Our Next Book Club Book is on Rwanda

Rwanda bookSince the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda recently passed, our chapter has chosen We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda as our next book club reading. Fortunately, this one is much shorter than our previous choice, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield.

We will be discussing the Rwanda book at our June meeting, which is scheduled for Jun. 11 at 7 p.m. Please make an effort to attend if you plan to read the book with our chapter. It’s okay if you don’t read the entire book, as you can still attend the meeting if you don’t finish it. However, we can’t guarantee that we won’t give away any spoilers.

Book Summary

This summary was taken off of the book’s Amazon page if you’re interested in learning more about our book club choice.

In April 1994, the Rwandan government called upon everyone in the Hutu majority to kill each member of the Tutsi minority, and over the next three months 800,000 Tutsis perished in the most unambiguous case of genocide since Hitler’s war against the Jews. Philip Gourevitch’s haunting work is an anatomy of the war in Rwanda, a vivid history of the tragedy’s background, and an unforgettable account of its aftermath. One of the most acclaimed books of the year, this account will endure as a chilling document of our time.

Don’t Forget: We Have a Meeting Tonight

If you’re more interested in “bringing human rights home” and focusing on human rights issues in the United States, then please attend tomorrow’s Amnesty business meeting if you can (details are below}. During tomorrow’s meeting, one of our members is giving a presentation on Amnesty International’s recent report, “Chicago & Illinois: A 10-Point Human Rights Agenda.” The report outlines 10 human rights issues in the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois, and many of these issues are also relevant to St. Louis and Missouri. Please come if you can (sorry for the late notice)!

May Business Meeting Details

Who: Amnesty International members, chapter members, and human rights advocates

What: A meeting to discuss the human rights issues facing Chicago and Illinois, as well as any other matters affecting our chapter.

When: May 14 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Where: Hartford Coffee Company, on the corner of Roger and Hartford, located in the Tower Grove area. We will meet in the front dining area.

Why: Because there’s much to talk about and much to be done!

Political Prisoners are Still Waiting for Release

Eskinger Nega

Eskinger Nega

Last Friday, the Huffington Post wrote an article about 10 political prisoners who are still waiting for their release date. Nelson Mandela waited 27 years to be released from prison, and we don’t want these 10 people to wait in vain. Especially when one of those 10 political prisoners is Eskinder Nega of Ethiopia.

Nega is currently serving an 18-year prison sentence for his work as a journalist. He was charged with terrorism offenses after writing articles and giving speeches critical of the government. Ethiopian authorities routinely use terrorism charges to silence dissenting voices, and we are calling for Nega’s unconditional release as someone who was arrested for peacefully exercising his freedom of expression.

Sample Letter

Hailemariam Desalgn
Prime Minister
P.O. Box 1031
Addis Ababa

Dear Prime Minister,

I am writing to ask you to immediately and unconditionally release Eskinder Nega. Eskinder was detained in 2011 and sentenced to 18 years in prison after publicly calling for government reform and promoting freedom of speech. He was detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.

I am deeply concerned that your government has consistently used criminal proceedings and the threat of criminal charges to silence critics. Eskinder Nega himself has been arrested several times in the past for legitimately criticizing the Ethiopian government. Tolerance of criticism and opposing viewpoints is an essential part of any free and open society. I urge you to stop the harassment of journalists and other human rights activists, and to ensure the government allows voices of dissent and calls for reform.

I am also concerned that the Ethiopian government has employed the legislative system to restrict freedom of expression. The Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and the Charities and Societies Proclamation unduly restrict the right to freedom of expression and assembly by defining peaceful activities and legitimate criticisms as offenses against the state. I respectfully ask that you amend these laws so that all Ethiopians can exercise their human rights without fear of state retribution.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.

[Your Name]

Write Holiday Cards in Solidarity

Tomorrow is our last meeting of the year! Since December is a busy month, and are usual letter writing date conflicts with the holidays, we spend the second Tuesday of the month sending holiday cards to prisoners of conscience. We take the fourth Tuesday off. The holiday cards are something we do in solidarity with prisoners of conscience and their families, letting them know that we are thinking about them and working on their behalf. Below are the details of tomorrow’s meeting. Please bring holiday cards (cards without messages of a specific holiday or religion).

Who: Our Amnesty International chapter and those interested in human rights

What: To send holiday cards to prisoners of conscience and their families. Also to spend some time with each other before the holidays and the end of the year.

When: 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Where: Hartford Coffee Company on the corner of Roger and Hartford, one block off of Arsenal

Why: Because people need our help and we can make a difference.

How: We’ll provide the paper, pens, and pertinent information on each of the cases. For this meeting, if you can bring holiday cards, then that would be great.

14 MORE Human Rights Violations Happening Now

human rights violations 2As the United States takes a huge step forward in human rights, many other countries still have their own leaps to take. This also means that there is much human rights work to be done, even here in our own country. Here are 14 more human rights violations happening around the world today:

Russian Federation

In February 2012, members of Pussy Riot performed mere seconds of a protest song that was critical of authorities in Russia in Moscow’s main Orthodox cathedral. Two of the band members were found guilty of “hooliganism” and are serving sentences in notoriously brutal penal colonies, while the third faces restrictions on her freedom of movement and speech.


Forty-seven women were detained during a protest by a peasant organization in San Salvador Atenco in 2006. Dozens of these women were subjected to physical, psychological, and sexual violence by the police officers while being transferred to prison. These women are still waiting for justice.


Peaceful protests in Syria in March 2011 were quickly met by government authorities responding with deadly force, leading to systematic and widespread human rights violations amounting to crimes against humanity. The citizens of Syria are currently under attack by their own government. Government forces are indiscriminately bombing entire residential neighborhoods and killing entire families.


Throughout Guatemala, women and girls are being victimized with little action by the government. In 2012 alone, around 560 women were murdered across the Central American country, many after being sexually assaulted. Among the most recent victims were two young girls around age six and 12 who were found strangled to death in the street in Guatemala City.


Human rights defender Mao Hengfeng was sentenced to 18 months in “Re-education Through Labor (RTL)” last fall because of her work standing up for human rights. Her health has worsened while in detention. In February, she was allowed to serve the rest of her RTL term at home.


Rape and sexual abuse are widespread in Nicaragua as the majority of victims are under 17 years old. Nicaragua’s “Law Against Violence Against Women” (passed in 2012) was a positive step. However, some areas of the law fall short of recognizing that gender violence has its roots in the unequal relations of power between men and women.


Sanjiv Kumar Karna and four other students in Nepal were last seen in October 2003 when they were arrested by security force personnel. They students were reportedly beaten and have not been heard from since.


In Peru and across the Americas, Indigenous Peoples continue to fight to have their rights respected.

Sudan and Chad

Civilians displaced in Darfur and in the refugee camps of Eastern Chad continue to face attacks by government forces, pro-government militias, and armed opposition groups. In recent months 500 people were reportedly killed and roughly 100,000 displaced in attacks against civilians.


In Bolivia, survivors of human rights violations – including torture and enforced disappearances  committed during the military and authoritarian regimes 1964-1982) and their family members are still waiting for reparations for the abuses they or their loved ones suffered.


Iran is second only to China as the world’s leading executioner. Death row inmates can be executed at short notice, and the authorities are not required to inform families prior to executions.


In Colombia, two women are raped every hour. The country’s 45-year-old internal conflict has created a dire human rights situation in which all parties to the conflict continue to subject women to rate and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence.


A recent spike in civilian deaths in Afghanistan highlights the urgent need for all parties to the conflict to take greater precautions to avoid civilian casualties. In 2012, 2,754 Afghan civilians including children, were killed in conflict.

United States

The United States is conducting a secret drone killing program that appears to violate international human rights law. Reportedly, thousands of people, including children, have been killed to date.

Related Links:

15 Human Rights Violations Happening Right Now

Drones and Lethal Force: The Issue and the Action

4 Human Rights Issues that Need Attention in 2013

15 Human Rights Violations Happening Right Now

human rights violations

Photo by Glyn Lowe Photoworks

Human rights violations are prevalent around the world, but often receive little attention in the mainstream media. On top of that, in some countries, reporting on human rights violations puts you at risk for enforced disappearance, arrest, and/or provocation from the government, law enforcement, or the military. This only highlights the need to talk about these issues and to be aware of their existence, at the very least. Here are 15 human rights violations happening in the world now:


Every 21 minutes, a woman is raped in India. Most rapes go unreported and even those rapes that are reported often go unpunished. Recently, a college student in New Delhi, India was attacked in a speeding private minibus with iron rods, which punctured her intestines. She and her friend were tossed from the minibus and, despite begin dumped on a crowded street, it took 40 minutes for a passerby to contact the police. The victim died.


Somali authorities had unlawfully detained a journalist and three others linked to the case of a woman who reported being raped by state security forces. They were arrested solely because of the increasing media attention given to high levels of rape and other sexual violence in southern and central Somalia.


Many political prisoners are still imprisoned in Myanmar, having been falsely charged or convicted of a serious offense, arbitrarily detained, or imprisoned solely for their peaceful political activities. The formation of a government committee to review political prisoner cases is a step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough to end these abuses.


The recent clampdown on freedom of associate and unfair trial of Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire that led to a sentence of eight years in prison have effectively created a repressive environment where people dare not speak out.


At the beginning of 2013, Vietnamese authorities convicted 14 pro-democracy activists for “plotting to overthrow the government.” The sentences range from three to thirteen years.


Human rights defenders and political activists in Zimbabwe have been arrested, detained, harassed, tortured, or even killed for exercising their rights to peaceful protest and freedom of assembly and association.


Continued challenges face human rights activists as protestors demand the execution of Abdul Quader Mollah for his role in “beheading a poet, raping an 11-year-old girl, and shooting 344 people” during the 1971 Liberation War. As we demand justice for crimes, we cannot accept calls for the death penalty for convicted war criminals.

South Africa

Last year in South Africa, police attacks on protesting miners led to the deaths of 34 miners and more than 70 injuries.

North Korea

New satellite images raise fears that the North Korean government is starting to blur the line between the country’s horrendous political prison camps and regular villages.

Central African Republic

A precarious human rights tragedy is unfolding in the Central African Republic since the alliance of armed opposition groups, Seleka, has topped the CAR government, sending the president into exile and citizens into crisis yet again.


2010 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo is serving an 11-year prison sentence for co-authoring a proposal for political and legal reform in China.


The human rights situation in Mali is grave. Findings from an Amnesty International mission tell of executions and disappearances of civilians, arbitrary arrests, beatings, and other horrors reminiscent of the crimes committed in Darfur.

Sierra Leone

While stability and security have increased in Sierra Leone since 2002 with the end of the country’s decade-long war, civilians face grinding poverty, female genital mutilation is prevalent, and the maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the world.


The human rights situation in Gambia is dire. Government opponents, human rights defenders, and journalists have been arbitrarily arrested and detained. Torture is widely used by security forces, and prison conditions are appalling.


Victims of mass executions, mass rapes, and mutilations throughout the Liberian civilian war have yet to see all of those responsible for those abuses held accountable, as the justice system struggles to provide access to justice for all Liberian citizens.

Related Links:

3 Human Rights Issues in Africa

Human Rights 101: What You Need to Know

4 Recent Human Rights Issues in Asia

3 Recent Human Rights Issues in Africa

human rights issues in AfricaWhen was the last time you heard about the human rights issues in Africa? Hopefully, you can say right now with this article! We’ve done our best to cover these issues, and provide pertinent statistics. However, even with human rights violations s prevalent as they are on the continent, it’s every difficult to find facts, figures, and demographics. Here are three recent human rights issues in Africa:

  1. Gender-based Violence – Gender-based violence is a whole host of actions, including  physical, sexual and psychological violence such as domestic violence; sexual abuse, including rape and sexual abuse of children by family members; forced pregnancy; sexual slavery; traditional practices harmful to women, such as honor killings, burning or acid throwing, female genital circumcision, dowry-related violence; violence in armed conflict, such as murder and rape; and emotional abuse, such as coercion and abusive language. Trafficking of women and girls for prostitution, forced marriage, sexual harassment and intimidation at work are additional examples of violence against women. All examples of gender-based violence are present in Africa, and in most cases is a result of cultural norms and genders. Sometimes, there are laws that exist but aren’t enforced. Other times, there aren’t any laws against some or all of these acts and there might even be laws encouraging these actions.
  2. EducationPrimary school enrollment in African countries is among the lowest in the world, and there are a variety of reasons for this. Getting an education is incredibly tough for girls in Africa, and sometimes tough for boys as well. Poorer families can’t afford the schooling and don’t finish, while girls may be pressured to leave early to get married or are forced to drop out because of violence, or because a male sibling is going to get priority. Sometimes, resources just aren’t there. There is an average of 40 pupils per teacher in sub-Saharan Africa, but the situation varies considerably from country to country. In many countries, it is more than 60 to one. The continent also loses an estimated 20,000 skilled personnel a year to developed countries.
  3. Maternal Mortality – Maternal mortality is the weakest in Africa, as over half the women who die everyday during childbirth live in Sub-Saharan Africa. Many don’t have access to the care they need to ensure a healthy pregnancy and labor, or don’t receive the right care. Gender-based violence also contributes to this problem, where female genital mutilation makes it harder for women to give birth, and younger brides increase the chance for premature births and complicated labor. Rape and incest victims also receive a lot of stigma and discrimination, making it harder for them to get care. However, there is good news. Between 1990 and 2008, maternal mortality decreased by 26% in the region.

Something important to keep in mind when it comes to these specific human rights issues in Africa is that they are interrelated. Gender-based violence profoundly affects the education of girls, while increased education leads to increased economic empowerment and a decrease in maternal mortality. Improving any one of these issues also fixes human rights issues that weren’t thoroughly discussed, such as poverty, food security, and political repression. Although many human rights activists and non-profit organizations may focus on one or two issues, working on one issue does make a difference on the others.

Related Links:

Take Action Now: Protecting Civilians in Sudan

9 Cool TED Talks about Human Rights

Write for Rights: People of Bodo

Write for Rights – Girifna

GirifnaToday is the last day in Amnesty International’s Write for Rights! If you haven’t written a letter yet, or still want to write letters, then today is the last day that we will posting a case. However, if you want to write on these cases tomorrow or next week, that’s fine. Just keep in mind that these cases are urgent, and require action as soon as possible.

If you’ve been writing over the past several days, we thank you for your hard work and activism. We will keep everyone updated with any news of progress for any of the cases we profiled. The last urgent case we will feature is that of Girifna.

Sudanese for “we’re fed up”, Girifna is a youth group calling for nonviolent resistance to the  government of Sudan. Its members have been routinely targeted by the authorities by being arbitrarily arrested, detained, tortured and sexually assaulted.They have also had laptops and other items confiscated from their homes, and several have been forced to flee from Sudan.

Girifna was one of the organizations targeted by the Sudanese authorities following the wave of demonstrations that began in June 2012. Several members of Girifna have been detained without being allowed to speak to their families or lawyers. Some say they were tortured in detention. We are asking that the authorities stop targeting members of Girifna and that the organization be allowed to conduct its business in peace. Please write a letter to the address below, using the sample as a guide:

Mr Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamed
Minister of the Interior
PO Box 873

Start your letter: Your Excellency

I am writing in concern for GIRIFNA and its members, who have been routinely targeted by authorities for their nonviolent resistance against the government. I call on you to end the harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and other ill-treatment of GIRIFNA members.

GIRIFNA has continued to conduct its peaceful activities revolving around peaceful protests to fight for the respect and protection of human rights. Please ensure that the voices of GIRIFNA are not silenced, and that they can continue to engage in their peaceful activities free from harassment, violence and detention.


Your Name

Write for Rights – People of Bodo

People of BodoToday is Day 5 in Amnesty International’s Write for Rights (with tomorrow being Human Rights Day). Not all of the cases for this year’s event involve a particular individual, as shown in today’s case.

For several hundred years, the people of Bodo in the Niger Delta have made a living from fishing and farming. Their way of life changed suddenly on August 28, 2008, when a breach in a Shell oil pipeline caused thousands of barrels of oil to spill into the local creek. That spill continued until November 7 and the land and water around Bodo were soon polluted with oil. One month later, a second spill began that lasted for 10 weeks. In June of this year, a third spill has taken place.

Shell has failed to take responsibility for these spills. They have not cleaned up the land, and they have not compensated the people of Bodo, whose livelihoods have been destroyed by the contaminated environment. The Nigerian government has also done nothing to help the situation. Please send a letter to:

President Goodluck Jonathan
President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
Office of the President
Nigerian Presidential Complex, Aso Rock
Federal Capital Territory

Start your letter: Your Excellency

I am writing in concern for the people of Bodo in the Niger Delta, who have been pushed deeper into poverty as a consequence of three oil spills from Shell oil pipelines. I ask that you monitor the pollution in Bodo and its effects on the local community, and ensure that a clean-up operation takes place. I also urge that you publicly commit to transparency and access to information for all aspects of the clean-up operation.

Please also ensure that the affected communities are fully compensated for their losses and that operating practices of oil companies in the Niger Delta are reviewed and overhauled to prevent pollution.


Your Name

Write for Rights – Noxolo Nogwaza

Noxolo NogwazaIn the early hours of April 24, 2011, 24-year-old Noxolo Nogwaza was raped and murdered in South Africa on her way home from a night out with friends, apparently because she was a lesbian. More than a year later, no progress has been made on her case and her killer(s) remain at large.

Nogwaza was also an activist for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights as a member of the Ekurhuleni Pride Organizing Committee (EPOC), an organization that aims to empower and inform LGBTI people and to combat hate crimes, victimization and injustice through education and awareness-raising activities. Amnesty International has been working hard on her case for some time now, so its time that we show the same activism and commitment that this woman showed for others like her in South Africa.

Don’t forget that the St. Louis Write-a-Thon is tomorrow! If you don’t want to do these letters on your own, you can join us at Schlafly Bottleworks and write a few in good company.

Please send a letter to:

Lieutenant General Mzwandile Petros
Gauteng Provincial Commissioner
South African Police Service
16 Empire Road
Johannesburg 2017

Start your letter: Dear Commissioner

I am writing in concern for NOXOLO NOGWAZA, who was murdered over a year ago. Please ensure that Tsakane police authorities investigate so that those responsible may be brought to justice without further delay. I also urge that you ensure that the activities of Community Policing Forums give particular attention to including LGBTI individuals.

I also recommend that greater resources be allocated to training all police personnel on their legal obligations to provide non-discriminatory and professional services to LGBTI individuals. Every police station should have dedicated officers trained to properly investigate crimes of targeted violence – including on the grounds of sexual orientation,
gender identity or gender expression – in an efficient and unbiased manner.


Your Name

Take Action Now: Protecting Civilians in Sudan

darfur sudanOn March 16, 2012, Hollywood actor George Clooney got arrested for the first time in his life — not for drunk driving or drug abuse, as what people usually expect with celebrities — but for civil disobedience. The actor was taking part in a protest outside Washington’s Sudanese embassy. He and his fellow protestors wanted to bring more attention to the ongoing humanitarian crisis happening in Sudan.

They got their wish. When Clooney got arrested with his own father and several members of the U.S. Congress, the media brought the Darfur Conflict and its tragic aftermath to mainstream awareness.

Nevertheless, there’s never too much talk about this topic, given how Sudan’s government still denies its citizens of their human rights in spite of peace talks. Those living in areas of conflict can’t receive food and other forms of humanitarian aid because the government blocks the access of outside organizations that want to send assistance.

To fully understand how it got to this, it’s best to go back to how it began.

Sudan is a country in Africa and its capital, Khartoum, is the seat of government. Darfur is a region in the western part of Sudan. Khartoum is predominantly Muslim, while Darfur is mostly populated by non-Arab black Africans.

Prior to the notorious Darfur Conflict that began in 2003, rebel groups have accused Khartoum of being oppressive toward the non-Arabs. One form of Khartoum’s oppression, as these groups claim, was violent ethnic cleansing as a means to get rid of Sudan’s non-Arab population to promote Arab solidarity.

Then, in the spring of 2003, amidst other conflicts that plagued the country, two rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), started attacking government installations as a form of protest against Khartoum’s alleged oppression of non-Arabs, particularly the black Africans.

In retaliation, the Sudanese government initiated raids headed by the military and militia, known also as Janjaweed. The raids were swift and vicious. They targeted not just the rebels, but ethnic groups that supported them. The result was a terrible civil war that decimated hundreds of villages and claimed thousands of lives. To make matters worse, civilians who were displaced by the conflict had nowhere to go except to stay within the outskirts of Darfur. Those who strayed too far were raped and beaten, and often killed.

To be fair, many Arabs in Sudan are against the conflict, but there’s not much they — or anybody else — can do when Khartoum is dead set on punishing Darfur for its rebellion. Until now, the government has made no move to rebuild the fallen region, and even forbids any form of assistance to come in.

Many Sudanese people died from violence caused by acts of warfare. In fact, then-U.S. President George W. Bush called the Darfur Conflict a genocide because of the 300,000 lives lost from 2003 to 2005. But that number is steadily rising. Many more will die from inflicted famine, a famine caused not by a real food shortage, but by inhumanity.

Let’s not allow this to happen. Please sign this petition urging the UN Security Council to protect civilians in Sudan. Something must be done, and we can be the ones to do just that.