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Friday, December 14, 2012

Human Rights Program Student Advisory Board Brings Together Students, Faculty, and Community Members for Human Rights Week

tents.jpgDuring the week of December 3rd - 7th, the Human Rights Program Student Advisory Board organized a diverse series of events with the aim of spreading knowledge of human rights issues and facilitating student engagement on campus. The events varied from a multimedia exhibit to a night of performing arts to documentary screening and presentations, and each was a huge success!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

University of Minnesota-Colombia Project Underway

colombia.jpgThe University of Minnesota and Medellín, Colombia law schools partnership kicked off when Human Rights Program Director Barbara Frey and Humphrey Fellow Diana Quintero traveled to Medellín during the first week of December. Frey and Quintero met with the deans of all four law schools involved in the project to finalize objectives. This successful trip is the first step in a nearly three year USAID High Education for Development project designed to strengthen the capacities of the Colombian law schools to teach, research, and provide clinical legal representation toward the promotion of international human rights.


Read more about the partnership here.

Human rights graduate minor Hollie Nyseth Brehm's article on the crime of genocide published in the Society Pages

Rain pelted the side of the empty school building, drowning out all other sounds. In the distance I could see lightning strike across the rolling green hills. The weather couldn't have fit the situation better. For even though the classrooms were vacant, they were far from empty--they held the corpses of over 800 people killed in the 1994 genocide perpetrated against Tutsis in Rwanda. Continue reading...

Beneath the Blindfold: A Survivor-Oriented Discussion of Torture

beneath.jpgTrekking through more than a foot of snow, dozens of University of Minnesota students and members of the human rights community gathered together on Monday night for a showing of Beneath the Blindfold: Four Survivors, One Truth. A panel discussion featuring filmmaker Ines Sommer, Center for Victims of Torture director Curt Goering, Advocates for Human Rights director Robin Phillips, Human Rights Center co-director Kristi Rudelius-Palmer, and survivor Blama Massaquoi followed the screening. The panelists lauded the efforts of organizations such as the Center for Victims of Torture and the Kovler Center and urged audience members to take action, by simply starting conversations about the use of torture or by calling legislators to ask them to stand up against torture or by volunteering in any way possible.

This profoundly humbling film follows four heart-wrenching stories of surviving, not thriving, surviving; of making it through one more day, always one more day; of living through the worst and continuing to care, to work, to heal, to fight for the world that could be, the world that should be--one free of torture. Hector Aristizábal, a therapist, actor, and activist, was tortured by the Colombian military in the 1980s. He continues to act, often leading therapy sessions that draw heavily on acting, and he also campaigns against the School of the Americas and the use of torture in general. Donald Vance, a Navy veteran from Chicago, worked as a security contractor in Iraq. After informing the FBI that he had witnessed an illegal arms transfer by United States personnel, Vance was detained and tortured. He is currently suing the United States government and Donald Rumsfeld for, among other things, authorizing the use of torture. Matilde de la Sierra currently lives in the Chicago area and spends much of her time protesting United States military involvement in the Middle East. de la Sierra formerly worked as a physician in rural Guatemala before being abducted and tortured by a militia. Blama Massaquoi, who was born in Liberia are forced to fight as a child soldier at 15 years old. After being captured by a rebel military group, he was made to drink a substance, likely lye, that destroyed his esophagus. Massaquoi is currently living in Minnesota and is attending college.
The post-film discussion emphasized the importance of bringing the voices of victims and survivors into the conversation about torture. Sommer noted that one of the reasons she and co-director Kathy Berger began to create Beneath the Blindfold was their reaction to the fact that analyses of the Abu Ghraib photos tended to refer only to the perpetrators and whether they were bad apples or products of the system. While perpetrator-focused questions are important, when the conversation lacks reference to the victims, half of the story is missing. Goering reminded the audience that we often get lost in statistics, but each number indicates one person, one human life torn apart by torture.
The panelists also brought up the importance of educating the public, especially young people. In light of media representations of torture, such as those in 24 and those thought to be part of the soon-to-be-released Zero Dark Thirty, critical observation becomes more important than ever. Sommer and Berger have developed a 53-minute version of the film specifically for use in high schools. Both the Human Rights Center and the Advocates for Human Rights have created human rights education programs targeted at students.
Rudelius-Palmer noted that torture, inhuman, and degrading treatment has become routine procedure in the United States prison system as well. In particular, an unknown number of individuals are held in solitary confinement, a practice that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, has said violates international law.
Later this week, the Senate Select Committee Report on Intelligence will be brought before the full Senate for review. This report considers CIA detention and interrogation practices. While full release of the report to the public is highly unlikely, the report might be release in part in the future.
In the words of survivor Donald Vance, "I really don't care what country you're from, I don't care what color your skin is, I don't care who you pray to. This shouldn't happen to anyone. Period." It is estimated that between 120 and 150 countries practice torture, including the United States.
Visit http://www.beneaththeblindfold.org/ for more information about the film, and visit the websites of the Center for Victims of Torture, the Advocates for Human Rights, and the Human Rights Center to learn how these organizations are working to end the use of torture at home and abroad.
Written by Whitney Taylor.

Human Rights Program Director Barbara Frey on the Daily Circuit Friday Roundtable

Director Frey joined Eric Schwartz, Dean of the Humphrey School, and Hick Hayes, Professor of History at Saint John's University, to discuss the controversy over Susan Rice, the ethics of drones and other foreign policy challenges facing President Barack Obama as he prepares for his second term. Listen here.

Friday, December 7, 2012

A dynamic year of indigenous communication: Indigenous media is a tool for self-determination, emancipation and revival of dying languages.

Quito, Ecuador - Some people in the US were not keen at all on the Geronimo codename given to the final military operation against Osama bin Laden. Native Americans were understandably upset. Continue reading...

Thursday, December 6, 2012

General Cullen: Military Commissions Are A Damaged Brand

cullen1.jpgFormer Chief Judge (IMA) of the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals General James Cullen rounded out the 2012 Terrorism and Human Rights Speaker Series. In 2004, along with seven other retired officers, General Cullen called on President Bush to allegations of torture and other abuse of prisoners in U.S. military custody. In his presentation on Monday, Cullen delved into the background, scope, and viable of military commissions, especially in the aftermath of 9/11. The federal courts, not military commissions, Cullen argued, are the best place to try suspected terrorists.


Discussions about military commissions tend to be proxies for discussions about other issues, including Presidential power, Congressional power, and the status of habeas corpus. Military commissions have British origins, and historically, they have been used around the world to ensure specific outcomes at the expense of respect for rule of law.
Recent use of military commissions in the United States began with the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force. The United States military did not request that military commissions be set up, and, especially among those in the Judge Advocate General's Corps, there were concerns about rules of procedure and evidence as well as for the rights of the accused. Cullen specifically pointed to the fact that evidence obtained by tortured was formally allowed and the fact that civilian defense counsel access to evidence was severely limited.
Cullen noted that military doctrine demands two things: protection of forces and exploitation of intelligence. When individuals are picked up for routine questioning, guidelines suggest that they not be held for more than three days unless they are an imminent threat or have relevant information. Holding individuals longer than three days or treating them poorly can create enemies from those previously uninvolved or unnecessarily destabilize the region in question.
Cullen further argued that using military commissions to try suspected terrorists gives legitimacy, casting even convicted terrorists as warriors or martyrs rather than criminals. Moreover, the most recent military commissions conducted by the United States military took place during World War II. Consequently, the present-day lacks expertise, whereas those involved in the federal court system, from judges to FBI agents, have experience trying terrorism, conspiracy, and material support cases. Additionally, federal courts have been better able to get convictions on terrorism cases than military commissions.
Ending the use of military commissions also will improve relations with foreign governments. These foreign governments are more likely to cooperate, in terms of transferring defendants, witness, and evidence, when the United States tries terrorism cases in the federal courts, according to Cullen. Currently, there are 48 Guantanamo Bay detainees said to be unable to be tried in the military commissions. When asked how the United States can transition from the use of military commissions to federal courts, Cullen said that what is most needed is political will.
Written by Whitney Taylor.

Massachusetts Court Orders Greater Protections for Prisoners in Solitary Confinement

On Tuesday, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that the state Department of Corrections (DOC) can no longer use labels such as "administrative segregation" as an end-run around legal protections designed to prevent prisoners from being held in solitary confinement without end and without due process. Continue reading...