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Monday, April 22, 2013

HRP Announces New Scribe for Human Rights: Lalinne Suon Bell

Lalinne.jpgThe Human Rights Program is thrilled to announce Lalinne Suon Bell, an MFA candidate in creative nonfiction, as the 2013 Scribe for Human Rights. She received her B.A. from Gustavus Adolphus College, majoring in Classics and minoring in Political Science. Prior to beginning her MFA, Bell worked as the Fund Development Director and Grant Writer at the United Cambodian Association of Minnesota, Human Services Representative for Hennepin Country, and as a Financial Specialist for Dakota County, where she conducted needs assessments with regard to economic, social, and health-related issues.

Bell will spend three weeks in Cambodia this summer at the Somaly Mam Foundation, where she swill offer creative writing lessons to the girls and women who were rescued from forced prostitution. While in Phnom Penh, she will learn about the working currently undertaken to combat human trafficking in Cambodia and the efforts survivors of trafficking have made to empower themselves and regain their dignity. Upon returning to Minnesota in the fall, Bell will organize a human rights literary event, during which she will share her experiences in Cambodia and seek to raise money for the Somaly Mam Foundation.
"This project is just the beginning of that journey for me," said Bell. "It is a journey of personal and professional exploration. It is a journey that I likely will spend my entire life pursuing. Not only do I want to bring greater awareness of this issue to the broader audience, I want, in the long run, to use the research, awareness, and stories I get to compile into a book-length collection of true stories of unheard heroes, the survivors of modern-day slavery."
Written by Whitney Taylor.

Third Annual He(art) Show Raises Over $1,300

heartshow.jpgThe He(art) Show, an annual art show that raises funds for different human rights organizations, took place this past Friday, April 19. This year, the event addressed LGBTQ discrimination in all forms, and featured dance and poetry performances, visual art pieces of many different mediums, and live music from a wide range of genres. The atmosphere was fun, colorful, creative, and supportive, the artwork was beautiful, and the performances were moving. Those who came enjoyed great company, good food, and creative inspiration, all while gaining a deeper understanding of the social justice issues surrounding LGBTQ rights and of the destructive and sometimes devastating consequences of homophobia and transphobia. Proceeds from the event, totaling over $1,300, were donated to the Minnesota Transgender Health Coalition, an organization committed to improving health care access and the quality of health care received by trans and gender nonconforming people through education, resources, and advocacy.

The He(art) Show once again succeeded in showing us how art can be used as a deeply effective means of human rights advocacy. Through the many performances and diverse visual art pieces, the He(art) Show demonstrated how art has an incredible capacity to open up a progressive and inclusive dialogue within a community, and to act as an avenue for positive change. Art also is a means of empowerment, giving courage and a voice to the vulnerable and voiceless. The deeply personal dimension of art gives it the ability to describe the human experience in a way words cannot accomplish, transcending and dissolving societal barriers. The He(art) Show was an inspiring and deeply moving experience for all who attended. A sincere thanks goes out to all who helped in organizing and executing this wonderful event, especially to Ashley Probst and Ashley Monk. We all look forward to attending again next year!
Written by Anna Meteyer.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Nepalese Human Rights Defender Visits U of M

jitman.jpgOn March 27th, the Human Rights Program had the privilege of hosting Mr. Jitman Basnet, a devoted and honorable human rights lawyer and journalist from Nepal, to speak to U of M faculty, staff and students about his experiences as an activist and torture survivor. Mr. Basnet has been working for human rights and transitional justice for fifteen years in Nepal, and has witnessed first-hand the devastating consequences of the civil strife there, whose affects continue to resonate seven years after the conflict's end. Because of his stand against violence and repression during the war, Mr. Basnet suffered detention and severe acts of torture by both sides of the conflict. He was witness to extreme violence at the hands of the Maoist rebel forces, and to army atrocity, torture, mistreatment, enforced disappearances, and killings of detainees in the army barracks.

Upon his release from 258 days of incommunicado detainment by the army, Mr. Basnet worked to save twenty-nine disappeared civilians who had been illegally and secretly detained with him. His unfathomable courage, his incredible commitment to human rights, and his deep loyalty to humanity propelled Mr. Basnet to continue his human rights activism even following his subjection to extreme violations. He persisted in providing eyewitness testimony and helping to direct an invaluable documentary that exposes to the world the terrible atrocities suffered by Nepalese citizens during and following the civil conflict there. The documentary will act as an archive that the brutalities of the war will not be forgotten and that this history will not be repeated. In 2005, after receiving multiple death threats, Mr. Basnet went into exile in India for eighteen months, where he continued to support Nepal's democratic movement.
In his talk, Mr. Basnet described both his past experiences during the conflict and his current work to bring true peace to Nepalese society. Following the atrocities of the civil war, a dominant atmosphere of impunity threatens Nepalese activists' efforts to bring justice and healing to the nation. Violence against women, disregard for press freedom and freedom of expression, and the absence of rule of law persist in the country, and human rights advocates continue to face severe danger. Despite these challenges, Mr. Basnet contains a persevering hope in his country and in humanity as a whole. His enduring love and devotion to humankind following his own first-hand experience of unfathomable cruelty is stunning and humbling. We are immensely grateful to Mr. Basnet for making the journey to Minnesota to share his heartbreaking story, his inspiring will to bring positive change, and his profound hope with us; his words certainly moved all of those who attended.
Mr. Basnet came to speak at the U of M with the help of Peace Brigades International (PBI), an organization that strives to create a symbolic, non-violent, non-partisan barrier between human rights activists and dangerous oppositional forces that threaten them with serious harm. Through their interaction with Mr. Basnet, PBI has worked tirelessly to keep him safe and to facilitate his efforts as an advocate.
Written by Anna Meteyer.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Spring Interdisciplinary Conference Features Undergraduate Research on Human Rights

UIC_L.jpgFaculty, staff, and students gathered on April 4th and 5th to participate in the first annual Undergraduate Interdisciplinary Conference (UIC), hosted by the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies and the Institute for Global Studies. The conference provided students a unique opportunity to showcase their own work and discuss with others what they are working on. Students presented on a range of topics, from sex trafficking in Eastern Europe to Orientalism and the Middle Eastern Cold War to ethanol production in Brazil. Many focused on topics related to human rights and social justice, which is not unexpected: "The study of human rights is one of the signatures of global studies at the University of Minnesota," said Evelyn Davidheiser, Director of the Institute for Global Studies.

The two-day conference featured 31 students, who each gave short presentations of their research and participated in a panel discussion moderated by a faculty member from Global Studies or Spanish and Portuguese Studies. The panel discussions allowed presenters to discuss with others overarching themes and reflect on how to expand their own work. A highlight of the conference was keynote speaker Karina Ansolabehere, a visiting professor in the Institute for Global Studies. A leading voice in the academic study of human rights and democracy in Latin America, Ansolabehere spoke about future challenges for human rights in Mexico. The first annual conference was a success, and preparations are being made to hold another undergraduate conference in the spring of 2014.
Written by Wren Bentley and Whitney Taylor.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Call for Applications: 2013-14 Student Advisory Board

sab.jpgThe Human Rights Program is seeking six talented and creative undergraduate students with a passion for human rights advocacy and scholarship to join the 2013-14 Human Rights Program Student Advisory Board (SAB). SAB members will develop student-led initiatives on current human rights issues, work as partners with the program's director and staff in providing support for existing HRP projects, and serve as HRP ambassadors among U of M students. This is an excellent opportunity for students to hone tangible skills for effective advocacy in the field of human rights, engage network with human rights faculty and staff within the Program and the broader University, and contribute to the HRP through action, advocacy, and leadership.

SAB members will...
• Develop student-led initiatives on current human rights issues.
• Work as partners with the program's director and staff in providing support for existing HRP projects.
• Serve as HRP ambassadors among U of M students.
Who is eligible?
• Must be a full-time undergraduate during the academic year for which you are applying.
• Students from ALL undergraduate majors are encouraged to apply.
• Everyone, from first-semester freshmen to seniors, is welcome to apply.
What are the desired qualifications?
• Commitment to the HRP mission to provide the University with opportunities related to human rights in the classroom, through research, and through direct actions, such as projects, internships, and fellowships.
• Prior organizing, advocacy, activism, and leadership skills.
• Excellent oral and written communication skills.
• Able to make time for weekly meetings and occasional events
Why get involved?
• Hone tangible skills for effective advocacy in the field of human rights.
• Engage and network with human rights faculty and staff within the Program and the broader University, as well as with fellow students with a keen interest in human rights.
• Contribute to the HRP through action, advocacy, and leadership.
• Space and support to think and act creatively in human rights activities at the University.
How do I apply?
• Submit a CV/resume AND a brief cover letter detailing why you would like to be a part of the SAB and the leadership qualities, skills and ideas you would bring to the board.
• Applications due on Friday, April 12, 2013 to Claire Leslie via email at hrp@umn.edu or via hard copy to 214 Social Sciences.
• Contact Claire Leslie at hrp@umn.edu or 612.624.8543

Call for Nominations: 2013 Human Rights Awards

tenzin.jpgEach spring, the Human Rights Program celebrates the tremendous work of students in human rights with the Inna Meiman Award and the Sullivan Ballou Award. Faculty and staff: Please help us recognize the work of students in Human Rights by nominating committed undergraduates for the below awards. Students: We encourage you to self-nominate or nominate a peer who has truly impressed you. Please note that all applications and nominations are due by Friday, April 12, 2013.

Inna Meiman Award
This award will be given in recognition of the friendship between Inna Meiman, a Soviet era Jewish refusenik who was repeatedly denied a visa to seek medical treatment, and Lisa Paul, a graduate of the University of Minnesota who fought tirelessly on her behalf, including a 25-day hunger strike that galvanized a movement for Inna's freedom. The friendship between Lisa Paul and Inna Meiman is memorialized in the book, Swimming in the Daylight: An American Student, a Soviet-Jewish Dissident, and the Gift of Hope. The award is intended to recognize a University of Minnesota student who embodies a commitment to human rights. The Awardee will receive a $1,000 scholarship.
Sullivan Ballou Award
The Sullivan Ballou Award is supported by the Sullivan Ballou Fund and is named after Major Sullivan Ballou, an Army soldier killed at the First Battle of Bull Run in the U.S. Civil War. The award honors Major Ballou's memory by recognizing a student who devotes heartfelt energy to promote human rights. The Sullivan Ballou Fund gives $1000 awards to celebrate and affirm people acting from the heart. They provide compassion, services, or advocacy to their local communities, the poor, homeless, children, victims of violence and mistreatment or the disabled. Some give of themselves to those around them through their art, their music, their words, or their presence.
Nomination Information
The awards are open to all full-time undergraduate students at the University of Minnesota.
The student has demonstrated a personal commitment to the promotion and protection of international human rights through significant work on a human rights cause during their time as an undergraduate;
Through their efforts, the student has raised the visibility of a particular human rights issue among the University community or the broader public;
The student has made a positive difference in the life of others, and has given voice to those who might otherwise not be heard.
Nominators should submit a letter of 750 words or less describing the human rights activities undertaken by the nominee during his or her time as a student at the University of Minnesota and a CV of the student being nominated;
Students may be nominated by faculty, staff or other students at the University of Minnesota.
Self nominations must be accompanied by a letter of recommendation from faculty, staff, and students who can attest to the achievements.
Address and Deadline
Letters should be submitted by email to the Human Rights Program, hrp@umn.edu, or delivered to the Human Rights
The nomination deadline is Friday, April 12, 2013 at 5:00 p.m.
The Sullivan Ballou and Inna Meiman Award winners will be recognized publically at an event on May 3, 2013.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Immigrants Held in Solitary Cells, Often for Weeks (NYT)

On any given day, about 300 immigrants are held in solitary confinement at the 50 largest detention facilities that make up the sprawling patchwork of holding centers nationwide overseen by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, according to new federal data. Nearly half are isolated for 15 days or more, the point at which psychiatric experts say they are at risk for severe mental harm, with about 35 detainees kept for more than 75 days. Continue reading...

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Whitney Taylor on Public Opinion and Transitional Justice in Serbia

mladic.jpgOn March 14, the Human Rights Program student assistant, Whitney Taylor, presented her research at the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies' Holocaust, Genocide, and Mass Violence workshop. In her talk, Whitney discussed the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), examining the official operations of the tribunal and analyzing public opinion surrounding the court's legitimacy and effectiveness. She found that public opinion of the ICTY was drastically lower in Serbia than in either Bosnia or Croatia, and through her research strove to unearth reasons explaining why.

First, examining the actual operations of the tribunal, Whitney found that the court had undertaken several measures to ensure the impartiality of its sentencing. The court strove largely met international fair trial standards relating to charges, evidence, due process rights, sentencing, and evenhandedness, and although its performance left room for improvement, there was no correlation between ethnicity and sentencing. Despite this, Whitney found that negative public opinion in Serbia was largely founded on the assumption that the court had unjustly targeted Serbs in its punitive measures and in sentencing.
In her research, Whitney pursued the causes of such negative opinion in Serbia, considering the role of the media, society's general lack of trust for information on the ICTY, and the quality of information being spread through human rights organizations and through the efforts of the tribunal itself. Whitney found that a lack of information on the ICTY was not the cause of negative perception in Serbian society, but proposed instead that several barriers existed that obstructed an accurate translation of court proceedings to the Serbian public. These barriers included the juridical logic behind sentences and the physical distance of the tribunal from the societies it hoped to affect. Whitney suggests that these obstacles were then exaggerated by beliefs entrenched in Serbian national identity and by already held political-historical perceptions, which amplified Serbians' negative feelings toward the legitimacy of the ICTY. A lively discussion followed the presentation, as many distinguished faculty in the human rights field offered insightful feedback and praise on Whitney's research, and posed thoughtful questions.
Written by Anna Meteyer.
Image source: Radio Netherlands Worldwide.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Dismantling Don't Ask Don't Tell

brown.jpgThe University of Minnesota had the honor of hosting alumnus and guest speaker Greg Brown on Thursday, March 28th. Brown recently retired from his position as senior personnel administrator in the Department of Defense, and he returned to campus to talk with students and faculty about the 1993 "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy regarding homosexuality within the United States Armed Forces. Brown played a leading role in one of the most significant domestic human rights achievements of the last 20 years: the dismantling of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

The DADT policy prevented openly gay and lesbian individuals from serving in the United States military. They had to keep it a secret or risk discharge. Brown noted that this policy "locked the U.S. in the dark ages." This backwards thinking forced well-meaning officers to choose between following the law and looking the other way when it came to LGB in their troops. As DADT was a tough and controversial subject, Congress was reluctant to move toward changing the policy.
Brown spent 24 years working with the United States Air Force, and, in 2008 he was assigned to the Office of Secretary Defenses Personnel. Brown is a happily married man, whose wife also served in the US military. He said he had always been "not anti-gay," and when DADT first came out, he thought it was plausible and valid when it came to military and social science. But soon he realized that being "not anti-gay" was not enough. Brown remembers a turning point in his views on DADT, when he was stationed in Korea. A fellow colleague of his came to him one day and told him that he was gay, and that he did not want to continue working for the military anymore because of the pressures of DADT. His colleague asked to be discharged, and Brown granted him this, but was upset that the military had lost a talented employee over such a case. "This began my self discovery that being 'not anti-gay' was not enough," Brown said.
Brown recalled that prior to the change in administrations in 2009, "Nobody wanted to touch this issue, they feared it would put their jobs on the line." Brown then decided to take on the issue himself. He decided to work for the repeal of DADT in part because he felt the military was narrowing their chances of getting talented, dedicated people to work for them. One of his jobs while working as senior personnel administrator was to attract and retain talented people for the military. DADT excluded a segment of the population, which other competitors without anti-gay policies could take advantage of.
The struggle to show that DADT was a harmful policy that needed to be repealed took two and a half years. Brown believes in a "right is right" approach, and he knew that repealing the policy was the right thing to do politically and ethically, but was still unsure if it was the right thing to do military-wise. During his first year of working on the repeal, he was the one and only person taking on the task. Brown often felt like he had bitten off more than he could chew. The military thought his views were "too pro-gay," and the gay community thought his views were "too pro-military." However, by 2010, the momentum started and Brown felt like his appeal had a chance. More people worked on the repeal alongside Brown, and, in 2011, DADT was dismantled.
Now that DADT has been dismantled, openly LGB individuals can serve in the U.S. military. Brown says that in terms of recruiting more LGB to the military, "It will take time for them to trust the military again. But I one day hope that the US military will be posted in the New York Times as gay friendly workplace."
Written by Wren Bentley