Volume VIII Number 4, April 2000
In This Issue
Prisoner of Conscience: Ngawang Pekar
Interfaith Action Network
Just Earth Network
Human Rights Book Discussion Group
Friday, April 21, Noon. Caltech Earth Day on the Olive
Walk. Contact Martha at 626-281-4039 to help out.
Friday, April 21, 8:00 PM. Beckman Institute Auditorium, Caltech.
Nobel Prizewinner Jodie Williams of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines
Thursday, April 27, 7:30 PM. Monthly Meeting at 1052 E.
Del Mar (between Catalina & Wilson) -- top floor.
Sunday, May 7, 7:30 PM. Human Rights Book Discussion Group at Borders Books on S. Lake Avenue. Join us for a discussion of Arundhati Roy's The Cost of Living. Details about the book inside.
Tuesday, May 9, 7:30 PM.
Letter-writing Meeting in the
Athenaeum basement. Corner of California & Hill.
On March 28, Amnesty International launched its new campaign to expose and combat widespread human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. These violations, which include torture, amputations, arbitrary arrests, secret trials, and public beheadings, are kept secret or downplayed by aggressive lobbying and public relations firms, while many governments (including ours) are inclined to "look the other way" because of business interests and geopolitical concerns. Because of such reasons, AI's campaign was considered rather difficult and even somewhat quixotic. But the campaign has already led to a dramatic development: Saudi Arabia, after the expected denials, declared that critics of its human rights standards can come and see the situation for themselves. AI is actively pursuing this invitation; stay tuned for developments!
Robert Adams is coordinating our group's participation in the Saudi Arabia campaign; please note his contribution to the newsletter, and take action!
Our group continues its strong involvement in the program to defend environmental activists, conducted jointly by Amnesty International and the Sierra Club.
On April 5, Martha Ter Maat gave a very well-received presentation to the local chapter of the Sierra Club. Emily Brodsky is organizing our participation in the Earth Day celebration at Caltech on April 21. Thanks to Veronica Raymond for coordinating our group's participation in this program.
Join us in our monthly meeting, on Thursday evening, April 27, where we will discuss our participation in the various campaigns and actions we are involved in. By popular demand, I will also begin to devote part of the meeting to providing background information on Amnesty International as an organization, including how our work fits into overall AI strategy. The first installment, appropriately enough, will start with AI's birth in 1961.
Finally, please join us for the book discussion group at Borders on Sunday, May 7, when we will discuss Arundhati Roy's "The Cost of Living," which concerns India's Narmada Dam project, one of the cases highlighted by the environmental program. See you there!
Larry Romans 626-683-4977
Group Coordinator email@example.com
Both sites this month feature gut-wrenching photography.
Approach with caution!
This website features photographs and postcards of lynchings collected in the book "Without Sanctuary."
A truly eye-opening history lesson which leads us to new insights into
the mob mentality still surrounding executions in this country. An well-produced,
if shocking site.
Salon.com has an interview this month with Joseph Nachtwey about his
collection of photography from the world's most hellish human rights catastrophes:
Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Chechnya, etc.
PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE
Ngawang Pekar, Tibetan Monk
Our group continues to seek the release of prisoner of conscience (POC)
Ngawang Pekar (naw-wan pee-kar), an approximately 37-year-old Tibetan Buddhist
monk who is imprisoned solely for peacefully voicing his conscience during
a demonstration in support of Tibetan independence.
As has been the case for about two years now, we have no current news regarding Ngawang Pekar's current status and well being. However, some information about Drepung Monastery, where Pekar resided prior to his arrest, recently came to light. In their March report, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) reported on another monk from Drepung who had recently escaped to India. According to that individual, at present there are about 600 monks at the monastery, but in 1997 a Public Security Bureau office was constructed within the monastery and police personnel were permanently stationed there. It was further reported that Drepung management is completely controlled by an eight- member Monastery Management Committee whose members are directly appointed by the Chinese authorities. So much for freedom of religion!
Following up on last month's report in this newsletter, at the United
Nations Human Rights Commission meeting which began on 20 March in Geneva
the US sponsored a resolution condemning China for its record of human
rights abuses. Although in past years such resolutions tabled by the US
have failed due to "no action motions," amidst lively debate it appears
that this year the resolution will actually come to a vote on 18 April.
Despite great efforts made by the US and a number of NGOs to sway members
of the European Union (EU), a critical voting block, to vote in favor of
the resolution, the Chinese have apparently made it clear that there will
be "consequences" for any Member States voting in favor of the resolution.
Thus, the Chinese welcome the vote and have expressed confidence that it
will fail, thereby helping to validate their claims that human rights have
greatly improved in China (including Tibet). As things now stand, the EU's
position on the resolution is: (1) no co-sponsorship of the US resolution,
(2) all EU members will vote for the resolution, and (3) there will be
no EU amendments to the US text. It will be very interesting to see what
As it has been awhile since we contacted him, we request that you send
letters on behalf of Ngawang Pekar this month to Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji.
Please write a respectful letter to the Premier informing him of Pekar's
case and urging him to see to it that Pekar is released in a timely manner.
Also gently remind him that cases such as Pekar's are one reason the U.S.
sponsored the resolution in Geneva and is currently debating in Congress
whether or not to grant China permanent normal trade relations (membership
in the WTO is already a sure thing). Below is a sample letter that you
can either copy verbatim or, preferably, use as a guide in composing your
As a firm believer in the principles delineated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 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 in the city of Lasashi and sentenced to 8 years in prison. Subsequently, his sentence was increased by an additional 6 years. Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience and I am concerned that he has been imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of his universally recognized right to freedom of expression. I am further deeply concerned about reports that he has been beaten and denied access to medical care since his arrest and that the 6-year increase in his sentence, following 3 months in an iron isolation cell, was an extremely harsh punishment for keeping a list of his fellow prisoners.
As you are aware, the U.S. has sponsored a resolution condemning China's human rights record at the current UN Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva, and cases such as Ngawang Pekar's are one of the reasons for this resolution. As I'm sure you're also aware, for the same reasons there is currently a heated debate occurring in the US Congress regarding granting China PNTR with the US. I therefore respectfully urge you to request that Pekar's case be reviewed and that he be immediately and unconditionally released in accordance with the international laws to which China is signatory. I further request that he be allowed access to independent non-governmental agencies so that his current state of well being may be determined and made known.
I thank you for your attention to this important matter and would greatly appreciate any further information that your office may be able to provide.
Address your letter to:
ZHU Rongji Zongli
People's Republic of China
Passover Action: Makhbuba Kasymova, Uzbekistan
"To fight for human rights is to save our own souls." Rabbi Abraham
Joshua Heschel. Here is a simple action suggested by AI's Interfaith Action
Network. For additional actions and to learn about the network see: www.amnesty-usa.org/casework/passover
Makhbuba Kasymova is a human rights defender whose activities have brought
her into conflict with the government. A mother of six and a former teacher,
Makhbuba Kasymova [pronounced "Mahk-BOO-ba Kah-SEE-mo-vah"] is a member
of the Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan and a member
of the democratic opposition movement Birlik. She was not at home when
police searched her apartment in May 1999 and questioned Ms. Kasymova's
husband, two daughters, and Ravshan Khamidov, who was staying in the apartment.
The officers never produced a search warrant or stated who they were. Ravshan
Khamidov was detained after a grenade and a small quantity of drugs were
allegedly planted on him by the officers. Makhbuba Kasymova was arrested
and sentenced to five years in prison for "concealing or failing to report
a crime," even though Ravshan Khamidov had not yet been tried for the crime
Makhbuba Kasymova was alleged to have concealed. Following a grossly unfair
trial, Ms Kasymova was sentenced to five years' imprisonment. Amnesty International
believes that she was actually jailed because of her peaceful activities
as a human rights defender and her links with the democratic opposition.
Amnesty considers her to be a prisoner of conscience.
Please send cards of support to:
Tashkentskaya zhenskaya koloniya
Just Earth Network
Early Announcement of Goldman Environmental Prize for Imprisoned Mexican Farmer-Ecologist
MEXICO CITY, April 5-In an unprecedented early international announcement,
Rodolfo Montiel Flores, 44, leader of a grassroots, rural Mexican ecological
movement, will receive a $125,000 prize from the San Francisco-based Goldman
Environmental Foundation at a press conference in the Mexican capital on
Wednesday, April 5, 2000. The world's largest award honoring grassroots
environmental achievement, the Goldman Prize is announced every year on
or near Earth Day.
Because Montiel has been in prison since May 2, 1999, and it is hoped
that an early announcement will have a positive impact on his trial, the
Goldman Prize jury decided to announce this year's Prize for North America
twelve days early. In 1995 the Goldman Prize pre-empted its traditional
announce date for play-write/environmentalist Ken Saro Wiwa by releasing
the news of his selection for the Prize in Nigeria. Despite international
pleas for clemency, Saro Wiwa was publicly hanged on November 10, 1995
by the regime of the late-dictator Sani Abacha.
The prize is one of seven to be awarded this year. The other six will
be announced on April 17 at a ceremony in San Francisco, California, as
Protesting against environmental degradation, corruption, and human
rights violations, Montiel united local subsistence farmers and environmentalists
in a group called the Organization of Campesino Ecologists of the Sierra
de Petatlán and Coyuca de Catalán. Originally holding meetings
in private homes, the organization worked up to gatherings of some hundred
members. The group incorporated in February 1998.
For several years campesinos from the state of Guerrero have seen the
mountains of the southern Sierra Madre stripped of their old-growth white
pine and fir forests by national and transnational logging interests, with
far reaching consequences for arable and grazing lands. In 1995 Idaho-based
Boise Cascade Corporation and the state governor signed an agreement, made
possible by constitutional changes implemented in the wake of NAFTA, for
exclusive rights to buy wood from local ejidos (villages whose residents
work communal lands).
In June 1995 members of the state judicial police massacred 17 unarmed
peasants who had gathered near the village of Aguas Blancas to protest
after Guerrero authorities decided to resume logging in the area. At the
time, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights investigated this case
and issued recommendations to the government of Mexico for the implementation
of justice in this and two other outstanding cases, as yet unimplemented.
Rapid and widespread deforestation produces serious long-term ecological
effects, including an increased rate of erosion of topsoil, changes in
local weather patterns, and increased periods of drought. Montiel has said
he will use the "no-strings" award, the equivalent of more than one million
pesos, to create a trust for the purchase of irrigation equipment in the
region where he lives in the state of Guerrero.
Boise Cascade and a subsidiary, Costa Grande Forest Products, began
large-scale timber purchases in the area soon after NAFTA was implemented
in Mexico. On several occasions, the group organized by Montiel prevented
logging trucks from leaving the forests with their cargo, and obliged local
mills supplying Boise Cascade to suspend operations. Boise Cascade left
Guerrero in 1998, citing "difficult business conditions," but indiscriminate
logging in the area and the protests have continued.
The movement was brutally suppressed by the Mexican Army. On May 2,
1999 Montiel and a fellow campesino, Teodoro Cabrera García, were
arrested, beaten, forced to pose for photographs holding rifles that did
not belong to them, and imprisoned, accused of having ties to a guerrilla
movement, illegal possession of weapons, and drug trafficking. They have
repudiated confessions they signed as the result of beatings and torture.
"Since 1990 we have recognized 64 individuals from around the world
for their heroic efforts to preserve the environment," says Richard N.
Goldman, president of the Foundation. "Like many of the Goldman Environmental
Prize recipients before him, Rodolfo Montiel Flores has shown great courage
and a willingness to sacrifice everything for what he believes. We believe
that people should be applauded for doing the right thing, instead of being
treated as criminals."
(For more information about the Goldman Environmental Prize, please
visit www.goldmanprize.org. See the www.amnesty-usa.org for actions you
can take on behalf of Rodolfo Montiel)
Borders Books & Music
475 South Lake Avenue
|Sunday, May 7,
The Cost of
by Arundhati Roy
See also: www.narmada.org
In her Booker Prize-winning novel, The God of Small Things, Arundhati
Roy turned a compassionate but unrelenting eye on one family in India.
Now she lavishes the same acrobatic language and fierce humanity on the
future of her beloved country. In this spirited polemic, Roy dares to take
on two of the great illusions of India's progress: the massive dam projects
that were supposed to haul this sprawling subcontinent into the modern
age--but which instead have displaced untold millions--and the detonation
of India's first nuclear bomb, with all its attendant Faustian bargains.
Merging her inimitable voice with a great moral outrage and imaginative
sweep, Roy peels away the mask of democracy and prosperity to show
the true costs hidden beneath. For those who have been mesmerized by her
vision of India, here is a sketch, traced in fire, of its topsy-turvy
society, where the lives of the many are sacrificed for the comforts of
||SUNDAY, JUNE 4,
Mandate of Heaven: The Legacy of Tiananmen Square and the Next Generation of China's Leaders
by Orville Schell
Next month we commemorate the eleventh anniversary of the Tiananmen
massacre with this insightful work of reportage on the demonstrations and
their aftermath. It's fairly long, so you may wish to get started early!
Military, Security and Police Relations
Stop arming the torturers
"They made me take off my clothes and then threatened me with rape.
They also used other forms of ill-treatment and torture, including falaqa
[beating on the soles of the feet], beatings all over the body, and being
jolted by an electrified rod."
These are the words of an Iraqi refugee in Saudi Arabia, who was tortured
in 1992. His experience is not unique. Gulam Mustapha, a Pakistani, was
reportedly tortured while in detention in a center for drug offenders in
Jeddah in 1994. The torture he suffered included insertion of a metal stick
or rod into his anus and electric shocks, which apparently left him bleeding
and unable to walk. So who has supplied the electro-shock batons to the
torturers in Saudi Arabia? Secrecy prevents a comprehensive answer, but
it is known that in 1993 the UK government granted two licences for the
transfer of electro-shock weapons to Saudi Arabia and that since 1984 the
US Department of Commerce has authorized at least a dozen such shipments.
Despite Saudi Arabia's appalling human rights record, foreign governments
have supplied the country with other equipment that could be used to torture
or ill-treat prisoners. For example, between 1980 and 1993 the US government
authorized licences worth $5 million under the category OA82C, which includes
thumb cuffs, leg irons, shackles, handcuffs and other police equipment.
People formerly imprisoned in Saudi Arabia have described the devastating
effect of the use of leg restraints such as shackles and chains contrary
to UN regulations for the treatment of prisoners. A former prisoner, released
in 1999, told Amnesty International that the "use of handcuffs and shackles
is standard operating procedure. [They] are placed even on lame and blind
people." Former prisoners have stated that such restraints were stamped
with the name "Hiatts", a UK company, or "Smith & Wesson", a US company.
Phil Lomax, a UK national, explained how shackles are routinely used
in Malaz prison, Riyadh, where he was held for 17 days in mid-1999 in connection
with alcohol offences.
"When[ever] we were taken out of the cell we were shackled and handcuffed.
The shackles were very painful. They were made of steel... like a handcuff
ring. The handcuffs were made in the USA. If you're taken out with other
people you are shackled to the other people."
Donato Lama, a Filipino who was arrested in October 1995 for preaching Christianity, said he was shackled and handcuffed as well as beaten while under interrogation during two weeks' incommunicado detention. During his trial he was forced to stand in front of the judge with his legs chained and wearing handcuffs. He was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment and 70 lashes. He described how restraints were frequently used on those in prison:
"They would handcuff your hands and hang them on a post [and] you would
have to stand for two to five hours... When our embassy officials would
come and visit us... they would handcuff us and shackle also our legs,
and handcuff [us together] and shackle together our legs... Sometimes it
would hurt your legs with bruising. Sometimes the guard would drag you;
it would be very hard to walk."
Donato Lama was also shackled and handcuffed when the 70 lashes were
administered in a single session shortly before his release in May 1997.
Saudi Arabia is one of the largest procurers of defense equipment in
the world. According to one study, total defense spending was estimated
at US$ 18.2 billion in 1997 alone. The defense industries of the USA, UK,
France, Germany, Canada, Italy and Belgium are among those that have benefited.
The majority of this trade has been in weaponry such as fighter aircraft
that has not been proven to be used in human rights violations. However,
the secrecy surrounding the deals means that the public can never be sure
what is actually being provided. For example, in 1995 a British Aerospace
(now BAE Systems) salesman claimed on television to have arranged the transfer
of 8,000 electro-shock batons to Saudi Arabia as part of the multi-billion
dollar al-Yamamah project, the biggest arms deal ever agreed between the
UK and Saudi Arabian governments. The UK government and British Aerospace
denied selling the batons, but details of the al-Yamamah deal have never
been made public.
Saudi Arabia's human rights record shows why stringent national and
international controls are needed for the arms and security industry -
controls that guarantee public accountability and ensure that weapons never
fall into the hands of those likely to use them for torture or other human
Write to the governments of the USA and UK.
Call on them to:
Publicly condemn the routine use of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in Saudi Arabia's police stations, detention centres and prisons. Immediately ban the transfer of leg irons, shackles, electro-shock devices and execution equipment to Saudi Arabia. Prohibit the manufacture, promotion, use or transfer of all equipment solely used for executions or for carrying out torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. When writing to the UK government, welcome the UK ban on the manufacture and export of torture equipment, introduced in 1997, and ask how the ban is being enforced. Provide the public with detailed and regular information about all prospective and completed military, security and police transfers by both private companies and government agencies to Saudi Arabia. The information should include detailed monitoring to ensure that weapons are not being misused in Saudi Arabia or diverted to another recipient. Enact legislation and regulations to prohibit the transfer of all military, security and police weaponry, equipment, personnel or training unless such transfers will not contribute to human rights abuses.
Send your letters to:
Rt. Hon Stephen Byers MP
Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
Department of Trade and Industry
1 Victoria Street, London SW1H 0ET
William M. Daley
Secretary of Commerce
14th St & Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington DC 20230, USA
Editor's Last Word:
Read us on line: http://www.cco.caltech.edu/~aigp22
Martha Ter Maat, 626-281-4039 / firstname.lastname@example.org