Friday, September 29, 2006

Victim-Activated Landmine Act

A question was raised at one of our non-virtual meetings regarding a new piece of legislation we are working on regarding the meaning of "victim-activated" landmine.  We have an answer!
The Victim-Activated Landmine Act of 2006 (S. 3768) would ensure that the U.S. government only procures command activated weapons as opposed to victim activated weapons. Command activated munitions are detonated by human decision through remote-controlled means, requiring a user to identify a target first in order to ensure that they are not a civilian or a friendly force.
More background here.  Multi-media stories of landmine survivors here.  Everything else you need to know at the International Campaign to Ban Landmines site.

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Banned Books Miscellany

Closing out Banned Books Week, a more traditional approach to the subject can be found at the American Library Association's site. All your questions answered about the most notorious books. For fun, you can order a banned books bracelet. (I found myself thinking about which Rights Readers books would look good around my wrist!)

Or here's one I think our Loyal Readers would surely enjoy: donate a banned book for a free empanada and coffee at the Banned Books Cafe.
Not only do we have a number of banned books on hand (the recently discussed banned-in-Belarus Voices from Chernobyl comes to mind), many of us have fond memories of meetings with homemade empanadas, made by a Cherished Former Reader. Too bad this deal can only be had in San Antonio.

Finally, for inspiration, The Nation offers profiles in courageous librarians.


Thursday, September 28, 2006

For January: Bitter Grounds

For January we have selected Sandra Benitez' Bitter Grounds:
Spanning the years between 1932 and 1977, this beautifully told epic is set in the heart of El Salvador, where coffee plantations are the center of life for rich and poor alike. Following three generations of the Prieto clan and the wealthy family they work for, this is the story of mothers and daughters who live, love, and die for their passions.

Epic in scope, richly steeped in history, Bentez's poetic yet unsentimental novel takes you into another time, another place, and into the lives of characters so real they cannot be forgotten.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Banned Books Week

For Rights Readers, Banned Books Week has a little twist-- its more like Banned Writers Week. Please check here for profiles and downloadable actions to take on behalf of jailed journalists, bloggers, poets, editors and publishers. As a bonus, the action for Shi Tao (a case we've touched on before) can also be done electronically. For inspiration, read (or watch on video) journalist and former prisoner of conscience Akbar Ganji's discussion of censorship in Iran.

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

For Your Sunday Contemplation

It's been a tough week where I have been stunned to hear pundits opine that lawmakers who take a pro-torture stance will have the political advantage in upcoming elections. Can we put politics aside and talk morality? Here's a group of folks trying to make this point. For your contemplation -- and action-- today, please visit the National Religious Campaign Against Torture website and consider endorsing their statement of conscience Torture is a Moral Issue and either take action on supporting the Geneva Conventions at the NRCAT site and/or through Amnesty. Amnesty International is an Adjunct Member of NRCAT.

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

King Leopold Screening

Since our last mention of the documentary film version of King Leopold's Ghost, we have been waiting patiently for more screenings. Now, finally, Artists for Amnesty comes through this Thursday. Unfortunately, most of our Esteemed Readers have a schedule conflict, but can we hope that a theatrical release or DVD is on the horizon? (Variety reviews the film here.) In any case, this bit of news reminds us that we failed to mention that Rights Readers (the group not the blog) is seven years old this month!!! And our inaugural book? King Leopold's Ghost. Hence our eagerness. We look forward to a delayed celebration.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Banned Book Week Warmup

Launching with some good news!

Novelist Elif Shafak (see previous post) has been acquitted of "insulting Turkishness."  Now repeal the law!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

John Le Carre Journeys to Congo

In The Nation, John Le Carre goes to the Congo in search of fictional characters... and one of his guides is Michela Wrong. The NYT reviews Le Carre's latest novel here.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Day for Darfur Rallies

An account of the worldwide "Day for Darfur" demonstrations held yesterday can be found here.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

9/18 A Sad Anniversary

Today is the fifth anniversary of the detentions without charge or trial of 11 former Eritrean members of parliament, 10 journalists and hundreds of other men and women who were arrested in a crackdown on government critics calling for democratic reforms in September 2001. They remain in detention without trial and Amnesty is concerned about reports that some prisoners may have died in custody. Read the press release detailing Amnesty's human rights concerns here. Amnesty International Group 22 urges you to take action on behalf of Estifanos Seyoum, one of the imprisoned former members of parliment. We hope to add other actions here soon, check back for an update! Update: Online action is available here,

In non-Amnesty news, Eritrean activists and supporters are converging on DC today for a candlelight vigil. We're symbolically raising our own candle in hope for the speedy release of these prisonsers of conscience.

Booker Short List

The short list for the Booker Prize has been released and at least half of them are what I would call "Rights Readers-eligible."  Want to guess which ones?  Look for discussion of one or more of these books on this page in the near future!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Global Day for Darfur

This Sunday is "Day for Darfur" with a New York rally to demonstrate the need to send United Nations peacekeepers to Darfur, Sudan. Visit the Global Day for Darfur page and check out the rallies scheduled for other cities and countries. You can also dress yourself up in a blue peacekeeper beret or sign Amnesty's "add a blue helmet" petition here. If you want to do something a bit more serious, Amnesty International has issued the fourth in its series of actions for its summer campaign for Sudan. If you haven't written these letters, now would be a great time! If you need some inspiration, check out this Amnesty Magazine article or this video about refugees in Chad.

(Oops! I think it's great that Amnesty is uploading campaign videos to the web, but this one is missing some subtitles. This page has a shorter version that fills in some gaps.)

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

He Didn't Do It For Them

A final post on Michela Wrong's I Didn't Do It for You (though not our last Eritrea post by any means). Here's a review article of Wrong's book, entitledHe Didn’t Do It for Them, appearing in Middle East Report, written by Eritrea expert Dan Connell, which adds another layer to her analysis of the human rights situation in Eritrea. Also, if you scroll down this page you can hear audio of Connell presenting at an Eritreans for Human and Democratic Rights-UK organized Human Rights Symposium (moderated by... Michela Wrong!).

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Language Lesson

Language Geek alert!  I know we weren't going to let this take over the blog until November, but just felt the need to provide a few links on language in Eritrea before wrapping up our Michela Wrong-I Didn't Do It for You  thread.  Here's a map of Eritrean languages and Omniglot has more on Ge'ez and Tigrinya, including links to fonts for download (clean up those messy looking - ??? - Eritrean webpages!).  And in the interests of pure geekiness, Omniglot also has an Interlingua page.  No need to apologize if you don't recall where the book references this.  You're normal.  For those that did perk up at this bit of trivia, I know I'll be hearing shortly from you about the formation of a Tigrinya study group. Rock on.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

9/11 Miscellany

Some book related 9/11 miscellany:

Last night I watched the rebroadcast of the excellent PBS Frontline special Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero and noted the presence of Kanan Makiya, profiled in the Rights Readers selection, Calamities of Exile by Lawrence Weschler. The website offers an online interview with Makiya and poking around the site I also found this link to reflections by a number of authors on the legacy of 9/11.

And we can't forget another Rights Readers selection, Tainted Legacy: 9/11 and the Ruin of Human Rights by William Schulz, former Executive Director of Amnesty International USA. Turns out a few months back, Schulz gave a speech at the UC-San Diego's Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice and its available via Google Video! So if you want the short version of the book, need an update, or (for those who are well acquainted) are otherwise feeling nostalgic for those Sufi anecdotes, here you go:

(Yeah! My first video post, just wanted to see if I could do this!)

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Remembering 9/11

The odd things that one remembers. On September 11, 2001, after taking in the news early in the morning I went to work as usual.  I parked my car and walking past Los Angeles Central Juvenile Hall on the way to the office, I encountered a parent and child headed away from the building.  Looking relieved, they told me the courts were closed.  Their judgement day, maybe their own family tragedy, had been postponed by our national tragedy. Mostly what I remember though, is that our Amnesty International chapter had a letter-writing meeting that evening.  Because Caltech closed its campus, regretably, we had to cancel it.  Some of us obeyed the instinct to be in community anyway and gathered at our favorite discussion spot, Vroman's bookstore, to debrief the day's events over coffee, but I think we would have felt even better if we had been writing.  For this reason, I think I will always associate 9/11 with Amnesty letter-writing. 

Sometime later, I observed that even though many felt the world changed on that day, for our then prisoner of conscience case, a Tibetan monk, nothing changed at all.  He was still in prison and the shift in geopolitics wasn't going to affect him.  We still needed to make sure he wasn't a "forgotten prisoner."  Now we have adopted a different prisoner of conscience case, Eritrean Estifanos Seyoum.  In his case, the world did change that week, but not in a way that the rest of us noticed.  He was arrested on September 18, 2001 and although never officially charged or brought to trial and he has been held incommunicado since that time. We still need to make sure he isn't forgotten. I still want to obey that instinct to connect with a wounded world and offer some small token of healing.  I can't think of anything better to do today then take action on Estifanos Seyoum's case and visit Amnesty International's Action Center for more letters to write.

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

LA Event: Edward P. Jones

Edward P. Jones, author of The Known World, will be speaking about his latest book All Aunt Hagar’s Children: Stories, at the Los Angeles Public Library on Thursday, September 21 at 7:00 PM, Zipper Hall at the Colburn School, 200 South Grand Avenue --just north of MOCA. Reservations/details here.

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Eritrea Virtual Tour

Okay, you've just finished I Didn't Do It for You : How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation and you congratulate yourself on having learned a lot about Eritrea, but now you've got more questions. Where to go? This site is like a virtual tour of the country and provides lots of light browsing, including facts and figures, photograhs, recipes(!) and the like. If you want something with more depth, browse this collection of links provided by Stanford University Libraries.


Friday, September 08, 2006

LA Event: Child Trafficking Conference

Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking and several other area organizations are sponsoring "Hiding in Plain Sight: Finding and Protecting Child Victims of Trafficking A Southern California Conference for Advocates," on Wednesday, September 20, 2006, from 9:30 am – 5:00 pm at The Center at Cathedral Plaza (555 West Temple St. Los Angeles, 90012). Keynote Speaker for the event will be Kevin Bales, President of Free the Slaves and author of the highly recommended Rights Readers selection Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy). Conference flyer and registration form can be found here.

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Lethal Injection Update

Let's start with this thought from Anna Quindlen,
The question isn't whether executions can be made painless: it's whether they're wrong. Everything else is just quibbling. And most of the quibbling simply boils down to trying to make the wrong seem right.
That said, after several months respite, lethal injection is back in the news here in California now that a hearing in the Michael Morales case is coming up later this month.  Here are a few resources to bring us up to speed: Death Penalty Focus has a page running down the various pending legal cases in the state.  For a national perspective check out the Death Penalty Information Center's resource page on the subject.

Worth remembering while the lethal injection issue progresses is that the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice continues its work of examing the causes of wrongful convictions and making recommendations to insure the fairness of the administration of criminal justice in the state.  The commission has already issued three reports and some of its recommendations are being implemented via the legislative process (see for example the recent bill to require electronic recording of interrogations of individuals charged with serious offenses now sitting on the governor's desk).  In addition to these reforms, ultimately, the commission will weigh in on the fairness of the death penalty itself and this judgment could be far more important to the retention of this practice than quibbling over the method we use to kill.  Let's not lose sight of that goal.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Arizona to Eritrea

Here's an inspiring piece of activism for those of you travelling with us on our journey to better understand the human rights situation in Eritrea:  This summer Amnesty International activists in Phoenix put together an ambitious program of performance art focusing on the plight of Eritrean prisoners of conscience in conjunction with Amnesty's Denounce Torture! campaign.  Very impressive!  More pictures and detailed description here.  I think some of our Readers will definitely want to look these folks up in a few weeks when attending the Amnesty International USA Western Regional Meeting in Tuscon.

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Saturday, September 02, 2006

Portrait of a Textile Worker

For your Labor Day contemplation, check out this art quilt project by Terese Agnew, Portrait of a Textile Worker.

Portrait of a Textile Worker makes one person among millions of unseen workers, visible. Her image was constructed with thirty thousand clothing labels stitched together over two years. The idea came from a simple observation. One day while shopping in a department store I noticed huge signs everywhere -- Calvin Klein, Liz Claiborne, Kathy Lee and so on. They were all proper names. I'd recently met two garment workers and realized that by contrast, their identity was rarely thought of and often deliberately hidden. That anonymity could be undone by assembling a view of one worker using the well-known names on apparel she produced.

A little more detail can be seen on this page. Visit Behind the Label for more info on in anti-sweatshop organizing.

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Friday, September 01, 2006

Our September Author: Michela Wrong

Here's a Fresh Air interview with Michela Wrong, author of I Didn't Do It for You : How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation.

Wrong also writes a regular column for the New Statesman.  You can check out her views on African issues here.  (Warning!  The New Statesman only lets you read one column per day without a subscription.  And to discourage you more, the article titles are rather opaque.  Worth keeping this in mind though to see her take on any new developments in Eritrea.) 

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