New group focuses on human rights

Katrina Sargent

Katrina Sargent

SDSU students now have the opportunity to fight for human rights through a new student organization.

The SDSU chapter of Amnesty International (AI) officially became a student group in the spring of 2007, said the group’s advisor, Kelley Tilmon. Tilmon is an entomologist in the plant science department at SDSU.

AI is an international group that seeks to improve human rights throughout the world. According to their Web site, the organization has more than 2.2 million members in over 150 countries.

It started in 1961 as a grassroots movement to free two Portugese students imprisoned for toasting to freedom, said Tilmon.

Meghann Toohey, a senior Spanish major and the SDSU chapter’s group coordinator, said that AI aims “to stop human rights violations such as torture, discrimination and executions, and to recognize the fulfillment of basic rights such as healthcare and education.”

AI members try to improve human rights through writing letters to government officials, lobbying, organizing events to raise awareness and bring human rights violations to the public’s attention.

“[AI] does not support or oppose the views of the people it seeks to protect and is solely focused on the impartial protection of human rights,” said Toohey. “It is a group in which students of all religions and political beliefs can come together to make a difference in the world.”

AI tries to inform people about human rights violations and uses peaceful solutions to stop them.

On the AI Web site, there are stories about how AI has made an impact in the world and helped bring about change. Some of these include steps taken to stop violence against women in Jamaica, the abolishment of the death penalty in Rwanda and the release of prisoners from various countries.

AI has approximately 20 members at SDSU with many more on their mailing list, according to Toohey.

Since AI is such a new group, members can have a huge impact on the shape and direction of it, said Tilmon. “It’s a very exciting time to join, as the membership of this year will play a huge role in determining the shape and function of the organization. For students who want to make a difference, this a great time to join.”

The SDSU AI chapter allows other people such as SDSU faculty and Brookings residents to join, said Tilmon. They can attend meetings and help with campaign efforts, but are not able to have governing roles.

AI does a lot to fight human rights violations in far away places, but it also tackles issues of local concern. “Some of AI’s campaigns have a great deal of local relevance, such as Maze of Injustice campaign, and others are truly international in nature,” Tilmon said. “Anything that raises awareness this way helps SDSU be an active part of the global community, and that’s good for everybody.”

The “Maze of Injustice” report discusses the high level of sexual violence against indigenous women in the United States of America. According to Tilmon, much of the information in this report came from South Dakota.

On Oct. 25, SDSU’s chapter of AI is working with the Brookings Human Rights Committee to sponsor the City of Brookings Fall Human Rights Forum to discuss the “Maze of Injustice” report. It will be held in the community room of the Brookings Public Library at 7 p.m. There will be speakers from the Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota who were involved in writing the report, said Tilmon.

The group also puts together tables in The Union every other Tuesday. The tables include information about AI and human rights violations. They also offer postcards students can sign and send to government officials, asking them to take action on issues like genocide in Darfur, the death penalty and prevention of violence against women.

The SDSU chapter of AI meets once a month on Monday evenings at 5 p.m. in room 264 in The Union. Their next meeting is Oct. 29, and will include discussions about current issues, including recent events in Myanmar, plans for November information tables, letter writing and free pizza.

“With a small commitment of one evening a month, students can work to promote human rights at home and around the world. With so many issues to deal with, there is something for everyone,” said Toohey. “Joining SDSU Amnesty International is an easy way to make a difference in the world. The more members we have, the more we are able to do.”

For more information about AI, visit their Web site at For information about AI meetings and events at SDSU, send an e-mail to [email protected] or join SDSU Amnesty International’s Facebook group