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Coordinator's MusingsOur group's activities on the UDHR 50 (the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) campaign continue at a furious pace. Thanks to everyone for their great participation!!
This month, Larry Romans, Jim Smith, Martha Ter Maat, and I met with the District Director of the local office of Pasadena's congressional representative, James Rogan. We told him about our group and the strong Amnesty representation in his district and about our POC, Ngawang Pekar. We asked about Rogan's interest in Tibet as he has a picture of himself with the Dalai Lama on his website. The staffer, Jeff Lennan, was very cordial and said that he would be interested in receiving our newsletter and any other information we have on upcoming legislative issues. He also offered to visit our group when we are discussing our positions on various issues. He was also quite interested in our web site and the technical issues involved, which he and Larry discussed. He encouraged us to make a formal request for Rep. Rogan to sign one of our pledge cards and write a letter on behalf of Ngawang Pekar.
Byron Philhour, with help from Saskia Feast, tabled at the Body Shop in Old Town Pasadena. May 11th was the kick-off day for the Body Shop's human rights campaign, "Make Your Mark," in which people are invited to put their thumbprint on a petition featuring the case of Tibetan nun who, like our POC, was imprisoned for her political activities in Tibet. She received 18 years for singing a song that calls for Tibet's independence.
Amnesty groups nationwide were invited to join in this campaign by tabling at Body Shops around the country. The Pasadena Friends of Tibet group tabled at the store in Old Town with us. Matt Reese, Larry Romans, Jim Smith, Saskia and I tabled at the Body Shop at the Santa Anita mall and the shop in Old Town on May 16th as well.
Martha Ter Maat presented the prayer flag project to a government class at Pasadena High School on May 12th. The students made flags based on the "Defenders" cases. The teacher, Marissa Quiroz encouraged us to come back next fall for a human rights "teach-in."
Mark the Date! Jim Smith has arranged a fund raiser for our group with the Caltech Theater Arts group. They are putting on a play involving human rights issues and have given us tickets for which we can keep the proceeds! The date is Friday, June 5th and the suggested ticket prices are $8 and $5 for students. Please talk to your friends and relatives about supporting our group by purchasing tickets. (See the article about the play elsewhere in this newsletter!)
I received preliminary information on the USA campaign from AIUSA this week. The campaign has 3 goals:
UPCOMING EVENTSNOTE NEW PERMANENT MONTHLY MEETING LOCATION!!!
Martha's Web Tips for MayProject Vote Smart
Not sure who your assemblymember is? Need your state senator's address? Did you write a letter to your senator of congressmember a couple months ago and wonder how they ultimately voted on a piece of human rights legislation? You can find all the answers at this great website. Not a bad site to check out as you tackle your primary ballot either!
Frontline: The World's Most Wanted Man
On May 26 the PBS's "Frontline" will air a documentary on the Radovan Karazdic and the Bosnian war crimes tribunal, just in time for the UN vote on the International Criminal Court in June (see action elsewhere in this newsletter). While the war crimes site will not be up until the broadcast date, if past experience is any indicator, Frontline will produce a great program website.
The Body Shop
While we rarely feature commercial sites in this column, we are making an exception for the Body Shop site this month which features their current action campaign "Make Your Mark" centering on Amnesty's UDHR Defenders campaign. You are invited to participate at the site but be warned that it does require you to install "Shockwave" to access some sections.
Guatemala: Bishop Gerardi
This address will take you to the Human Rights Office of the Archbishop of Guatemala, which now features a memorial to Bishop Geradi in both English and Spanish. For more information see the action below.
Urgent Action: GuatemalaExtrajudicial Execution of Bishop Gerardi
The brutal murder of Juan Gerardi Conadera, Auxiliary Bishop of Guatemala, and the Coordinator of the Human Rights Office of the Archbishop of Guatemala (ODHAG), in Guatemala City on 26 April 1998 threatens the peace process and the work of all human rights defenders in Guatemala.
Bishop Gerardi was battered to death with a piece of paving stone by unknown assailants as he returned to his home in the capital after a dinner with relatives; his face was so disfigured by the attack that he was only identifiable by his bishop's ring. There was apparently no evidence of robbery.
His death came only two days after he had presided over presentation of the report of an inter-diocesan project on Recuperation of the Historical Memory (REMHI). This is a study based on more than 55,000 testimonies concerning the tens of thousands of human rights violations suffered by non-combatant civilians during the civil conflict which ravaged the country for more than three decades. The REMHI report synthesized testimonies of victims and witnesses to these violations collected over a three year period and identified the army as responsible for some 90% of the abuses investigated. It also laid a number of past abuses against civilians at the door of the United
National Revolutionary Unity (URNG), the armed opposition movement with whom the government finally signed a peace agreement in December 1996. The peace agreement provided for the establishment of a Historical Clarification Commission, to which REMHI's findings are to be submitted.
The Guatemalan army has denied involvement in Mons. Gerardi's murder and the government has promised a full inquiry -- to be undertaken by a joint commission made up of government officials and representatives of the Archbishopric. The timing of his death, however, so soon after the REMHI report was made public, has led to fears that his murderers may have been acting on behalf of sectors who want to prevent the identification and prosecution of those responsible for abuses perpetrated during Guatemala's dirty war.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION: Mons. Gerardi had been a long-term human rights advocate. His commitment was first evidenced during the years he served as Bishop in the Verapaces in the 1960s and 70s, where he witnessed at first hand the suffering of the local indigenous population. He then became Bishop of El Quiche, another heavily indigenous department, and one of the areas hardest hit by the Guatemalan army's counter-insurgency campaign of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
During that period, those in the church like Bishop Gerardi who attempted to denounce the violations, including massive extrajudicial executions of non-combatant civilians by the army, were often subjected to threats and violations. In just one 18 month period in the early 1980s, 13 priests were killed. Bishop Gerardi himself received death threats and escaped an attempted ambush. Such abuses moved Bishop Gerardi and all other church personnel to withdraw from El Quiche entirely for a period during the 1980s. Bishop Gerardi was himself forced into exile for several years when he was forbidden re-entry into Guatemala.
More recently, Bishop Gerardi had been an important force behind both the REMHI Project and the establishment of ODHAG itself, in 1989.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send email and letters:
President of the Republic of Guatemala: Dear President
Minister of Foreign Relations: Dear Minister
Human Rights Office of the Archbishop:
[E-mail: ODHAGUA@PRONET.NET.GT ]
DEATH PENALTY UPDATESupreme Court Overturns Thompson Stay; Horace Kelly Found Sane
Two recent court decisions will make for a difficult summer for death penalty abolitionists. First, a Marin County jury, after hearing weeks of psychiatric testimony, found Horace Kelly to be sane enough to execute by a 9-3 vote after only two hours of deliberation (unanimous verdicts are not required for the sanity hearing). Kelly's execution is now set for June 9.
Last summer, Group 22 members braced for the execution of Thomas Thompson but were spared by a last minute stay. Significant questions about the relative culpability of Thompson and his accomplice, who received a lighter sentence, as well as new evidence in the case had raised questions about the death sentence in his case. This April the Supreme Court (ruling on a matter of procedure not the actual question of innocence) overturned the decision of the court of appeals to halt the execution. This means that a new execution date will be set for Thompson very soon.
Because appeals in the Kelly case are expected, we do not anticipate that there will be a vigil on June 8 at All Saints Church, however, please check the Death Penalty hotline for updates on both cases: 213-673-3693.
"Someone Who'll Watch Over Me"Benefit Performance at Caltech - June 5
Group 22 is pleased to host a benefit performance of "Someone Who'll Watch Over Me" by award-winning Irish playwright Frank McGuinness on Friday, June 5 at 8:00 PM. The play concerns three men, Irish, British and American held hostage in Beirut and is a gripping drama about surviving captivity. Group 22 will dedicate this performance to Human Rights Defender Mansur Khikiya, a Libyan opposition leader who was kidnapped by government agents and "disappeared."
This Caltech student theater production will take place at the Student Activity Center "Underground Theater." The center is on California near Hill and signs will direct you from California to the theater entrance. Tickets are $5 for students, $8 for non-students. We need to fill the house! Please call Revae Moran at 818-249-1419 if you are interested in attending. In addition to the June 9 performance the play will be presented on May 22, 23, 29, 30, and June 6 at 8:00 PM and on May 24, 25, 31 and June 7 at 2:00 PM.
INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURTDon't Let The UN Security Council Stop Investigations Of Genocide!
On June 15th, a diplomatic conference in Rome will begin final negotiations on a treaty to create an International Criminal Court (ICC). While there is general agreement on many components of the ICC, several crucial issues have not yet been resolved. Significantly, the United States' position on these issues would make the ICC ineffective as an instrument of impartial justice for all. Your assistance is needed to pressure the United States to change its position on one of the most critical unresolved issues. That is the power of a single permanent member of the United Nations Security Council to stop an investigation or prosecution of those accused of participating in the most horrendous human rights abuses.
The International Criminal Court: What it is
The ICC will investigate and prosecute individuals accused of participating in genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, but only if the effected countries are unwilling or unable to do so. (Since the ICC will prosecute individuals, it is fundamentally different from a similar-sounding court, the International Court of Justice, or World Court, which only hears cases between countries.) Judges for the ICC probably will serve only one nine-year term, and would come from 18 different countries. These judges would then elect a president and two vice presidents who would administer the ICC, and review indictments brought by the prosecutor.
A just, fair and effective ICC is an important element of AI's efforts to end impunity by bringing to justice those accused of the most horrendous human rights abuses.
The United Nations Security Council and the International Criminal Court One of the most critical issues to be resolved at the diplomatic conference is the power of the UN Security Council to thwart an ICC investigation or prosecution. The United States' position would prevent the ICC from conducting an investigation or prosecution in any situation that the Security Council is "dealing with" Since situations where genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes occur are often on the Security Council's agenda, an investigation or prosecution of these abuses could be thwarted by any one of the five permanent members of the Security Council exercising its veto power. AI objects to this obstruction of justice, since the neither the Security Council or any other entity should have the power to stop or delay an investigation of the most horrendous human rights abuses.
It would be an outrage if a single member of a city council, a state legislature or the U.S. Congress had the power to stop an investigation of a mass murder. For the same reason, neither a single member of the Security Council, nor even the entire council, should be able to stop an investigation of genocide!
Please write politely worded letters, preferably on your professional stationary, urging President Clinton to change his position on the role of the UN Security Council in ICC. Letters must be received before June 15. A model letter, which could be copied or modified, follows:
[E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ]
President William Clinton
Dear President Clinton:
Your leadership is needed to ensure that the upcoming diplomatic conference on the International Criminal Court will result in a Court that is just, fair and effective. While several critical issues still need to be resolved, one issue is of particular concern to me. Specifically, the United Nations Security Council should not have the power to block investigations or prosecutions of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The establishment of an International Criminal Court will be one of the most significant international human rights developments of the century. Your administration's leadership during the past three years of preliminary negotiations has been commendable. It is, however, essential that an International Criminal Court not be crippled at birth. Accordingly, it is very important that the International Criminal Court prosecutor have the right to investigate and prosecute cases without interference from any entity, including the Security Council. There is no legitimate reason ever for the Security Council, or any of its five permanent members exercising their veto power, to thwart an investigation or prosecution of those persons accused of participating in these horrendous human rights abuses.
It would be an outrage if a single member of a city council, a state legislature or the United States congress had the power to stop an investigation of a mass murder. It would be equally outrageous if a single member of the Security Council or even the entire Council had the power to stop an investigation of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes!
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
NEWS FROM LIVERPOOLGroup 22 member Saskia Feast was formerly a member of AI in Liverpool. She will periodically share with us some of what her old group is doing. This should be especially interesting once the USA campaign begins and we can compare how things are going both in and out of the target country.
Urgent action works! (in unexpected ways) Positive news is always welcome and so here is some news from the British Section about the Urgent Action Network. Triagus Susanto, arrested in 1995 in Jakarta and charged with ".....the Public expression of feelings of hatred, hostility or contempt toward the Government ....", was able to visit AIUK last September after spending 2 years in 5 different prisons. Asked how urgent action had helped him, he replied: "I believe that my prison conditions were better as a result. Prisoners with money and influence over the guards had more freedom. I had Influence because of the 5000 letters written about me, 1000 of which I received. I counted the stamps rather than the days! I advertised the stamps in an Indonesian philatelist magazine and a stamp collector visited me to collect them. We agreed that he would exchange stamps with shuttlecocks, because we played badminton for hours in prison and shuttlecocks were always in short supply. The letters helped us in this way too. "
50th Anniversary of UDHR. The Liverpool group has sent pledge cards to people of influence in the local community - politicians, councillors, religious leaders, business leaders, teachers - in order to spread awareness among the community. Furthermore the UDHR is being sent out to all the schools in Liverpool and one member of the group will address the local council urging that all schools in the area hold an assembly dedicated to human rights.
Campaign news. The Liverpool groups are involved in the Algeria campaign and several members who wrote to their MPs about massacres have received replies from the foreign and commonwealth office enclosing a policy statement. Recent information about Algeria is very gloomy. AI is no longer able to obtain an entry visa and journalists are also having problems. The Liverpool groups' current action files are torture in Guinea and conscientious objectors in Greece.
REMEMBER TIANANMEN!Your chance to see Wei Jingsheng!
May 31, 2:30 p.m.
June 8, 7:30 p.m.
June 14, 6:00 p.m.
June 15, 7:30 p.m.
PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE - China/TibetNgawang Pekar, Tibetan Monk
Group 22 continues to strive for the release of prisoner of conscience (POC) Ngawang Pekar (naw-wan pee-kar), an approximately 38-year-old Tibetan monk from Drepung Monastery who was imprisoned by Chinese authorities in 1989 for his participation in a peaceful demonstration in support of Tibetan independence in the city of Lhasa. After serving 8 years in prison, shortly before he was due to be released he was sentenced to an additional 6 years after allegedly attempting to smuggle out a list of other prisoners being held to international human rights organizations. Amnesty International is concerned that not only has Ngawang Pekar been imprisoned solely as a result of peacefully exercising his right to voice his conscience, but that he has also been subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment during his prison term. As you may be aware, monks and nuns in the Tibet Autonomous Region (a portion of the vast region formerly known as the nation of Tibet) have been singled out for particularly harsh treatment by their Chinese occupiers, and Ngawang Pekar serves as an apt representative of many others currently enduring similar atrocities.
Essentially, our goal is to bring the name of Ngawang Pekar to the attention of as many Chinese authorities as possible, to let them know that a great number of American citizens are aware of the gross human rights violations being perpetrated against him and many others, and that we will not rest until true justice is served. Toward this end, for some time we have selected a different member of the upper echelon in the Chinese government to target each month on behalf of Ngawang Pekar in order to inform them of our feelings on the matter. Although we harbor no illusions that, at least at the present time, our letters will persuade the People's Republic of China to suddenly "free Tibet," on a somewhat more cynical note we simply hope that, after enough officials have seen his name come up time and time again in appeals for his release, Ngawang Pekar's freedom will be considered by the Chinese authorities the next time they feel the need to appease the U.S. and demonstrate their "good will." Frankly, the motives behind his release are really unimportant; if we can obtain justifiable freedom for even one of our fellow human beings, then we have contributed to an extremely worthy accomplishment.
This month, let's direct our appeals to Ren Jianxin, President of the Supreme People's Court of the People's Republic of China. Although the President of the Supreme People's Court may hardly seem to be an individual who would be sympathetic to our cause, one never knows; perhaps he was formerly trained as a defense lawyer in the U.S.! At any rate, whatever sense of outrage you may feel, please remember to be respectful and courteous and compose your letter to be as informative and succinct as possible (hate letters will get us nowhere!). Also, remember to refer to Tibet as the Tibet Autonomous Region, as the Chinese government does not recognize Tibet as an independent nation, and urge that Ren Jianxin work with other members of the government in reviewing Ngawang Pekar's case rather than pressing him to somehow obtain his release on his own (this is not the Chinese President or Premier we're dealing with here).
Below is a sample letter which you may either copy or use as an aid in composing your own letter:
As a supporter of human rights and a member of Amnesty International, I am writing to you out of concern for a prisoner being held in Tibet Autonomous Region Prison No. 1. The prisoner's name is Ngawang Pekar.
Ngawang Pekar, a Tibetan monk, was arrested in 1989 for participating in a peaceful demonstration and sentenced to 8 years in prison. Recently, his sentence was increased by 6 more years. I am concerned that he has been imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression and about reports that he has been beaten and denied access to medical care since his arrest. I am also concerned that the 6-year increase in his sentence was an extremely harsh punishment for keeping a list of his fellow prisoners and that he was subsequently held in an iron cell for 3 months after the list was found.
I respectfully urge you to request that Ngawang Pekar's case be reviewed and that he be immediately and unconditionally released in accordance with international law. If that is not deemed possible, then I would hope that his sentence could at least be reduced as a demonstration of the regard which the People's Republic of China has for human rights.
I thank you for your assistance in this important matter and would greatly appreciate any further information that you may be able to provide.
Address your letter to:
(For postage, use a 60-cent airmail stamp.)
Editor's Last Word:Submissions welcome. Deadline is generally the second Friday of the month, check to be sure. Read us on line: http://www.cco.caltech.edu/~aigp22/
Martha Ter Maat, 626-281-4039
Amnesty International works impartially to free individuals jailed solely for their beliefs, ethnic origin, language, or sexual orientation, provided they have not used or advocated violence, to ensure fair trials for all political prisoners, and to abolish torture and executions worldwide. It is funded by members and supporters around the world.
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