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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