality in Somaliland and inter-generational prostitution in India.
7:15 p.m.:  Break for a potluck dinner. Please bring a dish or beverage to share. Vegan pasta will be provided.
8 p.m.:  Begin watching roughly where we stopped at Kate and Paul’s. This section is on economic empowerment in Kenya (the final 45 minutes of Disc 2).

There will likely be no hard end time, meaning we can watch bonus materials or enjoy drinks afterwards. That should be one more incentive to join us, as if hanging out with cool Amnesty people, getting some free food, and learning about women’s rights isn’t enough of an incentive to come out on a Friday night. Hope to see you there!

Related Links:

Why I-VAWA is the Next Step in Stopping Violence Against Women

Sex Trafficking in the United States [Slideshow]

And Our Next Book Club Reading Is…

How to Run an Amnesty International Meeting

running an amnesty international meetingRunning an Amnesty International meeting isn’t easy. If you don’t do it well, then members aren’t going to stick around because things will seem too disorganized. If you only interact with a few select people, then new members will be discouraged from attending and joining because the group will seem more like a clique then an activist organization. Here’s how to run an Amnesty International meeting that will keep things together and keep people coming back:

  1. Create an Agenda – Of course, you’re not going to be running much of anything if you don’t have an agenda. Prior to the meeting, make a quick outline of what you want to cover and what needs to happen during the meeting. For example, if you need to take some time to plan an event during your meeting, then you want to put that on the agenda as well as the desired outcome. If you need to recruit volunteers, to pick a date, to pick a theme etc. then make sure that’s accomplished. With your meetings, you want to get something done, versus just talking about different things.
  2. Stay on Track – Especially if you have a small group or your chapter is starting off with tight group of people, then it can be very easy to get sidetracked talking about things unrelated to human rights. Obviously, this ends up wasting time and making it harder to get things done. If you’re running the meeting, then it’s your responsibility to keep the meeting on track and according to the agenda. If things get sidetracked, then you need to step up, stop the discussion, and pull the conversation back in the right direction. Of course, all those other things can be talked about once the important things are done.
  3. Be Mindful of the Time – If you told everyone that it was going to be a one-hour meeting, then it’s best that you hold to that time. Since Amnesty International is something that people are doing on top of work, on top of family, and maybe even on top of school as well, then you need to stick to the schedule. This goes with what’s on the agenda, how long it is, and how much time you spend on each item. This also goes with staying on track, as getting sidetracked might mean that people will be leaving before anything gets done. Of course, you don’t want to time everything and be a stickler, but you also want to respect the fact that your members are very busy people who can easily spend their time elsewhere. Be mindful of the time and meeting will be a worthwhile hour, or 90 minutes, or however long for everyone.
  4. Encourage Participation – Running these meetings is only going to be stressful and boring if you set the expectation that you’re doing to have all the ideas and that you’re the one that’s going to be doing everything and making all the decisions. To ease the stress and break the boredom, encourage others to participate by asking for ideas and suggestions, or by having other members run the meeting from time to time. This is something our chapter does when our group leader can’t make our monthly business meeting. Another thing we do to encourage participation is to have members present on a human rights topics. This way, all the responsibility isn’t on one person, and we show that we value the time and expertise of our members by giving them a chance to share it.

Do you have any tips or tricks for running Amnesty International meetings? What types of things do you do during your meetings? Let us know in the comments!

Related Links:

How to Start an Amnesty International Chapter

Human Rights 101: What You Need to Know

How Does Amnesty International Ensure its Impartiality?

Sex Trafficking in the United States [Slideshow]

And Half the Sky Updates

If you missed our presentation on Tuesday about sex trafficking in the United States, then don’t fret! Below is that exact same presentation. However, it doesn’t end here, as we still need to come up with event ideas to help combat and to build awareness for the issues, so think about those ideas.

This presentation also included updates on the women featured in Half the Sky, so if you haven’t watched the documentary yet, then one thing you can think about as you watch the movie is that everyone featured in the documentary has a happy ending. Even those who might have a dismal ending, will be just fine when all is said and done. So think about that, and think about the impact you can have on someone when action is taken and we build awareness for these issues.

Human Rights Blogging: How Far We’ve Come

human rights bloggingWe are approaching our 100th post! Can you believe it? Sounds like it’s a good time to evaluate what we’ve accomplished with our human rights blogging, and where we can go next with all this great content. I grant that part of the reason why I’m doing this is that I don’t have anything to write about for the day, and blogging is what I do so this whole thing fits nicely. I did a presentation yesterday on sex trafficking in the United States, of which I will upload and post on Friday, in case you missed it yesterday. Ending sex slavery and sex trafficking in the U.S and abroad is going to be our thing, at least that’s what I’m going to spearhead. It fits nicely with what we’re trying to do.

What’s this Human Rights Blogging?

Great question, especially since I did go on a small tangent. But, what we’re doing is creating original content three times a week. It helps us to get found online, to position ourselves as the human rights experts in St. Louis (and maybe around the country/world), and to offer something fresh and awesome regularly to keep people coming back. Below is a very quick summary:

  • Publishing blog posts every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday
  • Posts on human rights news, human rights actions, chapter events, chapter news

So, that’s what we’re doing, but why are we doing this? Why do I, as a member of the St.  Louis Amnesty International chapter, spend three days a week blogging? Well, here are some of the things that can be accomplished and that we hope to accomplish by creating content and showing other non-profits and activist chapters around the world how its done:

  • Build awareness for our chapter
  • Promote meetings and events
  • Increase membership and event attendance
  • Encourage human rights activism

So, What’s This Gotten Us?

Well, pretty far actually. Below is a screenshot of our visitor and views data (can you even see it? Does it even tell you anything?). It starts in September 2012, but that’s when we had to move over to the new WordPress page. The old one started getting wonky, so me moved most of the content to this site and kept creating the content here.

Amnesty blog dataApril was really strong, and May will at least be consistent. Hopefully, we can ramp things up and beat our April performance in June and July. We’re already halfway through May, so I’m projecting we’ll match our March performance.

Where Is this Blog Going Next?

Besides the Friday post about sex trafficking in the United States, I can provide a little bit of direction as to where this whole blogging, content strategy is heading next. One of the things that bothered me about Amnesty USA’s blog is that I don’t think it’s resourceful enough. It does a great job of covering human rights issues and what activists are doing, and that’s great, but there’s nothing there to help chapters like ours recruit members, put on our own events, run meetings, build awareness for the issues, and all of that good stuff. So, we’re going to be going over that good stuff in the coming weeks. Also, Google’s Keyword Tool suggested that our site could rank really well for some domestic violence keywords, so I think I might focus on that, cover the issues, provide resources, good things like that.

If you’re still interested in how far we’ve come, below is the presentation I gave in August 2012 (can you believe that it’s been over a year since we last evaluated our blogging?). It truly illustrates how far we’ve come and what blogging can accomplish if you stick to it and do it often enough.

May Amnesty Business Meeting Tomorrow

may business meetingIt’s May! The weather has FINALLY warmed up! School and final exams are wrapping up! There’s a lot too look forward to in the coming months! There’s no better time than tomorrow to join the local Amnesty International chapter and to start getting something done about human rights!

All that’s on the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting is a short presentation on sex trafficking in the United States, which will include some updates on some of the women in Half the Sky. Obviously, we need something a bit more upbeat and positive as we learn about sex trafficking in the United States. If you thought what was shown in Half the Sky was horrible, it’s even more horrible to learn that much of those same things are happening in the United States, even with all the laws and resources that we have here. There might be a few other things on the agenda, but as of now this is the entire meeting.

Of course, the meeting is at the same time and place as usual. It starts at 7 p.m. at Hartford Coffee Company, where we meet in the back study area. Hope to see you there!

Housing as a Human Right

housing as a human rightAlmost 1 billion people around the world live in slums, characterized by substandard housing, living conditions, overcrowding, and basic services (if they exist). Those without adequate housing often face other problems and human rights violations, such as threats of violence, forced eviction, and a lack of education, health care, safe water etc. The right to housing isn’t just a human right, but it’s also considered a social, economic, and cultural right.

How is Housing as a Human Right Defined?

Article 25 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights discusses housing, but only briefly. Below if the pertinent text from the article:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services.

Although the Universal Declaration doesn’t explicitly say this, international human rights law says that the right to housing includes protection from eviction and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status or family status. This is critical because in 29 states, you can still be evicted from your home or denied housing because of your sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. In these states, even if you got married in a state that recognizes gay marriage, since the federal government doesn’t recognize gay marriage you can still be evicted or denied housing legally.

Forced Evictions

Forced evictions are part of this as well, although they apply to the United States as well as the rest of the world. Forced evictions are a problem because people are forcefully evicted but then receive no compensation or alternative for their lost, and this primarily happens to minority communities. Oftentimes, these evictions happen without notice, where people are thrown in prison and/or beaten if they protest or try to move back after they’ve been evicted or their house has been demolished. Those who go through a forced eviction are often left without help, and authorities do little to enforce the law or to allow these people to speak to the them about what happened. Once evicted, many of these people and families face additional violations.

Poverty and Human Rights

The lack of housing is both a cause and a consequence of poverty and human rights violations, but is much tougher to address as housing as a human right involves more than making sure everyone has a roof over their head. It’s also about providing the basic services in slums i.e. clean water, good lighting, roads, a healthy sanitation system, and access to services. It’s also about ensuring that such housing can fit everyone in the family, that it isn’t going to fall apart, and that it’s not going to be taken away by the government or anyone else without just compensation and/or a suitable alternative.

Related Links:

Is Internet Access a Human Right? [Infographic]

Human Rights 101: What You Need to Know

4 Human Rights Issues that Need Attention in 2013