I celebrated Human Rights Day twice this year. Only twice. Down from the 4 events, out of 5 possible, last year, which was the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Sarvenaz & Aisha table for AI
Our Amnesty International group co-sponsored the Seattle Human Rights Day on December 10 this year, so we got a table before and after the event and collected a lot of signatures and new members for our listserv.
First there was a brief presentation by Students for Bhopal on the recent 25th Anniversary of the Union Carbide leak and the ongoing environmental disaster urging us to take action. The Hush Baby video below was shown, with the warning that it is graphic and disturbing (because of the birth defects still being suffered by the children of Bhopal).
For more information see the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal:
Communidad a Coumunidad accepts the UN Award
Human Rights awards were then given by both the city and Seattle Chapter of the UN Association. Awardees included Suk Lin Zhou, a young woman who helped for an ACLU chapter at her school; Pride Foundation; Comunidad a Comunidad, a Bellingham grass roots, women-led organization working with farm workers on food justice issues (and winner of the UN award); Joe Martin, advocate for the homeless; and Legal Voice, which helps protect women’s legal rights.
Joe Martin accepts an award from the city
Joe Martin accepted the award on behalf of his fellow rabble-rousers who advocate for the homeless. Joe said that especially struck me as both true and sad was that a book written during the 60’s “war on poverty” didn’t say much on homelessness, because in spite of so much bitter poverty, there weren’t many homeless yet back then. We’ve went backwards, in some respects. I’ve noticed the increase just in the time since my family first lived in Portland, a city large enough to have a homeless problem, in 1978, and especially with teenagers, who I don’t remember seeing many of on the streets back then.
Professor Adrien Wing – Keynote Speaker
Professor Adrien Wing from the University of Iowa was our keynote speaker. She talked about human rights and Muslim women, including the banning of head scarfs in schools in France as well as being forced to cover in some countries in the Muslim world. She talked about various layers of oppression and privilege, such as the freedom of travel to other countries with a US passport when their residents can’t travel freely here. Also the fluid nature of race and perceived race as a social construct depending on where you travel. Micro-credits for women are a positive development, and help raise all of society. Dr. Wing contrasted the hundreds spent on micro-credits vs the billions to be spent and to be spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We tabled for a while after the program as well, also checking out the tables and exchanging information with the other event co-sponsors and honorees.
Casey and Sofia write for freedom
Sofia from our group arranged everything with the coffee house, and we had a section in the back of the cafe with our actions and writing material laid out. Some of us found room at the tables back there, and others disbursed to other tables throughout the cafe, writing letters for up to 2 hours.
Some of our cases were well known to long time group members, such as Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar (Burma) and journalist Shi Tao of China. Others were less well known, such as Birtukan Mideksa, a member of the opposition party who disputed the elections in Ethiopia; Alisher Karamatov and Azam Farmonov, human rights defenders of farmers in Uzbekistan; and Rita Mahato, who is receiving death and rape threats for her work helping women in Nepal against acts of violence.
Most of the people we wrote on behalf of are prisoners of conscience, in prison solely for their beliefs; while others, like Rita Mahato, face threats in their work as human rights defenders which their government and local authorities do not take seriously and will not defend them from. Like all of AI’s ongoing letters, faxes and e-mails, Amnesty International sections from around the world take part in our annual write-a-thon, in the weeks around Human Rights Day.
People world wide writing letters for the freedom and safety of prisoners of conscience is the very idea that Amnesty International was founded on, and still at the very core of how we work, even though cases, issues and the methods we use (including on line actions) have expanded. The basic, seemingly crazy, idea; that hundreds of politely worded letters from around the world asking those in power to free those unjustly held would actually bring about their freedom. Yet, in so many cases, it does!
Ma Khin Khin Leh -freed prisoner of conscience
Among those freed from last year’s global write-a-thon is Ma Khin Khin Leh, a school teacher in Myanmar (Burma), freed from 10 years of a life in prison sentence on February 21, 2009. She was arrested for allegedly planning a demonstration to protest the deteriorating economic and human rights situation in Myanmar. Ma Khin Khin Leh was reunited with her daughter, who was 3 at the time of her arrest.
All those letters and online actions, e-mails, and faxes do make a difference!