I’d like to write a little about my experience at Amnesty International’s Human Rights College in Montreal (May 25-27, 2011). It is AI Canada’s flagship youth and student training program. To give you an idea of what we covered here’s the draft schedule. A couple of things changed but for the most part this is accurate.
The first day we were able to speak (via Skype) to activists who witnessed the uprising in Egypt to get their view of what role technology, youth, and international organizations like Amnesty International have in pushing for change in the Middle East.
The next morning there was a frank discussion about Amnesty’s major successes and a realization of the immense work left to do. There was a workshop of different issues of Cultural Diversity especially when it comes to running Amnesty groups.
Unfortunately our original guest speaker Antonella Mega, wife of Hamid Ghassemi-Shall imprisoned in Iran since 2008 and sentenced to death on charges of being a spy was unable to attend. However, we were able to have a talk with Juan Melendez, who spent 17 years on Florida’s death row after being wrongfully convicted of murder. It was an intensely personal story about how he came to be arrested, wrongfully convicted, his time in jail (including contemplating suicide), and ultimate release. Up until then the arguments for and against the death penalty had been an abstract concept in my mind. Hearing his story was an incredibly moving experience and put a face to the statistics which prove the application of the death penalty in the United States is racist. You can hear part of Juan’s story here. That segment is 15 minutes long and we were able to speak to him for 50 minutes.
The next day I went to a workshop entitled Violation of land rights, violation of human rights: The case of the Lubicon Cree. It was led by Craig Benjamin who works on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for AI Canada. It was a ‘simulation’ where small groups of students managed a small reserve when suddenly oil and logging companies repeatedly pillaged the land and violated the rights of the local population without compensation and the provincial government would do nothing to stop them. Lo and behold that’s actually what’s happening to the Lubicon Cree.
We then had a panel discussion with the senior management, president, and members of our International Council delegation about international issues of Amnesty International. Then came a presentation: Maternally Mortality – Why Maternal Health is a Human Rights Issue by Lindsay Mossman. It was a really informative discussion about the international consensus and steps taken to pressure governments to make maternal health a priority. Next was a joint discussion by Craig and Lindsay on Working in Collaboration with Others and How to Plan High Impact Events.
Then came a training workshop on Citizen Journalism which was about creating effective press releases and how best to deal with the media in order to garner attention about human rights issues and Amnesty events. There was a workshop that focused on recruiting and the hard job of holding people’s attention and getting them to stay engaged. There was a workshop on effective public speaking by a retired communications professor. It was a really great experience getting critiqued during a speech and having to think on my feet.
We then had a mock debate about a resolution going before the International meeting regarding Amnesty’s acceptance of educational grants from various governments in August which was at times an intense debate.
We had a discussion with coordinators for the Death Penalty, Sri Lanka, China, Myanmar, Singapore, and Columbia. Some of them were retired and had been volunteering for Amnesty for decades. It was a really intense experience when one of them, the Singapore coordinator who had been working for decades said she’d be on her deathbed before she gave up fighting for human rights. Overall it was a really well organized, informative, and most importantly, inspiring few days. Next will be a post about the AI Canada Annual General Meeting which immediately followed the HRC.