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ISSUE 120 VOL 5 PUBLISHED 10/27/2006

Human rights advocated

By Jean Mullins
News Editor

Friday, October 27, 2006

The St. Olaf branch of Amnesty International celebrated its first annual Amnesty International Human Rights week, Saturday through Sunday. Through a series of events, the group sought to educate the student body about human rights issues around the world, especially in the Darfur region in Sudan, and to provide an outlet for students to take action.

"The St. Olaf campus is very aware of domestic political issues," said Beth Linn ‘09, a member of Amnesty International, "but we wanted to increase awareness about issues of Amnesty International and human rights."

The week began with Benjamin Ajak, a “lost boy” from Sudan. He and his cousins have written a book called "They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky". Ajak and his cousins, Alephonsion and Benson Deng were raised in Sudan but relocated after the Sudanese civil war to a refugee camp in Kenya. The United States opened its borders to these refugees and in 2001 the Dengs and Ajak came to America. Ajak was scheduled to arrive at John F. Kennedy Airport on Sept. 11, 2001, but had his flight diverted to Canada. Ajak is now working and attending school. He gave the audience a message of hope that refugees can have productive lives if given a chance.

Monday, Amnesty International hosted a letter-writing campaign. Approximately 400 students wrote letters about the situation in Darfur.

The week also featured several discussion panels. Tuesday, faculty participated in a panel discussion titled "Terrorism and Human Rights" that drew 45 students. Wednesday the St. Olaf chapter of Pi Sigma Alpha, the political science honor society, the Poltical Awareness Committee (PAC) and the Pre-Law Society co-sponsored a panel on the ethics of interrogation with Amnesty International. Panelists included Roger Brokaw, a reservist and former interrogator at Abu Ghraib, Charles Samuelson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota; Jim Dorsey, attorney and co-founder of Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights; Peter Swanson, attorney and member of the Center for the American Experiment; and moderator Tony Lott, assistant professor of political science.

"The goal of the panel is to facilitate discussion about a very difficult and very important topic," said organizer Douglas Casson, assistant professor of political science.

He said that in the wake of court decisions and debates in Congress about interrogations, "I think it is very appropriate that we have a chance to discuss about our national policies."

Also on Wednesday at the Memorial Tower was a prayer for peace. Amnesty International invited several religious groups on campus to offer their prayers for peace.

Thursday was the International Service Fair, which brought representatives from several human rights organizations to share opportunities to get involved, as well as their international experiences.

Saturday former Ambassador to Rwanda Robert Flaten ’56 will speak in Dittman Center about his experiences in the U.S. Foreign Service. He served in Israel, Pakistan, France and Afghanistan.

On Sunday the week will wrap up with the Jamnesty Concert in the Pause from 7 to 10:30 p.m.

Performers include the Limestones, the Joey Kantor Trio and Les Deuce Punks de Faux. Admission is free, but there is a suggested donation of three to four dollars. Proceeds will go to Amnesty International’s efforts in Darfur.

"This [week] has been such a collaborative effort," said Laura Groggel ’08, president of Amnesty International at St. Olaf.

"Many students, professors and organizations have helped put this week together. It could not have worked without everyone."

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