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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