First Meeting of 2016!

amnesty business meetingWe’re 12 days into the new year, and most people have probably broken their resolutions by now. However, if your resolution is still intact, and involves one of the following:

  • Being more active in the community
  • Learning more about human rights
  • Doing more for others
  • Serving non-profits and/or other organizations working on social issues

Then tomorrow is the time to start! The Amnesty International St. Louis group is having their first meeting of the year Wednesday, Jan. 13. If you want to uphold your resolution this year or simply get involved with human rights and a vibrant community group, then here’s your chance. Below are the details of tomorrow’s meeting:

  • Who: Amnesty Local Group #105 and anyone interested in human rights
  • What: Amnesty Business Meeting
  • When: 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
  • Where: Hartford Coffee Company at 3974 Hartford St, 63116
  • Why: To start preparing for another year of activism and to learn more about human rights issues happening domestically and abroad

You Don’t Have to Be a Human Rights Expert to Attend!

If you don’t know a lot about human rights and haven’t been involved in anything like Amnesty International before, then that’s okay! We’re constantly learning ourselves, as the different issues change regularly and we learn more as Amnesty and other organizations continue to do human rights research.

So, don’t let that stop you! We’re happy to answer any questions you may have! If you’re also interested in working one or two specific human rights issues, then that’s great. In fact, if that’s you, then you should definitely attend this meeting as that’s part of what we’ll think and talk about. We haven’t made any decisions for what we’ll do or what issues we’ll work on in 2016, so please attend if you want to have a say in our human rights activism for the year.

Hope to see you tomorrow!

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18 Important Human Rights Developments in 2015

human rightsCan you believe 2015 is almost over (and that the last time we blogged was over a year ago)? We accomplished so much in the past year and half, but this post is going to focus on 2015. This year was a big year for human rights, with both major milestones and major setbacks. Here are 18 important human rights developments that have taken place, or will take place, in 2015:

January 9

Raif Badawi, a blogger and prisoner of conscience sentenced by Saudi Arabia to 10 years and 1,000 lashes is publicly flogged for the first time. While the immediate global outcry helps prevent additional floggings, he remains behind bars. Raif’s cruel and unjust sentence is upheld by the Saudi Arabian Supreme Court in June, casting a further stain on that country’s already bleak human rights record.

January 22

A young woman imprisoned after suffering a miscarriage is granted a pardon by El Salvador’s Parliamentary Assembly – giving hope to the other 15 women languishing in jail on similar charges.

Update: One of those 15 other women is Teodora del Carmen Vasquez, who suffered a still-birth in 2007 and was sentenced to 30 years in prison for “aggravated homicide.” She’s one of Amnesty International’s Write for Rights cases this year.

March 10

Amnesty calls on Mexican authorities to investigate and address torture after the United Nations releases a scathing report detailing how this sickening practice is widespread among the country’ police and security forces.

April 28

Amnesty calls on Paraguay to repeal its draconian anti-abortion law after a 10-year-old girl who became pregnant after she was repeatedly raped, allegedly by her stepfather, is denied the option of an abortion.

Update: The girl, now 11, gave birth in August.

May 6

The Chicago City Council passes landmark legislation providing reparations for torture committed by former Chicago Police commander Jon Burge and detectives under his command. The reparations package marks the first time that survivors of ractially motivated police torture in the United States have been given the reparations they are entitled to under international law.

May 21

Legendary folk singer Joan Baez and world -renowned artist Ai WeiWei are awarded the 2015 Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award, which recognizes those who have shown exceptional leadership in the fight for human rights through their life and work.

May 27

Nebraska becomes the 19th U.S. state to abolish the death penalty.

Update: Nebraska’s repeal is still in limbo. A petition drive to overturn the abolition succeeded in getting enough votes, so the state will vote on a statewide referendum in November 2016. It’s important to note that Gov. Pete Ricketts, whose veto of the death penalty was overturned by the unicameral legislature, spent $200,000 of his own money to fund the petition drive.

June 1

Amnesty declares the expiration of the USA Patriot Act a symbolic repudiation of the claim that “national security” justifies giving the government an indefinite license to commit systematic rights violations.

June 8

U.S. District Judge James Brady grants Louisiana prisoner Albert Woodfox unconditional release after he has languished in solitary confinement for more than four decades and had his conviction overturned three times. The State of Louisiana has appealed the ruling and Amnesty continues to advocate for Albert’s freedom.

June 26

The Supreme Court of the United States issues a historic ruling affirming the right of same-sex couples across the country to legally marry.

Amnesty marks International Day in Support of Victims of Torture with a global push for governments to respect the ban on torture and hold torturers accountable.

July 9

Amnesty calls on Chinese authorities to end their assault on human rights lawyers after more than 200 lawyers and activists were targeted by police in a nationwide crackdown.

August 7

Amnesty marks the one-year anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by shining the spotlight on the use of lethal force and racially discriminatory conduct by law enforcement officers and calling for reforms at the local, state and national levels.

August 11

An Amnesty investigation on sexual abuse by UN peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic sends shock waves globally, leading UN Sec. General Ban Ki-moon to remove the head of the Peacekeeping Operation and triggering a call for reform of accountability measures for UN peacekeeping troops around the world.

September 8

A Union of Protection: Amnesty International’s Agenda for Refugee Protection in Europe is released, setting out the urgently needed changes in Europe’s approach to the escalating refugee crisis.

September 15

Amnesty USA brings Ensaf Haidar, wife of Raif Badawi, to Washington to lobby the U.S. government to do more to convince Saudi Arabia to free Raif and respect the rights of all people.

September 23

Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were pardoned by Egyptian leader Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi. In August, Amnesty International had said the guilty verdicts handed down against the two journalists Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were an affront to justice that sounded the death knell for freedom of expression in Egypt. Journalist colleague Peter Greste, who had left Egypt, had also been convicted in his absence.

September 25

The U.K. government announces that Shaker Aamer, held for over a decade without charge at U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, will be transferred to the U.K., where his family resides.

December 4 – 18

Amnesty International holds Write for Rights, the world’s largest human rights event, mobilizing hundreds of thousands of people to send letters on behalf of 12 cases of individuals at risk, including prisoners of conscience.

Update: Join Amnesty STL for their own Write for Rights event on Dec. 12! We’ll be at Schafly Bottleworks from 4 – 9 p.m. writing letters and having a good time. If you want to take action against human rights abuses and help those in need, then please stop by on Dec. 12 to write some letters! Even just one letter would make a huge difference!

How to Get to the 2014 Midwest Regional Conference

Amnesty International Midwest RegionalThis year’s Amnesty International Midwest Regional Conference, if you haven’t yet heard, is in St. Louis at the Sheraton St. Louis City Center. If you’re not from St. Louis, or familiar with the Gateway to the West, then that information just sounds nice. The upcoming event, although awesome, also sounds too far away or too expensive for many in the Midwest to attend.

However, that’s an assumption that simply isn’t true for this year’s regional conference. Fortunately, for Amnesty members and human rights activists, the venue for this year’s conference is RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET from a major mass transit center. So, getting to this year’s conference is easier than ever before, no matter the transportation option. Here’s how to get to the 2014 Midwest Regional Conference:

By Plane

Flying is the most expensive way to get to St. Louis, even if your flight is just an hour or two. But, if you choose to get to St. Louis by airplane, then getting to the Sheraton St. Louis City Center from the airport is very easy.

  1. From the airport terminal, follow the signs directing you to the nearest Metrolink station. Lambert International Airport has two terminals, but each terminal has its own station.
  2. Purchase a two-hour ticket to ride the Metrolink. A two-hour ticket costs from the airport costs $4.00 (it will cost half as much when you need to go back to the airport). The ticket machines do accept debit and credit cards, but they also only give you change in $1 coins.
  3. Make sure you validate your ticket at the red validation stands BEFORE getting on the train. The stands are either located next to the ticket machine or at the entrance to the station platform. Security guards do walk through the stations to check your tickets and aren’t very lenient to tourists. Those who ride with unvalidated tickets are fined, so don’t take your chances.
  4. The trip from the airport to the CIVIC CENTER metro station is about 45 minutes, so enjoy the ride until you come to the CIVIC CENTER station (pictured below). The station is right across the street from the Sheraton (you can’t miss it), so simply exit the train at this stop and walk across the street.
  5. Enjoy the Midwest Regional Conference!

Civic Center Regional Conference

By Amtrak

The Amtrak may only be convenient for a few people since St. Louis is directly serviced by three Amtrak routes: two from Chicago and one from Kansas City, Mo. Although Amtrak is one of the more affordable transportation options, many will have to take the train to Chicago or Kansas City first before getting on a direct route to St. Louis.

  1. Find a way to get to Chicago or Kansas City, whichever is closest to you.
  2. Take the right Amtrak route, which would be the Illinois Service (Chicago), Missouri River Runner (Kansas City), or the Texas Eagle (Chicago).
  3. Exit at the St. Louis Gateway Station, also known as Amtrak Station STL, which is pictured below.
  4. Make your way past the Metrolink station to reach 14th street. Cross 14th street to reach the Sheraton, which is pictured above.
  5. Enjoy the Midwest Regional Conference!

Civic Center Metro Station

 

By Greyhound

The Greyhound buses may have a bad reputation, but the bus is one of the more affordable and convenient ways to travel to the conference this year. The Greyhound station, just like the Amtrak and the Metrolink station, is right across the street from the conference hotel.

  1. Schedule your trip with Greyhound. Our research found that only four cities in the Midwest have direct, express routes to St. Louis: Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Champaign, Ill.
  2. You may have to leave Thursday or early Friday to make it to the conference on time. Those coming from Kansas, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, Kentucky and Michigan will have to leave on Thursday or miss Friday’s activities.
  3. Those coming from Illinois, Iowa, Indiana and other parts of Missouri can leave early Friday morning and still make it on time.
  4. Those in Minnesota and Wisconsin can either choose the express route from Minneapolis or Milwaukee or can choose to leave Thursday if you are coming from another part of the state.
  5. Enjoy the train ride.
  6. Make your way past the Metrolink station to reach 14th street. Cross 14th street to reach the Sheraton, which is pictured above. The bus station and the train station are in the same building, although the loading areas are in two different spots.
  7. Enjoy the Midwest Regional Conference

Hope this Helps

Many Amnesty members may decide against attending this year’s regional conference because the St. Louis location is too prohibitive. Hopefully, our explanation of the various transportation options makes attendance less of a hassle since it’s easy to get to the Sheraton via Amtrak, Greyhound or airplane. None of these options requires city knowledge to navigate the streets. Mass transit will take you to the conference in one trip.

Metro station photo courtesy of NextStop STL.

Amtrak station photo courtesy of Count on Downtown.

Save the Date: The 2014 Midwest Regional Conference

Amnesty International Midwest RegionalMark your calendars to bring human rights home! The 2014 Amnesty International Midwest Regional Conference is in St. Louis this year! The three-day conference is scheduled for October 24-26 as the Sheraton St. Louis City Center in downtown St. Louis, right across the street from the Civic Center Metrolink station on 14th Street.

Pencil in the Dates Today

The registration page for the conference isn’t available yet, but if you are sure that you want to attend the conference, then make sure to book your rooms at the hotel now! Hotel rates for the conference are $85 per night, but the rate only lasts until Sept. 20 and are subject to availability. Besides the discounted room rate, conference attendees will also receive free Internet access in the room and discounted parking at the rate of $10 per day.

If you’re perhaps interested in volunteering, then we will be announcing when the volunteer sign-up page is live on the Facebook event page as well.

If you want to know when the registration page goes live, which should be before the end of the month, then please pledge your commitment to attend on our Facebook event page. This page will feature any and all updates regarding the conference, including when the registration page goes live and when we finalize speakers and sessions for the conference.

What to Expect from This Year’s Conference

Speaking of the sessions and workshops, the final agenda for the conference is still being determined. However, we already know of a few topics that will be covered, whether through a panel discussion, a workshop, a main speaker, or through a community action that will take place over the weekend. Those topics include:

  • Gun Violence
  • The Death Penalty
  • Write for Rights and prisoners of conscience around the world
  • Identity and Discrimination with women and/or the LGBT community
  • Security and Human Rights, such as Guantanamo Bay, Torture, Drones or Surveillance (it’s possible more than one of these topics will be featured)
  • Immigrants’ Rights, Criminal Justice, Environmental Justice or Worker’s Rights (it’s possible more than one of these topics will be featured)

Our Chapter is Participating!

Not only is the Amnesty International St. Louis chapter attending the conference, but many members of our chapter are also on the Planning Committee for the conference. This means the success of the conference rests with the local chapter, and we are proud of that responsibility. Our goal is to make this conference the best Midwest Regional Conference yet, and the best regional conference this year of all the regions. We believe we can achieve this goal, but reaching our goal won’t be possible unless you attend!

Please mark your calendars today for the last weekend in tomorrow! Please help us bring human rights home!

3 Things to Keep in Mind when Lobbying For Human Rights

lobby weekOur biannual Amnesty International Lobby Week is about two weeks away, so now is the time to prepare for those meetings. Preparation is much more than setting a meeting date and encouraging people to attend. It’s also about making a good impression and not coming off as crazy human rights activists. Here are three things to keep in mind when lobbying for human rights so that these issues are treated as seriously as the issues pushed by big money and big companies.

Dress Appropriately

No, you don’t have to do formal business attire, and it might be best that you don’t since you don’t want to appear like a lobbyist from a big corporation or industry association. Instead, you should wear business casual or something that you would wear out to a restaurant. This way, you are still dress tastefully, but you also come across like someone from a grassroots organization. You know, like someone who isn’t paid to be there but is there on their own free will to encourage a few changes. This may not seem serious, but it does mean something when ordinary people take to time to talk to their politicians about the things they care about.

Prepare Your Talking Points

Yes, you want to think about what you want to say and to do your research, but you can take it one step further by memorizing and practicing your pitch as well. This is so that the issues appear polished and that you appear knowledgeably. You don’t want to read from a piece of paper or look like you’re worrying about getting things right or making a good impression. You can take your practice one step further by thinking about questions that might be asked, and preparing answers to those questions as well. Again, you don’t want to come across as someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about, or someone who can’t stray from their prepared notes.

On this note, make sure that everyone who attends the meeting has a role. You don’t want only one or two people talking if six people are going to be there. If six people are going to be there, then give every person something to say and a reason why they are at the meeting.

Know What You Want to Accomplish

You aren’t just there to talk to your Senator, Representative, or staff member. You want this person to do something, such as vote for/against a bill, to co-sponsor a bill, or to create legislation around a certain issue. Know what you want to accomplish before you go, and before you start preparing your talking points. As you are also aware of your goals and talking points, you should also be aware of what is negotiable and what isn’t negotiable. You don’t want to push for something that can’t be changed or won’t be changed.

Give reasons why that particular Senator or Representative should do whatever it is your advocating. This could include bringing up a previous bill that s/he supported, or a vote s/he made, or a statistic relevant to his/her constituents. It’s not enough to say that something’s great or important, because every issue is great or important to everyone who lobbies. You need to make the issue of human rights relevant to who your lobbying by showing why it’s great and important to that person.

Overall, think of your lobbying meeting as a conversation where you are trying to convince someone to see your side of things. There’s no reason to be nervous just because the person is an elected official or works with an elected official. Be firm and confident in the human rights you believe in! It’s the only way the people you are lobbying are going to believe in these concepts and ideals too.

Syria: UN Must Get Full Access to Investigate ‘Chemical Weapons’ Claim

syria chemical weaponsThis press release is reposted from the Amnesty International website.

In response to the publication of a series of videos apparently showing that chemical weapons have killed scores of civilians, including many children, on the outskirts of Syria’s capital Damascus, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:

“The allegations of use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians, which Amnesty International has not been able to verify independently, underscore the urgent need for the United Nations team currently in Syria to have a full mandate and unimpeded access to all locations to investigate these and any other incidents of alleged use of chemical weapons.”

“What would be the point of having a UN team of experts in the country if they are not allowed to access the sites of the alleged attacks, collect samples and investigate?.”

“The Syrian authorities who claim no responsibility should immediately facilitate the visit of the UN team to Eastern Ghouta and other locations”.

“If the latest allegations are corroborated, the attacks would amount to war crimes. The only way to deal with the endless catalog of abuses we have witnessed in Syria is for the UN Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court, as Amnesty International has been urging since 2011.”

“It is a violation of international law to manufacture, stockpile, transfer or use chemical weapons, which cannot distinguish between civilians and combatants.”

Amnesty International has also sent the videos to medical and other experts to verify their authenticity and to establish if the symptoms shown by those affected are congruent with the use of chemical weapons. In addition, the organization is in contact with individuals and organizations in Syria to try and gather further information about the current medical condition of people in the area.

Related Links:

8 Current Urgent Actions You Should Do Right Now

Syria One of the Worst Countries for Journalists

15 Human Rights Violations Happening Right Now

What to Do for Your First Amnesty International Meeting

first Amnesty International meetingCollege starts in just another week or two, if it hasn’t started already. Once time has passed to get everyone settled in and to adjust to the dorms and the new classes, it’s time to start thinking about that first Amnesty International meeting of the year. It’s one of the most important meetings, since it will be the first impression for potential new members, and you want people to be part of your group versus other groups competing for their attention and time (whether related or not). Here’s what you need to do and to think about for that first meeting:

What You Want to Do for the Year

Have some plan for something to do i.e. an event or an issue, but leave it open-ended as well. You want new members to have some say and to feel like they can participate, instead of feeling like they have to do what the group leaders do. However, these are also new, shy, freshmen and sophomores who might want to test the waters and might not have ideas right away. Initially, you don’t want to rely on them entirely for ideas and risk looking like you’re not an organized chapter.

Tip: If you don’t have ideas, then present the possibility of attending your regional conference. The regional conference is an excellent event to create synergy in the group and to engage new members in the issues.

How You Present the Leadership Team

Or, executive committee, or group leaders, or whatever you call them. Presentation of the group leaders as well as the old members is critical, as you don’t want to come across as a clique or as something that isn’t open to everyone. You also want to come across as people interested in doing something about human rights, instead of a group of friends who are meeting to hang out. The latter will just drive away those who actually want to do something and don’t want to take the time to fit in and to play the social game.

Tip: A good way to present the leadership team is to make sure that they are part of the meeting, instead of at the front of the room or all together in one section of the room. This ensure that you folks are a part of the entire team instead of just the decision makers or the one who ultimately choose what issues you work and what events you attend/host.

Introduce Your Chapter and the Organization

Of course, there will be people attending this meeting who don’t know anything about Amnesty International as an organization. They also won’t know anything about your chapter, so you need to be prepared to explain both. This includes knowing the history of the organization, its mission, as well as a bit of history on what your chapter has done in the past (events, issues, even what typically happens at meetings). Most of the people attending may have heard of Amnesty International, or may just be interested in human rights, or may even just be interested in one or two human rights issues. This may seem boring, but it’s necessary because people won’t want to be part of something they don’t know anything about or that doesn’t align with their values or what they want to accomplish.

Preparing for the first meeting of the school year may seem like a lot, but it is the one meeting of the year that will be different from all the others. It’s the pitch to the new members so they return to the next meeting. It’s the meeting that will determine whether or not someone joins your group or decides to be part of a different activist group or in a different extracurricular entirely. It’s not a meeting that you want run extemporaneously.

Related Links:

How to Run an Amnesty International Meeting

What Amnesty International is All About

How Does Amnesty International Ensure its Impartiality?