Go to the U of M home page

Pages

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Beyond Iberian Colonialisms: Spanish Arabs and the Fate of the Western Sahara

Aminatou Haidar Beyond Iberian Colonialisms.pngThe Global Studies Department at the University of Minnesota and the Iberian Studies Initiative for collaborative research present a conference that will illuminate and draw together the histories of Iberian colonialisms with the present realities of African immigration and cultural production. International scholars, poets and speakers will explore why contemporary poets are rallying to the Saharan cause.

Friday, April 5, 2014
Nolte Center 125
9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.



KEYNOTE SPEAKER Aminatou Haidar
Keynote Speaker Aminatou Haidar is a Sahrawi human rights activist, advocate for the independence of Western Sahara, and president of the Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders (CODESA). Known as "Sahrawi Gandhi" for her nonviolent protests, she was imprisoned from 1987 to 1991 and from 2005 to 2006 on charges related to her independence advocacy. In 2009, she attracted international attention when she staged a hunger strike after being denied re-entry into Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara. Haidar has won several international human rights awards for her work, including the 2008 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award and the 2009 Civil Courage Prize. In 2012 she was nominated to the Nobel Peace Prize.

A related film screening and an educator workshop are also to take place April 4th and 5th. For more information, please view the complete event schedule here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will investigate human rights violations in the meatpacking industry

Meatpacking.pngThis past week, the Human Rights Program received news that a petition to the Inter-American Comission of Human Rights (IACHR) regarding the widespread, unsafe working conditions in US meatpacking plants will be heard before the court on March 25th. This petition--an effort of the Human Rights Program in partnership with the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights, Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest, and the Southern Poverty Law Center--expressed severe concern on account of the dangerous and degrading work environment faced by meatpacking and poultry processing workers in the US.

The speed of the assembly line in American meatpacking and poultry processing plants is currently dangerously fast, and the USDA is pushing to make it even faster. A proposed regulation change for the poultry industry aims to increase processing line speeds, allowing poultry companies to accelerate the speed from 140 to 175 birds per minute, requiring workers to process approximately one chicken every 6 - 7 seconds. It also proposes removing hundreds of federal inspectors from the processing lines, replacing them with plant workers charged with the responsibility of identifying and removing tainted chicken. The deregulation of the means of production in poultry processing signifies the government's granting of greater power to this industry, allowing companies to control how their products are inspected and to intimidate workers from speaking up and stopping a line if they find contaminated poultry. When regulations and inspectors are slimmed down, this gives the companies more freedom in doing whatever it takes to cut costs of production and increase profit. And this has unsettling implications for the health of workers and the safety of American food.
The rapid pace of the line forces workers to carry out the repetitive motions of inspecting poultry and cutting meat (with dull knives) at shocking speeds, labor that leads to severe physical degradation of the body, particularly of the workers' hands. Moreover, workers are regularly exposed to dangerous chemicals and extremely cold temperatures without sufficient protective equipment. Nearly three out of four Alabama poultry workers interviewed for a report carried out by the Southern Poverty Law Center described suffering a significant work-related injury or illness, such as debilitating pain in their hands, cuts, gnarled fingers, chemical burns or respiratory problems; moreover, workers also described feeling silenced from reporting work-related injuries, forced to endure constant pain, and discouraged from slowing the processing line, even when they are hurt. As poultry processing companies (together with the USDA) push for an increase in the speed of the line, it remains that there are no set of mandatory guidelines to protect the health and safety of workers. The passing of the proposed USDA line-speed rule would surely exacerbate the already precarious and unsafe conditions faced by meatpacking and poultry processing workers.
This current system may be profitable for poultry companies, but it relies on the systematic exploitation of workers, the majority of whom are women, African Americans, and Latinos. As these groups continue to feel the heightened burden of faster production, they also are fearful of losing their jobs if they report injuries or ask for safer working conditions. The silence imposed upon workers by their employers is oppressive--it facilitates increasing levels of exploitation, and it further entrenches systemic discrimination and injustice in American society.
These issues are of profound importance in the struggle to improve human rights practices and to eliminate systemic discrimination and exploitation in the United States. They demand immediate address. The Human Rights Program shares a history of collaboration with the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights, Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest, and the Southern Poverty Law Center in its dedication to eradicate the widespread injustice and to improve the protection of workers' human rights in the meatpacking industry. Through their combined efforts, these organizations have formed a coalition committed to the improvement of human rights practices in the meatpacking and poultry processing industry.
This coalition hopes that an investigation by the IACHR will raise awareness about the serious dangers meatpacking workers face and will pressure the U.S. government to improve human rights protections in the industry. The hearing presents an opportunity for the coalition to encourage US law and policy makers to urge the Administration to withdraw the proposed USDA line speed rule, to work with these law and policy makers to create new health and safety protections for workers in the meat and poultry industries, and to continue educating the media, law and policy makers, consumers, and others about the inadequate health and safety protections for workers in the meat and poultry industry and the detrimental effects on these workers' health.
The granting of a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is a huge success in the efforts of the coalition, and signifies a leap forward for workers rights in the United States. The Human Rights Program hopes that the hearing will lead to improved working conditions not only in the meatpacking industry, but in other job sectors as well, as it represents the implementation of a new, higher standard in American corporations' labor practices, a standard that respects the human dignity of all individuals.
Written by Anna Meteyer

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Join the Human Rights Program in support of human rights internships!

Japanese cultural orientation.jpgWednesday, March 19, 2014
5:30 - 7:00 pm

Heritage Gallery
McNamara Alumni Center
200 Oak Street SE
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455

The U of M Human Rights Program will host a night of wine, hors d'oeuvres, conversation, and fundraising this Wednesday in support of our students. College of Liberal Arts Interim Dan Raymond Duvall will give remarks and four former human rights interns will share their stories. The Human Rights Program supports opportunities for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students to gain irreplaceable field experience in human rights organizations around the world. This summer we plan to send our magnificent human rights students to Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Switzerland, and Turkey, among other locations. They need our financial support. We also work to attract the best and brightest scholars and advocates to the University of Minnesota to study. Having a robust internship fund will help us to accomplish this goal. The reception will feature four former human rights interns: David Greenwood-Sanchez, Anna Meteyer, Kristen Rau, and Paul Walters. We hope to see you there!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Partnership Supports the Establishment of a Human Rights Legal Clinic at Universidad Católica de Oriente

During the first year of the Minnesota-Antioquia Human Rights Partnership, the University of Minnesota has worked collaboratively with the Universidad Católica de Oriente (UCO), located in Rionegro, Colombia, to establish a Human Rights Clinic in their Law School. The clinical program officially started in July of 2013, and the first group of participants was comprised of one faculty member, Professor Maribel Ocazionez, and eleven upper-level law students. It has since added six new students and one new faculty member, Professor Carolina Rojas. In preparation for the launch of this new clinic, the Partnership provided UCO's faculty with training in human rights advocacy strategy and engaged faculty in constructive conversation and brainstorming around the academic and administrative challenges and opportunities inherent to creating, maintaining and running a human rights legal clinic.

The goals behind the development of the Human Rights Legal clinic at UCO are to train students and docents in skills necessary for effective human rights advocacy, to stimulate further research in the human rights discipline, and to generate opportunity for advancement by students and docents in the field of human rights. Alongside the establishment of this new clinic at UCO, the Partnership is working to further develop and enhance existing clinics at other Antioquia institutions - including Universidad de Antioquia, Universidad de Medellín, and Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana - in collaboration with faculty and administrators at those institutions and particularly with regard to clinical work on human rights topics.
UCO students have responded with great enthusiasm to the implementation of this new clinic and are clearly excited about the opportunity to tackle local human rights issues. For example, they are already conducting in-depth research on human rights issues resulting from pollution and contamination in the Oriente Antioqueño, the eastern portion of Antioquia in which Rionegro is located. Also, they are working in collaboration with the University of Minnesota Human Rights Clinic, led by Professor Jennifer Green, in the drafting of a joint shadow report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child regarding the Colombian government's failure to ensure the human rights of children in the Antioquia region. And finally, they have just started work on a project regarding the rights of incarcerated individuals, through which they will be assessing factors such as overcrowding, staffing, health care, education, etc. in local prisons.
Enthusiasm for human rights advocacy by UCO students is reflected in the aforementioned surge of human rights clinical work and in their diligent participation in trainings put on by the Partnership. For example, when Professor Barbara Frey visited Medellín in August to give a four-day short course on human rights advocacy, the clinical students from UCO traveled about an hour and a half every day from Rionegro to Medellín in order to attend. While the long commute may have deterred some people from participating in the seminar, the students from UCO attended the presentation each day without fail.
With the goal of sustaining the passion of these outstanding students and engaging an even broader community of students and faculty in human rights work, the Partnership remains committed to the ongoing development of legal clinical work at UCO, not only through curriculum development but also through the growth of administrative support. Over the next couple years the Human Rights Clinic at UCO will engage in strategic selection of cases in order to address the most pressing human rights issues in the region and allow for continued collaboration with the Human Rights Clinic at the UMN. Furthermore, UCO's Human Rights Clinic will continue to receive meaningful guidance from and work collaboratively with legal clinical teams working in other Antioquia institutions, including Universidad de Antioquia, Universidad de Medellín, and Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Austrian Doctoral Research Fellow Verena Stern investigates human rights issues in Somali transnational migration

foto.jpgVerena Stern is an Austrian Doctoral Research Fellow at the Center for Austrian Studies at the University of Minnesota, researching the situation of the undocumented immigrants in the European Union (E.U), particularly the Somali undocumented immigrants in Austria.

"I am a second year Political Science doctoral candidate at the University of Vienna, but I joined the University of Minnesota because of the reputable research and experts on the subject, and because of the large Somali community in the Twin cities," said Stern.

Stern's interest in the undocumented Somali immigrants began in October 2012 when Somali refugees living in Austria formed an organization and decided to camp in front of the Austrian Parliament in Vienna to raise attention to their own, as well as Somalia's, current situation.
In her research, Stern is examining the situation of Somali immigrants living in Austria, as well as their journey to get there. How did they escape the violence present in their homeland, which is a matter of life and death? Which countries did they have to pass through before arriving to the E.U. and what happened along the way? Besides the case study of Austria´s Somali community, Stern is also asking questions about the alienating tactics of nation-states and what it means to illegalize people. She is also trying to understand the legal dimension of how a nation's homeland security could be more important than the human rights situation of the undocumented immigrants. Stern examines instances when the rights and needs of the state are put before those of the immigrants who are seeking asylum, and analyzes the accompanying consequences.
Somali immigrants, who are victims of violence, are escaping a civil war in Somalia. However, when they arrive at their destination, their hopes of refuge, and perhaps even a better life, are not met. Many of them live in poverty, lacking the most basic necessities; many others are deported back to Somalia based on which part of the country they come from, regardless of if their individual safety is at risk or not.
Ms. Stern's fellowship ends this summer and she will be continuing her work on Human Rights and Somali immigrants at the University of Vienna, Austria.
Written by Salma Taleb

Austrian Doctoral Research Fellow Verena Stern investigates human rights issues in Somali transnational migration

foto.jpgVerena Stern is an Austrian Doctoral Research Fellow at the Center for Austrian Studies at the University of Minnesota, researching the situation of the undocumented immigrants in the European Union (E.U), particularly the Somali undocumented immigrants in Austria.

"I am a second year Political Science doctoral candidate at the University of Vienna, but I joined the University of Minnesota because of the reputable research and experts on the subject, and because of the large Somali community in the Twin cities," said Stern.

Stern's interest in the undocumented Somali immigrants began in October 2012 when Somali refugees living in Austria formed an organization and decided to camp in front of the Austrian Parliament in Vienna to raise attention to their own, as well as Somalia's, current situation.
In her research, Stern is examining the situation of Somali immigrants living in Austria, as well as their journey to get there. How did they escape the violence present in their homeland, which is a matter of life and death? Which countries did they have to pass through before arriving to the E.U. and what happened along the way? Besides the case study of Austria´s Somali community, Stern is also asking questions about the alienating tactics of nation-states and what it means to illegalize people. She is also trying to understand the legal dimension of how a nation's homeland security could be more important than the human rights situation of the undocumented immigrants. Stern examines instances when the rights and needs of the state are put before those of the immigrants who are seeking asylum, and analyzes the accompanying consequences.
Somali immigrants, who are victims of violence, are escaping a civil war in Somalia. However, when they arrive at their destination, their hopes of refuge, and perhaps even a better life, are not met. Many of them live in poverty, lacking the most basic necessities; many others are deported back to Somalia based on which part of the country they come from, regardless of if their individual safety is at risk or not.
Ms. Stern's fellowship ends this summer and she will be continuing her work on Human Rights and Somali immigrants at the University of Vienna, Austria.
Written by Salma Taleb

Professor Alejandro Baer delivers enlightening presentation on the role of human rights discourse in the shaping of collective memory

alejandro-baer.jpgOn Thursday, February 20th, University of Minnesota professor Alejandro Baer gave an enlightening lecture on his research on social memory, its cultural representations and its consequences. As the Director for the Center of Holocaust and Genocide Studies and as an Associate Professor in the department of Sociology, Baer is interested in identifying the culture of memory, looking at mass violence from different perspectives, and examining human rights within a sociological context. Continuing the theme of this spring's lecture series called "Reframing Mass Violence," Thursday's event was titled, "The Collective Memory of Mass Atrocities: Traveling Ghosts of the Holocaust."

Baer began his lecture by introducing the concept of "collective memory" as illuminated in the theories of sociologists Emile Durkheim and Maurice Halbwachs. Durkheim defined social memory as a real or imagined link to the past that creates unity within a society. The first to establish the term "collective memory," Halbwachs expanded Durkheim's theory by arguing that memory is shaped by the needs of the present and that individual memory is also shaped by collective memory. According to Halbwachs, shared memory cannot exist outside of the group framework. However, Baer countered that in the global age when people no longer define themselves strictly within these groups of society, new approaches to collective memory have emerged. Highlighting the works of contemporary sociologists, Baer explained how the theories of cosmopolitan memory, multidirectional memory, postmemory, and cultural trauma show how collective memory in the global age has been revisited and reinterpreted beyond the group context through the narrative of human rights, with the Holocaust as the quintessential example of this phenomenon. One such example is The Holocaust and Memory in the Global Age, in which Daniel Levy and Natan Sznaider discuss the ways that the Holocaust has been remembered in the age of globalization, as it transcends the group framework and adopts universal narratives of human rights, tolerance, and other cosmopolitan norms. Similarly, Michael Rothberg argues in Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization that the memory of the Holocaust has become a platform for articulating the interactive relationship between the global and the local that generates transnational symbols like human rights, genocide, and crimes against humanity. Other research that Baer referenced on this subject include The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture After the Holocaust by Marianne Hirsch and Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity by Jeffrey C. Alexander, Neil J. Smelser, and Bernhard Giesen.
According to Baer, these new approaches to collective memory are tools to help us see human rights as a form of memory. He used the example of transitional justice in Spain, as there is a movement today among younger generations to reframe the mass violence of Francisco Franco's dictatorship in the 1930s-1940s from a narrative of civil war to one of genocide and crimes against humanity. Rather than attempting to rewrite history, the postmemory generation in Spain is inverting the previous narrative in hopes of finally gaining closure through truth and justice. However, Baer argues that there is an analytical price we pay for memory as we simplify at the expense of history and when we transform the narrative from agency to victimhood. Collective remembering and collective forgetting are part of the same process, constructing a selective memory that often forgets the political history of a conflict. In the case of Spain and other related mass atrocities, the fact of a civil war does not excuse human rights, but in embracing a human rights memory regime, history often gets blurred in the process. As Baer ended his lecture, he emphasized that there is no such thing as one truth, there are different forms of justice, and there are innumerable memories, and it is therefore worth exploring how a human rights discourse shapes our understanding of events and what the consequences are of these collective memory narratives.
Written by Kailey Mrosak