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Human Rights Program
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Human Rights Program

News

  • Call for Papers/Convocatoria de Ponencias


    Third International Conference of the "Local Action in Response to Migration" Network


    With the conference just four months away, the academic bodies comprising the third international conference are seeking interested and relevant persons and institutions to submit papers for presentation.

    This two-day conference is designed to share the experiences arising from local action with regard to migration. It will support the examination of key efforts in response to migration and migrants in the framework of the most recent challenges to the dynamics in the movement of peoples that unite Mesoamerica and North America as well as their transnational effects.



    For those interested in presenting their findings or investigative work, the substantive focus should be on one of the following two topics:


    • Migration and human rights, or
    • Migration and testimonial/artistic/cultural practices

    Proposals must be submitted before June 15th, 2016, to the Human Rights Program email (hrp@umn.edu) with the following information:

    • Title of paper/presentation
    • Sub-topic to which it corresponds
    • Name of author(s)
    • Affiliated institutions
    • Email address of author(s)
    • Abstract (Maximum of 200 words)
    • Curriculum vitae (Maximum of a half page for each author)

    Presentations may be submitted in English or Spanish.


    For more details in English, click here.

    Para más detalles en español, haga click aquí
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  • University of Minnesota Hosts Black Feminism Cornerstone Event

    Sponsored by the Winton Chair in the College of the Liberal Arts, this three-day event was made possible by the efforts of black feminists who sought to bring greater awareness to black cultural life and politics through poetry and performance. Using voice, storytelling, and deep collaboration, these artists, scholars, and intellectuals invigorate the meaning and practice of community. In the era of Black Lives Matter, the intensive Cornerstone event examined how black feminist queer existence and influence informs current practices and life by centering love, realness and each other. By incorporating art, discussion, interactive presentations, oral histories and singing, the conference entitled, Learning to Breathe: Black Feminism, Performative Pedagogies, and Creative Praxis, exuded creativity, innovation, and celebration. Here is an insight into just a few of the inspiring events:

    Thursday’s schedule kicked off with Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs, a self-described feminist, storyteller, poet, historian, archaeologist, and artist--a “renaissance women,” if you will. Her event, titled “Love is Life Force,” invited the audience to take part in an interactive discussion around black feminism and its present position. Attendees were introduced to such leading black women as Harriet Tubman, Toni Cade Bambara, and Essex Hemphill, learning through the influence they have throughout time and space on black imagery.

    Moving into theater and the arts, the founders of MaMa mOsAiC Theater in Minneapolis, Shá Cage and Signe Harriday, discussed their collaborative efforts in forming the theater and the bold moves they made. In an effort to bring attention to the marginalized, their theater work often focuses on women of color and their position in the arts as a way to break down the roles that have traditionally suppressed them and limited their success. Their dialogue set the stage for the community performance to follow, The Blacker the Berry.

    Combining various pieces into a whole, The Blacker the Berry featured eight different original pieces created through “radical collaborative” workshops of local black female artists. Many different generations were represented on stage, but the vast majority of the women were young and nearly all were performing for their first time with MaMa mOsAiC. Hip-hop, traditional African music, poetic text, symbolic movement and voguing were just some of the mediums used to make visible the rich but often marginalized stories of black women and black queer culture.

    Andrea Jenkins, who performed an autobiographical poem in The Blacker the Berry about coming to terms with her identity as a black trans woman, also served as the keynote earlier in the programming. Titled The “T” Is Not Silent, the goal of her talk was to raise further awareness to the tensions of trans identities in black queer feminist discourse. Jenkins is a local leader and voice for the Minnesota black trans community, taking the time to highlight the intersectionality of black feminism and black queer/trans identity in Minneapolis and elsewhere.

    There were many more events that shed light on the work being done in the arts around feminism and Black Culture. The Winton Chair sponsors events like Learning to Breathe as a way to provide space for individuals to “question established patterns of thought.” Three to five days long, cornerstone events support the campus visits of exceptionally innovative individuals or groups of scholars and artists without regard for traditional conceptions of discipline or medium. Keeping with the Winton Chair’s mission, these visits aim to catalyze new intellectual relationships within and among College of Liberal Arts, the University, and the broader community. Cornerstone visitors are encouraged to think outside conventional forms of academic presentation and pedagogy.

    -Written by Amanda Kruger and Daniel Sbriglio
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  • Black Lives Matter and Social Justice

    African American writer James Baldwin once noted, “to be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.” Baldwin’s words continue to echo in American society today, where racial inequality has yet to substantially dissipate.  Despite the victories in Brown vs Board of Education, the Voting Rights Act, and the Fair Housing Act, schools and neighborhoods are re-segregating, and elements of the Voting Rights Act were recently stripped of substantial power. Forty-two percent of black children are educated in high-poverty schools. The unemployment rate for black high-school dropouts is 47% (for white high-school dropouts it is 26%). Black people constitute just 13.2% of the US population, yet they account for 37% of the homeless. One in every 13 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised because of a felony conviction – a rate more than four times greater than the rest of the US population. Moreover, African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million people in jail and are incarcerated nearly six times as often as white people.

    Following the trial of George Zimmerman in July of 2013, a number of incidents of police brutality reached heightened levels of publicity across the United States.  George Zimmerman was a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford Florida, who shot a 17-year-old African American named Trayvon Martin the previous year.  Martin was unarmed and Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder and acquitted for manslaughter by a Florida jury, triggering an explosion of activism in the months that followed. Shortly thereafter, writer and activist Alicia Garza of Oakland, California logged on to her social media, posting a message concerning the trial, ending her post with “black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter.” Her friends shared this post, which began circulating on social media, where the hashtag #blacklivesmatter began to emerge. In the following days, Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi began to formulate ideas around organizing a campaign to fight police brutality.

    On August of 2014, 18-year old, African American Michael Brown was shot by a white police officer in Ferguson Missouri.  Similar to the Zimmerman case, Brown was unarmed. Massive protests ensued in the city, in which police officers arrived in riot gear to quell the unrest.  By this point, #blacklivesmatter began to permeate the posters and banners as well as the chants of people in the streets of Ferguson. Following the deaths of more young black and unarmed men, the phrase surfaced time and time again in the public sphere, specifically by political leaders and in pop culture. The organization founded by Garza and others of the same name now has over 26 Black Lives Matter chapters in the country, including in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and has been the leading voice in what has been dubbed the new civil rights movement of the era.

    This movement spurred the creation of a database called Mapping Police Violence, designed to collect statistical information on police killing and violence in the United States, focusing on black deaths. This research claims that at least 1,149 people were killed by police in 2014 and 26% of those were black. “In March 2015, 36 black people were killed by police – one every 21 hours, and a 71 percent hike in numbers from the previous month.”

    This movement utilizes local communities that seek to include women and queer individuals. However, the movement has also been criticized for the lack of a central or charismatic leadership. Yet, younger activists claim their strategy to incorporate individual agency into wide grass-roots actions is more effective. Part of the movement’s visibility can also be traced to the importance of social media, which is used disproportionately by young black Americans. Approximately 96% of African American Internet users between 18-29 are on social media.  According to Todd Wolfson, the author of Digital Rebellion: The Birth of the Cyber Left, social media has become crucial to the grassroots power of these sorts of movements. “The Cyber Left is about flattening hierarchies, flattening governance processes, combined with using the logic of social networks for deep consensus building.” Despite the effective use of social media as a tool for documentation and shaming, some activists fear its potential to divert attention from long-lasting policy change. They are also growing frustrated with the appropriate of the hashtag or groups who seek to counter the movement, such as “All Lives Matter.”

    One must not confuse BLM the organization with BLM the broader movement comprised of a number of different organizations across the country (Coalition Against Police Violence, Black Youth Project 100 etc.), which maintain a sense solidarity through social media platforms. Moreover, activists are using social media to highlight the inconsistencies and contradictions between police findings and eyewitness accounts, demanding, and in some cases achieving greater accountability. BLM the movement has effectively employed different tactics from “die-ins,” voting drives and rallies across the United States.  The movement has even warranted the attention of President Obama, who met with its leaders in the Oval Office in February of this year. The issue has also played a crucial role in debates between the democratic candidates on the campaign trail.    

     In May of 2015, the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing released a comprehensive report, which laid out suggestions for best policing practices to improve trust among law enforcement officers and the communities they serve. According to an Associated Press analysis released in late July, 24 states have passed at least 40 new measures following the events as Ferguson. These measures include issues regarding officer-worn cameras, training about racial bias, independent investigations when police use force and new limits on the flow of surplus military equipment to local law enforcement agencies.

    The local Minneapolis chapter of the Black Lives Matter organization has received national attention for their incredible organizing and community work within the city and surrounding Metro area. On the busiest weekend before Christmas, it organized a protest at the biggest shopping center in the country, Mall of America. Protesters attended despite intimidation tactics being used to scare organizers from holding the protest. But the most well-known example of BLM Minneapolis organizing would be the 4th Precinct occupation following the murder of Jamar Clark on November 15th, 2015 by the Minneapolis Police Department. The occupation was sustained by mainly young, queer, black youth from the Metro area and lasted for 18 days before police moved in. Many people in Minnesota and even across the United States were confused following the rise of Black Lives Matter and many did not quite understand what the movement was trying to accomplish and saw it as a branch of ‘Black Power’. Black Lives Matter is a reaffirmation that black lives DO indeed matter despite destructive practices, including white supremacy, institutional racism and police brutality. Black Lives Matter seeks to change the narrative and create understanding that black lives are just as important as the lives of everyone else in this country.

    -Written by Marie-Christine Ghreichi and Sara Osman
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Upcoming Events

Human Rights Beat

  • Chicago police detain Americans at abuse-laden 'black site'

    The Chicago police department operates an off-the-books interrogation compound, rendering Americans unable to be found by family or attorneys while locked inside what lawyers say is the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site. The facility, a nondescript warehouse on Chicago's west side known as Homan Square, has long been the scene of secretive work by special police units. Interviews with local attorneys and one protester who spent the better part of a day shackled in Homan Square describe operations that deny access to basic constitutional rights. Continue reading on The Guardian's website.

    March 6th, 2015
  • Amnesty International requests letter signing for Syrian asylum seekers pressured to return

    Reports in the media show that staff at the Manus Island, Papua New Guinea detention centre, run by the Australian Government, are pressuring Syrian asylum seekers to return to Syria where they will be in extreme danger. Read more on the Amnesty International website.

    June 10th, 2014
  • The ICRC releases video on Colombian human rights situation

    It's a crucial time for Colombia with presidential elections slated for this Sunday and ongoing peace talks between the government and FARC guerrillas continuing in Havana, Cuba. In a new Intercross video, the head of the ICRC's delegation in Bogotá, Jordi Raich, says Colombia is at a crossroads -- poised on the verge of economic growth, shrinking poverty, and the potential to put an end to half a century of war. Watch the video on the Intercross website.

    May 28th, 2014
  • US: A Nation Behind Bars

    Far too many US laws violate basic principles of justice by requiring disproportionately severe punishment, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The 36-page report, "Nation Behind Bars: A Human Rights Solution," notes that laws requiring penalties that are far longer than necessary to meet the purposes of punishment have given the United States the world's highest reported rate of incarceration. These laws have spawned widespread and well-founded public doubts about the fairness of the US criminal justice system. Continue reading on the Human Rights Watch website.

    May 7th, 2014

External Human Rights Events

  • Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop Public Reading Organized by Human Rights Scribe

    On Saturday, October 24th, the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop (MPWW) will hold a reading at Hamline University. The reading, organized by MFA candidate Mike Alberti as part of the Scribe for Human Rights Fellowship, will feature the work of several writers currently incarcerated in Minnesota state correctional facilities. MPWW instructors will read pieces of poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction on behalf of their students, and two formerly incarcerated alumni of MPWW classes will read their own work aloud for the first time. 


    This is a free reading, open to the public, so please come and invite a friend. A short Q&A and informal discussion will follow. Plus, there will be snacks! It’s sure to be a very powerful evening. We hope you can make it!


    Where:  Hamline University,
                  Klas Center, Kay Fredericks Room
                 1537 Taylor Avenue
                 St. Paul, MN 55104

    When:  Saturday, October 24th, 2015, 7:00 PM

    To learn more about MPWW and their work, please visit http://www.mnprisonwriting.org/
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