Human rights group spends day at the U

Today's conference will address life in the Minneapolis area post-Sept. 11.

Lindsay Guentzel

The Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights are taking over the University’s law school today as the group commemorates the 59th anniversary of the signing of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The event, “Voices from Silence: September 11 and the Impact on Refugees, Immigrants and Religious Minorities,” will focus on the impact Sept. 11 had on these groups in Minneapolis and the surrounding communities.

where to go

Minnesota advocates for human rights
what: Human Rights Day film, “Divided We Fall.”
when: 7:30 p.m.
where: Coffman Theater
For a complete schedule of events, go to the Minnesota Advocates web site.

Colleen Beebe, attorney and education program director for the nongovernmental organization the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, said she hopes the conference’s speakers help the broader community understand the issue of life after Sept. 11.

“We’ll get information on what action people can take to protect themselves, action they can take to hold people accountable,” Beebe said.

On Feb. 22, the Minnesota Advocates released “Voices from Silence,” a report that will be highlighted during today’s conference. The Minnesota Advocates talked to more than 100 people in Minnesota who experienced discrimination and bias after Sept. 11 and compiled their responses and stories into a report, Beebe said.

The group hopes to utilize the report’s research and give a voice to people who have been hurt or are fearful about speaking out, she said.

Speakers at the conference will include a woman who was held in a U.S.-run Japanese internment camp during World War II and a representative from the Anti-Defamation League.

“I’m excited because it really represents a lot of different groups,” Beebe said.

Wendy Diedrich, a political science senior and president of the University’s Amnesty International chapter, said students should consider attending today’s conference because the issues are important in today’s society.

“These issues are so pressing and they are important to so many different people,” she said. “It affects us all because we all know someone who is a refugee, we all know someone who is from another country.”

Beebe said the film “Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath,” which will show at Coffman Union today, was created by Valarie Kaur, a third-generation Sikh American who spent five years developing the film. After a man wearing a turban was murdered in her community, Kaur decided to drive across the country and find stories of hate and discrimination that would otherwise not be heard.

“She’s a force,” Beebe said. “She’s incredible.”

Kaur is also scheduled to speak at the conference.

The conference also allows people to talk about difficult issues in a safe, educational environment, Beebe said.

“Directly after 9/11, there was an increase in hate crimes,” she said. “Those sort of situations still do happen today, over six years later.”

According to a report issued by the FBI, 7,722 incidents of hate crime were reported to the bureau by participating agencies in 2006. In Minnesota, 137 hate crimes were reported to the FBI from 53 state-participating agencies.

The Minnesota Advocates works in more than 25 countries and has produced more than 50 reports on human rights. It was founded in 1983 by a group of Minnesota lawyers who wanted to improve and protect human rights in the United States and around the world.

“As a human rights organization, we conduct research, advocacy and education to promote human rights,” Beebe said.

The organization is powerful on a broad level but is also good at helping with specific cases, Diedrich said.

“They know how to tailor their services to people here in the cities,” she said.

There have been problems after Sept. 11 besides those dealing with security, and Diedrich said she hopes the conference makes people aware of that.

“The issue is more universal than people realize,” she said. “Post-9/11 so much has changed in the human rights world.”