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DHS Amnesty International writes letters to uphold human rights

by Nancy Hamlett

Harassment of a Colombian woman who is providing health care and shelter for battered women. Women in Turkey sexually abused and tortured after mediating opposing sides in the Kurdish region. Diamond sales in Sierra Leone financing brutal rebel forces.

Saying it is their moral responsibility to attempt to correct the world’s injustices, students at Douglas High School recently joined to form a chapter of Amnesty International.

The formation of Amnesty International (AI) at DHS occurred after Erin Granat, group coordinator for the chapter, attended a writing workshop over the summer. While at the workshop, Granat spoke to another student who was involved with AI at her school.

“She opened my eyes to the impact we could have. I accessed the Web site and learned more about AI. Then I came back to school and started talking to people,” said Granat.

Amnesty International originated in 1981 after founder Peter Benenson read about two Portuguese students sentenced to seven years in jail for making a toast to freedom. Benenson asked readers of the London Observer to write letters asking for the students’ releases, saying they were victims of injustice.

Since then, AI has worked on behalf of 44,600 cases, and in 1977, the organization won the Nobel Peace Prize for its human rights work. There are AI members in over 140 countries and more than 7,500 organized groups.

Amnesty International is a voluntary activist movement, and students direct the focus of their AI chapter. AI promotes the observance of all human rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international standards. It also promotes human rights in general as well as acting against specific human rights abuses.

“We get hooked into different issues, like children, torture and rights,” said Granat. “People our age tend to relate, and we can’t imagine torture and other things that are happening to people.”

The AI chapter boasts 30 students and is growing. A core group of 15 to 20 students attends the weekly meetings. Joining Granat in administrative duties are Ashley Sulprizio as the urgent action coordinator, Mallory Moore as treasurer and Internet coordinator, and Ashley Hedalls as secretary.

Meetings, held every Thursday during lunch, can be as varied as an informational session or a decision to act on a specific human rights violation. Involvement includes letter-writing campaigns or spreading the word to encourage the boycott of a product or service that violates human dignity or rights.

“We’ve responded to four or five urgent actions since the group started meeting this year,” said Granat.

“The letter-writing campaigns can be very effective. We have received responses from ambassadors and other officials, and we were recently notified that one prisoner had been released due to AI. It’s great to know we are a part of that,” she said.

World history teacher Harold Starratt is the organization’s faculty advisor.

“Amnesty International allows the students to see beyond limited horizons to other things in this world. They are learning about conditions in other countries and how they can make a positive change. That’s why I agreed to be their advisor,” said Starratt.

Granat invites any student who wants to learn more about AI to attend a Thursday lunch meeting in room 412.

“It’s hard to hear about the horrible things that are happening in the world, and you think, as one person, you can’t change that. But Amnesty International shows us that you can,” said Granat.

Additional quotes:

Haley Kirka: “Amnesty International is a good experience, and it’s different than other organizations at the high school that are service-oriented.”

Samantha Barnes: “When people are in trouble, we do something about it. It’s rewarding when we find out that we made a difference.”

Nicole McKinney: “We write letters to prisoners in different countries. We want them to know that they aren’t forgotten.”