Amnesty International takes actionWednesday, May 09, 2007 By Yannell Selman
Amnesty International, an organization dedicated to the preservation of human rights all around the world, has become a force in the community. The school’s chapter has been active all year in organizing events to alleviate some of the humanitarian issue world wide. Some of these include the persecution of the mentally handicapped, the Sudanese genocide, and the captivation of political prisoners. The club’s primary objective is to have students be involved and aware. “Organizations such as AI [Amnesty International] allow me to take part in imperative issues around the world,” Deivid Rojas, senior, said. This year, the club participated in Amnesty week, as well as the week for Student Action. During Amnesty week, which was from October 23rd to the 27th, included several activities to get students involved and informed. Class discussions were given through out the days to explain the alleged abuse of the death penalty on the mentally handicapped. Presentations were approximately 15 minutes long, and included a question/answer session to get students participating. Many students quickly developed opinions regarding the subjects discussed, and heated debates usually followed the informational sessions. Petitions were subsequently signed to be sent to state representatives with the intent that the representatives would value the concerns of the high school age group and work against the execution of such persons. There was also an entire day dedicated to signing petitions for different causes. Nwang Choephel also came to speak to an assembly of students regarding the injustices he endured after being captured by Chinese authorities. The club also hosted a social for its members, along with any other interested people, to raise the awareness of various issues relating to Amnesty as an organization. During that same week, there was a Write-A-Thon for students to write letters and make cards to political prisoners. A Peanut Butter and Jelly (“PB&J”) social was also held this week to raise awareness. During the Week for Student Action, which was from March 26th through March 29th, the club focused only on the conflict in Darfur. The first event was a rally during lunch in the Pavilion to get students to sign petitions that represented the protests of students in reaction to the genocide. The next was a movement to get all of the student body to wear only black in order to mourn the casualties (over 400,000 thus far) and displacements (2.5 million). Some also chose not to speak during that day. They held class discussions during March as well, but this time only about the genocide. The club’s speakers reported an average of 0-2 people per class that had even heard of the conflict at all, which was the reason they were speaking. Posters were put up all over the school, and flyers and stickers were given out to gather support for the cause. There was also a film festival exposing a movie from Sudan shown after school on March 29th hosted by the club. Upcoming events include the Sudan Walk on May 5th. Many feel the club has been successful in raising awareness. “I think the club has been very effective; it has a lot of people involved and everyone knows the issues,” Julia Rapicavoli, junior, said. Upcoming events include the Sudan Walk, to be held on Saturday, April 28th. Ashley Hoffman is the advisor. The current officers are: Deivid Rojas (President), Elena Quiroz (Vice President), Janet Carega (Secretary), Sandra Almeida (Urgent Action Coordinator), Alexis Wong (Network Coordinator), Nicole Espaillat (Historian), Maria Sabando (Treasurer). The newly elected board members are: Nidya Sarria (President), Alexis Wong (Vice President), and Lucila Espinoza (Secretary). Being involved in Amnesty can be very rewarding. “It has been an experience that has brought personal growth. [Amnesty International] has been my way of giving back and being thankful for all the opportunities I have been given,” Rojas said. The primary concern of the local Amnesty Chapter is the Darfur Genocide, and the Chinese and American intervention of it. In short, the Sudanese government is supporting a paramilitary operation in the area called Darfur that has been killing and displacing innocents. Those that are displaced do not have access to certain resources at their refugee camps, and are often forced to fight over items like water (especially in Lake Chad). There have also been reports of women being raped at these camps. The Janjaweed, which is the military group responsible for the genocide, is a private army that is backed by the government. The Janjaweed is known for burning villages, torturing captives, and killing indiscriminately. The United States has sent troops lately, as well as during past conflicts, and Colin Powell has acknowledged the crisis as well. There has been pressure recently on the Chinese government to rise up against the African Union that supports the Sudanese government. Amnesty is not only active in school, but all over Miami-Dade County. “I’ve definitely signed petitions and stuff during lunch for Amnesty at my school. We had a project in English class about Darfur, and I think it’s important to know what’s going on,” Kayla Sanchez, sophomore at Coral Reef Senior, said. The club offers several options for getting involved. Joining the club is the easiest and most obvious way to make a difference. The club recommends contacting local congressional representatives (by either phone, email, or mail) and telling them about concerns, as well as encouraging them to fight for human rights and other civil liberties. Visit www.savedarfur.org for more information on this specific crisis. There is a Blue Helmet petition to allow peace keepers to go into Darfur, which the club also supports. Amnesty International is not affiliated with an economic, political, or religious party.