Amnesty International Group 22 Pasadena/Caltech News
Volume XVII Number 10, October 2009


Thursday, October 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, November 10, 7:30 PM. Note we're 
back at Caltech! Letter writing meeting at 
Caltech Athenaeum, corner of Hill and 
California in Pasadena. This informal gathering 
is a great way for newcomers to get acquainted 
with Amnesty. 

Sunday, November 15, 6:30 PM. Rights 
Readers Human Rights Book Discussion Group. 
Vroman's Book Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado 
Blvd., Pasadena.  This month we read "The 
House at Sugar Beach" by Helene Cooper. 


 Hi everyone,

Summer's back!  I for one am glad. This is my 
favorite time of year, what they used to call 
Indian Summer. Hope you are enjoying the 
relaxing breezes and sunshine.

This year the Western Regional Conference is 
from Nov 6 to 8 in San Francisco. This year's 
theme is "Free and Equal in Dignity and Rights". 
It's not too late to sign up but hurry as the 
deadline is October 23.  See for 
more info or contact the Regional Office at 415-
288-1800. Hope to see you there!

Another event that members may be interested in 
is Sunday October 25 from 3-5 pm at St. John's 
Cathedral, 514 W. Adams in LA. "The Intersection 
of Islamophobia and Torture" is sponsored by 
several ecumenical organizations, including the 
Episcopal Diocese of LA.

The new Demand Dignity Campaign:  "While we 
in the U.S. are focusing much of our energy 
around maternal health and the national 
healthcare debate, Amnesty International as a 
whole will soon be campaigning on a variety of 
issues related to poverty and human rights 
including human rights abuses associated with 
slums and corporate accountability especially 
around the extractive industries." (from the 
AIUSA website) 

Con carino,


Human Rights Book Discussion Group

Keep up with Rights Readers at

Next Rights Readers meeting: 
Sunday, November 15, 6:30 PM
Vroman's Bookstore
695 E. Colorado Boulevard
 in Pasadena
The House at Sugar Beach 
By Helene Cooper

New York Times Book Review
Published: September 5, 2008

The skeletal remains of Africa's numerous 
civil wars litter the continent, from the 
easternmost reaches of Somalia to the western 
shores of Liberia. It is there, overlooking the 
picturesque beaches of the Atlantic Ocean, that 
unknown numbers of human remains - victims 
of Samuel Doe's reign of terror - haunt the earth. 
One building that serves as their communal 
headstone, itself a virtual skeleton is physical 
testimony to the civil war that racked Liberia for 
nearly 25 years. This macabre marker is the house 
at Sugar Beach. 

In her masterly memoir, Helene Cooper 
brings us back to the halcyon years when Sugar 
Beach, her family's home, embodied the elite 
privilege and disco-age chic to which Liberia's 
upper class aspired. The Coopers' mansion, 22 
rooms in all, rose in solitude out of the plum trees 
and vines that thicketed Liberia's undeveloped 
coastline. Inside was a living homage to the 1970s, 
complete with velvet couches in a sunken living 
room, marble floors and a special nook for storing 
the plastic Christmas tree. Outside, where a 
carpet of grass stretched to the thunderous 
Atlantic, multiple servants made their home, and 
the latest-model American cars - from a Lincoln 
Continental to a two-tone green Pontiac Grand 
Prix - awaited their next 11-mile journey into 
downtown Monrovia. 

Fate, so it seemed, handed Helene Cooper a 
"one-in-a-million lottery ticket" when she was 
born into "what passed for the landed gentry 
upper class of Africa's first independent country." 
Both sides of Cooper's family traced their roots to 
Li_beria's founding fathers - freed slaves from 
the United States who fought disease and the 
recalcitrant local population to forge a new 
nation. Their bravery and ingenuity were 
legendary, and their descendants soon formed 
Liberia's upper caste. 

At its heart, "The House at Sugar Beach" is a 
coming-of-age story told with unremitting 
honesty. With her pedigree and her freedom from 
internalized racism, Cooper is liberated to enjoy a 
social universe that is a fluid mix of all things 
American and African. "None of that American 
post-Civil War/civil rights movement baggage to 
bog me down with any inferiority complex about 
whether I was as good as white people," she 
declares triumphantly. "No European garbage to 
have me wondering whether some British 
colonial master was somehow better than me. 
Who needs to struggle for equality? Let 
everybody else try to be equal to me." 

The young Helene Cooper oozes the awkward 
confidence of a privileged adolescent, and it is 
through her bespectacled eyes that we see the 
carefree decadence of Liberia in the years just 
before it descended into chaos. They are also the 
lenses through which we are introduced to 
Cooper's distinctly female world. Atop the 
matriarchy is her maternal grandmother, the 
unforgettable Mama Grand. Cooper's side-
splitting portrayal of this hard-nosed, self-made 
landowner is nothing short of brilliant. With her 
gold-capped tooth glistening, Mama Grand is 
equally capable of dressing down a Lebanese 
merchant who "thought he was going to cheat me 
out of my rent" and berating the entire American 
government on camera for "60 Minutes." The 
women are the backbone of Liberia in its heyday, 
but they show their true strength when the 
country collapses. 

A subtle, nostalgic ache for a childhood 
foreshortened is the watermark imprinted on 
every page of Cooper's story. The idyll at Sugar 
Beach, with its Michael Jackson LPs and Nancy 
Drew mysteries, was shattered when a ragtag 
group of soldiers - part of the rebel force that 
brought down the Tolbert government in 1980, 
and with it over 150 years of old-guard, one-party 
rule - arrived on the scene. The stench of their 
inebriation, of their lust for violence, 
overpowered the tranquility that still lingered in 
the bucolic air of Cooper's sheltered world. Her 
mother would try in vain to exorcise the odor - 
and the memories - the rebel intruders inscribed 
on her body and mind after they gang-raped her. 
Mommee sacrificed herself to protect the 
innocence of Helene and her other daughters, 
Marlene and Eunice, locking them in an upstairs 
room before the soldiers forced her down into the 

Cooper soon went into exile, joining 
thousands of other members of the Liberian elite 
who managed to escape the rebels' murderous 
pillaging. Mommee and Marlene were also 
among them. Eunice was not. The daughter of a 
poor upcountry mother, she had been taken into 
the household at Sugar Beach when Helene was a 
lonely 8-year-old in need of companionship. She 
quickly became "Mrs. Cooper's daughter" and 
was treated as one of Mommee's own. Yet over 
the years there were subtle reminders of Eunice's 
different status. And when it was time to flee, 
painful choices were made. Eunice was not a 
blood relation, and so she was left behind. 

While Cooper's memoir is mesmerizing in its 
portrayal of a Liberia rarely witnessed, its 
description of the psychological devastation - 
and coping mechanisms - brought on by 
profound loss is equally captivating. The second 
half of the book tells the story of Helene's 
reinvention. Her aristocratic Liberian pedigree 
meant nothing in the hallways of her new school. 
She became the suspicious immigrant, spending 
lunchtime hiding in bathroom stalls and the 
recesses of the library rather than face the scrutiny 
and ridicule of her American classmates. 

Cooper's perseverance and immense talent 
with language eventually catapulted her into a 
career as a journalist. Her success at The Wall 
Street Journal and later The New York Times is 
nearly as noteworthy as her ability to 
compartmentalize - or, some might say, 
dissociate. This mental sleight of hand is what 
affords her the psychological space to create a 
new life and cultivate her writer's craft. It would 
be a mistake to see her ruminations over race and 
class in America as the hypocritical ranting of a 
once-privileged African. They are, instead, a 
reflection of her internalized journey, part of the 
process of becoming whole. 

The walls holding back the guilt of her early 
entitlement, the destruction of her childhood, the 
murder of family and friends, and the 
abandonment of her foster sister would finally 
come crushing down under the literal weight of 
an American tank in Iraq. When the tank 
destroyed the Humvee in which she was riding, 
Cooper narrowly escaped death. But once she was 
extricated from the wreck, her mind traveled to a 
different war. "At that moment," she writes, "as I 
lay in the sand in the desert, my chemsuit soaked 
with what turned out to be oil, not blood, I 
thought of Liberia." 

For the first time in over 20 years, she soon 
returned to her former homeland. There, in the 
ravaged streets, in the overgrown jungles of 
yesteryear's plantations, she confronted the 
ghosts of the dead - and encountered the living 
survivors. With much suffering and loss, Eunice 
had miraculously endured the hell of the Doe era, 
as well as the civil wars and deep poverty that 
accompanied the ascent of Charles Taylor to 
Liberia's presidency. Eventually, the two sisters 
were reunited and returned to the house at Sugar 
Beach. In the defiled shadow of onetime 
grandeur, Cooper embraced the enormity of her 
past, and finally came of age.

Caroline Elkins is an associate professor of 
history at Harvard and the author of "Imperial 
Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in 
Kenya," which won the Pulitzer Prize for general 
nonfiction in 2006.

Helene Cooper is the diplomatic correspondent 
for the New York Times. Prior to that assignment, 
she was the assistant editorial page editor of the 
New York Times, after twelve years as a reporter 
and foreign correspondent at the Wall Street 
Journal. She was born in Monrovia, Liberia, and 
lives in the Washington, D.C., area. 



Senator Max Baucus
511 Hart Senate Office Bldg., 
Washington, DC 20510   
202 224-2651

Senator Christopher Dodd
448 Russell Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510
(202) 224-2823

Senator Harry Reid
528 Hart Senate Office Bldg.
Washington DC  20510
(202) 224-3542

Dear Senator _______________
I am writing to urge you to ensure that the 
final Senate health reform bill provides a 
Medicare-like public health care plan that 
everyone can use.
Health care is a human right, not a 
commodity. A key step toward fulfilling this right 
and recognizing it as a public good would be for 
the Senate to provide a Medicare-like public plan 
that guarantees access for all, offers 
comprehensive benefits, and is publicly funded, 
without using private companies as middlemen.
I thank you for your efforts in leading the 
Senate's work on health care reform, which offers 
a historic opportunity to take important strides 
toward making the U.S. health care system more 
universal, equitable and accountable.
The American people need a Medicare-like 
public plan for all as a critical step toward 
fulfilling our human right to health care. I urge 
you to seize this opportunity.
Thank you in advance for your action on this 
      your name and address


A human rights assessment demonstrates that 
when private companies stand between us and 
our rights, too many people are unable to get the 
care they need. Publicly financed and 
administered health care is the strongest vehicle 
for creating a system that is truly universal, 
equitable and accountable.

If we recognize health care as a right and a 
public good, shared fairly by all, we can create a 
health care system that works for everyone. To do 
so, the Senate must show leadership now and 
provide a Medicare-like public health care plan 
that guarantees access for all and has 
comprehensive benefits, without using private 
companies as middlemen.

The Senate's legislation is crucial in 
determining the fate of publicly funded health 
care for all. The Senate Finance Committee, 
chaired by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), is currently 
finalizing its bill, which must then be marked up 
and voted on. That committee - and the Senate as 
a whole - faces huge pressure from the insurance 
industry and other forces committed to keeping 
health care a commodity, not a public good.

Once the Finance Committee finalizes its 
legislation, that bill will be reconciled with that of 
the Senate health committee, led by Sen. Chris 
Dodd (D-CT) in the absence of the committee 
chair, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), who is ill. [Note:  
Kennedy passed away after this was written.] The 
full Senate, led by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), will 
then revise and vote on final legislation.

Baucus, Dodd and Reid are key players who 
will decide whether the Senate's legislation 
creates a Medicare-like public plan for all. This 
would be a key step towards treating health care 
as a public good and one day ensuring that the 
human right to health care becomes a reality for 
everyone in the United States. Write them today!


"Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not 
natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome 
and eradicated by the actions of human beings. 
And overcoming poverty is not a gesture of 
charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of 
a fundamental human right, the right to dignity 
and a decent life." - Nelson Mandela

Everyone everywhere has the human right to 
essential health care and housing, as well as clean 
water, food, education and decent work. 
Everyone has the right to security, both physical 
and economic; to freedom from discrimination; 
and to participate in the decisions that affect their 

The fact that violations of the right to health 
care or the right to clean water are common does 
not make those rights violations acceptable. 
Governments have the duty to respect, protect 
and fulfill the full range of human rights, at home 
and abroad. Private sector actors and 
international financial institutions also have an 
obligation to adhere to human rights standards. 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 
guarantees these rights and more - both freedom 
from oppression and the right to live a life with 
dignity. But more than sixty years after its 
adoption in the aftermath of the horrors of World 
War II and the Great Depression, the aspiration of 
a world free from want and fear is still unrealized 
for millions of people living in poverty. 

At its core, poverty is not merely a question of 
lack of income. It is a question of one's right to 
housing, adequate food, clean water, and a decent 
standard of health care being at risk. Thousands 
die every day from preventable disease, 
contaminated water and hunger-related diseases, 
and those who live in poverty often lack the 
power to do much about that insecurity. These are 
human rights violations. 

Amnesty International, as the world's largest 
grassroots human rights movement, is committed 
to addressing all human rights violations, 
including those of poverty. Given the size and 
breadth of our movement, we have a unique role 
to play in changing the terms of the debate 
around poverty and human rights. Our brand 
new Demand Dignity Campaign will be rolling 
out in 2009 and we will contribute to the work of 
defending everyone's right to live with dignity. 
We will do so by helping to empower 
communities and human rights defenders to win 
equal access to human rights and accountability 
for human rights abuses from their own 
governments and from international actors in the 
state, private and multilateral sectors. The first 
area of human rights violations we will be 
looking into are those related to the right to 
health, and specifically a woman's right to 
maternal health, in the context of an ongoing 
human rights scandal: maternal mortality at home 
and abroad. 


Around the world, one woman dies every 
minute -- half a million women every year - and 
many more face long-term debilitating health 
problems, due to complications during pregnancy 
and childbirth. Almost all of these deaths are 
preventable. That the world allows them to 
continue in 2009, when we know how to stop 
them, is a human rights crisis. The Millennium 
Development Goals (MDGs) - an international 
framework to cut world poverty in half by 2015 - 
includes cutting the rate of maternal deaths by 
three-quarters. But that goal has seen the least 
progress out of all the MDGs. 

Amnesty International's work on maternal 
health continues our efforts to advance women's 
human rights, most recently in our Stop Violence 
Against Women Campaign. Complacency in the 
face of maternal mortality reflects discrimination 
against women, and it perpetuates that 
discrimination. As Mahmoud Fathalla, past 
president of the International Federation of 
Gynecology and Obstetrics, said: 

"Women are not dying because of diseases we 
cannot treat. They are dying because societies 
have yet to make the decision that their lives are 
worth saving." 

Maternal mortality is a crucial issue all over 
the world: Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, 
and even here at home. This year will see the 
release of reports on Peru, Sierra Leone, Burkina 
Faso, and the United States. In every case, 
maternal mortality is an entry point for looking at 
the health care system as a whole. 

In this country, we now have a once-in-a-
generation chance to reform the health care 
system to truly fulfill the human right to health. 
As we see in the news every day, too often the 
debate assumes that health care is a commodity. It 
is not - it is a human right, and a public good. It is 
up to us, as human rights advocates, to ensure 
that point of view is represented. 

DP     4
UAs   20                                                                  
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To add your letters to the total contact

Amnesty International Group 22
The Caltech Y
Mail Code 5-62
Pasadena, CA 91125