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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The ICRC releases video on Colombian human rights situation

It's a crucial time for Colombia with presidential elections slated for this Sunday and ongoing peace talks between the government and FARC guerrillas continuing in Havana, Cuba. In a new Intercross video, the head of the ICRC's delegation in Bogotá, Jordi Raich, says Colombia is at a crossroads -- poised on the verge of economic growth, shrinking poverty, and the potential to put an end to half a century of war. Watch the video on the Intercross website.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Lecture on grave exhumations in Spain unearths the dynamism of memory restoration processes

ferrandiz-2.jpg Watch the lecture online.

On May 8th, 2014, the U of M hosted honored guest Francisco Ferrandiz of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) as part of the in-public, one-credit course "Reframing Mass Violence: Human Rights and Social Memory in Latin America and Southern Europe." Ferrandiz's lecture Exhumations, Memory, and the Return of Civil War Ghosts in Spain investigated the connections between the anthropology of the body, violence and social memory in the context of the current exhumations of mass graves from the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). In his talk, Ferrandiz unearthed the complexity and dynamism of the process of grave exhumations--a process that has largely focused on the abandoned graves of civilians killed during the Francoist rearguard by paramilitary groups. Since 2000, the exhumation of mass graves from the Spanish Civil War and the Post-War years has become a central element in highly charged social and political debates in the country surrounding the nature of the armed conflict and the dictatorial regime following it.

After the fall of Franco's regime, Spanish society emphasized the need for collective reconciliation, passing amnesty laws and focusing on the rebuilding of democracy. Few questions were asked, and no responsibility was assigned. However, the atrocities of the Civil War and Post-War years were not to be entirely forgotten, as they proved to be sedimented in the shared memory of Spanish society, and despite efforts to submerge these memories as part of a definitive past, demands for justice following Francoism gained visibility in their push for grave exhumations. The process of grave exhumation proved to be a highly effective way for forcing into the public arena neglected topics of past violence and oppression, challenging an unspoken, widespread understanding that silence was the price to be paid for the building of social order after the fall of Francoism.
Since 2000, grave exhumations in Spain have captured the public's fascination, a fascination reinforced by the new popularity of forensic science TV-shows and widespread media coverage. The unearthing of buried bodies has come to represent the resurfacing of social truths that had previously been obscured, as these graves provide the site for a collective refocusing on the past, and thus create an avenue into historically taboo conversations. As more graves are exhumed, the Spanish geographic landscape becomes a physical "memory-scape," representing a national quest for truth restoration.
Although exhumations have become a crucial tool for symbolic reparation and have triggered claims for justice for the crimes committed and now unearthed, the social process unleashed by their opening extend far beyond the grave sites and is quite complex, propelling the surfacing of a broader, fragmented and heterogeneous political culture regarding the memory of the defeated in the war. This emergent political culture is expressed in multiple acts of 'memory recovery' and 'dignification' of the diverse victims of Francoism, such as concerts, homages, book publishing, street renaming, battleground tourism, pressure over Francoist monuments, or even academic conferences. Particularly striking is the transformation of memory production that has taken place through the use of new technologies, as online social networks become political models, and memory sharing and circulation become digitalized. The unprecedented digital element of the memory restoration process adds new iconographies and means of exposure to the dynamics of the surrounding political culture.
This "memorial movement" as Ferrandiz termed it has been laregly characterized by human rights language, thus positioning itself within a larger, global conversation on human rights, bringing to the dialogue a discussion on the political and social power of grave exhumations in demanding rights and justice. But the grave exhumation process in Spain has linked itself to the global arena in other ways as well; many in Spain have adopted the terminology of "disappearances", popularized in Latin America following periods of terror and violence perpetrated on behalf of states across the region. The adoption of such vocabulary has received mixed feedback, also becoming yet another focal point of contentious debate in the social process of memory restoration. Some find the sharing of language to symbolize a crucial element of global networks, in that it provides a cohesive, global linguistic platform that can act as a base of understanding for human rights activists to convene, strategize, and express solidarity. Others stress the importance of nuances of each localized context of violence and attrocity, which run the risk of being undermined or neglected when not understood through the lense of each locale's particular traditions, customs, culture and history.
The dynamic human rights conversation that has emerged along with bodies, memories, and political culture in the process of grave exhumation in Spain is one that has captured global attention, opening new questions and possibilities for future efforts aiming to use memory restoration as a channel for improving human rights practices and reclaiming justice. Through Ferrnandiz's talk, participants witnessed an academic approach to harnessing the complexity and electricity that arises around this politically and culturally charged social process, perhaps providing the human rights community with deeper understanding that can offer insight, direction, and enhanced strength moving forward.
The lecture was organized by the IAS Reframing Mass Violence Research Collaborative. Cosponsored by the Human Rights Program, and the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. This talk occurred on May 8, 2014, from 3:00-4:30pm in 1-109 Hanson Hall.
Written by Anna Meteyer

Monday, May 12, 2014

Student-led art exhibition brings scholars, artists, activists and students together in conversation on art and politics

unnamed-4.jpgOn April 23rd, a public forum took place to celebrate the opening of the art exhibition The Enduring of Labor. Student curator Anna Meteyer organized the exhibition under the supervision of Howard Oransky, Director of the Nash Gallery, in hopes to spark conversation concerning topics of labor and social justice. The exhibition, open April 22nd - May 3rd, spoke to injustices rampant in labor industries and services, and celebrated the struggle against systemic forces of oppression. The artists that were included drew upon their own personal experiences, worked with marginalized communities, and/or incorporated their academic research in their artistic practice and advocacy. The forum, also organized by Anna Meteyer, was intended to provide a space for individuals from across the community to gather in conversation surrounding the issues raised in the exhibition, and about the use of art as a vessel for social change.

Participants in the forum included activists, scholars, labor union members, students, and artists, all of whom engaged in dynamic dialogue on the intersection of art and activism, the incredible social power of political art, and the complexities of representation in artistic activism. Following the discussion, participants enjoyed hors d'oeuvres, continued to converse, and had the opportunity to speak with the artists while walking through the exhibition. A vibrant exchange of ideas regarding issues of injustice in labor took place as attendees reflected on the art displayed in the gallery.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Colombian and Minnesotan students use technology to spark international dialogue on human rights

unnamed-1.jpgTechnological advances have made communicating across borders incredibly easily--as simple as logging on through email and clicking that strange little green button resembling a video recorder. With such tools at our fingertips, we have unprecedented potential for strengthening human rights networks that transcend spacial and political obstacles. Human rights students at the University of Antioquia in Medellin, Colombia, and at the University of Minnesota have initiated a collaborative project that looks to take advantage of the new possibilities presented through innovations in communication technology. These young individuals seek to spark international dialogue among university students surrounding human rights issues and philosophy, which will supplement their human rights classes and add rich dimension to their studies. Such conversation provides an opportunity to gain genuine multicultural understanding of social justice issues, and to create a fortified and united global student body, a body well-suited for addressing the extremely powerful global forces shaping injustice, poverty, and violence across the world today.

On April 25th, 2014, ten students met via Google Hangout to begin an intercultural student conversation on human rights. These students discussed their interests and backgrounds, and imagined what new possibilities could be achieved through fortifying non-institutionalized, international connections between young human rights activists. They shared their frustrations with the limitations of existing legal mechanisms and with the current inaccessibility of human rights discourse to those of low socioeconomic status. They also discussed celebratory elements of international human rights, stressing the potential efficacy that such rights could gain through the spread of interdisciplinary and multi-directional approaches--through building horizontal (i.e. characterized by equitable distribution of power and participation) human rights networks across classes, cultures, races, disciplines, and ideologies.
The students look forward to beginning regular meetings, and are excited to continue engaging in the dynamic exchange of ideas. They hope to build an increasing student base at their universities, and aspire to incorporate more schools as time goes on. As a generation quite distinctly characterized by advances in technology, these students wish to harness the networking power offered through this progress to usher in a new era of social justice activism. If you are interested in learning more, please contact Anna Meteyer at metey001@umn.edu

THIS FRIDAY Celebrate Exceptional Human Rights Students


Friday, May 9, 2014 at 12:00 PM
University of Minnesota - Twin Cities
1210 Heller Hall (West Bank)
271 19th Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55455

Join us as we recognize and celebrate three amazing University of Minnesota undergraduate students and their accomplishments in promoting and protecting human rights, Melanie Paurus (receiving the 4th Annual Inna Meiman Human Rights Award) and Joe Fifield and Anna Meteyer (receiving Sullivan Ballou Awards).

Melanie, Joe and Anna embody the spirit with which these awards were created - recognizing a significant personal contribution to protecting human rights and the heartfelt energy that compels an advocate to take meaningful action.
We are thrilled to welcome back Kathryn Sikkink (Faculty Emeritus at the U of M, the Ryan Family Professor of Human Rights Policy at Harvard Kennedy School, and the Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study) to provide the opening remarks.
Lisa Paul, Inna Meiman Award founder and U of M alum, will present the award to Melanie and Bruce & Elissa Peterson, Ballou Award co-founders, will present awards to Joe and Anna.
We will also be recognizing the wonderful contributions of the 2013-14 HRP Student Advisory Board, taking specific note of our recently graduated and graduating seniors, Kirstin Benish, Jenny Cafarella, Lauren Yon-Soo Kim, Natalie Miller, Aoife O'Connor, Cady Phillips, Lars Røed, Kaile Sepnafski, and Kim Wilson.
Program to include lunch and time to celebrate!
Directions to and parking for Heller Hall

US: A Nation Behind Bars

Far too many US laws violate basic principles of justice by requiring disproportionately severe punishment, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The 36-page report, "Nation Behind Bars: A Human Rights Solution," notes that laws requiring penalties that are far longer than necessary to meet the purposes of punishment have given the United States the world's highest reported rate of incarceration. These laws have spawned widespread and well-founded public doubts about the fairness of the US criminal justice system. Continue reading on the Human Rights Watch website.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Support Diversity at the U of M

1399071622.jpgStudent Group "Whose Diversity?" Presents Diversity Demands to the UMN Administration
Endorse the Demands Here
View the Endorsements Here

"In demanding engagement with more substantial diversity, we are continuing a conversation that began in 1492, and that was highly visible during the 1969 Morrill Hall Student Takeover. This conversation was most recently revitalized by the Whose University? Campaign in 2010-2011. In continuing the questions that were asked at that point, and still in conversation with the leaders of that campaign, we emphasize the need for permanent and substantial structural changes as well as a sustained commitment to equity within the University."