Human Rights Fair brings awareness to City

Rebecca Saffran and Emily Pfaff and Rebecca Saffran and Emily Pfaff

By Rebecca Saffran
and Emily Pfaff
City Times

The City College chapter of Amnesty International hosted its first Human Rights Festival May 8-9 on campus to raise awareness of domestic and global issues in the hopes of encouraging students to take action.

Students established Amnesty International (AI) at City just this past year, but AI worldwide has worked to have over 40,000 prisoners of conscience released since its inception in 1961.

AI works to enforce the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly. According to AI handouts, the declaration provides “a common standard of achievement for all people and all nations.”

Amnesty International defines human rights as, “the basic freedoms and protections that all people are entitled to because they are human beings.” AI states human rights are universal, inherent, inalienable, indivisible, essential, and often violated.

During the two-day festival that took place in Gorton Quad, students brushed up on a variety of current issues. Tables lined the Quad with flyers on topics like genocide in Darfur, the slew of murders and injustices on women in Juarez, corporate accountability, death penalty in California, and efforts to free prisoners of conscience around the world. Students attended workshops and film screenings, wrote letters and signed petitions while sampling free soy ice cream.

“The biggest action is political,” said professor of Black Studies at City College Nathan Katungi. Katungi spotlighted as a guest speaker for an informational meeting on the death penalty in America and California.

When asked how the death penalty could be abolished in America, Katungi said, “you have to convince the government and a lot of people that believe in the death penalty. You have to put it on a personal level.”

Shi Tao, a Chinese journalist who used his Yahoo! account to send an e-mail to a U.S.-based pro-democracy Web site, was arrested by police in November 2004 and charged with “illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities.” In his e-mail, Shi Tao summarized a government order to downplay the upcoming 15th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Authorities used information provided by Yahoo! to convict him in April 2005 and sentenced him to 10 years in prison. As one of AI’s Special Focus Cases, petitions were available to sign in support of freeing Shi Tao.

Eneri Rodriguez, graduate professor of women’s studies at San Diego State, conducted the workshop on what is being termed, ‘femicide’ in Juarez, Mexico. According to her presentation, murders began in 1993, “then grew to an epidemic.”

Rodriguez attributes the murders to “an upset in the gender balance” as women began to replace men in the maquiladoras, or assembly plants, angering the local male population. Rodriguez also cited other factors such as NAFTA’s chapter 11 failure to enforce policies to protect women in the workplace, encouraging audience members to raise awareness of NAFTA’s shortcomings by joining groups like the Mexican Solidarity Network to help the women of Juarez (www.mexicosolidarity.org).

Michael Dunford, cognitive science major, felt the presentation was helpful and was glad to learn about NAFTA’s policies saying, “Something needs to be done to stop this.”

The Intervarsity Christian Fellowship was also present adding a more spiritual element to the event, providing participants with markers and a blank canvas to “write, draw, express your thoughts” about God in the midst of human rights atrocities.

Students expressed skepticism, “Which God?”, or “I think God’s man made.” Others found humor, “God is white so he is napping,” or “Hiding in the devil with the details,” and “You are God.” One student, a Catholic from Sudan, read the responses, sighed, and wrote her own, “Allah is everywhere.”

Jacki Boynes, biology major and member of Intervarsity, said students responded to the question as she expected. “We have so many walks of life on this campus. Some have strong backgrounds with God and believe He exists, others believe God doesn’t care.”

Rachel Brewer, current president of the City chapter of Amnesty International, said she is excited about AI at City and hopes more students join in the coming semesters. To find out more, visit www.freewebs.com/aicity or www.amnestyusa.org.