By Melissa France
The Syrian city of Khan Sheikhoun was the site of a gas attack which left 69 people dead, and numerous others fighting for their lives on Tuesday April 6. As the pictures of mangled bodies came flooding in, the question arose how such a human rights catastrophe could occur. Images like those are a constant reminder why human rights must be defended and upheld at all times.
One of the organizations that fights for these rights is Amnesty International. Amnesty was founded in 1961 by Peter Benenson after he had heard about two Portuguese students had been arrested after making a drunken toast to liberty. Today Amnesty International is still one of the biggest advocates of political prisoners.
Amnesty International came to University of Wisconsin-Superior through professor Dr. Khalil Dokhanchi and his now retired colleague Hal Bertilson, who started the chapter about 10-15 years ago. Dr. Dokhanchi is still the faculty advisor for the current club, and says it started because they both belonged to Amnesty International- USA and “thought it would be a good organization to start on campus.”
For him the main function of this chapter is “education and advocacy”, as, “we educate members of the community about human rights issues and we also advocate on behalf of people who don’t have a voice.” He personally sees the fight for human rights in the United States and other countries as important because he thinks “the assumption is that everybody should be dealt with dignity, and human rights are the means by which we ensure that that happens. And I think that is important for us as well as for others to make sure we have a code of conduct by which government can interact with people.”
The local chapter has been very active over the years, from tabling for world toilet day and water week, to organizing petition signing events, and cosponsoring events for other student organizations such as the Native Nations Student Organization. Naomi Effinger, a senior at UWS, and the current president of UWS’s Amnesty International said that her favorite event was tabling for world toilet day, where they had raised enough to buy 5+ toilets.
Effinger has been a part of Amnesty for 3 and a half years, and has been acting in an official capacity for almost a year during that time.
“I was vice president for about a year and a half and president for the rest.” She joined originally because she liked Amnesty’s mission statement. She sees it as important to fight for human rights because. “Sometimes basic human rights are overlooked and it’s good to remind ourselves and others why these are important.” She sees the current refugee crisis as currently being the biggest threat to human rights.
As there are many battles to be fought Amnesty’s doors are always open for new members. If people are interested in joining the chapter, there is always the possibility to come to an event, a conference, or a meeting. All events are open to the public.