Go to the U of M home page

Pages

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Student Natalie Miller Puts Human Rights Education into Practice

970892_10151952506328298_381888563_n.jpgNatalie Miller, a senior majoring in Global Studies, has put her human rights education into practice through her dedicated work with Haiti Justice Alliance, an NGO that strives to support a network of Haitian human rights organizations. Haiti Justice Alliance works diligently with their partner groups to establish a collaborative model of pursuing sustainable change in Haiti. This organization empowers Haitian groups in their efforts to implement root-level projects, as they believe this in essential in bringing about sustainable and meaningful change.

Most recently, Natalie has dedicated herself to a particular project Haiti Justice Alliance is carrying out with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. The project is titled the "Cholera Accountability Project", and is working to hold UN officials accountable for their part in the Cholera outbreak in Haiti in 2010. Cholera continues to constitute a grave medical emergency in Haiti, and overwhelming evidence has established that reckless disposal of human waste by a United Nations (UN) peacekeeping base in Mirebalais poisoned Haiti's rivers with a particularly deadly strain of cholera bacteria and created the epidemic. Now, despite even UN Special Envoy to Haiti Bill Clinton's acknowledgment that the UN was the "proximate cause" of the epidemic, the UN refused to accept responsibility and control cholera in Haiti. Natalie has worked with Haiti Justice Alliance organizing speaking tours, fundraisers, and advocacy efforts around this topic. Last year, Natalie brought lawyers from the case against the UN to Minnesota to speak about the issue and their experience (it is not very popular to bring a case against the UN!). Natalie's work with Haiti Justice Alliance is a great example of international solidarity in upholding universal human rights standards, while remaining socially conscious (at both local and international levels) in her human rights work.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Syria, the Untold Reality

syria-1.jpgA Syrian student at the UofM, Salma Taleb, gives an inside look on the devastation unfolding in Syria, adding more demension to the panel discussion from last week, and shedding further insight on this profoundly complex conflict.





.

On September 11, 2013, the Human Rights program at the University of Minnesota held an important panel discussion. Countering Mass Atrocities in Syria: between Human Rights Ideas and Geo-Political Concerns. While the discussion revolved around politics and possible solutions to the Syrian conflict, the discussion of humanitarian support was also presented.
The political representation of the Syrian conflict in the media gives inadequate coverage of the extensive humanitarian suffering which is taking place. While humanitarian suffering is expected in a civil war, it is necessary that the human suffering of the Syrian people be recognized if the 'Syrian condition' is to be understood. The current situation in Syria is more complicated and more tragic than is being projected.
The majority of Syrian society is middle class. The middle class is comprised of both people who work for various governmental as well as nongovernmental institutions, many of whom are currently unpaid due to the bad economy, and blue collar workers, most of whom have lost their jobs, their houses and all too often, their families. Without wages those workers are left to suffer hunger, pain and misery without assistance. Although many blue collar workers have left the country to go to Lebanon, searching for work opportunities to survive, many more have stayed. Food prices have increased four-fold which makes food, when available, unaffordable for many. Electricity is shut off for many hours each day and perhaps most importantly, the people are suffering a severe water shortage because water pipes have been destroyed and because well water is very expensive to buy and hard to obtain. People in Salamieh a town 40 km from Homs have been without water for over 60 days now.
It is important to mention that Syria is still an agricultural society. However, farmers are not currently able to farm which means that because of the civil war they are not able to earn an income. There are many reasons for this. First, farmers are unable to get to their farms because many of the roads are too dangerous for travel. In most cases the roads are either governed by too many governmental check points, or are blocked by the opposition. Secondly, the farmers cannot afford the very high oil prices and are therefore unable to afford the costs associated with the use of their water pumps. Thirdly, there are safety and trust issues. Even if farmers are able to plant their fields, there are no guarantees that their crops will not be destroyed or stolen in the war!
Many students across the country are unable to attend school because their schools and universities have been destroyed. However, in some cities where the conflict is less intense even though the schools themselves may have remained intact, the students can no longer financially afford to attend. Similarly, the lack of medical care and supplies is pervasive in Syria. These shortages combined with the lack of water for adequate sanitation, the lack of adequate nutrition have led to the spread of disease especially among the children. Even though Doctors without Borders and other humanitarian institutions are trying to help, the need is out-weighing the resources. Many more issues could and should be discussed, but with the limitations I have, I hope that this will provide an enhanced understanding and a clearer perspective of the humanitarian tragedy posed by the Syrian civil war.
In the panel Professor Sarah Parkinson suggested some solutions that could help the Syrian people such as, a No Fly Zone through which the Syrian people might be able to get some of their basic needs. U.N institutions might be able to provide more aid to the people inside Syria. I would also add that donations from companies and other institutions and even individuals could help NGO's working on the ground in Syria which are trying to provide food, water and basic medical care to the many victims.
Salma Taleb

Understanding the Syria Conflict: Moving away from Paralysis

syria1.jpgOne of the most enduring hallmarks of the current violent conflict in Syria is its baffling complexity, a trait that has paralyzed the international community as well as scholars and politicians the world over, thus allowing the war to rage on for over two years and counting. The lack of clear and easy solutions has put a strain on the international system, with most countries agreeing that some sort of external intervention is needed, but falling out of sync with regards to the type of aid required, what country or countries should be supplying it, and what parties within Syria should receive it. Although the ambiguity and indecisiveness that has characterized this chapter of world history is unlikely to end soon, it is important to take steps forward even if only by becoming educated about the conflict and about the many conflicting interests at play.

The University of Minnesota's Human Rights Program and the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies organized the event on Syria, inviting five notable academics to give their opinions on the situation and what should be done about it.
The panel was chaired by Barbara Frey, Director of the Human Rights Program, and the panelists included:
Dr. Wael Khouli, working with the Syrian American Medical Society on health care
Sarah Parkinson, Assistant Professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and the Department of Political Science,
Mazen Halibi, Syrian-American community activist
Ragui Assaad, Professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and
Ron Krebs, Associate Professor Department of Political Science.
Throughout the discussion, there were several over-arching themes. One oft-mentioned factor in Syria's current disaster was the much-publicized use of chemical weapons (particularly sarin) on a large scale against civilians, an attack believed by Western governments to have been committed by the Syrian government. More than one commentator argued that the excessive focus on chemical weapons was an unproductive distraction from the continuous death toll racked up by conventional weapons, averaging 5,000 Syrians a day and over 100,000 since the inception of violence two years ago. Mr. Wael Khouli emphasized that buildings in rebel-held areas are routinely demolished, leaving unknowable numbers of innocents trapped or crushed beneath the rubble; also, the use of military jets and scud missiles has become a daily occurrence in Syria, in his view due to the lack of international response to the use of these "conventional" weapons.
However, it has been made clear that the United States' desire to respond militarily to the use of sarin gas is primarily to uphold the legitimacy of international norms that forbid the use of such weapons. Professor Ron Krebs criticized the US interest in intervening on these grounds, arguing that there is no reason to suspect that this international norm will immediately collapse if not strictly upheld at every turn.
Another motive for a US intervention, he explained, was the need for our country to uphold its international credibility; an indecisive and hesitant United States could supposedly embolden US adversaries to make similar transgressions against international law. He warned that this tactic of global intimidation is not as productive as we may think, and has the dangerous consequence of justifying more and more drastic action in order to keep enemies frightened of us. As pointed out by Professor Sarah Parkinson, US credibility in the international stage is already damaged by what some would call its selective enforcement of human rights--turning a blind eye to allied countries (Israel, Saudi Arabia, or Bahrain) who abuse human rights, while opportunistically toppling abusive regimes when it serves American interests. For this reason, many fear that US intervention in Syria would just be another geopolitically-motivated regime change in the legacy of Iraq.
Moreover, the motives behind the much-debated US military strike are meaningless without a practical and effective strategy that would result in an outcome favorable to both the Syrian people, and to the United States and its allies. All panelists agreed that due to the complexity of the situation, there are no realistically good options for ending the Syrian conflict. Professor Ragui Assaad blamed this lack of options on the international community's earlier inaction, claiming that there was once a window of opportunity during which the conflict could have been stopped; however, due to the veto power of Syria's ally Russia in the United Nations Security Council, international systems have become gridlocked and dysfunctional. He spoke favorably of the potential positive outcomes of No Fly Zones, which when applied to pre-2003 Iraq severely limited Saddam Hussein's ability to launch aerial raids against civilian populations. In addition, he advocated for Safe Zones along Syria's border regions that would provide humanitarian and military assistance as well as refuge for rebel groups and displaced civilians.
All of these political and logistical concerns were set against the enduring worry of what the outcome of a victory on either side would be. Mass media has only recently acquiesced that a large portion, or even a near majority, of Syrian rebels are Salafi Jihadists. This issue caused a degree of conflict between the panelists, as some tried to disingenuously downplay the significance of these groups in order to create a more partisan depiction of the conflict. In particular, those panelists who were of Syrian nationality (particularly Dr. Khouli and Mr. Mazen Halibi) created a dialogue that was immediately favorable towards the rebels. Mr. Halibi, unbeknownst to the audience, is in fact a Sheikh whose lack of concern over the Jihadist elements within the opposition may have been influenced by his religious background. Dr. Khouli beseeched the audience to refer to Syria's conflict not as a civil war but as a "revolution," claiming that the overwhelming majority of Syrians were rising up against a tiny minority of loyalists. Professor Krebs, an American, took significant issue with this mischaracterization of the plainly two-sided conflict.
The panelist's dismissal of atrocities committed by the Syrian opposition was answered by an impassioned anecdote from Salma Taleb, a University of Minnesota student and Syrian national who described herself as coming from a progressive region of the country. Despite supporting neither the Assad government nor the rebel groups, her town suffered atrocities by Islamic fundamentalists who opposed the town's secularism. This was one of many familiar stories that provoke wariness at the prospect of arming Syrian rebel groups, due to the lack of confidence that these weapons will be kept out of the reaches of Jabhat Al-Nusra, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and other Sunni Islamist militant organizations whose rise to power could prove even more dangerous than a continuation of Assad family rule.
The many different details and viewpoints discussed provided for a very nuanced and comprehensive, though admittedly bleak, understanding of the current state of Syrian affairs. The audience was left with no clear answers as to what should be done abroad, although domestic action was encouraged in order to spread awareness and advocate for humanitarian intervention; Professor Parkinson stressed the importance of non-lethal humanitarian aid and relief efforts, pointing out that this more so than direct military intervention has the potential to determine the allegiance of the people in the aftermath of war. Overall, the only definite truth emphasized by all panelists was that more importantly than geopolitics, international norms, or US credibility, the true cost of the conflict was in civilian lives; and that this must be the primary focus of any foreign involvement in Syria's savage and unrelenting civil war.
By Erik Randall

Friday, September 20, 2013

Professor Sandra Gómez sheds light on violence, human rights, and transitional justice in Colombia

Sandra's Talk6 (9.19.2013).JPGVisiting Professor Sandra Gómez Santamaría from the University of Antioquia, Colombia spoke with UMN faculty and graduate students regarding ongoing violence in Colombia and presented transitional justice and peace efforts. Professor Gómez is a leading figure in the UMN-Antioquia Human Rights Partnership in the midst of a three-week visit to exchange human rights advocacy techniques and theory with local scholars and activists.

Listen to a recording of Sandra's talk here:
Sandra Gomez Talk (9.19.2013).WMA
Professor Gómez situated Colombia's current human rights situation in the context of a long tradition of violence, stemming back to land conflicts in the 1920's, liberal-conservative struggle and the resulting "La Violencia" of the 1950's, and systemic patterns of violence relating to drug trafficking in the 1980's and beyond. Gómez testifies that the armed conflict between state security forces (including the military and police), paramilitary (which commit serious human rights violations with State collusion) and guerrilla groups (including the FARC and ELN) took the greatest toll on civil society, particularly afro-descendants, women and girls in poverty, and rural communities. According to the Centro de Memoria Histórica, between January 1, 1958 and December 31, 2012 the armed conflict caused approximately 220,000 deaths. Forcibly displaced victims number about 5,700,000, or 15% of the country's population.
Professor Gómez explained that in the past several years transitional justice discourse and practices have been implemented in some legal scenarios. Two examples for exploring how this discourse has been displayed include the 2005 "Ley de Justicia y Paz" (Law for Justice and Peace) regarding DDR process of Paramilitary groups and the 2012 "Marco Juridico para la Paz" (Judicial Framework for Peace), which provided for some transitional justice mechanisms for facilitating peace negotiations with the FARC, which are taking place in La Habana.
However, human rights violations persist and paramilitary forces and corrupt government officials maintain linkages with violent and coercive private actors. Meanwhile, victim voices are drowned out and the human rights of people in vulnerable conditions face a wide array of threats, including forced disappearances, forced displacement, torture, kidnapping, sexual violence, child recruitment, antipersonnel landmines, and other indiscriminate weapons. Colombia therefore faces the difficult challenge of confronting its violent past while simultaneously dealing with ongoing violence.
Professor Gómez, too humble to formally "conclude" her presentation on these complex and ongoing issues, instead presented deep and thought provoking questions and ideas which quickly engaged the audience in conversation. Specifically, she refuted the idea of legal remedies as the only remedies to these systemic problems, identified the urgent need to challenge current structures of power, and highlighted the direct connection between abuse of civil and political rights and widespread neglect for economic, social, and cultural rights in the Colombian context.
Professor Gómez's presentation was part of the 2013-2013 Workshop on Genocide and Mass Violence Studies organized by the Human Rights Program, the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and the Department of Sociology. For more information about the workshop, click here.
By Claire Leslie

Student Ambassador Anna Meteyer Reflects on Experience in Colombia

2013-08-21-10-58-51.jpgThis summer, I traveled to Colombia as a part of the Human Rights Program's Human Rights Law Partnership, an experience made possible by the Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellowship. The Human Rights Fellowship Program provides financial support to residents of the Upper Midwest--including students, teachers, lawyers, health professionals, community leaders and others--interested in gaining practical experience with human rights organizations. Through my fellowship, I worked as student ambassador to the Human Rights Program, in its efforts to develop a comprehensive international human rights law curriculum in four Colombian universities, training law professors in the field of international human rights, fortifying and expanding available human rights resources in each university's library, and involving students in international human rights litigation and official affairs, among other efforts.

More specifically, my objective as student ambassador was to establish meaningful relationships with Colombian students in each university, further involving these students in the operations of the alliance and adding a student voice to the project-a fundamental perspective, as students are the people the project principally wishes to serve. With this aim, I traveled between the four universities, speaking with and observing students and faculty committed to human rights work, learning about their current and previous social justice efforts, and forming a deeper understanding of their experiences and aspirations in human rights.
The human rights projects and legal cases being carried out in each University are of great importance and variety, and almost all of them involve local issues that speak to the daily realities of injustice faced in the communities of the Antioquia region and throughout Colombia. In the University of Medellin, several students have taken on the ambitious case of the Picacha, a river that every year overflows its banks, devastating entire poverty-stricken barrios and occasionally taking human lives. These students struggle against powerful companies in charge of the management, protection and promotion of environmental resources in and around the city of Medellin, calling for accountability and the effective implementation of measures ensuring the safety of those living near the river.
Across the city, at the University of Antioquia (UdeA), several students are involved in very different human rights work, attending to victims of the armed conflict, who hope to find some justice and peace through reparations or the restoration of their land by the government. These students assist the victims with the formal measures necessary to be registered as victims, and with the arduous legal process of receiving reparations.
Other students at the UdeA are currently working on a case against the construction of a massive hydroelectric dam, a project that has caused the displacement of thousands of campesino families, as the government has forcibly removed them from their land and their lives. Strikingly, students throughout the university angered by this situation and in solidarity with the farmers, have called for one of the university buildings to be offered to the displaced people. Currently, over 400 people reside in an old gymnasium on the university campus, which presents not only a dependable place to live, but also has also taken on a form of nonviolent protest. It is truly moving to see this level of activism and solidarity being carried out by students, and one cannot help but to be inspired by the energy of political innovation and revolution that resonates throughout the campus.
In all of the Universities, the students I have met involved in human rights are incredibly invested and passionate about the work they do, as they fight to bring change and improvement to the lives of those living in their communities and their country. Often, their driving force is their local realities, the severe injustices that they, their families, their friends, their community members confront each day, and the degree of their diligence and dedication is truly impressive. Developing a comprehensive foundation in human rights law will be valuable for these students, who already show great potential as advocates for peace and equity. The existing international human rights institutions, treaties and discourse would greatly empower these prospective attorneys, introducing them to an extensively coded system of international standards and equipping them with powerful tools to demand that the Colombian state uphold those standards.
Not surprisingly, my conversations with these students have also led me to reflect much on my own involvement and future aspirations in human rights, and have greatly inspired me in many ways. It has been invaluable for me on a personal level to observe how human rights work is carried out on a local level in areas affected by past and current conflicts of varying degrees, struggling to find reconciliation, justice, and ultimately, peace. I look forward to the new dimension and perspective that this reflection will bring to my studies and work in the human rights field. I send my most sincere gratitude to my co-workers at the University of Minnesota Human Rights Program, the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center, and to all the donors who have made this incredible fellowship possible. It has proved an invaluable experience, one that will surely guide me in my future human rights efforts and that I will treasure throughout my life.
IMG_2780.JPGIMG_2964.JPGIMG_3052.JPG
IMG_3332.jpgstatue udea.jpgIMG_3354.jpg
qUiWljLvrGdkUSykMB3hl9CVXAmxf-I8_MFuZAH8jxY.jpgIMG_3306.JPGlibrary udea.jpg

Monday, September 16, 2013

University of Minnesota Hosts Colombian Delegation for Human Rights Exchange

Dean's Reception11 (9.10.2013).JPGLast week the Human Rights Program (HRP) and Human Rights Center (HRC) hosted eight professors, law students, and professionals from the Antioquia region of Colombia for a week-long exchange in human rights education and advocacy. The exchange was an important component of the UMN-Antioquia Human Rights Partnership, which aims to promote and protect human rights in Colombia by enhancing human rights legal education.

Members of the visiting delegation are affiliated with four Antioquia universities, including the Universidad de Medellín, Universidad de Antioquia, Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana and Universidad Católica de Oriente. They have backgrounds in law, public policy and political science and work on behalf of vulnerable women and children, workers, LGBT individuals, displaced individuals and victims of armed conflict, and communities affected by environmental degradation in their home country.
The HRP and HRC constructed a full and rich schedule for the visiting delegation consisting of meetings with key faculty and experts; events and trainings on human rights themes and advocacy strategies; conversations with faculty about human rights pedagogy; and field trips to Twin Cities NGO's The Advocates for Human Rights and The Center for Victims of Torture (CVT).
The week of events kicked off with a well-attended welcome reception hosted by Barbara Frey, Director of the HRP, and David Weissbrodt, Director of the HRC, with remarks by Dean Duvall (College of Liberal Arts) and Dean Wippman (Law School). Other highlights included a series of meetings with UMN and Antioquia faculty and clinical students to set the framework for joint clinical work on Colombia human rights issues, and meetings with faculty and experts on relevant themes including transitional justice the rights of women and children. To this end, the visiting delegation met with human rights leaders Janet Walsch, Deputy Director of the Women's Program of Human Rights Watch, and Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Dorsey & Whitney Chair in Law at the UMN Law School, and Marsha Freeman, Director of International Women's Rights Action Watch at the UMN Law School.
A two-hour conversation with Abbey Weiss, Clinical Psychologist at CVT Saint Paul Healing Center was outstanding in that it provoked deep and sometimes painful reflection while simultaneously inspiring hope and reinforcing the importance of human rights work. Abbey discussed her experience working with torture survivors, a topic that resonated with the Colombian visitors who regularly work with victims of abuse and armed conflict in their legal clinical work. She articulated two critical messages: 1) with proper care and attention, survivors have the capacity to heal from trauma; 2) people who take it upon themselves to care and advocate for survivors of trauma themselves need to prioritize self-care, particularly given the importance of their work.
By the end of the week, the impact of the exchange was already apparent. With regards to her visit to the UMN, one participant attested:
"Puedo decirles que me siento muy afortunada de hacer parte de este proyecto. Gracias por todos los aprendizajes, por el recibimiento, la calidad humana y por el trabajo que realizan por los Derechos Humanos. Estoy segura que todo lo aprendido será de gran valor para nuestro trabajo en la Universidad." (I can tell you that I feel very fortunate to be part of this project. Thank you for all of the training, for the reception, the human touch, and for the work that you are doing for human rights. I am sure that everything I learned will be of great value for our work in the University.)
By Claire Leslie

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Human Rights Program Welcomes Faculty and Students from Colombia

partnership colombia.jpgpartnership colombia.jpgThe Human Rights Program is thrilled to announce the arrival of visiting faculty and students from Colombia at the University of Minnesota this fall. The visitors come from several Universities in the Antioquia region of Colombia in order to gain a broader understanding of human rights education, clinical practice and advocacy in the U.S.

On Monday, September 9th, the Human Rights Program and the Human Rights Center welcome six professors, one professional and two students from Colombia through the U of M - Antioquia Human Rights Partnership. Visiting partners have backgrounds in law, public policy and political science and work on behalf of vulnerable women and children, workers, LGBT individuals displaced individuals and victims of armed conflict, and communities affected by environmental degradation in their home country. The partnership aims to promote and protect human rights in Colombia by enhancing human rights legal education.
On Tuesday, September 10th, the deans of the U's College of Liberal Arts and Law School, together with the co-directors of the Partnership, Professors Barbara Frey and David Weissbrodt, will welcome visiting faculty, staff and students in Mondale Hall's Auerbach Commons (229 19th Ave. S., Minneapolis). Following the welcome reception, each visitor will spend between 1 and 6 weeks engaging with U of M faculty and clinical teams and local human rights advocates to gain a broader understanding of human rights education, clinical practice, and advocacy in the U.S.

The Human Rights Program Welcomes Faculty and Students from Colombia

partnership colombia.jpgThe Human Rights Program is thrilled to announce the arrival of visiting faculty and students from Colombia at the University of Minnesota this fall. The visitors come from several Universities in the Antioquia region of Colombia in order to gain a broader understanding of human rights education, clinical practice and advocacy in the U.S.

On Monday, September 9th, the Human Rights Program and the Human Rights Center welcome six professors, one professional and two students from Colombia through the U of M - Antioquia Human Rights Partnership. Visiting partners have backgrounds in law, public policy and political science and work on behalf of vulnerable women and children, workers, LGBT individuals displaced individuals and victims of armed conflict, and communities affected by environmental degradation in their home country. The partnership aims to promote and protect human rights in Colombia by enhancing human rights legal education.
On Tuesday, September 10th, the deans of the U's College of Liberal Arts and Law School, together with the co-directors of the Partnership, Professors Barbara Frey and David Weissbrodt, will welcome visiting faculty, staff and students in Mondale Hall's Auerbach Commons (229 19th Ave. S., Minneapolis). Following the welcome reception, each visitor will spend between 1 and 6 weeks engaging with U of M faculty and clinical teams and local human rights advocates to gain a broader understanding of human rights education, clinical practice, and advocacy in the U.S.
statue udea.jpglibrary udea.jpgmedellin feria de las flores.jpgandes.jpg