First, some seriously good news: since the last newsletter, prisoners of conscience Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim in Egypt and General Jose Gallardo in Mexico were released (see the article inside for more details). Both had been designated by Amnesty International as Special Focus Cases, and were the subject of intense action by AI members, including our group.
This should encourage us in our work on behalf of our group's adopted prisoner of conscience, Tibetan monk Ngawang Pekar, especially after the recent release of his colleague Ngawang Choepel. As I write, it is the eve of Bush's visit to China, with indications of a possible release of prisoners of conscience on the occasion. Many of us wrote to Bush reminding him of Ngawang Pekar's case and encouraging him to press for his release; I've got my fingers crossed that the message might have got through.
Last month, Amnesty International called upon the US to respect the human rights of the detainees captured in Afghanistan and to clarify their legal status (see Schulz's article inside). This stance has generated a lot of attention and controversy for AI. I received an e-mail from somebody who said that he had been a supporter of AI, but changed his mind after hearing about this. I sincerely hope he will reconsider the question of universality of human rights, even for nasty people (and people who will be proved to be nasty, if and when the evidence if objectively evaluated...). In this context (and everywhere), AI continues to be a voice of conscience, arguing that our society should not resort to such inhumane and dehumanizing devices as secret tribunals, torture, and the death penalty.
I look forward to seeing you in our monthly meeting (Thursday evening, Feb. 28; see the calendar for details of all these events). The following week, I hope you can commemorate International Women's Day with us at a special event we will be co-sponsoring at Caltech on Wednesday evening, March 6. Our collaborator Ravinder Bhatia has organized an exceptional panel of women from Afghanistan, East Timor and Guatemala, and it promises to be an extremely interesting program. The Saturday evening after that (March 9), there will be another great Women's Day program across town at the Museum of Tolerance, featuring speakers from Afghanistan and Tibet (the speaker from Tibet gave a memorable presentation to our group last year). The Wednesday after that (March 13), there will be another event at Caltech on an important and timely topic, the International Criminal Court.
Finally, I'd like to (belatedly) welcome new members Ido Dooseman, Hanna Nedich, Lance Christensen and Yvonne Apollonio.
Larry Romans 818-354-5809
Group Coordinator firstname.lastname@example.org
PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE
Ngawang Pekar, Tibetan Monk
Our group remains committed to working for the release 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.
Good news this month! On January 20, Amnesty prisoner of conscience Ngawang Choephel was released on medical parole from prison in Tibet after serving 6 1/2 years of an 18-year sentence. Choephel, a Tibetan ethnomusicologist who studied at Middlebury College in Vermont as a Fulbright scholar in 1993 and 1994, was arrested in Shigatse, Tibet, in September of 1995 while filming a documentary on traditional Tibetan music and dance. One year later, Chinese authorities announced that he had been sentenced and imprisoned after being found guilty of committing "espionage" and "counter-revolutionary activities." This is despite the fact that 16 hours of video footage he managed to give to a western traveler before his arrest revealed not even a single scene of political activity. During his incarceration, Choephel developed several serious health problems as a result of harsh prison conditions and, though only in his thirties, was nicknamed Gyakar Pola (Indian grandfather) by his fellow prisoners due to his frail health.
Apart from, and perhaps largely as a result of, Amnesty International's intensive efforts on his behalf, Choephel's case was also championed by several other non-governmental organizations, singer-songwriter Annie Lennox, and U.S. diplomats and members of Congress. Of note is that Chinese officials are reported to have stated that Choephel was a "beneficiary of more letters from members of Congress than anyone else." Following his release, Choephel thanked Amnesty members for their years of work to get him released and urged members to continue their work to get other Tibetan prisoners released: "It is important that you succeed in other cases likeyou succeeded in my case."
As the case of Ngawang Choephel shows, letters and legislative action can definitely make a difference. As it has been some time since we last wrote to him, for out action this month on behalf of Ngawang Pekar we ask that you write to the Premier of the People's Republic of China. 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 a 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 medica 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:
ZHU Rongji Zongli
People's Republic of China
Overseas postage for a normal letter is 80 cents, 70 cents for an aerogram. Should you receive a reply, please notify Group 22.
GOOD NEWS! MAJOR RELEASES
Gallardo, Choephel and Ibrahim Freed
In addition to the good news in the Pasko case below, three high profile individuals we have featured in this newsletter were released in the last month: General Jose Gallardo of Mexico, Ngawang Choephel of Tibet and Saad Eddin Ibrahim of Egypt..
NGAWANG CHOEPHEL. The Chinese Government released Ngawang Choephel on medical grounds after he served six-and-a-half years of his 18-year sentence, and he has been flown to the USA for medical treatment. Amnesty International welcomed the release of the Tibetan music scholar, but urged the Chinese authorities to go one step further by freeing all those jailed in Tibet in violation of their fundamental human rights.
Ngawang Choephel is thought to be suffering from lung and liver ailments contracted during his time in prison and is currently undergoing medical tests. Tibetan prisons are notorious for their poor food and poor sanitary conditions which contribute to long-term health problems for many prisoners. Poor conditions of detention coupled with widespread torture and abuse make life extremely harsh for all those jailed in Tibet.
Ngawang Choephel is a musicologist specialising in traditional Tibetan performing arts. He grew up in Tibet's exile community in India, but travelled to Tibet in July 1995 to make a video documentary about Tibetan music and dance. He failed to return to India as scheduled and unofficial reports later suggested that he had been arrested and detained. The Chinese authorities only confirmed his detention one year later, when an official radio report announced that he had been sentenced and imprisoned for 18 years after being found guilty of committing "espionage" and "counter-revolutionary activities".
His trial was held in secret and the authorities failed to produce any evidence linking him to these "crimes" giving rise to serious concerns that he had been imprisoned solely for exercising his fundamental human right to freedom of expression.
JOSE GALLARDO. Brigadier General Gallardo was freed on February 8th after more than eight years in prison in Mexico. General Gallardo was imprisoned in November 1993 after he called for the appointment of a special ombudsman to investigate human rights abuses, corruption, and drug trafficking within the armed forces. Amnesty International declared him to be a prisoner of conscience and Amnesty activists have campaigned relentlessly for his release. President Fox reduced General Gallardo's sentence from 28 years to time served.
The Washington Post reported that upon his release, General Gallardo told journalists, "I thank President Fox for issuing this order; he is complying with Mexico's international commitments to human rights. A military ombudsman is necessary to encourage reforms. Reforming the state cannot be done without reforming the Mexican army."
"It's great that he is out, but we are concerned that there is no recognition of his innocence," said Diego Zavala, a Mexico specialist with Amnesty International, USA. "It would have been a stronger message to declare that Gallardo had been wrongly imprisoned."
SAAD EDDIN IBRAHIM. Saad Eddin Ibrahim was released from prison on February 7, 2002, when Egypt's highest appeals court ordered a new trial for Dr. Ibrahim and 27 co-defendants. The release comes after an intensive campaign by Amnesty International and other organizations to win the release of the respected sociologist and human rights advocate. Amnesty International welcomes the release of Dr. Ibrahim and his colleagues, but notes that the releases are conditional, pending a new trial. The organization maintains that the charges against Dr. Ibrahim and his colleagues from the Ibn Khaldoun Center were politically motivated and tied to the center's efforts to expose alleged election fraud in Egypt. Amnesty had declared Saad Ibrahim to be a prisoner of conscience, jailed for the peaceful expression of his political views and for his legitimate human rights activities.
THANK YOU to all of you who took action on behalf of Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Jose Gallardo and Ngawang Choephel.
AIUSA ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING 2002
The Challenge For Human Rights
Seattle, Washington, April 19-21
This year's Annual General Meeting will take place in Seattle, Washington, the site of the now-symbolic protests against the World Trade Organization. Amnesty International members and activists from across the country will come together to discuss creative strategies for confronting today's most pressing human rights challenges.
"Globalization" has come to be the accepted terminology for rapid economic change, the transfer of technology, trade and its impact on the nation-state. Such characterization typically shortchanges the social justice component essential to globalization and the advancement of the human rights of all individuals as a measure of global progress. Amnesty International (AI) is positioned to play a key role in bringing social justice into the common notion of globalization. As a global grassroots movement working in solidarity for the protection of human dignity, we stand in a unique position to "reframe" the meaning of globalization and secure human rights in the central vision for global progress.
The focus for our conference in Seattle will address the expanding concerns of the international AI movement. The recent decisions of the 2001 International Council Meeting (ICM) in Dakar, Senegal will enable AI to work not only against torture or for prisoners of conscience but against all forms of discrimination, whether they affect political and civil rights or economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights. The AGM will be an opportunity for us to determine how the movement should address ESC rights and consider the effectiveness of our human rights strategies in today's context of rapid change.
While continuing to address core AI human rights concerns such as abolition of torture and the death penalty, panelists and featured speakers will also explore these key issues and other from the perspective of how socio-economic injustice and racial inequality make certain groups of individuals more vulnerable to human rights violations. They will help us to understand both the obstacles we face as a globalized society, as well as the opportunities for activism in a worldwide human rights movement.
The Annual General Meeting is an exciting weekend with policy discussions for AIUSA members, organizational strategic planning sessions, activist and youth leadership meetings, networking sessions and special gatherings. For more information or to register on line, please visit the AIUSA website: www.amnestyusa.org. Or call to request a brochure: 310-815-0450.
Court Victory for Pasko but No Release
The Russian Supreme Court's military collegium this past Tuesday declared the conviction of environmental defender Grigory Pasko illegal. The ruling was a major victory in the struggle to defend Pasko's right to free speech and his release from prison.
As you will all recall, Pasko was arrested by Federal Security Service officers and accused of espionage and revealing state secrets, primarily 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. He was on the basis of a secret military decree on December 25, 2001 and sentenced to four years in a labor camp.
Amnesty International adopted Pasko as a prisoner of conscience on January 4, 2002 and has raised concerns about the fairness of the trial, and the impartiality and independence of the court. For more information on this case, please visit our website at www.amnestyusa.org/justearth or the Bellona Foundation's website at www.bellona.org
While this ruling is a positive development, Pasko remains in jail pending the final determination of his case. This is a good time to increase your grassroots activism on the case. Continue to write to the Russian authorities demanding the immediate and unconditional release of Grigory Pasko. Ask that Pasko be acquitted of all charges, as there is no evidence that he committed any crime under Russia 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.
Send appeals to:
President of the Russian Federation
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin
Prezidentu Rossiyskoy Federatsii
His Excellency YuriUshakov
Embassy of the Russian Federation
2650 Wisconsin Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20007
(695 E. Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena)
by John Conroy
Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People is a riveting book that exposes the potential in each of us for acting unspeakably. John Conroy sits down with
torturers from several nations and comes to understand their motivations. His compelling narrative has the tension of a novel. He takes us into a Chicago police station, two villages in the West Bank, and a secret British interrogation center in Northern Ireland, and in the process we are exposed to the experience of the victim, the rationalizations of the torturer, and the seeming indifference of the bystander. The torture occurs in democracies that ostensibly value justice, due process, and human rights, and yet the perpetrators and their superiors escape without punishment, revealing much about the dynamics of torture.
Kenya: Violence Against Women
Thousands of women and girls are killed or injured each year in deliberate acts of violence. Violence committed by soldiers, police officers, prison guards or by people they know such as husbands, fathers, employers or neighbors. Such violence is rooted in discrimination against women. International human rights law imposes obligations on governments to protect everyone from torture or ill-treatment, whether committed by state agents or private individuals. Rape and other deliberate acts of violence against women constitute torture when the state has failed to fulfill its obligation to provide effective protection and prohibit, investigate and punish such acts.
On 8 March 2000, Hadaja Choro and two other women prisoners held in GK Prison, Kakanuga, were sent to fetch water for the prison. They went with one female prison warden to the gates of the Water Department, where they say that they saw an askari (watchman) give the warden money.
The warden told Hadaja Choro and the other prisoners to follow the man and not to ask questions, or she would beat them and leave them to die. Inside the Water Department two other watchmen were waiting. According to Hadaja, each man took a woman and raped her.
Hadaja Choro was serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence for the manslaughter of the daughter of her husband's second wife, a charge she denies. Her husband and his second wife, who had accused her of the crime, did not go to court for her trial, and the magistrate told her that she would be kept in prison for her own safety, because she had enemies. She says that in prison she was tortured by female prison wardens, who regularly beat the inmates and denied them hospital treatment for their injuries.
Two months after the rape, Hadaja realized that she was pregnant. It was only then that she reported the incident to a senior officer at the prison. The officer told her not to mention it again, as she would get the officer involved sacked.
Hadaja Choro says she was told never to go out of the prison again and was kept isolated from the other prisoners. "During isolation, if I was found with others then I would be beaten," she says, "but if I stayed alone then I was not beaten." One of the other two prisoners who had been raped was taken to the remand wing of the same prison, the other was transferred to another prison.
On December 2 2000 Hadaja Choro gave birth to a boy. On 12 December she received a presidential pardon and was released from prison. Her husband divorced her because of her child, leaving her without a home or any means of support.
Hadaja Choro reported the rape to Kakamega police station, but she has never been asked to give a statement nor has there been any investigation by the police.
Hadaja's story is typical of many in Kenya, where violence against women in detention is widespread. The government has failed to protect women from abuses. Prison officers, police and security officials are rarely held to account for their actions and therefore commit acts of torture, including rape, with impunity.
Amnesty International is campaigning to improve respect for women's human rights in Kenya. Add your voice to ours.
Write to the Kenyan Commissioner of Prisons. Ask him to initiate a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into the rape and other torture of Hadaja Choro and to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.
Send your letters to:
Kenya Prisons Service
PO Box 30175
Texas: Psychotic Inmate to be Executed
Monty Delk (m), white, aged 34, is scheduled to be executed in Texas on 28 February 2002. He was sentenced to death in 1988 for the 1986 shotgun murder of Gene Olan Allen, a white man. Monty Delk was 19 years old at the time of the crime.
Monty Delk's lawyer has raised serious doubts about his client's competency to be executed, that is whether he understands the reason for and reality of his punishment. Monty Delk's apparent mental health problems first emerged in 1989. In 1990, the prison medical authorities diagnosed him with bipolar disorder with psychotic features, and also raised the possibility that he was suffering from schizo-affective disorder, another severe mental illness. He was given anti-psychotic drugs and lithium.
Monty Delk has displayed a pattern of disturbed behaviour over his years on death row, including covering himself in faeces, and incoherent jabbering. He has repeatedly expressed delusional beliefs, such as that he is a submarine captain, a CIA or FBI agent, or a member of the military. At a court hearing in 1993, at which an earlier execution date was set, he responded to the judge in prolonged streams of unbroken gibberish. Amnesty International has received an unofficial tape recording of this hearing.
At another hearing in 1997 to determine his competency to continue with his appeals, Monty Delk was gagged and then removed from the courtroom after repeatedly interrupting the court with nonsensical utterances. He was later brought back in, but removed again when he continued to utter nonsense, such as saying to the judge 'I is you'; 'Will you please blow my head off'; and 'I'm an FBI agent'. At the hearing, a former chief mental health officer with the Texas prison system said that his review of the prison records and his own contact with Monty Delk suggested that the prisoner suffered from a severe mental illness.
Three years earlier, the prison diagnosis of Monty Delk had been changed to one of malingering - that he was feigning mental illness to avoid execution. This followed an alleged statement to this effect made by Delk to another inmate and overheard by a prison staff member. In 1999 when the state's death row was transferred from Huntsville to Livingston, medical staff at the new unit diagnosed Delk with bipolar disorder. However, after they were made aware of the 1994 re-diagnosis, the official position once again became that his mental illness was a pretence.
Monty Delk's current lawyer has represented him since 1996. He says that he has been unable to have any rational communication with his client in that time. For example, when he visited him in December 2001, Monty Delk did not acknowledge his presence, or provide any useful information. He apparently continued to believe that he was in the military and that he was in control of a large and powerful organization.
Monty Delk's lawyer is seeking a hearing on the question of his client's competency for execution under a Texas law enacted in 1999. The prosecution's position is that the execution should go forward as scheduled on the basis that he was found competent to continue his appeals in 1997.
The execution of the insane - those who do not understand the reason for or reality of their punishment - is prohibited under a 1986 US Supreme Court ruling, Ford v. Wainwright. Nevertheless, the minimal standards that pertain to competency determinations have meant that numerous individuals have been executed despite lingering doubts about whether they truly understood what was happening to them and why.
The United Nations Safeguards Guaranteeing Protection of the Rights of Those Facing the Death Penalty prohibit the execution of 'persons who have become insane'. In resolutions in recent years, the UN Commission on Human Rights has repeatedly called on retentionist countries not to impose or carry out the death penalty on any person suffering from 'any form of mental disorder'.
While the extent of Monty Delk's mental health problems remains in dispute, what is clear is that the death penalty against anyone contradicts emerging global standards of decency and justice, with 109 countries now abolitionist in law or practice, and the vast majority of executions carried out in a small number of countries, including China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States of America.
Since the USA resumed executions in 1977, 759 men and women have been put to death, more than 600 of them since 1990. Texas accounts for a third of US executions, having lethally injected 260 people. Ten men have been executed in the USA so far in 2002, four of them in Texas.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty unreservedly. It is a symptom of a culture of violence, not a solution to it. It tends to be applied in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner, it can never be free of the risk of irrevocable error, and it is inescapably cruel, both to the condemned and to their families. It is a government policy that encourages feelings of hatred and vengeance, and diverts resources and energies from constructive efforts to combat violent crime and to assist those who suffer the appalling trauma of losing a relative to murder.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible:
* noting evidence that Monty Delk's mental health has deteriorated during his time on death row, including diagnoses of bipolar disorder;
* noting that his disturbed behaviour has continued for over a decade;
* noting continuing doubts about his legal sanity, which raise questions about the constitutionality of his execution, and noting international standards;
* calling for commutation of Monty Delk's death sentence;
* calling, at the very least for a reprieve to allow for full determination of Monty Delk's mental competency.
Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles
P.O. Box 13401
Austin, Texas 78711-3401
Fax: 1 512 463 8120
The Honorable Rick Perry
Governor of Texas
PO Box 12428
Austin, TX 78711
THE FATE OF QAEDA PRISONERS
By William F. Schulz
Executive Director of Amnesty International USA
Originally published in The New York
January 19, 2002
Even as representatives of the International Red Cross go to work in Guantánamo Bay, interviewing Taliban and Qaeda prisoners and inspecting their cage-like cells, many Americans seem to find this concern for the prisoners hard to understand. After all, some of these men may well be responsible, directly or not, for the horror of Sept. 11 and for terrible crimes during Taliban rule. So what if they are subjected to some discomfort, particularly in light of the observation by Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that some of them "would gnaw hydraulic lines in the back of a C-17 to bring it down"? Why should anyone care?
The Red Cross is not alone in its concern for the treatment of these men. Mary Robinson, United Nations high commissioner for human rights, has said they should be treated in accordance with international law. Human rights groups have raised questions about the prisoners' conditions. My own organization, Amnesty International, expressed concern last week that some prisoners were being hooded, shackled or sedated during the 27-hour trip from Afghanistan to Cuba and then would be held in 6-by-8- foot cages open to the elements.
It is important to recognize that human rights organizations do not act out of sympathy for prisoners guilty of crimes. Amnesty International denounced the Taliban for its repressive rule from the moment it came to power in 1996, even while the United States government was initially welcoming the overthrow of the mujahadeen. One of the most dangerous problems in the world today is that those who commit human rights violations so frequently get away with them. It is therefore critical that everyone responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks and for human rights crimes in Afghanistan be brought to justice.
How that happens, however, will ultimately help determine the success of the war on terrorism. President Bush has made it clear that this is a war not just to protect national security but also to defend principles of freedom and the rule of law. It is those very principles, as embodied, for example, in the Geneva Conventions on prisoners of war and civilian protection and in the United Nations Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons Under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, that require prisoners to be treated humanely.
To the extent that the United States has decided to accord Taliban and Qaeda detainees at least some of the rights of prisoners of war, it should be commended. But the International Red Cross has declared that they should be treated as prisoners of war until proven otherwise, and to the extent that the United States ignores that ruling and disregards international standards, we compromise the very integrity of the struggle we are waging. The danger is that we hand the enemies of the rule of law — those who are looking for any opportunity to convince the world of our hypocrisy — a perfect excuse and an easy victory.
And we do two things more. We provide cover to other governments to ignore human rights standards and in the process make their regions of the world less stable. If the United States does not abide by human rights rules, why should others? And, perhaps most compelling, we may subject our own troops to greater peril.
President Bush has said that the war on terrorism will be a long one and American servicemen and women may be called upon for years to risk their lives overseas. If that is the case, it is almost inevitable that some of them will be captured one day. Surely the odds of retrieving them unharmed will be greater if we have not been guilty of violating the very human rights standards that constitute the best hope for their protection.
All police and military officers have the right to take appropriate measures to protect themselves from prisoners who pose a danger. Reasonable restraint is fully justified. No one expects prisoners of war to be housed in a Hilton. What is required is that they not be brutalized. Showing respect for the human rights of our adversaries is one of the surest ways to make the world safer for ourselves.
Read us on line: http://www.cco.caltech.edu/~aigp22
Martha Ter Maat, 626-281-4039 / email@example.com
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