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Friday, February 28, 2014

Dr. Steven Miles creates leading website on "doctors who torture"

Untitled 2 miles.pngOver 7 years ago, Dr. Miles created an online archive of 60,000 pages of government documents describing the medical system in "War on Terror" prisons, published at the online Human Rights library, hosted by the University of Minnesota. "Those documents were made available by the government through the Freedom of Information Act, but the government did not want the public to be able to analyze them," says Dr. Miles. "My idea was to connect the information for each case such as autopsy reports and death certificates in order to tell the larger story. The documents are useless unless you connect them. As a physician, I can read some of the documents better than historians could. Consider death certificates for example. I can see what is on the document and what is missing." The archive has over 1.5 million visitors- mainly researchers, attorneys who are engaged in prison work, and academics who study the system.

Dr. Steven Miles has a lifelong endeavor to use his medical credentials and expertise to address some of the most challenging human rights issues of our time. He is a Professor of Medicine and Bioethics at the University of Minnesota. He is also on the Board of the Center for Victims of Torture in the United States.
The archive's success prompted Dr. Miles to create his own website doctorswhotorture.com/, which was intended to increase holding doctors accountable, legally and ethically, and to prove that it is possible to hold governments accountable. The website archives countries' records and work on torture and aims to provoke governments to change their policies regarding the use of torture.
The establishment of the website required a lot of time and effort. "Hundreds of websites were searched in different languages, which required translations before documentation," explained Dr. Miles.
The goal of those websites is to "help document, excavate and rewrite the history of the medical complicity with torture. The websites also had an impact on changing the Defense Department's policy and on attorneys who are handling the defense of prisoners. They showed the new way to create an online archive for Human Rights purposes, and are a model on how to do it for other countries like Guatemala, Argentina and many more," said Dr. Miles.
The message Dr. Miles would like to send to the public is that "victims and people who are affected by torture are among us--in our backgrounds, family, schools--but those victims are invisible. The silence surrounding them is negating the need to deal with the impacts of torture on individual and communal levels. Addressing the impacts of torture provides not only a form of treatment to the victims, but also acts as a preventative measure. Thus, in order to prevent torture, societies need to start talking about it because making the topic a taboo doesn't stop it or make it disappear."
Dr. Miles is the author of four books, more than twenty book chapters, and over 200 medical articles on medical ethics, torture, human rights, end-of-life care and other related topics.
Written by Salma Taleb

The Act of Killing: Free public screening and conversation with the Oscar Nominated director

Untitled 2.pngSaturday, March 8
5:00 - 8:00 pm
Bell Museum, University of Minnesota, East Bank

Join us for a free public screening of The Act of Killing. We will be showing the Director's Cut, and a Q&A session with the highly-acclaimed, Oscar-nominated director, Joshua Oppenheimer, will follow from 8:30 -9:30pm. The filmmakers examine a country where death squad leaders are celebrated as heroes, challenging them to reenact their real-life mass-killings in the style of the American movies they love. The hallucinatory result is a cinematic fever dream, an unsettling journey deep into the imaginations of mass-murderers and the shockingly banal regime of corruption and impunity they inhabit.

Thursday, February 27, 2014


March 6, 7, 8 & 11

Providing a forum for interdiscursive theoretical discussions and dialogue, The State of Iberoamerican Studies Series, at the Spanish and Portuguese Department, supports a number of critical symposia that bring together not only the monologues of traditional scholarly disciplines, but also the powerful, struggling and often unarticulated voices, postures and assumptions of contemporary non-canonical, grassroots cultural discourses. Organized by Luis Ramos-García, Nelsy Echávez-Solano, and Alberto Justiniano in collaboration with the College of St. Benedict / St. John's University; Teatro del Pueblo; and other interdepartmental, intercollegiate, and international organizations, this symposium on Human Rights as well as Art and Theater festival will take place at the University International Center; the Department of Art (Studios); Whiting Proscenium, Rarig Center; and at St. John's University Hispanic Studies.

Carlos Satizabal, an important Human Rights activist in Colombia and an international playwright, will present alongside many other leading voices in the field of international human rights. Other featured individuals include Ana Paula Ferreira, Davide Carnevali, Steven Miles, Alejandro Baer, David Feinberg, Aristides Vargas, Roxana Pineda, and Lorenzo Fabbri. The symposium will be a spotlight for discussion on human rights issues from a variety of perspectives and backgrounds. Also in conjunction with the symposium, the outstanding and internationally acclaimed Latin American theater group Malayerba will stage La Razón Blindada at the U of M Rarig Whiting Proscenium Theatre on March 6th and 7th. This production follows two political prisoners during Argentina's bloody dictatorship as they create a unique retelling of Don Quijote de la Mancha. Their story illustrates the power of imagination in overcoming physically limiting and repressive conditions. The performance is presented in Spanish with an opening caption in English, and ticket information can be found at brownpapertickets.com.
1. Malayerba bio .pdf more about the performance by Malayerba.
3. KEYNOTE SPEAKERS AT THE XIX STATE OF IBEROAMERICAN STUDIES SERIES .pdf the list of keynote speakers and biographies.
2. FINAL SCHEDULE .pdf an official schedule of the series.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Q&A with leader, activist, and alumnus Lindsey Greising

329.jpgFollowing the completion of her law degree from the University of Minnesota, Lindsey Greising was hired to run the Women's Rights Project branch at the exemplary organization Ba Futuru in Timor-Leste. A leader in its community, Ba Futuru is Timor-Leste's preeminent national child protection and peace building organization. Lindsey's main role at the organization is as an international adviser for the Empowering Women and Establishing Grassroots Protection Networks Project (EWP), which focuses on increasing access to justice for victims of domestic violence in Timor-Leste through trainings of key actors, empowering and supporting female community leaders to refer cases, and conducting advocacy to the national government on identified issues. Lindsey also serves as a human rights advisor to the organization generally. Through this work, she helps develop training materials for the organization's various projects and also provides trainings for staff on legal frameworks and human rights principals.

How did you get involved with Ba Faturu?
I originally travelled to Timor-Leste in 2005 after participating in a workshop at my university where then-Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta spoke and inspired me to research and volunteer in Timor-Leste. While there, I met Ba Futuru's founder and learned about their work. When I earned my BA in 2008, I decided to return, and coordinated with Ba Futuru. After receiving my law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School, I received a Robina Public Interest Law Fellowship to work for a year on Ba Futuru's women's project, a project is funded jointly by the European Commission and Australian AID for nearly 300,000 EURO and $70,000 USD, respectively.
What is your specific role in the organization?
As it is a small organization in a developing nation, I have many roles! My main role is as an international adviser for the Empowering Women and Establishing Grassroots Protection Networks Project (EWP), which focuses on increasing access to justice for victims of domestic violence in Timor-Leste through trainings of key actors, empowering and supporting female focal points to refer cases and take larger leadership roles in their communities, and conducting advocacy to the national government on identified issues. I also serve as a human rights advisor to the organization generally. Through this work, I help develop training materials for the organization's various projects and also provide trainings for staff on legal frameworks and human rights principals.
How does it provide training in conflict resolution, conflict analysis, decision-making, child protection, and access to justice? Who provides the training and what does it entail? These topics seem complex and difficult to teach, how is it done in an effective but also timely way?
The organization has developed its training program since it was founded in 2004. Trainings are conducted by Timorese trainers who have various backgrounds. Many were teachers previously. Several were previously members of gangs or involved in conflict. All receive training and capacity building from Ba Futuru's international and high-level national staff. The training materials have been developed by Ba Futuru based on lessons learned and also with support of various consultants and international experts. For example, I have redeveloped their legal frameworks, and gender and civil rights components through my work here.
While the topics are complex, Ba Futuru has developed its materials and trainings in consultation with local staff that understand the nuances. It uses a lot of role-plays and arts in order to make high-level concepts accessible to various audiences. In several areas, we have addressed illiterate populations, and facilitators skillfully revised the training to accommodate this challenge.
What are some other challenging aspects of your work?
It is incredibly challenging to work on access to justice issues in a country with a bit more than 10 years of independence. Having been trained as a lawyer at the U, I am now confronting situations in which much of that training is inapplicable. For example, while the law requires domestic violence cases to be processed through the formal court system, there are not enough qualified people to make the courts function, and thus processing times can be more than a year. There are also only four courts for a country of 1 million people, with the population widely dispersed over areas that have poorly maintained roads and infrastructure, making it nearly impossible for some people to access the courts. And, very few people understand the law; the literacy rate is only 58.3% (UNESCO), the laws are often only available in Portuguese rather than the more commonly spoken language, Tetum, and the majority of the population has had very little education based on years of colonialism/occupation. Thus, I am constantly challenged by knowing how the system should function to protect victims, but being confronted by daunting constraints.
On top of all these structural challenges, I confront deeply rooted cultural values, especially regarding women and justice, which make this work incredibly difficult. Even among women, many believe domestic violence victims should not report their cases unless they are severely physically injured. Domestic violence is considered a private issue, and unless there is blood (ra'an sae, in the local language) it should not be reported. Some police hold many of these values and therefore refuse to report cases even where victims report to them. Economic dependence of women on men prevents many from reporting their cases, and also encourages the formal system to apply "protective" treatment such that some police will refuse to report cases, and courts often issue suspended sentences so that the perpetrator can support the family.
In terms of training female advocates, have you seen the training play out in any real-life successes, as these women go out into the community and voice their concerns?
This has been the best part of my work so far! Within the organization, I work closely with two women who I have trained as advocates. Their confidence and understanding of political advocacy and liaising with government officials has been incredible to see. Within the community, the female focal points we have trained are also showing exponential growth. We recently held a training for these women and, afterward, several reported that they felt more confident to speak out in their communities and support other women. One from a rural area was so inspired that she began conducting stronger outreach to victims in her community, which resulted in two people filing their cases with the police--a huge accomplishment considering this took a 4 hour boat ride (one way) on high seas to get to a lawyer. And, another focal point who had been a victim of violence herself, finally came forward to share her experience within the group after being too scared to do so before.
What is it like to work at such an organization as Ba Futuru?
It's been really inspiring! I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing people who have experienced incredible violence but are still positive and dedicated to improving their country. The women with whom I work are incredible. My work colleagues are powerful, insightful, smart, dedicated women who balance tough work with family life. And, they confront the myriad of issues and depressing challenges of our work with incredible passion and positivity. One colleague was attacked and saw numerous others harmed in a terrible massacre during the Indonesian Occupation in Timor-Leste. Yet, she is often more positive than I am, and constantly strives to improve herself and her country. So many others with whom I work have similar stories and are similarly inspiring.
The Human Rights Program extends its sincere thanks to Lindsey for her thoughtful and generous comments. What truly incredible work!

A powerful discussion follows the screening of highly acclaimed film Granito: How to Nail a Dictator

Untitled.pngOn Thursday, February 6, the University welcomed director and filmmaker Pamela Yates and producer Paco Onís at St. Anthony Main Theater in Minneapolis to screen their powerful documentary Granito: How to Nail a Dictator. The narrative centers on the investigation of the 1982 genocide of Maya people by the military in Guatemala and on the determined fight for justice. The event was free to the public and included both a Q & A session with Yates and Onís as well as a viewing of their short film, The Verdict, on the 2012 trial of General Efraín Ríos Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity.

In her introduction to the audience, Yates explained that she had traveled to Guatemala in 1982 to film her first documentary, When the Mountains Tremble, on the guerilla war between the Maya people and the Guatemalan military, and that she never would have believed at the time that her film outtakes would be used twenty-five years later as evidence of human rights abuses. Granito: How to Nail a Dictator followed Yates, international attorney Almudena Bernabeu, and others as they pored over the captivating footage and slowly built a case against Ríos Montt and the military regime. Yates expressed that, for her, Granito was both a documentary of human rights abuses and a love letter to human rights workers.
During the Q & A session, she spoke of the importance of documentary filmmaking as a broader way to engage people in human rights work. There has been considerable controversy regarding the interaction between filmmaking and human rights. Both Yates and Onís disagree with the belief that artists should avoid politics, arguing that well-told stories have the power to bring about social change. This is, in fact, the mission of Skylight, the media production company they founded together over twenty-five years ago. Yates considers herself a social issue filmmaker, and often asks, "What is the role of art in human rights?" At least when it comes to documentation, Yates believes there is immense power in creating a story that allows people to see their own reflection of humanity and inspire social change.
In January 2012, Ríos Montt was indicted for genocide of the Maya people. While the ruling was overturned by the constitutional court on procedural grounds and a retrial is unlikely, Yates maintained that the trial still marked a transformative moment of departure for the Guatemalan people as an unprecedented statement of justice. Indeed, the motivation behind Granito: How to Nail a Dictator, and for all of Yates' and Onís' work, is "memory, truth, and justice" to ensure that human rights violations such as the Maya genocide serve as a reminder that we are all granitos de arena, or tiny grains of sand, in the collective endeavor for change.
Yates and Onís have launched a companion digital project to preserve the collective memory of the genocide. Granito: Every Memory Matters is accessible at http://granitomem.com/.
Written by Student Advisory Board member Kailey Mrosak

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Professor Barbara Frey presents on the role and value of transitional justice in human rights

On January 23rd, Barbara Frey, Director of the Human Rights Program at the University of Minnesota, gave a lecture on the topic of "Transitional Justice: Seeking Truth and Accountability for Systematic Human Rights Violations." Her presentation covered the definition of transitional justice, which includes the fundamental questions of whether to respond to atrocity, why we should respond to atrocity, and what are the appropriate responses to atrocity.

Watch a recording of Professor Frey's lecture.

Since 1980, the methods and practices by which human rights are characterized has changed dramatically. Ban Ki-moon, the current U.N. Secretary General, called the new era, "The Age of Accountability." The increased number of truth commissions, prosecutions of human rights violations in domestic courts, and participation in the drafting of international criminal laws demonstrate a greater awareness of responsibility. For example, in 2006, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights declared the "right to truth about serious violations of human rights law is an inalienable and autonomous right." Many human rights lawyers have debated the impact of these trials and commissions; this debate highlights the importance of seeking truth and justice because the two concepts are intertwined when an institution or commissions responds to atrocity.
Frey's presentation also addressed the effectiveness of truth commissions. Truth commissions calculate reparations, acknowledge a historical narrative, and document the truth through public reports. Key aspects of truth commissions include political context, sponsorship, membership, and mandates. Latin America is the world leader in transitional justice; truth commissions have found success in South Africa, Guatemala, Chile, and Argentina. In the Guatemalan case, over 42,000 victims, 23,000 deaths, 6,000 disappearances, and 626 massacres were documented. However, the exposing of these "truths" does not guarantee reconciliation.
Finally, Frey's presentations underscored the overall trend of increasing human rights awareness through trials, commissions, and the subsequent drafting of laws. Because the number of new amnesty laws drafted has remained constant, turning our attention to the past, instead of simply pushing forward, has become paramount in today's "Age of Accountability."
Written by Volunteer Sean Van Domelen