Dear group --
Happy new year! I hope everyone had a great holiday, and we're all well-rested, full of energy and resolve for the important work in the months to come! (Right?)
If I may suggest a resolution for the new year: Please put extra effort into taking action on behalf of our group's Prisoner of Conscience, Tibetan monk Ngawang Pekar (see the suggested action inside). Last week I was talking with someone who had interviewed a number of Tibetans in exile, many of whom had suffered lengthy prison terms in China for peacefully expressing their beliefs. When I mentioned our group, he told me how he had heard from the Tibetans, over and over, how much difference it makes when a prisoner is adopted by Amnesty International. Everyone in the prison knows (one way or another) which prisoners are Amnesty prisoners, and the guards are always especially careful with them, because the authorities are very aware that the outside world is paying attention. It was encouraging to hear (once again) about the kind of effect our actions can have, especially when it's so hard to get direct news about our prisoner. So please,
make a point of taking action to free Ngawang Pekar this year. Thanks to group members Robert Adams and Joyce Wolf are coordinating our work on his behalf!
Our first monthly meeting of the year will be on Thursday evening, January 25 (see the calendar for details). Group member Martha Ter Maat, who is coordinating Amnesty's work in California to abolish the death penalty, will report on the remarkable "Committing to Conscience" conference she participated in last month, and discuss our group's tactics in the new year. Please join us for this important meeting! And I also look forward to seeing you in our book discussion groups, letter-writing meetings, and special events this month and the coming year.
Larry Romans 310-452-2089
Group Coordinator firstname.lastname@example.org
Borders Books & Music
475 South Lake Avenue, Pasadena
Ocean of Words: Stories
The place is the chilly border between Russia and China. The time is the early 1970s when the two giants were poised on the brink of war. And the characters in this thrilling collection of stories are Chinese soldiers who must constantly scrutinize the enemy even as they themselves are watched for signs of the fatal disease of bourgeois liberalism. In Ocean of Words, the Chinese writer Ha Jin explores the predicament of these simple, barely literate men with breathtaking concision and humanity. From amorous telegraphers to a pugnacious militiaman, from an inscrutable Russian prisoner to an effeminate but enthusiastic recruit, Ha Jin's characters possess a depth and liveliness that suggest Isaac Babel's Cossacks and Tim O'Brien's GIs. Ocean of Words is a triumphant volume, poignant, hilarious, and harrowing.
"A compelling collection of stories, powerful in their unity of theme and rich in their diversity of styles."--New York Times Book Review
"Extraordinary...[These stories are} shot through with wit and offer glimpses of human motivation that defy retelling...Read them all."--Boston Globe
"An exceptional new talent, capable of wringing rich surprises out of austere materials."—Portland Oregonian
1997 Hemingway/PEN Award winner
Ha Jin won the 22nd annual Hemingway/PEN Award for first fiction for Ocean of Words, his extraordinary debut collection of short stories. Writing in The Boston Globe, National Book Award winner James Carroll said, "Ha Jin conjures the exotic particularities of life in China, yet we recognize his characters intimately. The 'otherness' of this most foreign nation falls away as one vividly drawn human after another takes flesh on the page. Ha Jin's compassion for his own people can spark American compassion. In this way, literature trumps stereotype every time, which is the only political function of art." –
Clinton signs the International Criminal Court Treaty!
Last month we asked you to write President Clinton regarding the ICC. It worked! Thanks to all of you who put the pressure on!
Acting at the last moment before the December 31st deadline, President Clinton signed the International Criminal Court Treaty, making the United States a party to the world's first permanent international court charged with prosecuting the gravest possible crimes under international law: genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.
In the weeks leading up to the deadline, Amnesty activists sent thousands of letters, faxes, and emails to the White House urging the U.S. to join the 135 other signatories. Following the December 31st deadline, a nation must simultaneously sign and ratify the treaty in order to be a party to the court. The ICC will be established when 60 countries have ratified the treaty; so far 27 have done so.
The idea of a permanent international criminal court was first raised following World War II. Since then, although the international community has created international and regional systems of human rights protection, genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes have been perpetrated against millions of people. Shamefully, only a handful of those responsible have been brought to justice by national courts.
Critics of the ICC maintain that the court will subject American citizens to politically motivated prosecutions. Senator Jesse Helms, R-N.C., Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has pledged to vigorously oppose the treaty when it appears before the Senate for ratification. Amnesty International maintains that in fact the treaty contains numerous safeguards to prevent politically motivated prosecutions.
JUST EARTH NETWORK
Get to Know the Right to Know Campaign
The increasing power of companies and the removal or weakening of international regulations in this age of globalization have led to calls for greater corporate transparency. For more than a year, Amnesty International USA, through its Human Rights and the Environment Program, has been working with a broad coalition of human, environmental and labor rights groups to develop and promote "International Right to Know" principles in the United States. The goal is to push these principles as a legislative action in the US Congress.
The global trend towards economic deregulation and privatization of functions traditionally performed by states has increased the power of corporations relative to the state. Many corporations generate revenues in excess of the gross domestic products of several countries. In some cases, multinational corporations are in stronger negotiating positions than their host countries. Many countries in the global South write laws and trade agreements designed to attract foreign investments often at the expense of human rights and the environment.
The notion of a Right to Know arose from our firm conviction that globalization should not undermine international human rights, labor and environmental protection standards. The international right to know principles build on existing domestic right to know laws and will require US-based multinational corporations to disclose information on the human rights, labor and environmental consequences of their business operations abroad to affected local communities and the US government. These will include information on:
- human rights practices,
- toxic releases and environmental impact,
- labor practices and conditions
A Right to Know law will address this growing imbalance by providing affected local communities abroad access to important information they need to defend their basic human rights, protect their communities and their environment. Here is how such an initiative would work with some of our key environmental defender cases:
Chad/Cameroon. An international consortium led by US-based ExxonMobil began work is now developing the Doba oil fields and building a pipeline from Doba to Cameroon’s Atlantic coast. A Right to Know law would require that ExxonMobil publicly disclose existing security arrangements with state police, military forces, local militia groups or private firms that have been hired to protect operations in the project region.
Nigeria. For years, multinational oil companies like Royal/Dutch Shell operated in the Niger Delta region with little regard for the environment or the well being of people in the area. A Right to Know law would require Chevron to publicly disclose its security procedures and interactions with Nigerian security forces.
Myanmar (Burma). Human rights violations committed by Myanmar’s (formerly known as Burma) government, The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), are widespread and well documented. A Right to Know law would require corporations to disclose any security arrangements they have with the Burmese military regime and any knowledge they have about the use of forced labor on their projects.
Look for more information and action on Right to Know legislation in future newsletters.
Boy Tortured in Bangladesh
"He had a pair of pliers in his hand. He pressed it hard and crushed my thumb."
Bangladesh police allegedly tortured a nine-year-old boy by binding him with rope, hanging him up from a high bar and crushing his thumb with pliers. They thought he had stolen a mobile telephone. Firoz, now aged 10, took months to recover from his physical injuries and is still receiving psychiatric treatment for the trauma he suffered.
Although the Firoz case was taken up by human rights activists, and highlighted both by the Bangladesh Rehabilitation Centre for Trauma Victims and the local press, the government has so far failed to conduct an investigation, and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Firoz and his father, a rickshaw puller, were helping a family to move in July 1999, when the phone was missing. While Firoz's father was away transporting household items, the family accused the boy of stealing the phone; he denied the allegations. According to Firoz, the family were about to let him go when their 25-year-old son took him to the toilet area of the house and began beating him.
"He kept slapping me on the face and punching me on the shoulder, and then he got hold of a stick and was just about to hit me on my head. I thought he was going to kill me so I began to scream. Then a neighbour, who knew my father, came to the house with his wife and told the man to stop beating me, so he let go of me."
Upon his return, the father protested about the beating and took Firoz home with him. That night, at around 3am, the police came to the house and arrested Firoz. He said they began to beat him in the house.
"They first slapped me on the face, and then pulled my arms down to my sides and tied a rope very tightly over my arms and stomach. It hurt and I could not breathe properly. They kept asking me where the mobile was and when I told them I had not seen it, they slapped and beat me."
Firoz was then taken to Mohammadpur Thana Police Station in Dhaka. He was told to squat on the floor. A policeman brought over his chair and sat down facing Firoz.
"He lifted his foot and placed his boot on my left knee and began to press it down as hard as he could. My knee was so badly injured that I could not move it. They left me in the cell until the morning. They then came and hung me from a bar. They pulled me up and held my shoulders against the bar and rolled my arms over the bar and left me in that hung position for many hours."
The next day the policeman returned to the cell.
"He had a pair of pliers in his hand. He kept asking where the mobile was. I told him I had not seen it. He then told me to bring my thumb forward. He got hold of my thumb and placed it between the pliers. He pressed it hard and crushed my thumb. I do not remember what happened next."
Firoz's family were not allowed to see him while he was being detained. Eventually, his father managed to get a letter from a local politician requesting the officer-in-charge of the police station to release Firoz. His father was made to sign a blank piece of paper with his thumb print because he cannot read or write. Firoz's family have decided not to file a case against the police for fear of further recriminations.
Action: Please write letters calling on the government to:
§ ensure that the allegations of torture made by Firoz are thoroughly and impartially investigated
§ ensure that anyone found responsible for the alleged acts of torture is promptly brought to justice and if the allegations are substantiated, compensate Firoz for the torture to which he was subjected
§ ensure that police officers and all staff who deal with children within the justice system receive training on international standards, children's rights and the principles of child development
§ ensure that any detained child is brought before a judicial authority without delay and given immediate access to relatives, legal counsel and medical assistance
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina
Office of the Prime Minister
Salutation: Dear Prime Minister
Mr Nurul Huda
Inspector-General of Police
Salutation: Dear Sir
PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE
Ngawang Pekar, Tibetan Monk
We are continuing our efforts on behalf of Group 22's adopted POC (Prisoner of Conscience), Ngawang Pekar. He is a Tibetan Buddhist monk who has been imprisoned since his arrest in 1989 for participating in a peaceful demonstration in Lhasa.
Although we have no current news of Ngawang, there is one item of good news from Tibet: Gyaltsen Choezom, a Tibetan nun and POC adopted by AI Group 133 in Massachusetts, was released in October from Drapchi Prison. (Drapchi is also where Ngawang is being held.)
Group 133 began to campaign for Gyaltsen's release in 1991 and has worked very hard for nearly a decade. During that time, they delivered over 50000 items (letters, postcards, petitions, etc.) to the Chinese Consulate; they participated in demonstrations in the Boston area and at the United Nations; they lobbied U.S. officials from President Clinton on down, and they publicized Gyaltsen's case in many imaginative ways. We can draw inspiration from Group 133's dedication and creativity. Visit http://www.amnesty133.org/ai/gc.html for the full story. Their page concludes with a line from a song recorded by Gyaltsen Choezom and her fellow nuns: "I sing a song of torment from Drapchi Prison...Today, though I've been put in prison, my spirit will never be discouraged."
So let's not be discouraged, but keep those cards and letters coming. We are learning from our current book group selection how important letter-writing can be. The new year brings a whole new cast of characters in the U.S. government that we should write to and make aware of Ngawang's case. While we wait for them to find their offices and settle in, let's write to China's new Minister of Justice, ZHANG Fusen (he replaces GAO Changli, who was removed from office last November allegedly for health reasons). Here is a sample letter that you can copy or use as a guide:
People's Republic of China
I am writing to you about 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. Later 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.
I respectfully request that you do everything possible to see that Ngawang Pekar's case is reviewed with consideration of the international laws to which China is signatory. I also ask that Ngawang Pekar be allowed access to independent non-governmental organizations so that his state of health may be determined.
Thank you very much for taking the time to consider this important matter.
(YOUR NAME AND ADDRESS)
It's 80 cents now for overseas postage, 70 cents for an aerogram. As always, if by any chance you should receive a reply, please notify Group 22.
DEATH PENALTY ACTION
Tennessee: Philip Workman to be executed despite evidence of innocence
Philip Workman is scheduled to be executed in Tennessee on 31 January 2001, despite the emergence of new evidence since his trial that severely undermines confidence in the original verdict.
Philip Workman was convicted of the murder of a police officer, Lieutenant Ronald Oliver, during a robbery of a Memphis restaurant in 1981. Lt Oliver and two other officers were first to arrive at the scene. As Workman - who has never denied the robbery - fled, shots were fired and Lt Oliver was killed by a single bullet. At the trial, the two police officers testified that they had not fired, but admitted that they had not seen Workman shoot Oliver. An alleged eyewitness, Harold Davis, said that he had seen Workman shoot the officer. The defence lawyer conducted no forensic or ballistics analysis and did not investigate Harold Davis.
Since the trial, however, Harold Davis has retracted his testimony, saying he lied under police coercion. An eyewitness has come forward to say that at least one of the other officers fired his gun. Ballistics experts have stated that the fatal bullet could not have come from Workman's weapon, raising the possibility that Lt Oliver was killed by a shot fired by one of the other officers.
Five jurors from the original trial have signed affidavits that they would not have voted for a first-degree murder conviction, let alone the death sentence, if they had been presented with this evidence. Two state Supreme Court judges have suggested that clemency is merited in Workman's case.
In September 2000, the federal US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit split 7-7 on whether to grant a hearing into the new evidence. Workman had needed one more vote. Workman's lawyers are appealing to the US Supreme Court to stop the execution and consider the case.
In 2000, Lt Oliver's daughter and the daughter of Philip Workman united at a press conference to appeal for the execution not to go ahead.
The former District Attorney of Shelby County, the office which prosecuted Philip Workman, has come forward to oppose the execution because of the post-conviction evidence. Now a lawyer in private practice, John Pierotti is working for free as lead counsel on the clemency bid.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION. A previous execution date for Philip Ray Workman was stayed on 4 April 2000, less than 48 hours before he was due to be executed. (UA 12/00 issued 19 January 2000 and updates.)
The United Nations Safeguards Guaranteeing Protection of the Rights of Those Facing the Death Penalty state: 'Capital punishment may be imposed only when the guilt of the person charged is based upon clear and convincing evidence leaving no room for an alternative explanation of the facts.' This is clearly a case where execution would violate this standard.
More than 90 people have been released from US death rows since 1973 after they were found to be innocent of the crime which put them there. In January 2000, the Governor of Illinios imposed a moratorium on executions in his state because of its 'shameful' record of wrongful convictions.
In June last year, Governor Glendening of Maryland commuted the death sentence of Eugene Colvin-El shortly before he was due to be executed, because of residual doubts about his guilt. The Governor said: 'It is not appropriate to proceed with an execution when there is any level of uncertainty, as the death penalty is final and irreversible'.
In Tennessee, the governor has absolute power of clemency. The parole board makes a recommendation, but the governor does not have to follow it.
ACTION: Please send e-mail / letters words:
§ expressing sympathy for the family, friends and colleagues of Lieutenant Ronald Oliver, and stating that you do not condone violent crime;
§ expressing deep concern that Philip Ray Workman is facing execution on the basis of perjured testimony from the only alleged eyewitness to the shooting;
§ noting that ballistics experts have stated that the fatal bullet could not have come from Philip Workman's gun;
§ noting that five jurors have said that they would not have voted to convict Philip Workman of first-degree murder, let alone vote for a death sentence, if they had known then what they know now;
§ noting the widespread national concern about the potential for errors in capital cases, and noting Governor Glendening's statement in the Colvin-El case last year;
§ calling for clemency for Philip Workman.
APPEALS TO: (Note: appeals to the Board should arrive before 25 January, when Philip Workman's clemency hearing will be held).
Chair, Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole
Parkway Towers, Suite 1300
404 James Roberson Parkway
Nashville TN 37243-0850
Fax: 1 615 532 8581 or 741 5337
Salutation: Dear Mr Chairman
The Honourable Don Sundquist
Office of the Governor
Nashville, TN 37243-0001
Fax: 1 615 532 9711
Salutation: Dear Governor
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Amnesty International Group 22
P.O. Box 50193
Pasadena, CA 91115-0193