U students write letters to address human rights abuse

Students participated in a "Write-a-thon" directed at world leaders.

Jerret Raffety

Rita Hardie, a first-year College of Liberal Arts student, had never addressed a world leader before.

But on Thursday night, she and other University students got their chance to by participating in the Amnesty International at the University’s student organization’s “Write-a-thon” at Coffman Union.

The Write-a-thon was an evening of handwriting letters to nations such as Iran, Mexico, Nepal, Oman, Myanmar, Belarus, China, Vietnam, Colombia and Indonesia in commemoration of International Human Rights Day on Friday, Dec. 10, said Wendy Diedrich, president of the Amnesty International at the University and a CLA sophomore.

By writing the letters, the students intend to draw the attention of governments in countries where human rights violations are occurring, Diedrich said.

Friends and family of the students sponsored them, pledging to give a certain amount for every letter written, or donating one lump sum. The money will go toward international postage and supplies for the letters, as well as future Amnesty International events, Diedrich said.

The group’s goal for the evening was to have 100 letters written concerning these causes.

In some cases, governments aren’t even aware that human rights violations are occurring within their own borders, she said.

“It’s important that these governments know that a nation that has the economic and political influence as the U.S. has is watching their human rights record,” Diedrich said.

A human rights violation is defined as anything that contradicts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, she said.

The declaration outlines the basic freedoms and liberties that every person deserves, including fair treatment under the law and freedom of religion and speech, according to Amnesty International’s Web site.

The University’s chapter’s overall mission is to promote awareness among students of human rights violations throughout the world. They focus on prisoners of conscience, political prisoners, abolishing the death penalty and stopping torture, Diedrich said.

The organization is a campus chapter of the Amnesty International organization. Amnesty International is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights, according to the organization’s Web site.

The worldwide Amnesty International organization consists of approximately 1.5 million members, said David Weissbrodt, human rights law professor.

Letter-writing campaigns have been effective approximately 40 percent of the time, according to studies done by the Amnesty International organization, he said.

In addition, letter-writing campaigns have been found to worsen the situation in only 5 percent of cases, according to the same studies, Weissbrodt said. The effect was unknown in the remainder of cases, he said.

The letter-writing campaigns have proven effective in the past because most governments are sensitive about their human rights record and don’t want to look bad to the rest of the world, Weissbrodt said.

Diedrich said she hopes the event will increase awareness of Amnesty International’s presence on campus.

“Many students are interested in the human rights cause but don’t know how to get involved,” Diedrich said.

“We’re looking to solve that.”