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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

US Envoy Williamson on Sudan: Keep the Pressure On

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Ambassador Richard S. Williamson, former US Special Envoy to Sudan, advised human rights advocates and students to keep the pressure on the Obama Administration and the United Nations to protect the people of Darfur and Southern Sudan. "Citizen involvement has made a tremendous impact on the U.S. Governments actions with regard to Darfur," stated Williamson at a public event last Friday attended by students and by human rights activists engaged in the anti-genocide movement, including Minnesota Interfaith Darfur Coalition.

With 2.7 million IDPs and refugees from the Darfur conflict living in desperate conditions, Williamson questioned the U.S.'s current approach to the Government in Khartoum in relation to a pattern of grave human rights violations. The Obama Administration's approach is characterized by current Special Envoy, Scott Gration's, recent comments: "Kids, countries -- they react to gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes, agreements, talk, engagement." In response to a question about Gration's comments, Williamson observed, "Making nice with a government that has already made the decision to play hardball despite international opprobrium is not going to change their behavior."
The former Special Envoy expressed serious concern about the violent conditions in the IDP and refugee camps in Darfur and across the Chadian border, recommending that the African Union send troops to police the camps and establish education and centers for women. Williamson touched on the fact that the violence in Darfur has recently decreased but only because there are now fewer targets to be attacked.
The ambassador stressed the importance of the Obama administration remaining engaged in the Sudan peace discussions and taking a larger diplomatic role in the peace processes. He recommended that human rights advocates target key members of Obama's cabinet including Vice President Joe Biden, General Jim Jones, head of the NSC, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The former Special Envoy spent a substantial amount of time discussing the mounting tensions in Southern Sudan saying it was a "rich agricultural land" that is in dire need of capacity building and infrastructure, including the development of schools and roads. Southern Sudan receives less humanitarian aid than other regions of Sudan but has recently seen more international attention due to the dramatic increase in violence that has occurred over the last several months.
Ambassador Williamson touched on other nation's relationships with Sudan including China -- which imports six percent of its oil from Sudan , France -- which uses land in neighboring Chad for military training, Russia -- which is involved in military sales , and Egypt -- which has concerns over the control of the Nile.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Romeo Ramirez Advocates for the Rights of Immokalee Workers

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The Human Rights Program recently sponsored an event, "Fair Food that Respects Human Rights" featuring Romeo Ramirez, the leader of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. The discussion was attended by students and professionals alike who participated in an interactive discussion.

Ramirez discussed struggles facing the Immokalee works such as their extremely minimal wage, inconsistent work hours and the lack of work benefits. Immokalee Workers are paid by the 32lb bucket of tomatoes and each bucket earns 40-45 cents. This is the same amount earned by Immokalee workers in 1978. Because wages have failed to increase with the cost of living, Ramirez calls the tomato industry "a backward industry". Not only are wages low, there have been a plethora of cases concerning workers who have been threatened and abused by employers. In extreme cases, there have been situations constituting modern day slavery.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has been instrumental in advocating for the prosecution of these abusive employers and is confident their work will improve relations between workers and employers.
The coalition has composed a Code of Conduct to support workers rights and is campaigning to get companies to sign on to it. The code of conduct calls for companies to raise wages one cent per pound of tomatoes, improve working conditions and include farm workers themselves in decision making. Yum Brands, the owner of KFC, Pizza Hut and other popular fast-food restaurants has signed the code. The company is now in the process of improving standards for its workers.
Aramark, the food supplier of the University of Minnesota has yet to sign this Code of Conduct. The Coalition is looking for on-campus support to pressure the company to do so and ensure that the tomatoes on the plates at the University of Minnesota are picked by workers who are paid a fair wage and work in suitable conditions. If you are interested in getting involved please contact:
Coalition of Immokalee Workers
PO Box 603, Immokalee, FL 34143
(239) 657-8311

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Focus Group on Southern Sudan Child Abductions

Do you have expertise on Sudan, child abductions or child rights? Child Protection International (CPI) is looking for people who would like to be involved in a focus group on the issue of child abductions in Southern Sudan. The purpose of the focus group is to discuss an upcoming campaign for child identification in Southern Sudan. Issues that will be discussed include cultural appropriateness, strategies for reporting missing children in rural Sudan and logistics. The group will only meet once sometime during the month of August. The date will be decided upon once we have enough participants.

If you are interested please contact Kori Tudor at: kori@childprotectioninternational.org

Midwest Coalition Promotes Ratification of Human Rights Treaties

Human rights organizations in the Midwest are joining in the movement that is pressing for the U.S. Government to ratify core human rights treaties. President Obama's recent signature of the Convention on the Rights of the Disabled was a welcome indication of a more cooperative US relationship with international laws and treaties.

Among the treaties stalled in the US ratification process are conventions on the rights of women, children and the core treaty on economic, social and cultural rights. The Human Rights Program is participating in efforts to promote the Children's Rights Convention. Adopted in 1989, the CRC has become the most widely ratified international human rights treaty. The only two nations that have not ratified the treaty are the United States and Somalia. Although the US was actively involved in the 10 year drafting process, the treaty has been awaiting ratification in the Senate for 14 years.

The CRC is an important treaty in that it ensures the right to life, survival and development for every child, values which the Obama administration is in strong support of. Ratification of the CRC would allow the US to regain its position as a leader on international human rights issues and provide a framework for the improvement of child rights in the US.

This summer Midwest Coalition for Human Rights intern, Mike Brehm, has been exploring ways in which MCHR can play an active role in the campaign to ratify the CRC. He has been researching the possible implications of the CRC in the US and the jurisprudence of the Committee on the Rights of the Child. His findings will help the MCHR build a campaign and create awareness about the issues surrounding the ratification of the treaty. Mike will continue to research the CRC through the upcoming school year with hopes to publish an article about his research on the CRC.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Rally for Human Rights in Iran

Wednesday July 15th
11:30 AM
South Steps of the Capitol

Witnessed around the world, the Iranian government's response to protests of the contested June election results has violated Iran's international treaty obligations. Reports of extrajudicial killings, detention, torture, and of violations of the rights to freedom of assembly and association violate the human rights of people in Iran.
For more information please visit the Advocates for Human Rights website.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Meeting with UN Special Rapporteur for Sudan Provides Insight and Direction for CPI Interns

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(Left to Right: Kori Tudor, Tracy Baumgardt, Dr. Sima Samar, Amelia Shindelar, Madeline Thaeden, Kaela McConnon, Sophie Link, Robyn Skrebes, Allison Rogne, Nora Radtke)

On Sunday, June 21st a group of CPI interns met with Dr. Sima Samar, UN Special Rapporteur for Sudan. Fresh with knowledge from her recent trip to Sudan from May 25 to June 4th, Dr. Samar provided the group of interns with great insight and important information about issues on the ground.

Although Dr. Samar expressed disappointment in the recent decisions of the Human Rights Council to replace the Special Rapporteur for Sudan with an Independent Expert, she was glad to see that a group of young students and graduates were working on such significant and critical issues, as she remarked, "The young generation are the ones that own the planet ."

Dr. Samar noted that the issue of child abductions is a recurring problem across many different tribes in South Sudan. Attacks from the LRA have only made issues worse by making it increasingly difficult to identify the perpetrators of violent child abductions. Dr. Samar remarked that the Government of South Sudan has little capacity to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions, a critical problem to the successful implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

The group of interns was able to ask Dr. Samar about the feasibility of universal birth registration in Southern Sudan, an issue they have been studying for the last 6 months as a possible deterrent to child abductions. Dr. Samar agreed that birth registration is an important step, but there are many other steps that must precede it, such as the development of infrastructure and a sound judicial system.
Dr. Samar provided many examples from her work with women and children in Afghanistan as a model framework for possible action in Sudan. She noted that it would be effective for CPI to work in partnership with local civil society group working to end child abductions. In addition, she strongly encouraged the group of interns to advocate their cause to the U.S. Government.
Although her work in Southern Sudan and with the Human Rights Council has proven to be frustrating at times, Dr. Samar argued that "Southern Sudan does not have a choice, the international community does not have a choice, we must be engaged."
For more information about the meeting and to read the memo submitted to Dr. Sima Samar, please visit the Child Protection International section of this website.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

CPI In Full Swing Over the Summer


This summer the HRP office is full of interns continuing the work of Child Protection International (CPI) and preparing for their meeting with Dr. Sima Samar, UN Special Rapporteur for Sudan, on Sunday June 21st. The students will present their research on child abductions in Southern Sudan, and will ask Dr. Samar to support CPI's efforts to ensure birth registrations for all Sudanese children so that they have clear identification in the event of an abduction.

Recent intertribal violence in South Sudan has spurred an increase in abductions which has resulted in over 300 children being forcibly taken from their parents since the beginning of March 2009. Many reports indicate that the violence occurring in South Sudan is worse than that of the conflict in Darfur.

Difficulties with disarmament and the integration of small militias into the Sudan's People Liberation Army (SPLA), South Sudan's military, has created great tensions that could reignite into a civil war. In addition to intertribal conflict, South Sudan continues to be attacked by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), another key perpetrator of child abductions in South Sudan.
CPI interns had an opportunity to gather for a celebration in early June when Dan Bernard, a founding member of the Save Yar Campaign, returned to Minnesota on vacation from Cairo, Egypt where he is now working for USAID .
The student-run organization has more than a dozen active volunteers. Another CPI, Kou Solomon, testified June 10 at a Washington, D.C., roundtable discussion hosted by US Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, to recognize the World Day against Child Labor. Kou talked about the need for international action to prevent abductions, like those suffered by his family in 2007, when his two nieces were forcibly abducted by members of a different ethnic group.
Many of the founding members have continued to stay involved in CPI's work as they pursue human rights issues around the world. Each person brings a unique perspective to the table and strengthens the campaign as it moves forward to combat child abductions in South Sudan.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

CPI to Meet UN Special Rapporteur on Sudan

On Sunday June 21st, Child Protection International (CPI) has arranged a meeting with the UN Special Rapporteur on Sudan, Sima Samar, to discuss the issue of child abductions in South Sudan.

Sima Samar will be visiting Minnesota to receive the Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award at the Advocates for Human Rights Awards Dinner the following Tuesday, June 23rd. In addition to acting as the UN Special Rapporteur on Sudan, Dr. Samar is the Chairwoman of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. Dr. Samar has done important work in drawing attention to the numerous human rights abuses committed against the people of Afghanistan, especially against girls and women.


(Amelia Shindelar and Nora Radtke Prepare for the June 21st meeting)

Four CPI interns in collaboration with the Human Rights Program at the University of Minnesota are busy preparing for their meeting with Dr. Samar. CPI plans on using this opportunity to discuss the issue of child abductions in South Sudan and gather information on how this issue has been affected by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005. The interns are working hard to become experts on all aspects of Sudan, including ethnic conflicts and how they play into the continuation of internal violence, disarmament and the issue of security for specific groups and the history of cattle raids as they are used as a method for child abductions.
CPI hopes to use this information to enforce their campaign for birth registration in South Sudan and in their ultimate goal of eradicating child abductions from South Sudan.

Mike Brehm, MCHR Intern, Works to Ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child

The Midwest Coalition for Human Rights (MCHR) is proud to have Mike Brehm as their summer Upper Midwest Fellow. Mike just finished his first year at the University of Minnesota Law School and hopes to pursue a career in international law.

Mike became interested in the field of human rights after taking one of Professor Weissbrodt's courses in the fall of 2008 and was able to attend the Asylum Law Project's (ALP) trip to Arizona in January of 2009. ALP provides for first year law students to volunteer over their winter or spring breaks to work with non profit organizations to represent immigrant and asylum seekers.

Mike will be attending the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Symposium in Washington D.C. from June 1st -2nd, to begin his work in advocating for the ratification of the CRC. Through research and networking, Mike will be working to involve MCHR in the national movement for the ratification of the CRC.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

HRP Moves Offices June 15th

The Human Rights Program will be moving office on June 15th. We are expanding to make room for all of our interns! We will still be located on the 2nd floor of the Social Sciences Building in rooms 232A, 232 and 235.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Welcome Baby Kennion!

Rochelle's baby girl Kennion, 7lbs. 20 in, was born yesterday May 14th at 12:45pm. Congratulations Rochelle!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

CPI Discussion on Birth Registration in South Sudan

Over the past few months students from Barbara Frey's Human Rights Internship class have been working in partnership with Child Protection International (CPI) on a campaign to encourage universal birth registration in South Sudan. On Monday May 4th, the class held a discussion on the issue of birth registration inviting various experts working in the fields of child trafficking, international human rights and international development.

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Nora Radtke, CPI Intern, explains the importance of birth registration, "A birth certificate is the door to all other rights, such as identity, education and healthcare." Having a legitimate birth certificate also protects children from sexual, economic, and military exploitation and is a fundamental step toward protecting children from disappearing.
To frame the issue of universal birth registration, students provided a case study of a successful birth registration campaign in Sierra Leone carried out by UNICEF and Plan International. Although Sudan and Sierra Leone are quite different in many respects looking to Sierra Leone, another African nation, provides a useful model for future projects in Sudan. Many of the experts emphasized the importance of Sudan's political instability, with special attention to President Omar Al Bashir, in implementing a birth registration campaign. Without government backing, local, national and regional support, such a campaign would be short lived and ineffective.
The question of US government aid in Sudan was a hot topic among attendees. Students presented an argument as to why USAID should adopt birth registration as an integral part of their agenda. Already spending millions of dollars on Education, Health Care and Security, it is essential that USAID include birth registration in order to assure these rights for their beneficiaries after they have left the country.
Sima Samar, UN Special Rapporteur on Sudan, will be visiting Minneapolis on June 22, 2009 as part of the Human Rights Law and Policy Conference. To prepare for this event students have written her a memo underlining the importance of birth registration in South Sudan to end child trafficking and other larger issues that a Special Rapporteur may be concerned with. Attendees stressed that Sima Samar is incredibly burdened with the Darfur situation, therefore the issue of birth registration must be argued within the larger context of issues within Sudan.
Overall the event was a great success allowing students, faculty and experts to question, brainstorm and strategize future goals for CPI's campaign for universal birth registration.
For more information on CPI's birth registration campaign and to access presentations please visit the CPI section of the HRP website.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Hunjoon Kim Receives Best Dissertation Award

Hunjoon Kim, political science PhD and human rights minor at the University of Minnesota has been awarded the best dissertation from the American Political Science Association Human Rights section.


Kim's dissertation, Expansion of Transitional Justice Measures: A Comparative Analysis of Its Causes , addresses the spread of accountability norms used by states and why past violations can be used as effective measures to demand truth and justice. Kim highlights the South Korean truth commission as a case study to explore transitional justice movements.

To read the full dissertation please click here.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

NEW: Interdisciplinary Graduate Group on Human Rights and Transitional Justice

The Graduate School at the University of Minnesota has recognized an Interdisciplinary Graduate Group on Human Rights and Transitional Justice, providing a community for faculty, grad students and experts to collaborate and share their knowledge on the subject. The purpose of the group is to provide joint research, education and clinical opportunities in the study of effective processes for preventing serious international human rights violations and efforts to bring justice to those whose rights have been violated.

The University of Minnesota already has a strong community of faculty and students involved in the study of human rights and transitional justice. The leaders of the group, Barbara Frey, Director of the Human Rights Program, Assistant Professor in the Institute for Global Studies; Professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Dorsey & Whitney Chair in Law, Professor Kathryn Sikkink, Regents Professor and Professor of Political Science, Professor David Weissbrodt, Regents Professor and Professor of Law, are joined by over a dozen other professors in one of the most esteemed human rights faculties in the world.
The University of Minnesota University hosts four centers and programs that promote human rights research, teaching, public and professional outreach, internships, and conferences and programs: the Human Rights Program at the Institute of Global Studies, the Human Rights Center at the Law School, the Institute for Genocide and Holocaust Studies in the History Department, and the Program in Human Rights and Health at the School of Public Health.
This Graduate School collaborative will build on the work already being completed by the IAS Transitional Justice and Collective Memory Collaborative ending this Spring and will actively involve the strong network of Minnesota based NGOs, such as the Advocates for Human Rights, the American Refugee Committee, and the Center for Victims of Torture.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Minnesota Human Rights Advocates Say U.S. Terrorism Policies Complicate Saberi Case

Reporter Sharon Schmickle provides an update on Roxana Saberi's imprisonment in Iran on the basis of her expired press credentials. Originally from Fargo, Saberi has the support of MN human rights activists seeking to defend her rights under the Geneva Convention. Schmickle reports on the shocking parallel in the lack of due process between Saberi's case and those of the Guantanamo Bay detainees.



REUTERS - Roxana Saberi, Fargo native before her arrest in January

To read the full article please click on the following link:

Minnesota Human Rights Advocates Say U.S. Terrorism Policies Complicate Saberi Case

Reporter Sharon Schmickle provides an update on Roxana Saberi's imprisonment in Iran on the basis of her expired press credentials. Originally from Fargo, Saberi has the support of MN human rights activists seeking to defend her rights under the Geneva Convention. Schmickle reports on the shocking parallel in the lack of due process between Saberi's case and those of the Guantanamo Bay detainees.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Graduate Students Prepare for Summer Human Rights Internships

This summer many human rights minor graduate students will travel to sites around the nation and world as interns for various organizations working to promote and protect human rights.

Paul Walters - Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellow 2009
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Friends of Ngong Road, Nairobi, Kenya

The mission of Friends of Ngong Road is to provide education and support for Nairobi children living in poverty whose families are affected by HIV/AIDS so they can transform their lives. Friends of Ngong Road pairs each sponsor with a specific child allowing for a mutually beneficial relationship to develop.

Paul’s role in the organization will likely be to conduct research, explore potential donor opportunities, train staff on quality assurance, and take pictures and video clips for the development of a promotional video.

Elizabeth Mandelman
- Peace Fellow 2009 - The Advocacy Project
International Network on Small Arms, Waterloo, Canada
Elizabeth will be working with the International Network on Small Arms (IANSA), and two of their local partners in Canada, Project Ploughshares and Peacebuild. She will be helping to advocate for a small arms treaty in Canada, in which her role will be to profile women who have been domestically abused by small arms and use that data as an advocacy tool. This legislation is a part of IANSA’s global campaign focused on eliminating the use of small arms and their use in domestic violence.
More HR Grad Minor Upper Midwest Fellows 2009:
Hollie Nyseth - Mexico City Human Rights Commission, Mexico
Shannon Golden - Friends Committee on National Legislation, Washington, DC

Monday, April 20, 2009

Eric Rosenthal Shares Personal History with Human Rights Students

(Left to right: Luka Krmpotich, Eric Rosenthal, Rachel Garaghty,Clark Nguyen Barbara Frey and Yi Deng)

The Human Rights Program hosted a meeting on April 17 between Eric Rosenthal, Executive Director of Mental Disability Rights International and students interested in pursuing human rights careers. Rosenthal reflected upon his fifteen year career as the founder and head of MDRI, a path he chose after realizing that the rights of the disabled were not being addressed by mainstream human rights organizations. Rosenthal's work at MDRI was launched by a $25,000 fellowship from the Echoing Green Foundation to work on the rights of the mentally disabled. For the first few years of his work, Rosenthal believed that, "If I could just write the perfect human rights report, other NGOs would pick up the issue." He realized quickly that he would need to build his own human rights organization, focused on the extreme violations he witnessed around the world, if any progress were to be made to protect the rights of this vulnerable group.

In the past 15 years, Rosenthal's organization has documented violations in many countries, using video evidence of the severe mistreatment of individuals in state institutions, including extended isolation, restraints and shock therapy. MDRI was a key advocate in the elaboration and adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006), a treaty which, according to Rosenthal, has guarantees for mentally disabled persons that are broader than almost any government currently has in its own national laws.
Rosenthal and MDRI will receive the 2009 Human Rights Award of the American Psychiatric Association for "overall career and life achievement as a champion of human rights."
Rosenthal's advice to emerging human rights advocates is to do field work ("Get as close to the problem as you can"), and to address real human suffering by finding a problem that compels you, determine what skills you need to address the problem and then gaining those skills.

A Post-Conflict Miracle - President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Visits the University of Minnesota

(SHAUN CURRY/AFP/Getty Images)

Friday, April 10th, a packed crowd of expatriate Liberians, students, professors and
community members gathered at Northrop Auditorium to welcome Liberian President Ellen
Johnson Sirleaf, the first democratically elected woman president of an African nation.
After a rousing performance of the Liberian national anthem, President Ellen Johnson
Sirleaf received the University's highest honor, an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

Dean Brian Atwood of the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute for Public Affairs, a long time
friend and colleague of President Johnson Sirleaf, set the tone for the President's address by
explaining the very special relationship shared between the U.S. and Liberia, and the
extraordinary improvements that the President has brought to her post-conflict country.
The transformation Liberia has undergone over the past three years includes a two billion
dollar international debt reduction, strong efforts to fight corruption, restoration of
infrastructure, scholarships for young girls to attend school and the planned construction of
a new University and three community colleges.
"Perhaps the best progress we have achieved is in restoring hope....the future is ours to
reclaim", President Johnson Sirleaf said to the inspired crowd.
Although President Johnson Sirleaf called upon the large population of Liberians in
Minnesota to return home, she understands the difficulties of repatriation, and would like to
establish some form of permanent status for the Liberians living abroad.
When asked what her secret was to becoming such a powerful, strong willed and determined
woman who has accomplished so many great things, the President responded with "Every
rung on the ladder gives you inspiration that there's another step to reach."

Thursday, April 2, 2009

University of Minnesota To Welcome Two Distinguished Human Rights Advocates

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
During the month of April, the University of Minnesota will welcome two very important guests working courageously to promote human dignity and ensure equality. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, will speak on April 10th and Eric Rosenthal, Executive Director of Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI) will speak on April 17. We invite friends of the Human Rights Program to join us in welcoming these two distinguished guests.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will engage in conversation with Humphrey Institute Dean J. Brian Atwood about the current challenges facing her homeland at Northrop Memorial Auditorium on Friday, April 10th at 2:00 pm. President Johnson Sirleaf, internationally known as Africa’s “Iron Lady,” is the first woman to be democratically elected to lead an African nation. She has previously held several positions at the United Nations, including serving as the first woman to lead the Development Project for Africa.

Under Samuel Doe’s military dictatorship, Johnson Sirleaf was sentenced to 10 years of prison for treason and lived in exile in Kenya until his assassination in 1990. Gaining political recognition as an active member of Liberia’s transitional government established after the civil war, Johnson Sirleaf ran for presidency in 2005 and was elected on November 23, 2005. Since, President Johnson Sirleaf has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civil award, for her personal courage and unwavering commitment to expand freedom for and improve the lives of people in Liberia and across Africa.
Information on acquiring tickets to this FREE event can be found at http://www.hhh.umn.edu/news/carlson/. The lecture is part of the Humphrey Institute’s Distinguished Carlson Lecture Series.
Eric Rosenthal will speak on Friday, April 17th from 12:00 to 1:15 at the University’s Mayo Building, Room 3-1000 (University’s East Bank, 420 Delaware Street, SE). Rosenthal is a renowned human rights lawyer who has devoted his life to advocate against the inhumane ways in which people with mental disabilities are treated. Rosenthal’s volunteer work at a psychiatric hospital during his undergraduate studies and his visit to Ramirez Moreno, a psychiatric institution in Mexico City, led him to ask the crucial question of how our society can best protect the rights of people with disabilities
After gaining a law degree from Georgetown, Rosenthal worked as a human rights lawyer with the Chiapas of Mexico. He became conscious that the abuse of people with mental disabilities was usually considered as a social issue, but never as a human rights issue. In 1993, Rosenthal founded Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI), which works to promote the human rights and full participation in society of people with mental disabilities worldwide.
Rosenthal’s talk is FREE and open to the public. Sponsored by the Disabled Student Cultural Center and co-sponsored by the Human Rights Program and the Program in Human Rights and Health.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Minnesota-Mexico Connection

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Barbara Frey visited human rights colleagues in Mexico for a week in March to discuss collaborative possibilities for research and training regarding reforms to the criminal justice system in Mexico. Frey was the guest of FLACSO-Mexico (Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales), a graduate institute in social sciences with which the Human Rights Program has a partnership. Frey and her FLACSO colleagues met with several experts in law schools, the courts, and the federal public defenders office to discuss the human rights effects of the penal reforms.

In 2008, Mexico amended its Constitution to require a dramatic reform to the penal procedure, including a shift from an inquisitorial, or written procedural, to an oral adversarial procedure with stricter requirements to protect due process. Whether those reforms are implemented in a manner which truly protects human rights is a concern that our Mexico-Minnesota collaboration seeks to address. Over the next year, the Human Rights Program and FLACSO-Mexico faculty will put together a program of research and training on how judicial power in Mexico can be used to ensure due process in the criminal justice system, especially in the face of public security concerns.
As part of this collaboration, the Human Rights Program is pleased to host a visit in July-August 2009 by FLACSO Political Science Professor, Karina Ansolabehere. Professor Ansolabehere is an expert on the political culture of the Mexican judiciary. In addition, Hollie Nyseth, a Human Rights Minor from the University of Minnesota, will spend six weeks in Mexico this summer at the Mexico City Human Rights Commission researching the human rights impacts of the criminal justice reforms.

International Womens Day 2009: Celebrating Women Around the World

International Women's Day 2009 was a great success, drawing over 600 participants from across the state, nation and world. The annual event provides an opportunity for women and men to connect and discuss current issues affecting our local and global communities. Fahima Vorgetts, Women for Afghan Women, and Professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, University of Minnesota Law School, opened the day by addressing the many issues facing women in conflict and post-conflict societies.

"The more things change, the more they are the same" commented Professor Ní Aoláin; reflecting on the conditions women face within the context of war. Sexual violence, irreparable reproductive ramifications, likelihood of becoming a refugee or internally displaced and disproportionate economic repercussions, are a systematic reality for women in the context of war. Although women bear the burden of war there is an incredible lack of women's involvement in resolution and peace agreement efforts. Professor Ní Aoláin described the pre-agreement, formal peace agreement and post-agreement processes of conflict resolution as male dominated and often detrimental to the status of women in transitional societies. Not only do the post-conflict processes marginalize the power of women in society, their ambiguity often leads to confusion, misunderstandings and unrealistic demands. In the future, Professor Ní Aoláin would like to see a gendered approach to conflict resolution that looks beyond the Western model of repair.

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Right to Left: Cheryl Thomas, Fahima Vorgetts, Barbara Frey, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin (Photo Courtesy of Alex Philstrom)

Vorgetts' passion for the women of Afghanistan shone through as she addressed the problems outlined by Professor Ní Aoláin. In 1986, Vorgetts was exiled from her home country of Afghanistan. Returning years later, she found her country devastated by war in which the status of women had greatly deteriorated. "You can never bring peace by gun or bomb", explained Vorgetts as she discussed the consequences faced by the women of Afghanistan as a result of the mujahedeen/Taliban take over and the subsequent invasion by U.S. forces. Vorgetts highlighted the important issues the women of Afghanistan must battle on a daily basis; the lack of girl's education, domestic violence, impunity for abusive husbands and imprisonment for leaving the home. Fahima Vorgetts' organization, Women for Afghan Women (WAW), has been working to help the women of Afghanistan through community outreach and human rights advocacy. WAW has built schools, offered classes for parents, started sewing initiatives to provide economic independence, and offered vocational training.
After the opening ceremony the crowd dispersed to enjoy the day's activities which included various workshops, films and art exhibits that addressed issues concerning young Latina leadership, immigration policy and its affect on children and families, sex trafficking in Minnesota, reproductive rights in light of the new administration, HIV/AIDS, women's activism in the Muslim world and many more issues facing women today.
"Seeing people being open about things that are important in women's lives that we aren't allowed to talk about where I'm from or in my family was empowering for me and enabled me to see what I can be like someday -- an advocate for these wonderful causes" - Participant

Monday, March 23, 2009

Women bear the brunt of conflicts, but are too often ignored in constructing the 'peace'

Barbara Frey highlights the importance of the role women play in conflict and post-conflict societies, an issue that was addressed by Fahima Vorgets from Women for Afghan Women and professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin at this year's International Women's Day.

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Monday, February 9, 2009

UN Expert Hears Moving Testimony from Hmong Families on Grave Desecrations in Thailand

PaChia Yang reports on the consultation with United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights, James Anaya and the gripping testimonies given by local Hmong residents affected by the exhumation of their relative’s graves at Wat Tham Krabok in Thailand.

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Grief Renewed for Hmong

Reporter Jean Hopfensperger writes on the hearing presented before the UN expert, James Anaya, addressing the exhumed graves of local Hmong family members in Thailand. This special hearing was prompted by a complaint written by the Human Rights Program on behalf of the Hmong families.

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Minnesotans Play a role in Obama's ban on Torture

Reporter Sharon Schmickle writes about the role of Minnesotans, including the Center for Victims of Torture and the Human Rights Program, and their work to ban torture and to repair the credibility of international law as a means to promote human rights.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Child Protection International (CPI) Becomes a Class Project

Undergraduate students in the Human Rights Internship class in the Institute for Global Studies are working to
address and prevent child abduction in South Sudan. The 28 students in the class have are working closely with
board members of Child Protection International, an NGO created in 2008 after their experience on the “Save Yar

The focus of the work this semester is to encourage universal birth registration in South Sudan. Birth registration
is the first legal acknowledgment of a child’s existence and provides access to immunization, health care, and education. Having a legitimate birth certificate ensures a child’s identity, nationality and name and also protects children
from sexual, economic, and military exploitation. The right to birth register is guaranteed in Article 7 of the
Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is a fundamental step toward protecting children from disappearing
without a trace, as too often happens through inter-tribal abduction and/or enforced military recruitment of children.

Students in the human rights class, under the direction of Professor Barbara Frey, have begun to map out their
strategy for putting the birth registration campaign into action. The class has decided to use the strategies of research
and advocacy to bring attention to the issue of child abduction and the importance of having wide spread
birth registration. The class has split into three working groups where they will be researching the work of other
NGO’s as potential allies on birth registration, UN mechanisms, and the role of the governments of South Sudan
and the United States in guaranteeing that all children are registered. By bringing awareness and making an effort
to get international involvement and support CPI and the class hopes to continue and expand the work and mission
of protecting children everywhere.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Join Us in Celebrating the 14th Annual International Women's Day on March 14th, 2009

"Peace is inextricably linked with equality between women and men, and with development…If women are to play an equal part in securing and maintaining peace, they must be empowered politically and economically and represented adequately at all levels of decision-making." (from Summary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action)

Inspired by the 1995 U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing, our 14th Annual International Women’s Day event is designed to celebrate the diversity of Minnesota women and increase understanding and tolerance in our community; to encourage activism; and to highlight human rights issues that affect women and girls locally, nationally and internationally. This year’s event includes a focus on women and war – how armed conflict impacts women’s lives and how women play a critical role in advancing peace around the world. We welcome University of Minnesota Law School Professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, who will provide a global perspective on international policies and practices on women in conflict and post-conflict situations, and Fahima Vorgetts, long-time activist on behalf of women in her home country, Afghanistan, and director of the Afghan Women’s Fund. Their presentation will include a discussion of the effectiveness of UN Security Council Resolutions 1325 (2000) and 1820 (2008) as they relate to women, war, sexual violence, and peace-building.


Fahima Vorgetts in Afghanistan

Our 2009 theme, Transforming the World through Women’s Voices, highlights the critical role women play in creating a world of equality, non-violence and justice for all. We will raise our voices in song with two local musicians as we begin the day and continue to speak out in the many workshops addressing human rights issues of women and girls. At the end of the day, we will view a segment of “We Will Harbor You,� a locally-produced film that portrays the activism of Minnesota women who broke the silence around domestic violence and gave birth to the battered women’s shelter movement.
Some of the workshops include:
Women’s Activism in the Muslim World
The typical image of the Muslim woman in Western media is veiled, quiet, married very early in life, and lacking decision-making power. The media concentrate stories on the veil and female genital cutting, but not on the diversity of views that Muslim women hold on these topics. Women’s agency in many Muslim societies often goes under-reported. However, there are a number of women’s organizations in Muslim countries that seek to place women’s rights on the public agenda. This workshop seeks to contrast the Western media portrayal of women in the Muslim world with the varying forms of activism which currently exist.
Dr. Leila DeVriese, Hamline University
A New Era for Reproductive Rights Here and Abroad:
The Obama Administration, the Supreme Court and Health Care Reform
Lifting the global gag rule, reinstating $235 million in family planning funding to the UNFPA, and moving forward with stem cell research are just a few reversals with the change from the Bush to the Obama administrations. But in light of the current make up of the Supreme Court, do we still need to be concerned about the future of Roe v. Wade? A huge population of young women uses family planning clinics as their primary care provider in lieu of a personal or family doctor. Where do these young women and their reproductive health fit into the new models of health care reform? This workshop will take an overall look locally, nationally and internationally at the new future of reproductive health.
Sarah Craven, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
Tim Stanley, Planned Parenthood of MN, ND, SD
Representative Erin Murphy, Minnesota House Health & Human Services Committee
Kathleen Murphy, Midwest Health Center for Women
¡Ubícate! Engaging Young Latinas in Leadership
This workshop, presented by Casa de Esperanza’s Latina Youth Peer Educators, is an opportunity for organizations that work with Latina youths or are interested in creating a peer education program for Latino youth to learn firsthand the issues affecting young Latinas in Minnesota and the impact that participation in this program has had on Latina youth. The Peer Education Initiative is a tool to encourage the self-development of Latina youth through peer education by enhancing their abilities to identify their own strengths and talents and to use them in educating other youths about topics important to Latino youth, including healthy relationships, teen dating violence, self-esteem and body image and gender roles in the media.
Lumarie Orozco and peer educators Kimberly Cedillo, Jessica Limontitla, Alejandra Mejia, Alejandra Ortiz, Chelsea Spellerberg and Erika Vasquez, Casa de Esperanza

Here’s Where We Start: How Men Can Help Prevent Sexual and Domestic Violence.

This workshop will explore the environment in which sexual and domestic violence flourishes and identify five social norms which support it. Using a public health model of primary prevention, the presentation will provide participants with opportunities for action and suggestions for solutions. It will also explain how the Minnestoa Men’s Action Network is working statewide to involve men in this effort.
Frank Jewell, Men as Peacemakers, and Chuck Derry, Gender Violence Institute
Sex Trafficking in Minnesota: Past, Present and Future
This interactive session will discuss historical and recent responses to prostitution and what we now call sex trafficking in Minnesota by comparing and contrasting responses at the federal and state levels. It will also explore current grassroots and legislative advocacy on this issue in Minnesota. Presenters will equip participants with tools to dispel myths about sex trafficking and prostitution, to raise awareness of the needs of trafficked and prostituted persons, and to prevent this grave human rights violation.
Mary C. Ellison, The Advocates for Human Rights, and Angela Bortel, The Bortel Firm, LLC
Join us as we celebrate the many signs of hope and strength that women’s voices bring to a world yearning for peace and justice.
Saturday, March 14th 2009
Coffman Memorial Union – University of Minnesota
300 Washington Avenue SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455