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.

NYC Area Activist Meeting 2/21/19

On February 16, AIUSA held an activist meeting for local and student groups in the NYC area. Group 11 members were excited to meet fellow activists and learn more about their projects. During the event, the participants compiled an action calendar that included all the upcoming Amnesty events in NYC area. The event also included a comprehensive lobbying training session presented by Anita Teekah featuring a current AIUSA lobbying effort to end long-term solitary confinement in the state of New York.

Kamiar Alaei talks about his experience as a prisoner of conscience in Iran Evin prison in 2008-2011

The special guest of the meeting was Dr Kamiar Alaei, an Iranian physician who specializes in HIV/AIDS control/treatment and is the co-founder of the Global Institute for Health and Human Rights at UAlbany. Dr. Alaei was illegally imprisoned by the Iranian government from 2008 to 2011 together with his brother and colleague Arash. Their imprisonment, however, didn’t stop them from continuing their life passion for campaigning for health initiatives and education even within the prison community. Driven by their boundless compassion, they spent three years behind the bars improving living conditions of prisoners. They launched a newsletter, reorganized kitchen work, and provided medical services and education to inmates.

Dr Alaei expressed gratitude to human rights organizations Amnesty, Human Right Watch and others that campaigned for his release and pointed out that every letter, petition, solidarity card, and demonstration in support of political prisoners matter since they put pressure on the governments and give hope to prisoners of conscience and their families reassuring them that the world indeed cares about them.

43rd Benefit Concert

Our benefit concert 2018 was a blast! Kudos to Marcia Eckert for organizing such a wonderful event.

We were fortunate to have Blue Door playing the whimsical Debussy Sonata for Cello and Piano as well as a movement from Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. Messiaen wrote this piece while a prisoner of war in German captivity and it was first performed by his fellow prisoners. It has come to be recognized as one of his most important works.

Joseph Rutkowski presented the solo clarinet movement from the same piece. The Eckert/Gilwood duo performed the lyrical Schubert Rondo in A Major for piano four-hands. Vivacious and charismatic mezzo-soprano Janice Meyerson, no stranger to Group 11 concerts, sang Mahler’s haunting Songs of a Wayfarer. Robert Muczynski’s jaunty and jazzy Fantasy Trio for clarinet, cello and piano rounded out the concert.

2019 Annual Dinner

To celebrate another year of human rights advocacy, Group 11 held its annual get together dinner at Pearl’s Chinese Restaurant on January 7, 2019. Following the group’s longstanding tradition, its co-coordinator Sue asked the attendants to guess the number or letters that the group had collected during the Amnesty’s Write for Rights letter writing marathon in the end of 2018. Steve Abrams came closest to guessing total number of letters we collected. The lucky winner of the contests received a book and a calendar from Sue.

You probably wonder what is the exact amount of letters our group collected during W4R’18 campaign. No more teasing: we collected 692 W4R letters in 2018. Thanks everyone who contributed to help us reach this impressive number!

Steve, who came closest to guessing the amount of W4R letters the Group 11 collected in 2018, receives his gifts from Sue.

2018 Write 4 Rights Night

On November 27, Group 11 observed International Human Rights Day by holding its annual Write 4 Rights event. This year the W4R campaign brought to the spotlight women human rights activists who risked their lives and freedom to rise against injustice and protect their communities.

Marielle Franco

The selection of cases for W4R was not only inspiring, but also highly illustrative of what happen to women when they become political actors around the world. Take the case of Marielle Franco, a black gay woman who grew up in a favela and against the odds managed to get education and become elected to the city council in Rio. Marielle was an ardent critic of police brutality and extrajudicial killings till her last breath: she was murdered right after getting off the stage at a political rally in which she participated in March 2018.

With the far-right movement on the rise in Brazil, and Jair Bolsorano, a politician notorious for his sexism and homophobia, winning presidential election with 55% of voters’ support, some believe that Brazil could be moving towards fascism or military rule. Nevertheless, even in those dire conditions Marielle’s legacy inspired her family, friends and co-workers to continue her fight. Monica Benicio, Marielle’s fiancee, has vowed to defend those who live on margin of Brazilian society: the LGBT people, black Brazilians, and the poor. Women who worked in Marielle’s office decided to run for public office and won their races. One of Marielle’s best friends was elected to the federal Congress.

Marielle became a role model for activists around the world who choose to confront the authorities rather than surrender under their threats. And it isn’t only women who see Marielle as a symbol of resistance. Roger Waters of Pink Floyd was deeply moved by Marielle’s story after he read her obituary. Though Waters had never had a chance to meet her in person, he used his celebrity position to pay tribute to Marielle and denounce the rise of far-right in Brazil during his recent concert in Rio.

Nonhle Mbuthuma

The effects of consumerism on traditional communities was another insight derived from this letter writing marathon. Nonhle Mbuthuma is a human rights activist from the Amadiba community in Pondoland, South Africa, whose ancestral land has been invaded by titanium mining companies that seek to move Nonhle and her village. Titanium is the metal of choice for spacecrafts electronics, but it is also used for manufacturing consumer goods from tennis rackets to laptop plates. Because of the high demand of titanium in the first-world countries, Nonhle’s community of around 5,000 people could lose their homes, and Nonhle herself could lose her life: she has already survived an attempt to kill her.

The list of the wonderful women human rights activists on whose behalf Group 11 wrote letters also include an anti-death penalty campaigner from Iran, youth rights ambassador from Venezuela, a defender of people with disabilities from Kyrgyzstan, an LGBTI advocate from Ukraine, and local community leaders from Morocco, Kenya, India, and Egypt who were harassed, intimidated, and imprisoned for standing up to social injustice.

As the Group 11’s longstanding tradition goes, no W4R is whole without Todd’s guitar performance. Group 11 members sang along with Todd a wide range of popular 80s hits from Cohen’s Hallelujah to Marley’s Get Up.

Group 11 is proud to announce that the number of letters collected during that W4R night event was 405, and the total number of letters the group helped write through its organizing efforts was 692.

Write 4 Righters from Group 11 in NYC and our North Jersey sister group

Long-time supporters of Guantanamo prisoners’ release, Group 11 members took pictures with a hashtag #TransferToffiq for a social media campaign that urges the U.S. Department of Defense to release Toffiq al-Bihani, a Saudi Arabian citizen who has been held in Guantánamo since 2003 and was not moved out even though he was cleared for transfer in 2010.

Executive Director of AIUSA Visits Group 11

Margaret Huang, an advocate for human rights and racial justice for more than two decades and the Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, visited Group 11 for our October 23rd monthly meeting. She talked about AIUSA’s current work and its goal of attracting two million active supporters who take at least six meaningful actions a year by 2020.

Stop Gun Violence campaign, together with the Welcome Refugees campaign, is the top priority endeavor for AIUSA today. Margaret shared details of AIUSA research and lobbying efforts to raise awareness and change legislation in states like Missouri, where the use-of-force law permits police to shoot fleeing suspects. Some stats regarding gun violence in the U.S.:

  • More than 30,000 men, women, and children are killed with guns each year in the United States.
  • Among high-income countries, the United States accounts for 80 percent of all gun deaths in the world, 86 percent of all women killed by guns, and 87 percent of all children younger than 14 who are killed by guns.

Amnesty Staffers Visit Group 11

Denise Bell (Researcher for Refugee & Migrant Rights and former Group 11 member), Prachi Rao (Field Organizer) and Edwin Gur (Community Programs Coordinator) were welcome guests at Group 11’s July 2018 meeting.  Denise discussed Amnesty’s organizational approach, gave us an overview of campaigns and programs and brought us up to speed on upcoming initiatives, including the August Lobby Week, Regional Conferences, Write 4 Rights, and NY Member Leader Meeting.

Teodora is free!

In a welcome and unexpected development, the Supreme Court of El Salvador freed Teodora del Carmen Vásquez on Feb. 15, 2018, ending her 10-year legal nightmare. Teodora’s case had been a focus of Group 11 and we are thrilled to learn she is now at home with her family.

Group 11: Winner of the 2017 Individuals at Risk Case Commitment Award

Group 11 has taken a special interest in the case of Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, an El Salvadoran woman who suffered a stillbirth in 2007 yet jailed for years under her country’s draconian anti-abortion laws that presumed her guilt rather than innocence. Several members of Group 11 wrote letters, organized petition campaigns, did radio interviews and spoke with political and other organizational figures. Group 11’s long interest in Teodora’s case was recognized by AIUSA in the Individuals at Risk Case Commitment Award.

case commitment award 2017
AIUSA Group 11 volunteers posing with 2017 Individuals at Risk Case Commitment Award