Updates and Upcoming Events for 2014

Amnesty International events 2014The next two months have a lot going on, so pay attention! We have several events coming up in the next eight weeks, including two movie screenings and our annual conference in Chicago. If you haven’t been to a chapter meeting recently, or even if you have, then below is everything you need to know about what’s happening in March and April regarding human rights activism. We hope that you join us for at least one event or meeting.

Dirty Wars Screening

In partnership with the Peace Economy Project, the Instead of War Coalition, and Webster University, we are hosting a screening the Oscar-nominated documentary Dirty Wars. The documentary is based on a book by the same name, discussing the US’s covert war on terrorism and its use of unmanned drones in countries where the US has not declared war. Below is the information regarding the movie screening:

  • When: Thursday, March 20, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Webster University Library Conference Room
  • Address: 101 Edgar Rd, St. Louis MO, 63119
  • Cost: Free

Besides the screening, Rafia Zakaria of DAWN, a Pakistani newspaper, will be attending the event for a post-screening discussion. The discussion will involve the content from the documentary as well as Pakistan’s involvement and coverage of the issue.

No Fire Zone Screening

Exactly one week from our Dirty Wars screening is another moving screening at the exact same location and at the exact same time. This movie screening is hosted by the Webster University chapter of Amnesty International and will feature the documentary No Fire Zone. This human rights documentary talks about abuses in Sri Lanka.

  • When: Thursday, March 27, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Webster University Library Conference Room
  • Address: 101 Edgar Rd, St. Louis MO, 63119
  • Cost: Free

Annual General Meeting

April 4-6 is the annual general meeting, or the yearly national human rights conference for Amnesty International. This year’s theme is “Bring Human Rights Home” and the conference is in Chicago at the JW Marriott Hotel. Our chapter is attending, so we really hope that you’d like to come with us, or at least see us there at some of the great seminars.

On the agenda for this year’s conference:

  • Redefining Justice: The State of Criminal Justice & Human Rights in the US & Around the World
  • How Social Media Helped Abolish the Death Penalty
  • Activism Through Arts
  • Defend Human Rights by Learning About Fundraising
  • The Time is Now! Making Women’s Rights a Global Reality. Focus: North Africa – Egypt and Morocco
  • LGBT Rights are Human Rights: Getting to Know the Movement

We will be discussing transportation at our upcoming March business meeting (details below), so if you are interested in attending you don’t have to go by yourself. Please stop by so we know that you’re interested and can include you in our plans.

New Tentative Meeting Schedule

To allow more members to come to more meetings, we are making a slight change to our meeting schedule so that we can accommodate those who have Tuesday night commitments and could never make it to a meeting. Our new tentative meeting schedule, which will take effect in April, is as follows:

  • The business meeting will be moved to the second Wednesday of the month. So, our April business meeting is Wednesday, April 9.
  • The letting writing meeting will remain scheduled for the fourth Tuesday of the month. The April letter writing meeting is scheduled for April 22.

Hopefully, this change will allow you to attend at least one of our meetings per month. This change also allows more members to facilitate meetings. Please let us know if you have any thoughts on the proposed schedule or if you are willing to help facilitate either a business meeting or a letter writing meeting.

Next Amnesty International Meeting

To clarify, the March meeting is still scheduled for March 11, which is the second Tuesday of the month. April is when we make the change to the second Wednesday of the month. The March business meeting is especially important to attend if you want to come with our chapter to the conference in Chicago, but it’s always great to attend our meetings if you’re interested in human rights activism at all. Below are the meeting details:

Who: Amnesty International members and human rights advocates

What: A meeting to discuss upcoming events and current affairs.

When: 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Where: Hartford Coffee Company on the corner of Roger and Hartford. We meet in the very back past the patio.

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

Obama Administration’s Leadership on International Human Rights (Part 3)

armed drones and lethal force

Source: The Guardian

“Advancing democracy and respect for human rights is central to our foreign policy.  It is what our history and our values demand, but it’s also profoundly in our interests.  That is why the United States remains firmly committed to promoting freedom, opportunity and prosperity everywhere.  We stand proudly for the rights of women, the LGBT community and ethnic minorities.  We defend the freedom for all people to worship as they choose, and we champion open government and civil society, freedom of assembly and a free press.” – Ambassador Susan E. Rice, December 4, 2013

Ambassador Rice outlines great concepts and values. The US has made excellent progress with the LGBT community and with women’s rights, but hasn’t done so well with national security and human rights. The third part in these series focuses on those issues, and the Obama administration has a lot more leading that it needs to do with this aspect of human rights. Guantanamo Bay is still open, with Shaker Aamer still held indefinitely, and with a continuing hunger strike. It may take time to close it, but more can be done to improve conditions and to get people like Shaker Aamer out of there.

Although the administration phrases it as “standards for taking legal action,” it’s really a euphemism for unmanned drones and lethal force. Even though the proper officials may be briefed on every single strike, there isn’t any explanation or investigation into drone strikes gone awry, such as the one that killed Mamana Bibi. President Obama is the only president with a hit list and people should not be killed without trial or due process. We’ll let you read the rest below to understand what the administration has to say.

National Security and Human Rights

Closing Guantanamo

President Obama remains determined to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and erase this blemish on our international credibility.  At the President’s direction, the Departments of State and Defense have brought on new envoys dedicated to this cause, and in August we completed the first successful detainee transfers that were certified under the restrictions that Congress began enacting in 2011.  We are committed to transferring as many detainees as possible under these restrictive provisions, consistent with our security and humane treatment standards, and we expect to be able to announce other transfers in the near future.  We have also begun the periodic review process to carefully evaluate whether the continued detention of certain detainees remains necessary.  As we continue to press to responsibly reduce the detainee population at Guantanamo and ultimately close the facility, we have urged to remove the unnecessary, onerous restrictions that have hampered our efforts to do so.

Standards for Taking Lethal Action

Earlier this year, during his comprehensive address at the National Defense University, President Obama announced that he had approved written policy standards and procedures  that formalize and strengthen the Administration’s rigorous process for reviewing and approving operations to capture or employ lethal force against terrorist targets outside the United States and outside areas of active hostilities.  In that speech the President explained that, beyond the Afghan war theater, the United States only takes strikes against terrorists who pose a “continuing and imminent threat” to the American people, where capture is not feasible, and where there is near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured — the highest standard we can set.  Congress is briefed on every strike taken as part of these operations, and we are committed to sharing as much information about these activities as possible with the American people and the international community, consistent with our national security needs.  Over time, continued progress against al Qa’ida and associated terrorist groups should reduce the need for such actions.

Intelligence Gathering

In August, President Obama directed a review of the scope of our surveillance capabilities.  Intelligence saves lives—American lives and those of our partners and allies.  While we are committed to continuing to collect such information to meet our critical security needs, we remain mindful of the unprecedented power that technology affords us, and give full consideration to the values of privacy, government transparency, and accountability that we strongly support.

4 Days Left in the Write-a-Thon: Write for Albert Woodfox

Albert WoodfoxOnly two cases left in our coverage of this year’s Write for Rights, but there are four days left in the annual letter writing marathon. Even if you haven’t been following along or writing a letter on every single case, there is still time to get in one letter. There is still time to use your voice to help someone this year. A good choice for your efforts is Albert Woodfox.

Woodfox was convicted, with two other men, of murdering a prison guard at Louisiana’s Angola prison. Woodfox and one other man, Herman Wallace, were sentenced to life imprisonment for the crime even though there wasn’t any evidence that linked them to the crime. Potentially exculpatory evidence was “lost” by the state, and the authorities bribed the key eyewitness, leaving questions unanswered regarding police protocols and the guilt of Woodfox and Wallace.

Both Wallace and Woodfox have spent over 40 years in solitary confinement. The men spent 23 hours a day isolated in a small cell, four steps long and three steps across. Wallace has his conviction overturned in October 2013, when he was subsequently released. A few days after his release, he died from complications from liver cancer. Woodfox’s conviction has been overturned three times, but state authorities have appealed the decision each time with a ruling in their favor. He remains in solitary confinement, and we want the authorities to release Albert Woodfox immediately and unconditionally.

Sample Letter

Office of the Attorney General
P.O Box 94005
Baton Rouge, LA 70804

Dear Attorney General Caldwell,

Today, 42 years after he was first placed in solitary confinement, only one member of the “Angola 3” remains behind bars. His case is one of the most egregious examples of Louisiana’s use of prolonged solitary confinement in correctional facilities. Today, I am calling on you to act in the name of justice. I urge you to withdraw your appeal against the February 2013 ruling that overturned Albert Woodfox’s conviction so that he can be freed.

The litigation surrounding Albert Woodfox’s case has spanned four decades and includes two flawed trials. His conviction has been overturned once by a state court and twice by a federal court, underscoring concerns about the fairness of the legal process. No physical evidence ties Mr. Woodfox to Officer Miller’s >murder.

Despite all of this, Albert Woodfox has been kept in isolation for decades, in conditions that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment condemns as torture. He has been denied meaningful social contact and access to rehabilitation programs. Such conditions violate minimum international standards for humane treatment and have lasting physical and psychological effects on inmates.

After subjecting Albert Woodfox to cruel and inhuman conditions for decades, despite a flawed conviction, there is only one just and humane action the state can take. Remove Albert Woodfox from solitary confinement, and withdraw the appeal against the US District Court’s ruling. Allow him his freedom.

Sincerely,
[Your Name]

Write for Rights and Demand Justice for Miriam Lopez

Miriam Lopez

Miriam Lopez

During our Write for Rights campaign, not every single case is about freeing someone from prison, such as the case of Miriam Lopez. Lopez, a mother of four, was detained in February 2011 for over two months without charge at a military barracks. In that time, soldiers raped and tortured Lopez, wanting her to confess to trafficking drugs through a military checkpoint.

She was charged with a narcotics offense, but released in September 2011 after her case was thrown out for a lack of evidence. Lopez maintains that her travels through the checkpoint were to visit her mother, a trip she made several times a week. She’s filed a complaint of torture to the Federal Attorney’s Office, and has subsequently received death threats for doing so. Those who raped and tortured her have never been held accountable for her actions. It’s time to change that.

Sample Letter

Jesús Murillo Karam
Federal Attorney General
Procuraduría General de la República
Paseo de la Reforma 211-213
Col. Cuauhtémoc, C.P. 06500
Mexico City
Mexico

Dear Attorney General,

I respectfully request that you take action on the case of Miriam Isaura López Vargas. I’m deeply concerned that her story is emblematic of the widespread, systematic use of torture and ill-treatment in Mexico, which has increased in recent years. However, those responsible are virtually never held accountable. It is time to send a clear message that torture and ill-treatment, whether by members of the armed forces or the police, will not be tolerated. I call on you carry out a full, prompt and impartial investigation into the torture of Miriam López.

In February 2011 Miriam López was detained by members of the Mexican army in Ensenada. Officers tortured and sexually assaulted her, pressuring her to sign false statements. She was held in pre-charge detention (arraigo) for seventy-six days, and then charged with narcotics offenses. Miriam López was released in September 2011, when her case was thrown out of court for a lack of evidence. She filed a complaint of torture with the Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDH) and the Federal Attorney’s Office and subsequently received death threats.

In November 2012, the United Nations Committee against Torture issued new recommendations to the government of Mexico to implement concrete steps to combat torture, ensure effective investigation and prosecution of abuses and guarantee victims receive reparations. I look forward to hearing what your government is doing to comply with these recommendations, and about the actions you are taking to end the impunity of those members of the Mexican Army responsible for the detention, torture and sexual assault of Miriam Isaura López Vargas.

Securing truth, justice and reparations for Miriam Lopez would send the message that torture will not be tolerated by your government. Please investigate this crime and bring those responsible to justice.

Yours,
[Your Name]

Write-a-Thon Details

Our St. Louis chapter event is this Saturday! Hope to see you there!

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.

Use Your Voice to Free Shaker Aamer

Shaker AamerYour voice has power! Today’s write for rights case is one that Amnesty International has been working on for a few years now. For the past 11 years, Shaker Aamer has been detained at Guantanamo Bay without charge. His wife is a citizen of the United Kingdom, and the UK has asked for his return on numerous occasions. Aamer has been cleared for release, and even though Prime Minister David Cameron spoke to President Barack Obama about Aamer’s case as the G8 summit earlier this year, the US government refuses to release him.

Free Shaker Aamer

Aamer has been involved in the recent hunger strikes and protests taking place in Guantanamo. His lawyers believe that he may be subjected to torture and prolonged isolation as a result of his actions and defiance for his indefinite detention. Aamer’s health has deteriorated because of these abuses as well as a lack of adequate medical treatment. Since the UK is willing to accept Aamer into the country, he should be transferred without delay. Send a letter to the US government demanding that Aamer be released immediately and unconditionally.

Sample Letter

Clifford Sloan
Special Envoy for Guantánamo
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Mr. Sloan,

I urge the U.S. government to transfer Shaker Aamer from U.S. Naval Station Guantánamo Bay to the United Kingdom, if he is not to be charged and fairly tried in U.S. federal court. Under international human rights law each Guantánamo detainee should either be charged and fairly tried in criminal court, or be released to a country that will respect his human rights.

The U.S. government has held Shaker Aamer without charge at Guantánamo for nearly 12 years. Shaker Aamer alleges that he has been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment in U.S. custody. U.K. authorities, including Prime Minister David Cameron, have called for Shaker Aamer to be returned to the UK, and the U.S. Government has cleared Shaker Aamer for transfer, yet he remains held without charge. It is well past time to resolve his case.

Whatever legislative obstacles Congress has put in the way of the administration’s efforts to close the Guantánamo detention facilities, all branches of the U.S. government remain obliged to resolve the detentions in line with international human rights obligations. International law demands that solutions be found. Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.

Sincerely,
[Your Name]

St. Louis Letter Writing Marathon Saturday

We still need help with our tabling, and we still have a goal of 200 letters, so please join us anytime between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Schlafly Bottleworks this Saturday! Take action and write for rights!

Book Club Meeting Tomorrow!

Dirty Wars book coverHappy Veterans Day! Hopefully, you’re able to enjoy the day off, and if that’s the case, then you need to make sure you finish Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield. Our book club meeting is tomorrow night, where we will discuss the use of drones and lethal force by the U.S government. If you have to work today and are unable to finish the book, then please still attend! As long as you read part of the book, we’re sure that have something to contribute regarding human rights and the war on terror.

Book Club Meeting Details

Who: Any and all those who have read the latest book from Jeremy Scahill.

What: A meeting to discuss the topics covered in Dirty Wars, as well as a few upcoming events

When: 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Where: Hartford Coffee Company on the corner of Roger and Hartford. We meet in the study room in the back, past the patio.

Why: Because there’s much to talk about and much to do! It’s insane that our government is using unmanned drones to target innocent civilians, including U.S citizens.

Inalienable Human Rights, Human Rights Victories, and Other News

human rights newsHappy Halloween! The human rights world, unfortunately, is full of tricks and treats. We make breakthroughs and suffer setbacks. Activists have made great progress on many issues this year, but there is plenty more work to be done. Below are the latest human rights news and articles from the past month, covering both our successes and our failures.

UN Commission: ‘Gross Human Rights Violations’ Take Place in North Korea – Voice of America – It’s almost common knowledge that North Korea has human rights violations, but the Commission of Inquiry on human rights in North Korea reveals that the problem is much more extensive and horrific than we imagined. One of these issues are the political prison camps. Not only are there four fully-functional prisons, but there is evidence that one has been scaled back and that another has been closed. No one knows what happened to the prisoners who populated those prisons. This is just one of the many human rights abuses documented in the country.

30 Inalienable Human Rights that No One Can Take Away – International Political Forum – United Nations Day was last week, but the work of the UN continues beyond this one day and it’s message carries beyond the day of its founding. The 65th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights is coming up, and this awesome video by Armenian artist Ani Boghossian highlights the 30 articles in the declaration and what they mean. It’s a beautifully artistic perspective on human rights.

Solitary Confinement’s Invisible Scars – The Guardian – Amnesty International USA just finished working on the case of Herman Wallace, who spent 41 years in solitary confinement and only became a free man two-and-a-half days before his death from liver cancer. In Wallace’s case, solitary confinement was cruel and unusual punishment because there wasn’t any justified reason for the lengthy sentence to solitude. This article argues that solitary confinement itself is torture and an egregious violation of human rights.

5 Human Rights Victories in Iran You Helped Make Possible – Amnesty International Blog – If there’s ever any doubt that our activism works, that our letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience make any difference, then these five human rights victories in Iran show otherwise. It takes a lot of hard work and persistence to make these changes, and although a change in leadership helps a great deal, it’s not the only thing necessary toward progress and toward the realization of inalienable human rights. The things needed most are lots of people contributing their voices.

Human Rights Groups Criticize U.S Drone Program – Huffington Post – It’s about time that the American people know the U.S drone program and drone strikes aren’t as lawful as the governments claims them to be. There is too much evidence that shows that civilians have been killed in these strikes, with no reparations for the victim’s families or further investigation to prevent them from happening. Although the administration says that it takes steps to prevent civilian casualties from happening in the first place, there’s no way to know what these steps are or if all of them are taken in every single planned drone strike. These drone strikes also aren’t strongly supported by the countries in which they take place, as the public is also led to believe.