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Friday, November 30, 2012

Human Rights Week

writeforrights.jpgThe Human Rights Program Student Advisory Board has organized a week-long series of events that include a multimedia art exhibit, a spoken word night, a critical discussion, a film screening, and a write-a-thon. They hope to engage with the student body and broader community on human rights issues and share their passion for human rights work by reaching out on campus through these diverse activities. Continue reading for more information about each of the five events.


Monday, December 3rd: Tents of Witness: Genocide and Conflict
Where: Wiley Foyer
When: 9:00 am - 3:00 pm
Tents of Witness: Genocide and Conflict is a multimedia, multicultural, multigenerational exhibit designed to educate people about genocide; explain the causes and consequences of genocide; present action steps to prevent it; and remember those in our own communities who have fled from these atrocities and whose families and communities have been destroyed. Tents of Witness features ten 8' x 12' painted canvas tents that simulate those used in refugee camps. The tents depict the story of different groups persecuted based on their identity: race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin. The stories are of the conflicts suffered by the Jews and others targeted in the Holocaust; Native Americans; and the catastrophes in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, North Korea, Darfur, Argentina, Sri Lanka, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The tents house slides depicting the cultures prior to the violence, as well as details about the conflicts, their repercussions, and the reconciliation efforts in their aftermaths. The Tents of Witness is a traveling exhibit from the nonprofit World Without Genocide at William Mitchell College of Law, in St. Paul.
Tuesday, December 4th: A Night of Spoken Word
Where: Mapps Coffee, 1810 Riverside Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55454
When: 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
The Human Rights Program Student Advisory Board will be hosting an Open Mic Night featuring performers on LGBT rights and other social justice issues in the United States. Everyone is welcome to join us at Mapps Coffee on West, from 6 to 8pm. Come perform poetry, sing, act, or just enjoy a cup of coffee while listening to talented and passionate individuals! The Human Rights Student Advisory Board will also present critical information on discrimination issues in Minnesota state courts, and provide attendees with resources to address their representatives concerning this topic.
Wednesday, December 5th: A Critical Discussion on Human Rights in North Korea
Where: Blegen, Room 135
When: 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Throughout the last 50 years, the American media has focused its energies on the cold war politics surrounding North Korea by depicting threats of nuclear weapons, treating its corrupt leaders as tabloid topics, and failing to bring to light the struggle of the North Korean people. Vicious human rights atrocities plague North Koreans as they fight to find ways around the devastating oppression of the current ruling regime. Through a PowerPoint, video clips, and a discussion, the Student Advisory Board hopes to educate students at the UofM about the critical human rights condition in North Korea, and on the innovative and courageous efforts of the North Korean people to combat the repressive regime ruling them.
Thursday, December 6th: Black Gold: A Film Screening and Discussion
Where: Hanson, Room 109
When: 4:45 pm - 6:30 pm
Witness a man's riveting fight for justice as an Ethiopian farmer in the coffee industry through this highly acclaimed documentary. Multinational coffee companies now rule our shopping malls and supermarkets and dominate the industry worth over $80 billion, making coffee the most valuable trading commodity in the world after oil. But while we continue to pay for our lattes and cappuccinos, the price paid to coffee farmers remains so low that many have been forced to abandon their coffee fields. The story of Tadesse Meskela reveals the enormous power of the multinational players that dominate the world's coffee trade. An official selection of the Sundance Film Festival, Black Gold has been called "Riveting and jaw-dropping" by the LA Times, and the Daily Telegraph announces the documentary as "Remarkable--a moving but scandalous story. It has extraordinary power." Join the Student Advisory Board at a screening of this film and enjoy free, fair trade coffee in a handmade mug that each attendee can take home with them to remember their experience (the mugs are limited to the first 50 people).
Friday, December 7th: Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon
Where: Willey Foyer and Coffman Memorial Union, Basement
When: 11:00 am - 2:00 pm
Join Amnesty International and the Human Rights Program Student Advisory Board in participating in one of the largest human rights campaigns in the world: Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon. This year we will be coming together to allow students to write to their representatives on a range of human rights issues. Join us at Willey Foyer or Coffman Memorial Union on Friday, December 7th, to stand up for human rights!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Judge Tunheim on Human Rights, Classified Information, and Terrorism Cases

tunheim.jpgOn November 26, Judge John Tunheim was hosted as a featured guest in the Human Rights and Terrorism Speaker Series. Judge Tunheim is a Federal District Court Judge in Minnesota noted for presiding over, among others, the case of Mohammed Abdullah Warsame, who was accused of materially aiding a terrorist organization. Tunheim's past work includes serving as the chair of the U.S. Assassination Records Review Board where he was in charge of declassifying government documents on the JFK assassination and serving as the Minnesota Chief Deputy Attorney General. Judge Tunheim has also spent a considerable amount of time working on rule of law issues in places such as Kosovo as well as Uzbekistan where he has been working with senior government officials on protecting the rights of defendants in criminal court under a human rights framework.

During his talk, Judge Tunheim focused in on the three issues he has seen in the way U.S. federal courts handle terrorism cases. First is the problem of classified information. Tunheim detailed how tedious the process of becoming cleared to hear classified information is and then how long the process of admitting that information to the court is if and when there are appeals to the substituted information. Substituted information is information that will disclose the nature of what is in classified documents without revealing information that is truly sensitive - the decision process for which can be lengthy and contentious (for example, two years in the Warsame case). A solution to this problem, as Tunheim suggested, might be getting the judge and prosecutor together and deciding at that time what substitutions can be made.
Next is the problem of the drawn out pace of terrorism cases. The U.S. government has little incentive to move cases along quickly, because that would force them to limit the evidence that will be used. Judges can choose to suppress evidence that may have been obtained illegally. The prosecution has the right to appeal decisions to suppress evidence, and the appeals process can take up to two years to resolve.
The final problem touched on by Tunheim was pre-trial detention. While most suspects of terrorism are released before trial, there are instances where the rights of detainees are not respected. This is evident in the Warsame case where he was placed in solitary confinement for all but 30 minutes per day. Closely related, and brought up by an audience member was the possibility of recourse in the criminal justice system for those who allege they were victims of torture while detained. Judge Tunheim stated that while a judge can refer officials for prosecution in the case of torture allegations, many of those officials avoid prosecution by leaving the country.
The message that Judge Tunheim advocates is that when it comes to trying suspects in cases of terrorism we must send the international community the message that we are not afraid to give these suspects the same rights as others despite the serious accusations brought against them.
Written by Max Kaufman.

Monday, November 19, 2012

U of M Human Rights Program Receives $1.25 Million USAID Grant

medellin.jpgThe University of Minnesota has received a $1.25 million grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through Higher Education for Development (HED), to create a human rights law school partnership between the university and four law schools in Medellín, Colombia, to strengthen the capacities of the Medellín schools to teach, research and provide clinical legal representation toward the promotion of international human rights and the rule of law.




The grant covers three years of partnership, which will be carried out by the university's Human Rights Program in the College of Liberal Arts and the Human Rights Center in the Law School. Faculty in both colleges will conduct workshops and teach courses in Medellín, and Colombian law students and faculty will travel to the university to learn about human rights law and practice and to cultivate mentor relationships with faculty and human rights professionals.
"We are eager to partner with law students and faculty from Medellin," says Barbara Frey, director of the U's Human Rights Program. "We know it will be an exciting and rewarding experience working with faculty and students who are committed to the rule of law as an alternative to violence in Colombia. We will certainly learn as much as we will teach."
Colombia is one of the oldest democracies in Latin America, but has seen intense armed conflicts over the past 50 years involving insurgents and paramilitary groups, along with criminal and narcotics trafficking organizations. With the implementation of a free-trade agreement between the U.S. and Colombia in May, and the start of peace talks between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government last month, the U.S. State Department and USAID are supporting Colombia's efforts to strengthen its democratic institutions, promote respect for human rights and the rule of law, foster socio-economic development, address immediate humanitarian needs, and end the threats to democracy posed by narcotics trafficking and terrorism.
The four law school partners in Medellín are: Universidad de Medellín, Universidad de Antioquia, Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana and Universidad Católica de Oriente.
Human rights education is embedded in numerous units at the University of Minnesota. The Human Rights Program in the College of Liberal Arts and the Human Rights Center at the Law School form the intellectual core of human rights education at the university. Faculty members in the College of Liberal Arts are internationally known for their expertise on the intersections of human rights with judicial trials, small arms, genocides and atrocities, and cultural histories. Students at the undergraduate and graduate levels combine classroom work with activism, regularly taking on issues as diverse as meatpackers' working conditions, sex trafficking and prolonged solitary confinement.
The Law School houses the Human Rights Center, which assists human rights advocates, monitors, students, educators, and volunteers in accessing effective tools, practices, and networks to promote a culture of human rights and responsibilities in our local, national, and international communities. Their faculty and students routinely partner with the United Nations on human rights monitoring and education. One of its most far-reaching projects is its online Human Rights Library, which houses critical legal resources in Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Spanish, and other languages.
To build upon their mutual interest and expertise in human rights more than 50 faculty members spanning at least six colleges - including education, law, liberal arts, medicine, public affairs and public health - have come together through a voluntary collaboration known as "The Human Rights University." The collaboration seeks to mobilize knowledge to advance human rights.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) administers the U.S. foreign assistance program providing economic and humanitarian assistance in more than 80 countries worldwide. For more information, visit www.usaid.gov.
Higher Education for Development (HED) mobilizes the expertise and resources of the higher education community to address global development challenges. Higher Education for Development (HED) works closely with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and is founded by the nation's six presidential higher education associations to support the involvement of higher education in development issues worldwide.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Strategic Convening on Solitary Confinement Highlights the Work of Activists Nationwide

convening.jpgThe Midwest Coalition for Human Rights' national strategic convening on solitary confinement, held at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, brought together more than 100 academics, activists, survivors, and community organizers. The one-day conference featured keynote speakers Terry Kupers, Institute Professor at The Wright Institute and Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, who provided an overview of the detrimental mental health impacts of solitary confinement, and Robert King, a political prisoner who spent 29 years in solitary confinement, who gave personal testimony about his time in prison.

The conference also included panel discussions on the use of solitary confinement in supermax facilities, immigrant detention facilities, and juvenile detention facilities. These panel discussions led to breakout strategy sessions. The breakout strategy sessions served as forums for conference participants to define plans of action and discuss tactical options, including FOIA requests, grassroots mobilization, use of the media, opportunity evaluation, and creative forms of advocacy. Following the breakout sessions, the group came back together to debrief and discuss remaining questions and next steps.
The event wrapped up with a trip to the Sullivan Galleries at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which features an exhibit on the Tamms Year Ten Campaign, a grassroots movements that has called for the closing of Tamms Closed Maximum Security Unit, a detention facility in southern Illinois that holds inmates in solitary confinement. During this evening session, the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights presented an award recognizing Senator Dick Durbin's work to expose inhumane use of solitary confinement in the United States.
Solitary confinement is also called administrative segregation, isolation, lockdown, and SHU, which stands for security housing unit. Though it is difficult to determine exactly how many people are held in solitary confinement in the United States, the estimate used at the conference was 80,000. Detention facilities rarely have published clear guidelines as to why and for how long an inmate can be put into solitary confinement. Solitary confinement has been shown to exacerbate preexisting mental illnesses and to cause significant mental harm to previously mentally healthy individuals. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment Juan Mendez has stated that no one should be held in solitary confinement for longer than 15 days, citing the high likelihood of permanent mental damage after that period.
Proponents of solitary confinement argue that the practice is necessary to ensure control over unruly prisoners. Many detention facilities around the country have eliminated their solitary confinement units, and rather than facing more violence, these facilities have actually experienced an overall decline in violence.
The convening successfully gathered together activists from across regions and disciplines to discuss what can be done to bring about the end of the cruel practice of solitary confinement in the United States. For more information on the work that is currently being done on this issue, visit the websites of conference participants The National Immigrant Justice Center, The National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and Tamms Year Ten.
Written by Whitney Taylor.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Role of Health Professionals in Detainee Interrogation

On December 25, 2003, Mohammed Jawad, an Afghani teenager held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, repeatedly banged his head against the metal structures of his cell in an effort to kill himself. Continue reading...

Monday, November 5, 2012

Democracy and Human Rights in Post-Election Mexico

mexico.jpgFrancisco Valdes, Director General of Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO), visited campus on Monday October 29th along with Joy Langston, Professor of Political Science at Centro de Investigacion y Docencia Economicas (CIDE), to discuss the state of Democracy and Human Rights in Post-election Mexico. Mexico's election has reinstated the PRI the previously hegemonic party that was defeated for the first time in 70 year in 2000. Since this reinstatement many questions have surfaced about the state of constitutional and political rights in Mexico.

Francisco Valdes is a specialist on constitutional reform and politics in Latin America and is a regular columnist in Mexico City's Universal paper. Valdes emphasized that there have been important electoral and judicial changes in Mexican politics since the hegemonic stage of the PRI. The most important changes Valdes pointed out were the existence of competitive elections and an independent Supreme Court. Despite these improvements Valdes argued that once in office the PAN did not change the nature of governance in Mexico. He points to the main reasons for this lack of accountability is behind the constitutional provisions of no re-election for officials and a high concentration of power in the national government. Valdes characterized the current political situation as one of democratic access but authoritative rule.
Joy Langston is the leading authority on the PRI in Mexico. She specifically talked to what the main concerns are now, including that the PRI has retaken control of the Presidency and the majority of governorships in Mexico. Langston emphasized that signs point to a significant change in the PRI since their previous PRI administrations. Most notably they now have to work in a democratically competitive environment. One major question Langston addressed is whether the PRI will negotiate with drug cartels. She held that it was doubtful there could be a return to former PRI status quo in dealing with drug cartels. This status quo was an agreement of non-intervention as long as there was no public violence and the drugs were kept out of Mexican streets and sold to the United States. Langston pointed out that now the drug cartels are much wealthier and more fragmented, particularly the Zetas, because of Calderon's policies. This fragmentation makes negotiation difficult if not impossible. Langston pointed to current president elect Enrique Pena Nieto's promises to bring down violence and focusing on crimes against society such as kidnapping and extortion as the only major indications that have been given about his drug policy. Most importantly Langston emphasized that the PRI now has to deal with an independent Supreme Court and will be expected to deliver some form of structural reforms.
In direct relation to the human rights situation in Mexico, Valdes and Langston both emphasized that major problems are a lack of access to the judicial system and public financing of parties. They explained that beyond the Supreme Court the judicial system remains very weak and changing it would prove very costly. They also explained that the public financing system allows governors large amounts of expendable cash allowing for the financing of local elections and ensuring that the PRI is able to retain a majority in governorships and local elections. There are however increasing steps towards reform because of the new electoral competitiveness. Most notably with drug policy is the recent Supreme Court ruling that ensures armed forces that commit crimes against civilians will be tried in civilian and not military courts. Hopefully these developments point towards a continued strengthening of the legal system in Mexico.
Valdes and Langston both painted a picture of Mexican democracy that is changing and involving. Although they have returned to the PRI it is hardly the same situation that was in place the last time they ruled. It will be interesting to follow the developments under this new PRI and a Mexico with stronger electoral competition and judicial independence.
Written by Carly Dooley.