Write a Letter Today for Dhondup Wangchen

Dhondup WangchenTomorrow is our Write-a-Thon event in St. Louis! Please join us from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Schlafly Bottleworks to enjoy good food and drink and to write a few letters. This event is the last major event in 2013 for the chapter, use your voice and take action now before we get too caught up in the holidays. People like Dhondup Wangchen need our help.

Dhondup Wangchen is a Tibetan filmmaker who documented the skepticism Tibetans felt about the promises the Chinese government made regarding greater freedom in the months leading up to the 2008 Summer Olympics. The film, Leaving Fear Behind, also voiced adoration for the Dalai Lama as well as the Tibetans’ criticism for the Chinese authorities in general. Wangchen was detained on suspicion of “illegal journalism,” which is not an offense under Chinese law.

Wangchen was subsequently held without charge for more than a year. Afterward, he was tried in secret and sentenced to six years in prison. Unless we take action now, he won’t be released from prison until December 2014.

Sample Letter

Please copy the Chinese characters for Dhondup Wangchen’s name if you can. Thank you for time and effort.

President of the People’s Republic of China
XI Jinping
The State Council General Office
2 Fuyoujie
Xichengqu
Beijingshi 100017
People’s Republic of China

Your Excellency,

I am writing to ask you to release Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen 当知项欠. In 2008 he was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for “inciting separatism” after a secret trial by Xining City Intermediate Court.

While the reasons for 当知项欠’s arrest are unclear, he was first detained after producing a documentary about the opinions of Tibetans on various matters prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Amnesty International considers 当知项 a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression. I call on you to release 当知项欠 immediately and unconditionally.

In detention 当知项欠 has been tortured and forced to do hard labor; consequently he suffers from a number of serious health issues. While he remains in detention, please insure that 当知项欠 receives all necessary medical attention.

当知项欠’s experience is emblematic of the discrimination and harsh criminal punishment that Tibetans throughout China experience for peacefully expressing their cultural identity. I call on you to respect, protect and fulfill Tibetans’ human right to enjoy their own culture, to practice their religion, and to use their own language.

I also ask you to take effective measures to ensure that all people in China are able to enjoy their rights to freedom of expression, in line with Chinese constitutional guarantees and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which China has declared its intent to ratify in the near future. I thank you for your attention to these concerns and look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,
[Your Name]

Write-a-Thon Event Details

Just in case you weren’t yet enticed about joining us.

Who: Our Amnesty International chapter and anyone else who wants to do something good for someone else this holiday season.

What: To write letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience worldwide

When: Saturday, Dec. 7 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Where: Schlafly Bottleworks – 7260
Southwest Ave.@ Manchester. Maplewood, MO 63143

Why: Because people need our help and we can make a difference, and because it’s fun

How: Just show up and enjoy great company, food, and beer (food and beer not free). We’ll provide the paper, pens, and pertinent information on each of the cases.

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Your Voice Has Power: Help Free Yorm Bopha Today

free Yorm BophaThe letter writing marathon continues! Your voice has power to change lives, so use it today to free Yorm Bopha in Cambodia.

Bopha has been an activists for the Boeung Kak Lake community, where thousands have been forcibly evicted from their homes since 2007. She was arrested in September 2012 for planning the assault of two men and convicted in December 2012 despite zero evidence linking her to the crime. She is currently serving a three-year sentence.

Amnesty International believes that Bopha was targeted for her housing rights activism and is a prisoner of conscience, detained for defending the right to housing and freedom of expression. While in prison, she is separated from her 10-year-old son and her husband, who is in poor health and cannot work.

Write a Letter to Demand Yorm Bopha’s Release

Below is a sample letter you can use to help free Yorm Bopha. All the information you need is provided.

Ang Vong Vathana
Minister of Justice
Ministry of Justice
No 240 Sothearos Blvd
Phnom Penh
Cambodia

Your Excellency,

I am writing to urge you to release human rights defender Yorm Bopha. I fear that the Cambodian government has tried to silence Bopha by imprisoning her on fabricated charges as a result of her peaceful activism defending rights of the Boeung Kak Lake community.

Yorm Bopha has been imprisoned since September 4, 2012, when she was accused of planning an assault on two men. On December 27, 2012, she was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, after an unfair trial. No evidence links Yorm Bopha to the crime.

Yorm Bopha seems to have been imprisoned in retaliation for her peaceful housing rights activism on behalf of the Boeung Kak Lake community. Around 20,000 people have been forcibly evicted from their homes on and around Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak Lake since 2007. Yorm Bopha is a prisoner of conscience, detained on baseless charges as a result of her peaceful activism defending her community’s right to housing. While in prison, Yorm Bopha is separated from her 10-year-old son and her husband, who is in poor health.

I call on you to release Yorm Bopha immediately and unconditionally. Furthermore, I ask that you publicly condemn and order an end to the harassment of and violence against human rights defenders. Such harassment includes unwarranted legal action and imprisonment.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,
[Your Name]

Please Help at Our Write for Rights Event this Saturday

If you don’t want to write these letters on your own, or if you want to encourage others to help free Yorm Bopha, then please join us Dec 7 for the St. Louis chapter’s letter writing marathon. We do need people to work our table, where we allow patrons a chance to sign petitions and form letters on these cases, particularly from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. If you can’t work the table, then stop by and join us for the event to write letters or to sign petitions! Our goal is 200 letters, and every one counts toward helping people like Yorm Borpha.

Hope to see you there!

8 Current Urgent Actions You Should Do Right Now

urgent action letterAmnesty International may not be entirely about writing letters, but it’s still a big component of our mission and our activism. Although we only spend one day a month writing letters, there’s always the chance to write a letter the rest of the time. Here are eight current urgent actions that you can do right now. Each one of these actions comes with a downloadable PDF (the headline is clickable and initiates the download), which provides all the information you need to do the urgent action (address of government official, case information, talking points etc.).

Venezuela: Activist in danger from son’s killers

Venezuelan human rights defender Víctor Martínez is in danger, as the two men
on trial for the murder of his son are free: one has escaped and the other was given parole. Urge the authorities to protect Martinez and to continue investigations regarding forced disappearances in the western state of Lara.

Albania: Roma Families Forcibly Evicted

Roma families were evicted on 7 August and are now homeless. Neither the Tirana municipal authorities nor the government have done anything to assist them or provide them with alternative housing. Write to ensure that these Roma families are assisted and given alternative housing, and that this becomes standard for all those forcibly evicted in Albania.

Mexico: Marines abduct adult and two children

Three people, two of them children, were detained by Mexican marines in the northern city of Nuevo Laredo in late July and have not been seen since. The military authorities have denied arresting them. They may have been subjected to enforced disappearance. Call on the Mexican authorities to conduct an investigation into their disappearance and to protect the families and eyewitnesses of this case.

Egypt: Egypt means to deport refugees, children

The Egyptian authorities are preparing to deport 13 Syrians to Turkey and 28 Palestinians from Syria to the Gaza Strip. The group, which includes at least 13 children and 10 women, had sought refuge in Egypt after fleeing the armed conflict in Syria. Under international law, Egypt has a responsibility to protect people fleeing the conflict. Urge the Egyptian authorities not to deport them and to grant them access to the resources they need to seek refuge.

Bahrain: Bahraini activist arrested and charged

Bahraini banker Mohammad Sanad al-Makina was arrested on 9 August at Bahrain International Airport when leaving for a holiday with members of his family. He faces several charges including “inciting hatred against the regime”. He is a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for expressing his freedom of expression peacefully. Pressure the Bahraini authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally and to protect him from torture and other ill-treatment.

Colombia: Paramilitaries Threaten Trade Unionists

Paramilitaries have threatened scores of trade unionists, many of whom are in labor negotiations, as well as human rights defenders and other organizations in Colombia. Express concern for the trade unionists at risk while demanding that the authorities provide protection and conduct an investigation into the threats.

Palestinian Authority: Hamas threaten post-Eid festival executions

The Hamas authorities in Gaza are threatening to carry out several executions following the end of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr. This may include a man known as “H.M.A.”, who was aged under 18 years at the time of one of his alleged crimes and was allegedly tortured or otherwise ill-treated during interrogation. Write to the Palestinian authorities to show concern that H.M.A. is facing execution after a trial in which he was sentenced to death for a crime committed when he was a minor and which relied upon a “confession” made when he was allegedly subjected to torture or other ill-treatment.

Myanmar: Activist Arbitrarily Detained

Human rights defender Kyaw Hla Aung, 74, has been arbitrarily detained in Myanmar since 15 July. He is in poor health and may not be receiving the medical treatment he requires. He is on trial, facing charges related to his peaceful activities. Urge the authorities to release him immediate and unconditionally, dropping all charges against him.

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.

Mexico

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.

Syria

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.

Guatemala

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.

China

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.

Nicaragua

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.

Nepal

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.

Peru

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.

Bolivia

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

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.

Colombia

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.

Afghanistan

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:

India

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.

Somalia

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.

Myanmar

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.

Rwanda

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.

Vietnam

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.

Zimbabwe

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.

Bangladesh

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.

China

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.

Mali

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.

Gambia

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.

Liberia

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

Free China Screening Next Tuesday

Free China screeningAmnesty International isn’t the only group out there working on human rights, or on issues related to human rights. Although we don’t have many big plans coming up in the next few months, others are putting on some great events. One of those awesome events is happening next Tuesday, and it’s a movie screening! Please attend if you can.

Free China: The Courage to Believe

A special screening on June 25, 7 p.m., at Plaza Frontenac Cinema will feature an awarding-winning documentary “Free China: The Courage to Believe“.

With more than one hundred thousand protests occurring each year inside China, unrest among Chinese people is building with the breaking of each political scandal. As China’s prisoners of conscience are subjected to forced labor and even organ harvesting, this timely documentary exposes profound issues such as genocide and unfair trade practices with the West. The film also highlights how new Internet technologies are helping bring freedom to more than 1.3 billion people living in China and other repressive regimes throughout the world.

This film is co-produced by awarding-winning director Michael Perlman and NTDTV. It highlights human rights abuses from organ harvesting prisoners of conscience to the making of Homer Simpson slippers inside slave labor camps and how internet technologies is bringing greater freedoms to 1.3 billion people inside China.

In the past year, this film has been screened in more than 400 private venues across the world, including Amnesty International chapters at Yale University, University of California, Berkeley, etc. Recently, it has also garnered support from Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and blind dissident Chen Guangcheng who co-authored an open letter entitled “One Year for Human Rights in China”.  This open letter was published on the front page of Huffington Post on June 4th.

If you can attend, please do so!

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.