Amnesty International Group 22 Newsletter - January 1998 COORDINATOR'S CORNER Happy New Year! Welcome back! Last year was a banner year for Group 22 and local human rights work, and we're going into the new year with some great momentum and energy* to harness! The group's grand debut in the Doo Dah parade (Nov. 22) was a smashing success! The crowds thronging Pasadena's Colorado Boulevard, as well as a Los Angeles area TV audience, were treated to the spectacle of Group 22 members and friends in our own handmade papier mache animal masks (and tails!), enacting street theater on the theme of "Animals for the Ethical Treatment of People." This was a major coup in raising the profile of Amnesty International and human rights, in a fun and accessible way. Special thanks to group members Saskia Feast for making the lovely UDHR bookmarks we passed out, Lucas Kamp for arranging for the T-shirts, Martha Ter Maat for overall direction and artistic inspiration, her mom for the hilarious and fashionable tails, and to the whole crew for participating in the mask-making sessions and the parade itself. This was an experience that none of us is likely to forget for a long time! Check out the web page, http://www.its.caltech.edu/~aigp22/doodah , illustrated with quality photographs by our special guest photographer Samer Rabadi. December was the 50th anniversary of a truly great document of our time, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights -- and the culmination of a year-long AI campaign to raise public awareness of human rights by publicizing the UDHR. Our own Martha came up with the "50 for 50" campaign, to shoot for 50 LA-area UDHR events within the year. "They called her crazy, but who's laughing now?" When the dust settled, the tally was a whopping 102, truly cause for celebration! This ain't just bean counting, folks, but just think, each event represents an advance (possibly big, possibly small) in awareness of human rights. Check out the UDHR50 web page for the list, http://www.amnesty-volunteer.org/usa/scal/udhr50 Through all the festivity, we need to maintain focus on the point of all this work -- human beings such as our own adopted prisoner of conscience, Ngawang Pekar, a Tibetan monk imprisoned by Chinese authorities in Drapchi prison for free expression of his beliefs. As yet there is no specific news of how he weathered the tragic events at Drapchi last May and June (the violently suppressed demonstrations, the nuns dying under suspicious circumstances in solitary confinement). We must keep up the letters so the Chinese authorities never forget that the world is watching. Group members Robert Adams and Saskia Feast are continuing to coordinate our strategy. They have a lot of great ideas, and in the year to come the group will devote renewed energy to the case. Stay tuned! The current AI campaign on human rights violations here in the United States is starting to really get off the ground, and our group is playing an active role, coordinated by members Emily Brodsky and Lucas Kamp. Please try to make it to this month's meeting (Jan. 28), where our special guest, Mario Tafur from the AI regional office, will give an overview of the campaign and discuss ideas with the group. And please take part in our ongoing action on the ultimate human rights abuse here at home, the death penalty. Tragically, after a last-minute stay last month, the state is forging ahead with the Siripongs case. We have a new governor, and there's no time to waste in letting him know what we think about this! Cheers, Larry Romans 626-683-4977 Group Coordinator email@example.com * maintaining Lorentz covariance, of course UPCOMING EVENTS Thursday, January 28, 7:30 PM. Monthly Meeting at 1052 E. Del Mar (between Catalina & Wilson) -- top floor. Highlights: Area USA Campaign coordinator Mario Tafur to speak. Monday, February 8, 8:00-10:00 PM. Interfaith Execution Vigil. All Saints Church, 132 N. Euclid, Pasadena. Short program begins at 9:00 PM. For more information call Martha Ter Maat at 626-281-4039. This is a meditation vigil and the public is invited to go and come at any time. If a stay of execution occurs prior to the vigil date, the vigil will be cancelled. If the stay occurs on the day of the vigil we will go forward due to the high likelihood that a last minute stay will be overturned by a higher court. See article inside for details regarding the Siripongs case. Tuesday, February 9, 7:30 PM. Letter-writing Meeting in the Athenaeum basement. Corner of California & Hill. PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE Ngawang Pekar, Tibetan Monk Group 22 continues to work for the release of prisoner of conscience (POC) Ngawang Pekar (naw-wan pee-kar), an approximately 38-year-old Tibetan Buddhist monk from Drepung Monastery. In 1989, he was arrested by Chinese authorities and sentenced to 8 years in prison for participating in a peaceful demonstration in the city of Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, in support of Tibetan independence. Shortly before he was due to be released, he was sentenced to an additional 6 years in March of 1996 for allegedly trying to smuggle out a list of other prisoners to international human rights organizations. Amnesty International is concerned that, like many others in Tibet, Ngawang Pekar has been imprisoned solely as a result of peacefully exercising his right to voice his conscience and that, during his incarceration, he has been subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment including being beaten, denied medical treatment, and being confined to an iron isolation cell for 3 months. Although there is no new information directly concerning Ngawang Pekar to report this month, in a related bit of news it has been confirmed that one of Pekar's fellow prisoners, Gyaltsen Choephel, was released from Drapchi prison (otherwise known as Tibet Autonomous Region Prison No. 1) in December of 1998. Following the violent suppression of demonstrations inside Drapchi prison on 1 May, 1998, Gyaltsen Choephel, a 33-year-old layman from Lhasa, was so viciously beaten by the authorities that it was originally reported that he may have died. Fortunately, this was not the case, and while the conditions of his release and his current state of health are unknown, we should be encouraged by the news of his release. With the help of our continued effort, the release of Ngawang Pekar (hopefully minus the prior extreme physical abuse) may soon follow! In other, less encouraging, news, the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy, based in Dharamsala, India, recently released a report that the use of torture against political prisoners in Tibet is still widespread despite the fact that China ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel and Degrading Treatment or Punishment in October of 1988. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao stated at a news briefing that he had no knowledge of the report, "But I can say that China has implemented in a very strict manner the convention on torture. In addition, we have a prison law and all activities are conducted in accordance with the law." U.S. and Chinese officials conducted meetings on 11 and 12 January exclusively devoted to human rights issues, the first such talks since 1995. Unfortunately, despite the fact that China has been engaged in a harsh and widespread crackdown on pro-democracy activists since President Clinton's visit to China in June of 1998, little appears to have been accomplished by the talks. One U.S. official stated that "There was never any question that the Chinese government would tolerate the formation of an opposition party," and that "faced with opposition, they have to move swiftly and firmly before any momentum develops." Another administration official said that however infuriating U.S. officials find repression of political dissent, they also value Beijing's cooperation on such issues as North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, the arms race in south Asia and containing the Asian financial crisis. Considering the current harsh political climate in China, and the fact that a dialogue, however weak, has been resumed between the U.S. and China on human rights issues, we ask that you write this month to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on behalf of Ngawang Pekar. Although Pekar is only one man, his case is representative of the human rights abuses being perpetrated by the Chinese authorities and his release could serve as a show of "good faith" on the part of the Chinese government. Please write to Secretary Albright to inform her of Pekar's case and urge her to press for his release in future negotiations. Below is a sample letter that you may either copy or use as a rough guide in composing your own letter: Dear Secretary Albright: As a supporter of human rights and a member of Amnesty International, I am writing to bring to your attention a prisoner being held by Chinese authorities 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. Subsequently, 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 realize that the current political situation in China is somewhat "touchy," to say the least, and that the Chinese Communist Party feels particularly vulnerable at present. However, there are no circumstances which excuse the violation of basic human rights, and the violation of those rights is doomed in the long run to only further promote the "instability and chaos" which the Chinese authorities so dread. Chinese Ambassador Li is quoted as stating that "In China, we practice the rule of law," and yet China blatantly violates international laws to which they are a signatory. With the recent resumption of dialogue between the U.S. and China on human rights issues, the U.S. must fully utilize its available options to ensure that China abides by international law in a manner beneficial to all parties, especially the common citizens of China. Although Ngawang Pekar is only one man, his release could serve as a show of "good faith" that the Chinese government is serious in its efforts to begin to comply with international standards of human rights. The question of the legitimacy of Chinese rule over Tibet is not at issue here. I therefore respectfully urge you to bring up Pekar's case in your future dealings with the Chinese authorities and request that he be immediately and unconditionally released in accordance with the international laws to which China subscribes. I thank you for your time and attention to this important matter and would greatly appreciate any further information that you may be able to provide. Sincerely, Address your letter to: Secretary of State Madeleine Albright 2201 C Street, NW Washington, D.C. 20520 Include your name and mailing address at the top of the letter to enable a reply, and please notify the Group 22 coordinator of any replies received which may be of interest. MARTHA'S WEB TIPS FOR JANUARY PBS Frontline http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline Once again we return to the Frontline site for two web pages associated with up-coming documentaries in that series. The program specific pages won't go up until the programs air, but mark you calendars to watch Frontline on January 26 at 9:00 or January 31 at 11:00 for a repeat of the Rwanda program and check your TV schedules in early February for particulars on the death penalty program. FRONTLINE examines Rwandan genocide. Eight hundred thousand Tutsis were slaughtered by the Hutu majority in Rwanda while the West turned a blind eye. The film examines the role of Britain, France, the U.S., and the U.N. as they ignored the warnings and evidence of impending massacre. This report also looks at how two detectives called in to investigate the Rwandan genocide came to fear that the U.N. itself didn't want them to succeed. In February, FRONTLINE explores capital punishment through the story of Clifford Boggess, a 30-year-old who spent almost a decade on death row in Texas. It is there that Boggess--a pianist, artist, class valedictorian and murderer--awaited the execution chamber. And while he prayed, the tormented families of his two victims--brutally murdered in convenience store robberies--impatiently awaited his death in June 1998. The film follows the killer, his judges, his executioners, and the families of his victims. URGENT ACTION APPEAL Bring Pinochet to Justice! According to the Chilean government's own truth commissions, more than 3,000 people were extrajudicially executed, "disappeared," or tortured to death during General Pinochet's reign of terror. Countless more were tortured and exiled. While he awaits his fate in London, US officials continue to debate whether or not to support his extradition to Spain. So far the nays have it. Jittery Administration officials who fear that US officials could be subjected to frivolous suits and apprehension abroad have carried the day and the US continues to have a public position of neutrality on his extradition. On November 24, Amnesty International USA wrote to Attorney General Janet Reno and asked that the US consider extraditing Pinochet to the United States for crimes against Americans including the 1976 car bombing in Washington, DC which killed a young American and a former Chilean Foreign Minister. We also wrote to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on December 1 asking her to publicly support holding Pinochet accountable. So far she has not replied. Despite the US position of official neutrality, officials such as Secretary Albright have made remarks insinuating that this whole matter should be left to the Chileans, i.e. the Chilean government. The Chilean government has maintained that Pinochet should be returned to Chile, but a trial in Chile would be a near impossibility. Before surrendering power, Pinochet passed a series of measures shielding himself from prosecution, including appointing himself to be Senator-for-Life. Another key issue concerns the declassification of US documents on Chile. The US government maintained close relations with Pinochet's military government that assumed power after a violent coup d' etat in 1973. It is believed that the US has important information, some of which has been formally requested by Spanish judges investigating crimes committed by the Pinochet regime. Publicly, the State Department has stated that it is contemplating declassifying information relating to Chile. We strongly support declassification and have asked the State Department to release as much information as possible about human rights violations and other violent acts committed by the Pinochet government. Please write a polite but firm letter to the Secretary of State asking that she: - reply to Amnesty International USA's December 1 letter on Pinochet; - confirm that the US will declassify as much information as possible concerning human rights violations committed during the Pinochet government; and - publicly support the extradition of General Pinochet to Spain and the principle that he be held accountable for crimes committed by his government. Address your letter to: The Honorable Madeleine Albright Secretary of State 2201 C Street, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20520 USA CAMPAIGN Juvenile Justice Concerns A major goal of the USA Campaign is to highlight abuses in the juvenile justice system that are in conflict with international law. Among the most striking examples is the application of the death penalty to individuals who were juveniles at the time of the crime. International law specifically excludes children from the death penalty based on two rationales: (1) Children are not fully mature and responsible for their actions. (2) The potential for rehabilitation is much greater for children than adults. The US Supreme Court has acknowledged both of these issues in its decisions. In Thompson v. Oklahoma in 1988, the Court wrote: "Youth is more than a chronological fact. It is a time and condition of life when a person may be most susceptible to influence and to psychological damage." In 1993, the court wrote "the signature qualties of youth are transient; as individuals mature, the impetuousness and recklessness that may dominate in younger years can subside." Still, states continue to execute juvenile offenders. The United States has maintained its right to use the death sentence against juvenile offenders when the issue was raised by two major international treaties. The US ratified the International Convent on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), but held a reservation on Article 6(5) which prohibits capital punishment for individuals under 18 at the time of the crime. The US has failed to ratify the Convention of the Rights of the Child which also includes protection from the death sentence for children. Although the US would like to consider itself a leader in the field of human rights, it is one of only a handful of countries opposed to guaranteeing this fundamental right of children. The only other member of the United Nations that has failed to sign the Convention of the Rights of the Child is Somalia. None of the 192 ratifiers of the Convention held any reservations about declaring 18 the minimum age for capital defendants. Please contact your Senators and ask them to (1) withdraw the reservation to Article 6(5) of the ICCPR and (2) ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Our California Senators' addresses are: Senator Barbara Boxer 112 Hart Senate Office Building United States Senate Washington, DC 20510 phone:(202) 224-3553 email: firstname.lastname@example.org Senator Dianne Feinstein United States Senate 331 Hart Senate Office Building Washington, D.C. 20510 phone: (202) 224-3841 email: email@example.com Much of the information above is drawn from the AI report on juvenile justice "Betraying the Young" which is available on the web: http://www.amnesty.org/ailib/aipub/1998/AMR/25106098.htm. DEATH PENALTY UDATE: California to Execute Siripongs- Write Gov. Davis! Jaturun Siripongs is scheduled to be executed in California on 9 February 1998. He was sentenced to death in 1983 for a double murder committed during a robbery at Pantai market in Garden Grove, Orange County, California, in December 1981, 18 months after he arrived in the USA from Thailand. After his arrest, Jaturun Siripongs should have been informed of his right to contact and seek assistance from the Thai Consulate, as provided by Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, ratified by the USA in 1969. However, like most of the more than 60 other foreign nationals currently on death row in the USA, he was not informed of this right. Amnesty International believes that, in a capital justice system prone to race and class-based bias, in which sentencing can depend more on a defendant's lawyer than on their crime, access to consular resources and legal expertise can make the difference between life and death. Jaturun Siripongs' lawyer called no witnesses during the trial, choosing to exclude evidence that an accomplice might have been involved in the killings. At the sentencing phase of the trial he called no character witnesses to provide mitigating evidence, including the facts of Jaturun Siripongs's childhood, which was marked by extreme poverty and physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Since he has been in prison, Jaturun Siripongs is reported to have been a model prisoner, studying Buddhism and becoming an accomplished artist. Surachai Wattanaporn, the widower of one of the two people killed in the 1981 crime, is reported to have written to former Governor Wilson appealing for clemency: "As a Buddhist, I do not seek revenge for my wife's death, and ask you to consider exercising mercy in this case." The widow of the second murder victim is also said to be opposed to the execution. The Royal Thai government is reported to have requested that the governor commute Jaturun Siripongs' death sentence. Please send letters to our new governor! - expressing deep concern that Jaturun Siripongs is scheduled to be executed on 9 February, and urging that his death sentence be commuted to a more humane alternative; - expressing sympathy for the victims of violent crime and their families, but noting that an increasing number of families of murder victims in the USA are speaking out against the death penalty, saying that it does not help them in their loss and only compounds the brutality; - noting that Jaturun Siripongs' rights under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations were violated after arrest, and that, at the very least, the execution should be stayed to assess the impact of this violation on the outcome of his trial. APPEALS TO: State Governor The Honorable Pete Wilson State Capitol, 1st Floor Sacramento, CA 95814, USA PLEASE SEND YOUR APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. URGENT ACTION: GUATEMALA Mons. Juan Jose Gerardi Conadera Olman Alexis Viera Rodriguez, who may have had information about the murder of Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi, was shot dead in his home on 4 January 1999. According to a new theory advanced by a former judge conducting a private investigation of the killing, Olman Alexis Viera Rodriguez and the criminal gang he belonged to were involved in the bishop's murder. According to the former judge, the Valle del Sol (Valley of the Sun) gang operates with the cooperation of prominent members of the church curia. He claims that gang members murdered Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi after he learned that they had been stealing valuable artefacts from Guatemalan churches. They then killed Olman Alexis Viera Rodriguez because he had told prosecutors the names of the gang's leaders and the way it operates. Prosecutors investigating the bishop's murder had named Olman Alexis Viera Rodriguez in an indictment as a possible witness. Bishop Gerardi was murdered as he returned home two days after presiding over the presentation to the Guatemalan people of the church's report into the atrocities committed over more than three decades of civil conflict in Guatemala. Based on a three year study of over 55,000 reported human rights violations, the report concluded that some 79% had been carried out by the security forces. Bishop Gerardi had been a moving force behind the project. The government promised a full inquiry into the murder, but after nine months of investigation the crime remains unsolved. The authorities have insisted that Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi was the victim of a common crime or a crime of passion, and have ignored calls from local NGOs and from the former Attorney General of Guatemala, Acisclo Valladares, to pursue leads which suggest the murder was politically motivated. Acisclo Valladares was commissioned by the Guatemalan Catholic church to examine the investigation by the authorities into the murder of Bishop Gerardi. He concluded that Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi's murder was probably an extrajudicial execution. Amnesty International remains deeply concerned at the apparent shortcomings and bias of the official investigation of Bishop Juan Gerardi's murder and at the failure to protect possible witnesses. It fears that the explanation advanced by the former judge is intended to distract attention from the fact that the killing was politically motivated and may have involved serving or former military personnel, including two of the former judge's relatives. FURTHER RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send e- mails/telegrams/telexes/faxes/express/ airmail letters: - urging the authorities to fully investigate the murder of Olman Alexis Viera Rodriguez and bring those responsible to justice; - urging the authorities to protect possible witness who could help solve the crime; - -urging the authorities to widen their investigation into the murder of Bishop Gerardi, taking account of the report of Acisclo Valladares, which found that the bishop was probably extrajudicially executed, possibly with the involvement of serving or former military personnel; - -urging the authorities to bring to justice anyone found to have been involved in the Bishop Juan Gerardi's murder regardless of their position; - -reminding the government of Guatemala of its commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in particular Article 3, 'Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.' APPEALS TO: President of the Republic of Guatemala: S.E. Alvaro Arzu Irigoyen Presidente de la Republica de Guatemala Palacio Nacional 6a Calle y 7a Avenida, Zona 1 Ciudad de Guatemala , GUATEMALA E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com Minister of Foreign Relations: Lic. Eduardo Stein Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores Palacio Nacional 6a Calle y 7a Avenida, Zona 1 Ciudad de Guatemala , GUATEMALA E-mails: firstname.lastname@example.org EDITOR'S LAST WORD: Read us on line: http://www.cco.caltech.edu/~aigp22/ Martha Ter Maat, 626-281-4039 / email@example.com Amnesty International works impartially to free-individuals jailed solely for their beliefs, ethnic origin, language, gender 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.