Our group co-sponsored an extremely successful visit in November by a representative from the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan, a remarkable organization which has been working for human rights and against fundamentalism in Afghanistan since 1977. (Many of you will remember the successful RAWA talk we co-sponsored at Caltech last year.) With the timeliness of the issues, and RAWA's increasing public reputation in this country (with media coverage stressing their integrity and bravery), it wasn't surprising that the Pasadena appearance this year drew a record crowd (that is, a record among the events our group has sponsored or co-sponsored...) The speaker gave an overview of the recent tragic history of her country, and discussed some serious human-rights concerns in the present situation, including RAWA's concerns about the Northern Alliance's poor human-rights record (amply documented by AI, among others). Thanks to Lucas Kamp for coordinating our group's involvement in this event!
For this month's column, group members Joyce Wolf and Martha Ter Maat have written accounts of their experiences at the Western Regional Conference (see below). Unfortunately I wasn't able to attend this year, but reading their reports reminds me of how much inspiration I always get from Amnesty conferences. Besides the informative talks and workshops, it's wonderful and refreshing to be with hundreds of fellow activists all sharing the same goals, working for human rights. The coming AIUSA Annual General Meeting is April 19-21, 2002 in Seattle, Washington -- mark your calendars, and see you there!
Larry Romans 818-354-5809
Group Coordinator email@example.com
Conference Impressions Part 1. Five of us from Group 22 attended the Western Regional Conference in Sacramento Nov 2-4. This was my first Amnesty conference, and I certainly hope it won't be my last!
The film screening Friday evening plunged us immediately into the current crisis. "Jung (War): In the Land of the Mujaheddin" is a raw powerful documentary of an Italian group's efforts to establish a hospital in Afghanistan. It was difficult to watch, especially the child landmine victims having limbs amputated under appalling conditions (at one point a surgeon shrugs and picks up the only instrument available, an old hacksaw blade such as one might find lying about in the garage). Other scenes showed a village market, a New Year celebration, and interviews with young fighters and veterans and Taliban prisoners.
Saturday morning featured a speech by Toney Anaya, former governor of New Mexico. He told the story of his personal involvement with the death penalty issue in more honest and forthright terms than I've ever heard from a politician. His speech had especial significance because the first NM execution in 40 years was going to happen in three days.
There were three sessions of afternoon workshops; the hard part was choosing which of a half dozen concurrent workshops to attend. I went to one on Refugees and the Current Crisis, and another on Human Rights in China. Two AIUSA specialists, T. Kumar (staff person who directs our Asia office in D.C.) and Govind Acharya (South Asia country coordinator, a volunteer), impressed me with their knowledge and insightful analysis, far better than the usual stuff in the media.
One of the things that regional conferences do is pass resolutions, which then go to the national meeting. During the debate on 11 proposed resolutions, I learned the difference between "in behalf" and "on behalf", plus a whole lot about Robert's Rules of Order. It's a very democratic process -- anyone can propose changes -- but of limited interest to a first-timer like me.
An important part of the conference is the chance to meet people from other Amnesty groups and learn about their activities. We lunched with people from New Mexico and Oakland and got to tell them about our book group and Doodah. Earlier at a breakfast caucus I'd heard several references to "that very active group in Pasadena."
Conference Impressions Part 2. Preceding the main conference on Friday, death penalty opponents from around the state used the opportunity of a gathering in Sacramento for a day of strategizing for a statewide moratorium on executions. While plans for the one-day meeting were scaled back in the wake of 9-11, attendance was good and enthusiasm was high for moving forward even in an atmosphere where “Justice not Vengeance” is a message many are not ready to hear. This event marked the first statewide meeting of a new organization: Californians for a Moratorium on Executions. Visit the CME website www.californiamoratorium.org to learn more about how you can get involved.
As Joyce has noted, the conference kicked off with a very inspiring speech by Toney Anaya. In addition three workshops were offered on the death penalty, one for those just getting started in abolition work, another on coalition building which detailed the impressive work of AI member Terry MacCaffrey in passing a moratorium resolution through the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. And finally a panel on the death penalty and mental retardation featuring attorney Billy Edwards who championed the case of John Paul Penry in Texas, which resulted in a landmark mental retardation Supreme Court decision. Good news for us: Mr. Edwards has recently moved to Pasadena! It was great to meet this new ally in our work. This workshop gave participants some valuable insights into the importance of passing California Assembly Bill 1512 to ban the execution of the mentally retarded. You’ll be hearing more from us on that in the near future.
Finally, at the close of the conference we heard another perspective on execution from Ken Wiwa the son of Ken Saro Wiwa, the author-environmentalist executed by the Nigerian government in 1995. He made the moving point that people who become martyrs are all too human and that they generally sacrifice the things that are most meaningful to them (family) for the sake of the cause (he mentioned Aung San Suu Kyi as another example). As the younger Ken has recently published a memoir about his father, we can all look forward to learning more of his story in a future book group discussion. --Martha Ter Maat
PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE
Ngawang Pekar, Tibetan Monk
Group 22 remains committed to working on behalf of prisoner of conscience (POC) Ngawang Pekar (naw-wan pee-kar), a Tibetan Buddhist monk. Pekar has been imprisoned since 1989 after being arrested by Chinese authorities for participating in a peaceful demonstration in the city of Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, in support of Tibetan independence. Although the human rights situation in Tibet remains grim, as we enter the holiday season some words of encouragement seem to be fitting. Below are statements from two former Tibetan POCs that highlight just how important our letters can be for those languishing in Chinese prisons:
Statement by Tibetan former prisoner and torture victim, Ganden Tashi -
"I was arrested on the charge of staging a 'peaceful demonstration' in Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet, on 5th March 1988 and I was sentenced to 12 years of imprisonment by the Chinese authorities in Drapchi Prison ... I was tortured inhumanely in prison and maimed for a long time until I was released on medical parole because of 'concerns' and 'actions' taken by AI .. If I were not released on medical parole at the time, I probably would have died in prison and nobody will know about it".
Former Drapchi inmate Jampel Monlam told AI in June 2001 -
"I think the writing of letters is very useful, because the guards and prison personnel will be aware that there is international attention to this particular prisoner. If they know that people outside know about this prisoner and his or her case, they will be more careful when it comes to beating and maltreatment. They will know that there might be troubles because this prisoner and his or her situation is known to the outside world and people watch him or her. In short, I think the chance for such a prisoner to be really treated badly becomes less."
So let's all keep those cards and letters coming folks and never give up hope!
As out action this month on behalf of Ngawang Pekar, we ask that you write to the Director of the Tibet Autonomous Regional Office of Foreign Affairs. Below is a letter that you can either copy or use as a guide in composing your own letter:
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 (layname: Paljor). 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.
I respectfully urge you to request that Ngawang 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:
Lasashi, Xizang Zizhiqu
People's Republic of China
Postage is 80 cents for a letter, 70 cents for an aerogram. As always, if by any chance you should receive a reply, please notify Group 22.
See Upcoming Events for Location
By Victor Pelevin
A vigorous satire on the Soviet space program is combined with a thoughtful dramatization of the mixed human impulses to explore, conquer, and transcend in this
memorable short novel… This haunting tragicomedy was nominated for the 1993 Russian Booker Prize (which Pelevin won for a collection of short stories). It's the work of an exciting new talent, and one hopes his other fiction will soon be in English translation as well. -- Kirkus Reviews
Call for Location: 626-281-4039
Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan
By Jason Elliot
This extraordinary debut is an account of Elliot's two visits to Afghanistan. The first occurred when he joined the mujaheddin circa 1979 and was smuggled into Soviet-
occupied Afghanistan; the second happened nearly ten years later, when he returned to the still war-torn land. The skirmishes that Elliot painstakingly describes here took place between the Taliban and the government of Gen. Ahmad Shah Massoud in Kabul. Although he thought long and hard before abandoning his plan to travel to Hazara territory, where "not a chicken could cross that pass without being fired on," Elliot traveled widely in the hinterland, visiting Faizabad in the north and Herat in the west. The result is some of the finest travel writing in recent years. With its luminous descriptions of the people, the landscape (even when pockmarked by landmines), and Sufism, this book has all the hallmarks of a classic, and it puts Elliot in the same league as Bruce Chatwin.
New Report: Making Human Rights the Agenda
Please visit the AIUSA website to download this important report as well as access press releases and other relevant actions. Please also see this month’s Campaign Against Torture action to Attorney General Ashcroft.
"In debating the future of Afghanistan, the international community must ensure that human rights are not just on the agenda, but that human rights become the agenda," Amnesty International said in a new report.
"The international community has an opportunity at this critical moment to put the human rights of the Afghan people first, to learn from the past to build the future. The UN Secretary-General's Special Representative to Afghanistan, Mr Brahimi, has the responsibility to ensure that human rights are integrated into all discussions about the future of Afghanistan."
The report makes several recommendations to assist in the rebuilding of Afghanistan. Those entrusted with leadership must be persons of integrity committed to the human rights protection of all, particularly women. Women and ethnic and religious minorities must not be discriminated against in the creation of government and institutions.
Throughout 23 years of conflict Amnesty International has documented grave human rights abuses by combatants of all the various warring parties. Any settlement to the conflict must ensure accountability for these abuses and the perpetrators should be brought to justice in accordance with international standards of fair trial.
"While Amnesty International appreciates the need for national reconciliation after years of war and repression, any future political agreement must not allow for impunity for those who have abused human rights in the past. Avoiding the truth about a country's past and ignoring accountability will not achieve peace."
Ignoring a past history of human rights violations for reasons of political expediency has a poor track record. From Cambodia to Sierra Leone, Angola to Chile, the legacy of grave human rights violations which have never been accounted for continues to have a negative effect on the peace process, and has undermined human rights protection - even decades after the violations occurred.
Any political settlement should contain explicit guarantees from the parties on the immediate ending of serious abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture and arbitrary detention. Specific protection should be sought against retaliation and discrimination against ethnic and religious groups.
The report calls for child soldiers to be demobilized, restrictions on arms supplies, international protection for refugees, and a vigorous program of human rights institution-building. Disarmament and demining should be included as important components of a political settlement, and should be adequately resourced and supported by the international community.
An expert commission should be set up to examine and advise on how to bring perpetrators to justice and ensure that all future institutions, including the judiciary and law enforcement agencies, are established to promote and protect human rights.
Amnesty International is also calling for human rights monitors to be deployed throughout Afghanistan as soon as possible to assist in ensuring protection of human rights during peace-making, in the immediate post-conflict phase as well as during the phase of institutional reform. The monitors should include experts on women's rights.
The report gives a history of human rights abuses over the past 23 years until the present day, including under Northern Alliance and Taliban and provides a human rights agenda for the future.
US may be considering use of torture for detainees
Please write to Attorney General Ashcroft to urge him to ensure that torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment are not used under any circumstances and that detainees are not mistreated and are provided prompt access to counsel. AI opposes the use of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under any circumstances and is concerned by recent media reports indicating that US Government officials may be considering the use of torture against detainees who have not cooperated with law enforcement officials.
Media reports indicate that some US Government officials may be considering the use of torture against detainees who have not cooperated with law enforcement officials. Amnesty International opposes the use of torture under any circumstances. AI is asking Attorney General Ashcroft to ensure that torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment are not used under any circumstances and that detainees are not mistreated and are provided prompt access to counsel.
The Honorable John Ashcroft
US Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530 USA
Dear Attorney General Ashcroft:
I am deeply concerned by media reports that U.S. government investigators of the September 11 attacks may be considering the use of torture against detainees who have not cooperated with law enforcement officials. In the Washington Post edition of October 22, an "experienced FBI agent involved in the investigation," in discussing the use of torture, is quoted as saying, "It could get to that spot where we could go to pressure." AI is also disturbed by numerous reports that many individuals arrested in the wake of the attacks were denied prompt access to lawyers or relatives, and is concerned about the physical conditions of some of those in custody.
Torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under any circumstances is unacceptable, and violates U.S. and international law. The United States has ratified the Convention Against Torture and must uphold all the obligations of the convention. This includes prohibitions on using torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, to extract confessions or extraditing suspects to states where they could be tortured. The government must adhere to the standards and procedures that we press other states to uphold. The United States will not be well served if it erodes its own values in the name of justice.
I urge you to speak to this issue publicly and emphatically, as you have done with hate crimes. It must be clear to U.S. investigators, to the American public, and to the world community, that the United States will neither practice nor condone torture, and that anyone who engages in torture under the aegis of the U.S. government will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I further urge you to ensure that no detainees are subjected to mistreatment and that all detainees have prompt access to counsel.
Thank you for your attention to this issue. I look forward to hearing about how you will address this very serious matter.
Your Name & Address
Developments in Mexican cases
Action for Grigory Pasko
As reported on our e-mail network, Digna Ochoa, a leading Mexican human rights attorney who handled several significant cases including those of Rudolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera was assassinated in October. Many of us had the chance to hear Digna speak at Amnesty events and feel this loss personally. In response to the outcry over her death, President Vicente Fox used an executive procedure to release Rudolfo and Teodoro. They are of course pleased to be free but unsure of whether it will be safe for them to return to their native Guerrero state. We will continue to monitor this situation and demand justice for Digna in the months to come. Please see Up-coming Events for a Human Rights Day event dedicated to Digna Ochoa.
This month however, we draw your attention once again to the case of Grigory Pasko, who was initially arrested by Federal Security Service (FSB) officers in November 1997 and accused of espionage and revealing state secrets. Pasko, a journalist and former captain in the Far Eastern Fleet, was arrested because he filmed and reported on the human and environmental threats stemming from the illegal dumping of nuclear waste by the Russian Navy into the Sea of Japan. The treatment of Pasko reflects a trend in Russia where environmental activists are persecuted for speaking out on behalf of the environment, as evidenced by other cases such as that of Aleksander Nikitin. The real irony of the situation lies in the fact that under the Russian Criminal Code it is a crime to withhold information about the condition of the environment or on incidents or catastrophes, which endanger human life, precisely the kind of information Pasko revealed.
Pasko was declared an Amnesty Prisoner of Conscience after his initial arrest and during his 20-month pretrial detention. He was subjected to a military trial, and at the time Amnesty raised concerns about the fairness of the trial and the impartiality and independence of the court. The trial lasted from February until July 1999 at which time Pasko was sentenced to three years imprisonment because of "abuse of office." However, he was immediately released from detention under the terms of a nationwide amnesty. The charges of treason and espionage were dismissed by the court.
Military prosecutors appealed against the dismissal of the treason charges and called for the case to be tried anew. The Russian Supreme Court's Military Collegium decided in November 2000 that the July 1999 decision did not correspond to the materials and the facts of the case, and agreed to send the case back for a retrial. The trial was scheduled to begin on June 4th, but just kept getting pushed back and is now set for Oct 29. Grigory Pasko faces up to 20 years' imprisonment for doing nothing more than exercising his fundamental right to freedom of expression.
Write to the Russian authorities and urge them to fully and unconditionally acquit Pasko once and for all. Ask that all charges against him be dropped, as there is no evidence that he committed any crime under Russian laws. Emphasize that the information Pasko released was already public and did not constitute a threat to national security. Remind the authorities that the government of Russia has committed itself to upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Addresses for Russian officials are below.
Send letters to:
Military Court of the Pacific Fleet
General-Mayoru S. Volkov
690600 Primorsky Krai
ul. Stetlanskaya 55
Voennomu Sudu Tihookeanskogo
Chairman of the State Duma Committee for Ecology,
103009 g. Moskva 103009
Okhotny ryad 1
Gosudarstvennaya Duma Rossiyskoy Federatsii
Komitet po Ekology
Grachevy, V. A.
You can send your letters to the individuals above care of:
His Excellency Yuri Ushakov
Embassy of the Russian Federation
2650 Wisconsin Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20007
NIGERIA: DEATH BY
Save Safiya Yakubu Hussaini
Safiya Yakubu Hussaini, a 30-year-old woman and a resident of Tungar-Tudu in Sokoto State in northern Nigeria, was tried in a Shari'ah court in the town of Gwadabawa on October 14, 2001 and condemned to death by stoning. Safiya Hussaini, who is a divorcee and has a five-month-old baby, was charged and convicted of adultery. Under Shari'ah adultery is a capital offence when the individual involved is married. It appears that different standards and validity of testimony were applied to Safiya and the married man involved in the case. The man was released because of lack of evidence raising the concern of discrimination on the basis of gender by the court.
Please immediately send a letter to the Nigerian Ambassador to United States asking that Safiya's death sentence be commuted and that the Federal Government take all measures to ensure that Safiya's right to an appeal be respected and enforced.
BACKGROUND. Amnesty International takes no position on any country's religious or legal system. However AI is unconditionally opposed to imposition of the death penalty or the use of flogging, amputation and death by stoning as forms of punishment, as these constitute torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment under international law, including treaties Nigeria has signed and ratified, such as the African Charter on Human and People's Rights and the UN Convention Against Torture. AI is concerned about the lack of transparency and the swiftness with which trials are conducted in Shari'ah courts in northern Nigeria. In particular, Amnesty is concerned about whether Safiya had legal counsel during trial; whether she was advised of her full rights of defence and her right to appeal to the higher courts, including the Supreme Court.
Please send letters to:
Professor Jibril Aminu
Embassy of Nigeria
1333 16th St., N.W.
Washington, DC 20036
I am writing to express my alarm over the case of Safiya Hussaini, who was condemned to death on October 14, 2001. Ms. Hussaini, aged 30 and a resident of Tungar-Tudu in Sokoto State, was condemned to death by stoning for adultery by the Upper Shari'ah Court in Gwadabawa, Sokoto State. I am concerned about the lack of transparency and the swiftness with which this trial has been conducted. In addition, it appears that different standards and validity of testimony were applied to Safiya and the married man involved in the case. The man was released because of lack of evidence raising the concern of discrimination on the basis of gender by the court.
I respectfully urge that Ms. Hussaini's death sentence be set aside and that she be granted an appeal in accordance with the due process of Nigerian law and Nigeria's obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. I believe that were she to be executed it would amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, as it is an intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering from which all persons are protected by the Convention against Torture, which the Federal Republic of Nigeria ratified on 28 June 2001.
Mr. Ambassador, the government of Nigeria has an obligation to protect the lives of all of its citizens in a fair and equal manner. I urge that Safiya's death sentence be set aside and that the Federal Government take all measures to ensure that Safiya's right to an appeal be respected and enforced. I look forward to hearing how you intend to address this issue.
Your Name and Address
Send Greetings to Syria and Thailand
Here’s a chance to reach out directly to prisoners at the darkest time of the year with a bit of cheer. Just send a simple message of support to these prisoners such as “Thinking of you at this at this difficult time.” Do not mention Amnesty or their case as this lessens the chance of prison delivery and please use non-religious cards. But rest assured that prisoners do appreciate receiving hundreds of cards from around the world to see them through tough times and that their jailers will take note that the world is watching! If you have more cards to use up, visit the AIUSA website for more cases:
Or join us at our letter-writing meeting take part in this annual card writing ritual.
Riad Seif and Mamun al-Humsi
[name of prisoner]
Ministry of Interior
Damascus, SYRIAN ARAB REPUBLIC
Riad Seif and Mamun al-Humsi, independent members of the National Assembly, criticized the lack of political freedom in Syria. They are now in jail. Riad Seif was arrested on Sept. 6, 2001, after organizing a peaceful seminar at which political reform and democratic elections were discussed. Mamun al-Humsi was detained on August 9, after beginning a hunger strike to protest official corruption and the far-reaching powers of the security forces. Another prominent opposition figure, Riad al-Turk, was arrested Sept. 1 while receiving emergency medical treatment. al-Turk, age 71, suffers from diabetes and a heart condition, and previously spent 18 years in prison because of his peaceful political opposition. Other suspected political dissidents have been arrested in recent months in a new wave of repression in Syria. Amnesty International considers Riad Seif, Mamun al-Humsi and Riad al-Turk to be prisoners of conscience and seeks their release.
c/o Klong Perm
33/2 Ngam Wong Wan Road
Sok Yoeun, recognized as a refugee by the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, is imprisoned in Thailand, awaiting possible extradition to his homeland of Cambodia on charges that Amnesty International believes to be politically motivated. Sok Yoeun is a member of the Cambodian opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP). Cambodian authorities have accused him of involvement in a rocket attack in Siem Reap province in September 1998. Two other SRP activists who were arrested in Cambodia in connection with the attack were released after the investigating judge failed to find any evidence against them. Those two men fled to Thailand, obtained refugee status and were resettled abroad. Sok Yoeun was arrested in Thailand in December 1999 and sentenced to six months' imprisonment for illegal immigration. Although his sentence expired in June 2000, he remains detained during ongoing extradition hearings. Amnesty International fears that the Thai authorities intend to send Sok Yoeun back to Cambodia where he faces politically motivated criminal charges. Amnesty International believes the allegations to be without foundation, and it considers Sok Yoeun to be a prisoner of conscience.
Read us on line: http://www.cco.caltech.edu/~aigp22
Martha Ter Maat, 626-281-4039 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Check “Up-coming Events” for
details. Meeting dates may
vary due to holidays!
Check “Up-coming Events” for details. Meeting dates may vary due to holidays!
From the 210 exit on Lake Avenue, head south, turn left on Del Mar
From the 110 continue on Arroyo Parkway north, turn right on California
Street parking is generally available.
Amnesty International Group 22
P.O. Box 50193
Pasadena, CA 91115-0193