Write 4 Rights 2020

On Tuesday evening, January 26, 2021, Group 11 held its first virtual Write4Rights event. The focus was on five cases: families in U.S. Immigration, Customs, and Enforcement (ICE) detention centers, whose health, safety, and right to pursue asylum are at risk; Jani Silva, an environmental defender in prison in Colombia; Idris Khattak, a human rights researcher who was disappeared in Pakistan; Nassima al-Sada, a women’s human rights defender in prison in Saudi Arabia; and students imprisoned for holding a peaceful Pride demonstration in Turkey.

Sandi McMullen, who organized and led the event, provided participants with information and short videos on each case, after which they had time to sign and prepare envelopes. (Some participants had asked that letters and stamps be sent to them beforehand; others had downloaded and printed the letters themselves.) We were able to take several breaks during the event as we listened to talented group members: Marsha Eckart gave us a piano performance, Todd Schwarz sang and played guitar, and Lynne Sharon Schwartz read us her poetry. The evening ended with a rousing Karaoke rendition of “Teach Your Children Well” by Crosby, Stills and Nash. In all, we sent 98 sets of letters, for a total of 490 letters.

Carl Schachter 45th Human Rights Concert to Benefit Amnesty USA Group 11

Group 11 held its annual benefit concert virtually on Sunday, December 6, 2020. We thank Carl Schachter for his generosity in furthering our vision. We also thank our special contributors Miriam Kartch, Laura Friedman and Paul Shneyer, Sharon Griffin, Anna Procyk, Richard Goode and The Kranzdorf Family Foundation. You can still make a donation and stream the full concert (see link below).

Program notes are here. And you can watch the one hour concert in full here.

music notes on a printed musical staff

Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights

The establishment of the Commission on Unalienable Rights (“Pompeo Commission”) in 2019 prompted concern among human rights advocates and academics that the Commission could redirect U.S. human rights policy in ways that would be self-defeating and would create serious damage to international cooperation for the protection of human rights. 

The Commission released a draft report last week accompanied by a speech by Secretary Pompeo where he attacked the 1619 Project, questioned the so-called proliferation of rights and the role of international courts, and pointed to America’s unique role in championing “the dignity of every human being made in the image of God.” 

July 2020 Virtual Meeting

Group 11 member Lara Price reported on a new group she is working with, Justice and Dignity for the Women of the Sahel. Lara, the group’s Volunteer Technical Adviser, has put together a list of JDWS’s needs. Interested Group 11 members should refer to our Sahel page.

Daria, our Group 11 colleague who is now in Canada, joined this month’s Zoom call and reported on Iran.

Zeynab Jalalian, a Kurdish political prisoner on whose behalf AIUSA Group 11 has been campaigning for years, may have contracted COVID-19 virus in prison in Iran. Zeynab had a history of serious and untreated medical problems during her long imprisonment in Iran, which puts her life at high risk if she tests positive for coronavirus. Zeynab was moved to Gharchak Prison in Shahre Rey in June, and her relatives struggled to locate her and get in touch with her. It is unclear what exactly she is now and what her current condition is. Please mail a letter in support of Zaynab to the Iran Mission in NYC.

In July 2020, the UN called on Iran to release human rights defender Narges Mohammadi, who was reportedly showing suspected COVID-19 symptoms, and other arbitrarily detained individuals. The authorities are putting Narges’ health and life at risk by denying her health care and holding her in inhumane conditions. She is held solely for her peaceful human rights work and must be released immediately and unconditionally. Please sign an AI Canada’s petition in support of prisoners in Iran here.

Your social media actions matter! We often overlook the opportunity to use social media for our activism in favor of more trusted channels like appeal letters, paper petitions, and demonstrations. While the latter ones are important, in the times of pandemic social media provides great platforms for online campaigning. Your social media posts can make change! For example, last week a social media storm saved the lives of three men: Amir Hossein Moradi, Saeed Tamjidi, and Mohammad Rajab. The men participated in November 2019 protests erupted following a change in the petrol price policy, and reportedly were tortured in detention following their arrest. Thanks to hundreds and thousands of people who joined the protest and condemned the scheduled execution, the execution was postponed and may be halted, as the activists demand an independent and impartial investigation into the allegations of torture, followed by the prosecution of perpetrators if the allegations are well-founded.

And our colleague Nick Ogutu from the Bronx reported on the plight of international students in NYC:

Due to the pandemic, many international students are stranded here in New York City and other cities across the nation. The schools are closed and most of them have run out of money. Many of them are currently being assisted by our Amnesty International  chapter in the Bronx but it’s an overwhelming task. We would appreciate any donations in cash and in kind to help them.

1. Cash to buy supplies, subway tickets, international phone cards to connect with their families back home.
2. Food vouchers
3. Subway/bus tickets
4. International calling cards

You can send money or gift cards to AIUSA Group 11 in Manhattan or to Nick Ogutu of AIUSA Bronx chapter CashApp ($Nickombeyi) or Venmo (@nick-Ogutu)

Iran May 1st Action

Please join the Labor Day action in support of Iranian labor unionists Ebrahim Madadi (a senior member of the Workers of Tehran Suburbs Bus Company) and Esmail Abdi (a math teacher and a Teachers’ rights activist). We will create a separate collage for each of them and share these collages on our social media.

To participate:

  • Wear Amnesty gear (if you have it, fine if you don’t)
  • Make letter-size banners with one of the following messages
    • For Esmail Ebdi: “I stand with Esmail Abdi”, “Free Esmail Abdi”, “I support Teachers’ rights in Iran”, “Prison is no place for teachers!”, or your own message.
    • For Ebrahim Madadi: “I support Ebrahim Madadi”, “Free Ebrahim Madadi”, “Workers’ rights are human rights”, or your own message.
  • You can draw an Amnesty candle next to your message if you want to
  • Please take a picture of yourself holding this message against your chest and take a picture of yourself.
  • Please submit your photos by this Thursday, April 30, 6:00pm to [email protected]

Write for Rights 2020

On January 22 Group 11 held its most successful Write for Rights. Hundreds of letters on behalf of human rights defenders from 10 countries were signed. They will be added to the over 300 letters from the concert and another event.

Special thanks to:

  • Sandi for the magnificent organization and management.of the event
  • Mariana and Jan for the tasty and varied refreshments.
  • Todd and George (and his friends) for the music
  • Lara for helping with the setup
  • Neil for the photos

And the members, friends and family who joined in.

American Muslim

Amnesty co-sponsored a screening of a new documentary, “American Muslim,” on Friday evening, January 17, 2020 at the Jewish Community Center, Amsterdam Avenue and 76th Street in Manhattan. The film follows several Muslim activists who live in NYC and who are protesting Trump’s Muslim ban. It shows life in NYC for American Muslim activists. Following the film, a Q&A was held that included the film’s director and Amnesty’s own Daphne Eviator (she spoke at Group 11 last year).

In addition, Lenore and Sandi tabled on Sunday, Jan 19th at the JCC with Group 11’s letters and brochures. Films and events took place all weekend.

2019 Annual Benefit Concert

On Sunday, Dec. 8th Group 11 held its 44th Annual Benefit Concert. The approximately 200-seat Christ & St. Stephen’s Church was packed. As people gathered after the performances ended, everyone seemed to agree that it was a great success. We are greatly indebted to Marcia Eckert, pianist and producer of the concert, for this success. The concert program can be viewed here.

Harry began the event with a moving tribute to Steve Abrams, who passed recently at the age of 92. Steve was a consummate supporter of human rights, making significant contributions to Amnesty International and AI/USA as well as Group 11. Most of us will remember Steve for his enthusiastic involvement in group discussions and activities; our last memory of Steve is his hearty marching and chanting with many of us in front of the Iranian mission to the United Nations on May Day in support of an Iranian prisoner of conscience, a Group 11 tradition.

The highlight of the program was a new choral piece, Human Rights, written by Antoine Miannay in honor of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on Dec. 10, 1948. The lyrics draw from selected articles of the document, and were beautifully rendered by the choral group CantaNYC and members of Amnesty International/USA. The piece was conducted by Group 11 member Claude Lévy. Many audience members expressed how moved they were by the piece.

The concert recognized Human Rights Day, celebrated around the world on or around the date of the declaration’s signing. Group 11 engaged the audience in its activities for the event; at the intermission concert attendees could sign letters in support of several people being denied their human rights. Sandi McMullen, who organized this activity, reports that 217 letters were signed.