The entire weekend before the Peace Corps 50th anniversary week, I spent at the annual meeting of volunteer country and regional specialists of Amnesty International-USA. People came from all over the country to attend but I walked only a few blocks to the DC Amnesty office. The worldwide organization just held an International Council Meeting (ICM), whereby all member countries come together every two years, this time in the Netherlands. (I did attend an ICM meeting in Mexico in 2005—it’s like a mini-UN, with lots of political intrigue and simultaneous interpretation via earphones from and into major languages.) One of the new directions charted for Amnesty is decentralization, fanning out from the current London headquarters, with staff being situated closer to human rights events in countries such as Brazil and Mexico, as well as other cities in Africa and Asia.
We in Amnesty International worldwide fought hard with letters, petitions, demonstrations, and vigils to prevent the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia, along with many others, but officials and the governor there were hell-bent on killing the guy, regardless of evidence against his guilt (perhaps because the victim was a police officer?). In almost all cases, unless an accused murderer confesses, doubts about guilt will always exist and many death-row inmates have been exonerated just in time, while others, like Davis, may end up being exonerated later, but too late. Meanwhile, the Unabomber, who killed several people, is serving life, because his family made that deal with prosecutors before they turned him in. (His brother told us this at a national Amnesty meeting a few years ago). As former President Jimmy Carter once said, “Life is unfair.” In Amnesty, we are against the death penalty in all cases. We feel that even when guilt is proven, the state should not take another life. This action on Davis cannot help America’s faltering reputation in the world.
The Peace Corps 50th anniversary week was a whirlwind of activities. I will not enumerate everything, just will say that I connected with friends old and new and became completely Peace-Corps-ed-out. A highlight was a luncheon for Peace Corps writers held at the Library of Congress, presided over by two former PC volunteers and current Congressmen, both Democrats from California, Sam Farr and John Garamendi. My sister Betty and her husband, early volunteers in Colombia, had planned to come, but entering the train station, Betty unaccountably fell backward, was taken to the emergency room, nothing was found wrong, but by then it was too late to arrive for the activities they had planned to attend and she really didn’t feel like it. I ended the week-long celebrations on Monday, September 26, with a talk called in suburban Virginia at an organization called Shepherd’s Center, dedicated to older adults, many of them still working. Maybe I planted a seed in a listener’s mind?
A new short documentary from In Altrum Productions is entitled "Cuba's Hope." I’m rather doubtful that just clicking below on "here" will bring it up, as that was underlined in the message I got on it, but underlning isn't possible on this blog. I've tried accessing it on the website, but doesn’t always work. Good luck. Repression against independent human rights groups and especially the Damas de Blanco has been especially harsh in Cuba this month. Meanwhile in Haiti, the other Caribbean hotspot under my jurisdiction as Amnesty's Caribbean coordinator, is experiencing the eviction of camps for people displaced by the earthquake and controversy over whether Baby Doc Duvalier, who recently returned to Haiti, should be tried for his human rights abuses.
Here's the introduction to the Cuba film:
In 2008, Fidel Castro handed over control of Cuba to his younger brother, Raul. Since then, experts have predicted significant changes in the lives of the Cuban people -- especially in the lives of young Cubans. While hope springs eternal, the Cuban government's continued use of laws that violate basic standards of international human rights makes it almost impossible for citizens to openly voice their desires for change. Despite the obstacles, many young people in Cuba risk their lives to work for a better, more just future. In the spring of 2011, Livio, an independent librarian and Cuban youth leader, visited five people: a blogger, a student, a professor, a journalist and a musician. Cuba's Hope tells their stories.
See it here.