Amnesty International Group 22 Pasadena/Caltech News Volume XIV Number 6, June 2006 UPCOMING EVENTS Thursday, June 22, 7:30 PM. Monthly Meeting Caltech Y is located off San Pasqual between Hill and Holliston, south side. You will see two curving walls forming a gate to a path-- our building is just beyond. Help us plan future actions on Sudan, the War on Terror, death penalty and more. Tuesday, July 11, 7:30 PM. Letter-writing Meeting at the Athenaeum. Corner of California & Hill. Look for our table downstairs in the cafeteria area. This informal gathering is a great way for newcomers to get acquainted with Amnesty! Sunday, July 16, 6:30 PM. Rights Readers Human Rights Book Discussion Group. Vroman's Book Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. This month we read Svetlana Alexievich's Voices from Chernobyl (More below.) COORDINATOR'S CORNER Greetings! It's summer and time to take in some of those popcorn blockbusters at the local cineplex, right? Well, Amnesty has some different suggestions for your movie-going plans. Last month, several of us went to see the Indian film, Water, highlighting issues of inequality and violence against women. Now this month Amnesty is partnering with the creators of Road to Guantanmo (details elsewhere in this newsletter), a docudrama that has become particularly timely in light of the recent suicides at the military prison. We're looking forward to checking that out and have already used Amnesty's accompanying Road to Guantanamo Action Guide to collect 110+ letters calling for the closure of the prison. (Thanks Stevi, Marti and All Saints for your help!) This month, designated "Torture Awareness Month," we are also promoting a new piece of legislation on "extraordinary rendition" (outsourcing of torture to third countries). Please help us out by writing a letter to Senator Boxer as suggested in the action below. This Sunday morning we will be assisting again with Camp Darfur. Camp Darfur aims to bring attention to the plight of refugees from the genocide in Sudan by creating a simulated refugee camp and opportunities for action. Group 22 is pleased that this project has now come to All Saints Church in Pasadena. Amnesty has just issued another "Crisis Response" designation for this human rights disaster and we are expecting fresh actions on arms control and international justice for the region in a few days. Look for those actions at up-coming meetings and in future newsletters. Meanwhile, our book discussion group, Rights Readers will be taking a look back at a different disaster when we read the very moving, Voices from Chernobyl, a recent National Book Critics Circle Award winner. It's been 20 years since the nuclear accident, a good time to examine the fallout (no pun intended!). If that seems like too dark a subject for summer, rest assured that we will be continuing our tradition of reading a mystery in August, this time local author Naomi Hirahara's Summer of the Big Bachi. And then in the fall we will be reading a book about Eritrea to give us some background for our work on our newly adopted Prisoner of Conscience case, Estifanos Seyoum. Look for more information and actions on his case in future newsletters! And if you need a success story to bring sunshine to your summer, don't miss the Summer Postcard feedback at the end of this newsletter! Finally, not all of our news fits into one monthly newsletter! Just a reminder that you can keep up with Group 22 actions and events at http://rightsreaders.blogspot.com. Have a great summer! Take care, Martha email@example.com DENOUNCE TORTURE Stop Extraordinary Renditions! New legislation has been introduced in Congress to stop the practice of sending detainees to third countries where they risk torture. Senator Feinstein and Congressman Schiff are co-sponsors of the bill. Let's get Senator Boxer on board too! Sample letter follows: Senator Barbara Boxer U.S. Senate Washington, DC 20510 Cosponsor and pass H.R. 952/S. 654 I am concerned by the practice of "extraordinary renditions" in which the United States is transferring individuals for detention and interrogation to countries with a substantial record of using torture. US legal obligations under federal law and international treaties prohibit the transfer of any person to any country where they are likely to face torture. Nonetheless, the US Government is reported to have sent or been complicit in sending individuals to countries like Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Morocco, countries that the State Department has criticized for practicing torture. I am aware that President Bush and others in his administration have defended the practice of "extraordinary renditions" by stating that the US receives "assurances" that detainees will not be subjected to torture or inhumane treatment. However, assurances from countries with such a long and well documented history of torture are insufficient. Even the Attorney General admitted that there was no way to monitor such assurances and confirm that they were complied with. Senator Patrick Leahy (VT) has sponsored the Convention Against Torture Implementation Act (S. 654) that would require annual reporting of countries that engage in torture and prohibit the transfer or return of a detainee to a country that has a history of torture. I urge you to cosponsor and pass S. 654 or similar legislation, which is an important step in affirming U.S. commitments under both international and federal law to prevent torture, and helps restore U.S. credibility on human rights issues. Sincerely, Your NAME and ADDRESS ROAD TO GUANTANAMO Amnesty Collaborates with Filmmakers As part of Torture Awareness Month, Amnesty is partnering with the creators of the film The Road to Guantanamo opening later this month: The Road to Guantanamo is the terrifying first-hand account of three British citizens who were held for more than two years without charges in the American military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Known as the "Tipton Three," in reference to their home town near Birmingham, the three were eventually returned to Britain and released - still having had no formal charges ever made against them at any time during their ordeal. The film has already engendered significant controversy due to its critical stance toward the American and British governments. Additional controversy was generated because of the cast members' detainment by British immigration authorities upon their return from the film's premiere at the Berlin film festival. Part documentary, part dramatization, the film chronicles the sequence of events that led from the trio setting out from Tipton in the British Midlands for a wedding in Pakistan, to their crossing the Afghanistan border just as the U.S. began its bombing campaign, to their eventual capture by the Northern Alliance and their imprisonment in Camp X-Ray and later at Camp Delta in Guantanamo. More information about the film, including an Action Guide from Amnesty is available at roadtoguantanamomovie.com The film opens in Pasadena on June 23. LETTER COUNT Urgent Actions 18 Eritrea POC 10 Denounce Torture 122 Total: 150 To add your letters to the total contact firstname.lastname@example.org RIGHTS READERS Human Rights Book Discussion Group Vroman's Bookstore 695 E. Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena Sunday, July 16, 6:30 PM Keep up with Rights Readers at http://rightsreaders.blogspot.com Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster by Svetlana Alexievich On April 26, 1986, the worst nuclear reactor accident in history occurred in Chernobyl and contaminated as much as three quarters of Europe. Voices from Chernobyl is the first book to present personal accounts of the tragedy. Journalist Svetlana Alexievich interviewed hundreds of people affected by the meltdown---from innocent citizens to firefighters to those called in to clean up the disaster---and their stories reveal the fear, anger, and uncertainty with which they still live. Comprised of interviews in monologue form, Voices from Chernobyl is a crucially important work, unforgettable in its emotional power and honesty. USA CAMPAIGN Environmental Justice for New Orleans Environmental groups are sounding the alarm about the toxic chemical contamination in sediment and soil left in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The hurricanes created 22 million tons of toxic debris, now dispersed throughout Greater New Orleans. Insufficient action has been taken to clean up the toxic contamination. No decision has been made as to whether there will ever be a coordinated government effort to rid storm ravaged communities of toxic substances. Testing by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and other independent organizations reveal that the sediment contains dangerous chemicals such as lead, arsenic, petroleum products, and other industrial contaminants. These toxic substances can cause significant health ailments like cancer and serious neurological disease. In many locations, toxic concentrations are far higher than federal and state agencies allow. The EPA and NRDC also found "hot spot" contamination near old industrial sites that have been outlawed for decades. Still, officials have declared Greater New Orleans safe for residents. Environmental groups are concerned that the EPA has based its safety evaluations on short-term exposure measurements. Long-term exposure of these dangerous chemicals is linked to significant health problems. Additionally, the EPA has not tested private yards and houses where people will spend large amounts of time. Learn more about the NRDC study. The Right to Health is well established in International Human Rights Law The right to the highest attainable standard of mental and physical health is enshrined in Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The right to health is an inclusive right, extending not only to health care, but also to the underlying determinants of health, such as access to safe and potable water, adequate sanitation, an adequate supply of safe food, nutrition and housing, healthy occupational and environmental conditions, and access to health-related education and information. To compound matters, New Orleans residents are facing immediate health effects associated with mold. Even before the floodwaters receded, mold began to grow throughout houses, some of which sat half-submerged for nearly a month. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that mold growth inside New Orleans homes was likely at or above a level associated with health ailments like decreased lung function. Furthermore, local doctors report that increasing numbers of residents are coming in with persistent respiratory complaints, eye irritation, and sinus infections, all triggered by mold. Long term exposure to certain types of mold has been linked to a variety of neurological effects, immune suppression, and infant pulmonary hemorrhage. The Katrina disaster highlights race and class issues for all Americans. While the hurricane certainly hit wealthier, predominantly white communities that deserve full protection and cleanup, the hurricane's impact was especially devastating for low-income communities and communities of color. These neighborhoods, which are closer to toxic industrial sites, now have the highest concentrations of contamination and mold. Furthermore, there tends to be less community money to pay for privately funded cleanup and more limited access to health care. In general, a number of studies have demonstrated that certain communities - namely minority and low-income populations - experience a disproportionate burden of environmental pollution. Hurricane Katrina merely exacerbates the problem. AIUSA believes that all residents of New Orleans have the right to live in a clean, healthy, and safe environment, that the hardest-hit areas should be given the highest priority for cleanup and rebuilding, and that residents should have the opportunity to participate in the process. AIUSA supports local and national health and environmental organizations in calling on the federal government to remove contaminated sediment, to adequately inform residents about potential health risks, and to provide clear guidelines as to how residents can protect themselves while cleaning and repairing their homes. In this process particular attention should be paid to low income areas and communities of color. Take action: Sample letter to EPA: EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson Ariel Rios Building 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, DC 20460 Dear EPA Administrator Johnson I am concerned for the health and safety of residents living in Greater New Orleans. 22 million tons of toxic debris lingers in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, yet no coordinated government effort has been taken to remove such hazards. This contamination threatens the right of residents to live in a clean, healthy, and safe environment. Authorities should take immediate action to protect these communities from the harmful effects of the toxic environment. Though officials have declared Greater New Orleans safe for residents, tests conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and other independent organizations prove otherwise. These tests have found dangerous substances such as lead, arsenic, petroleum products, and other industrial contaminants in sediment throughout the area. Such materials are known to cause significant health problems like neurological disease. Many areas exhibit concentrations far higher than federal and state agencies deem safe, and both the EPA and NRDC have found ''hot spot'' contamination by pesticides which have been outlawed for decades. Mold also plagues many homes. Certain molds detected in the area are associated with health disorders, like decreased lung function. The EPA must meet its legal obligation to remove dangerously contaminated sediment and to assess the full scope of the mold hazard affecting Greater New Orleans. In addition to such action, authorities should fully inform people in the region of the precise scope and nature of environmental health threats, and should issue clear guidelines about appropriate measures to take when cleaning and repairing homes. Any response must also pay particular attention to minority and low-income communities, which now have the highest concentrations of contamination due to their proximity to sites of environmental pollution. Failure to act needlessly endangers the health and safety of Greater New Orleans' residents and neglects their right to live in a clean, healthy, and safe environment. Sincerely, Your NAME and ADDRESS CORPORATE ACTION NETWORK Fear for Safety of Guatemalan Workers Eleven families who used to work for Nueva Florencia Farm, a coffee plantation in the municipality Colomba Costa Cuca, department of Quetzaltenango, in the east of the country, have recently been intimidated in what appears to be an effort to dissuade them from defending their labor rights after a landmark ruling by a judge which awarded them land in compensation for unfair dismissal. Amnesty International is concerned for their safety. On 1 June, the former workers received information that security guards had been given orders to shoot them if they walked through the coffee plantations of Nueva Florencia Farm. The former workers are extremely concerned for the safety of their children as their school is three kilometres from their homes if a shortcut through the coffee plantations is taken, but six kilometres if the longer public road is taken. On 23 May, at approximately 2am, private security guards in the employ of Nueva Florencia Farm allegedly fired shots near the homes of the former workers. Shots had been fired nearby at approximately 1am on 22 May, approximately 6am on 16 May and approximately 8pm on 15 May. In 1997, 11 workers began legal proceedings against OTTMAR S.A., the owners of Nueva Florencia Farm, after having been dismissed for forming a trade union. On 11 May 2006 their legal case came very near to a final conclusion when a Judge publicly auctioned La Gloria and La Isla farms (also owned by OTTMAR S.A.) to raise money in order to pay the financial compensation package previously awarded to the former workers. In the absence of any buyers for the property the Judge awarded La Gloria and La Isla to the former workers who are awaiting deeds to the properties. Since 12 May the private security detail of the Farm has been increased and has begun to carry out night patrols close to the homes of former workers. Also on 12 May Nueva Florencia Farm began paying for radio spots to be transmitted on a local radio which said that "To whomsoever is concerned: We inform you that La Gloria and La Isla are property of OTTMAR S.A. and anybody trying to invade these properties should be advised that our security guards have orders to remove them according to the law and force" "A quien interese: Se informa que las fincas La Gloria y La Isla son propiedad de OTTMAR S.A. por lo que se advierte a quien quiera invadirlas se ha ordenado a los guardias de seguridad que sean sacados conforme a la ley y fureza." Amnesty International's mission is to undertake research and action focused on preventing and ending grave abuses of the rights to physical and mental integrity, freedom of conscience and expression, and freedom from discrimination, within the context of its work to promote all human rights. Since 1997 the former workers allege to have been subjected to many acts of intimidation and reprisals for their trade union activities. They allege that their children have been denied the service of the local medical clinic which is located on the premises of Nueva Florencia Farm. The former workers also allege that they have been blacklisted and are unable to secure work on neighboring farms. BACKGROUND INFORMATION The problem of labor disputes between rural communities and large farm owners is widespread in Guatemala. The Government Agency for the Resolution of Land Conflicts (known as CONTIERRA) estimated in December 2005 that there were 1052 cases of land disputes with as many half due to labor disputes. The lack of effective protection of labor rights of rural workers has been widely criticized by organizations such as the United Nations, in addition to Amnesty International (for more information See Guatemala: Land of Injustice?, 29 March 2006). RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible: - expressing your concern for the safety of the 11 former workers and their families in the Nueva Florencia Farm; - urging the authorities to carry out impartial and thorough investigation into the alleged shootings by security guards, with the results made public and those responsible brought to justice. - reminding the authorities of the right of human rights defenders to carry out their activities without any restrictions or fear of reprisals, as set out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights and Responsibilities of Individuals, Groups and Institutions to Promote and Protect Universally Recognised Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. APPEALS TO: President of the Republic of Guatemala: Presidente de la República de Guatemala. Lic. Oscar Berger Perdomo Casa Presidencial, 6 a. Avenida, 4-41 zona 1. Ciudad de Guatemala, GUATEMALA Secretariat of Agrarian Issues: Secretaria de Asuntos Agrarios Lic. Mariela Aguilar 12 Avenida 19-01, Zona 1 Ciudad de Guatemala, GUATEMALA COPIES TO: Ambassador Jose Guillermo Castillo Embassy of Guatemala 2220 R St. NW Washington DC 20008 Email: email@example.com PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE Tunisian Internet Activist Imprisoned A sample letter from the Freedom Writer's Network: M. Béchir Tekkari Ministère de la Justice et de Droits de l'Homme 31 Boulevard Bab Benat 1006 Tunis - La Kasbah TUNISIA email: firstname.lastname@example.org Dear Minister: The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Tunisia is a party, states that everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds. Despite this, Tunisian lawyer and human rights defender Mohammed Abbou was sentenced to three and a half years in prison in April 2005, following an unfair trial. His conviction was based largely on two articles published on the Internet in which he criticized Tunisian authorities and denounced torture in Tunisia. Since his detention in March 2005, Mohammed Abbou has undertaken several hunger strikes to protest his conditions of detention. After Abbou asked to change his prison cell, which he shared with ordinary criminal prisoners, prison guards reportedly beat him and removed his mattress. He now sleeps on an iron bed frame. He has been harassed by other prisoners, seemingly at the instigation of the prison authorities. Mohammed Abbou is imprisoned in the town of El-Kef, approximately 200 kilometers from his family home in the capital, Tunis, making visits by his family difficult. In November 2005, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that Mohammed Abbou's detention was indeed arbitrary and in violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 19 of the ICCPR, which guarantee the right to freedom of expression. I believe that Mohammed Abbou is a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for the peaceful expression of his political beliefs. I urge you to release him immediately and unconditionally. Sincerely, Your NAME and ADDRESS copy to: Ambassador Mohamed Nejib Hachana Embassy of Tunisia 1515 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20005 SUMMER POSTCARD ACTION Success Story from Congo! In last year's Summer Postcard Action, Amnesty activists sent messages of support to BVES, an organization that aids children in war-torn Congo and helps with the rehabilitation of former child soldiers. Some months later, Amnesty's London office received a message from Murhabazi Namegabe, director of BVES, who recounted how he had been reading with a group of children when uniformed soldiers burst into their hostel and demanded money. The soldiers became distracted, however, when they saw hundreds of colorful postcards and festive envelopes spread around the room - a display of supportive correspondence from Amnesty International members. They started reading the letters, testing their broken English, and demanded to know "Who wrote these letters?" and "And why?" For Namegabe, director of a group that helps former child soldiers, it was the perfect opportunity to address a captive audience about the group's work. The children participating in the reading revealed to the uniformed men that they were former child soldiers and described how BVES had helped them. At the end of the impromptu workshop, the soldiers promised to bring in more child soldiers for demobilization and social rehabilitation. Namegabe told Amnesty that the nearly 1,000 messages of hope they received from Amnesty members are precious to the children struggling through dark times. "Thanks, Thanks, Thanks, mingi, very much," said Namegabe.. "Aksanti saana (many thanks) to men, women and the youth of AI for advancing the cause of human rights across the entire world!" This year's Summer Postcard Action can be found at http://www.amnestyusa.org/action/summer. Send some love!