Changing the world for good = Minnesota’s The Advocates for Human Rights

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As bad as every day’s news looks, Christof Heyns says, the world is actually getting less violent. He should know. Serving as the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions since 2010, Heyns (pictured below) has spent years looking at the worst of what the world has to offer. But, he says, over four centuries, the percentage of people dying because of violence has declined. “Our standards and awareness are increasing,” he said, but the world is getting less violent.

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Christof Heyns, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, addressing the Human Rights Awards Dinner audience.

Heyns spoke at the annual awards dinner of The Advocates for Human Rights on June 1. The work of The Advocates is part of the reason that the world is getting less violent.

The Advocates for Human Rights is a Minnesota-grown organization, founded by advocates like Sam Heins and Barb Frey and David Weissbrodt decades ago, and still going strong. When doctor and human rights advocate Edwige Mubonzi had to flee for her life, she chose Minnesota because of Advocates for Human Rights and other human rights groups headquartered right here. In Minnesota, Mubonzi said, she knew she could find allies and continue to work for human rights.

The work of The Advocates for Human Rights comes from a small staff, hundreds of dedicated volunteers, and donations from people like you and me. Click here to donate. Click here to find out how you can volunteer. 

Dr. Mubonzi got asylum here in 2015, thanks to representation by The Advocates for Human Rights.

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Dr. Edwige Mubonzi

The surgeon who spent years repairing injuries to victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo is still working to end war and rape there, as well as studying for board exams that will allow her to resume practicing medicine, here in Minnesota. She is one of many individual asylum applicants represented by lawyers from The Advocates.

The Advocates for Human Rights is in the business of saving lives. One life at a time.

They’ve been in that business for 33 years now, and still going strong. Founded in 1983 as the Minnesota Lawyers International Human Rights Committee, the organization became the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights in 1992 and The Advocates for Human Rights in 2008, reflecting its international work and impact. One of its first projects was The Manual on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, internationally known as the “Minnesota Protocol.” The Minnesota Protocol, adopted by the UN as the official guide to forensic procedures for investigations and autopsies in cases of politically-motivated homicides, continues to be used around the world.

Intentionally and from the beginning, the work of The Advocates relied heavily on volunteers. Today, volunteer attorneys represent torture victims, Central American children, and hundreds of other asylum applicants. Their impact multiplies through well-informed, internationally respected advocacy at the United Nations and on the ground in countries from the United States to Croatia to Ethiopia.

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The Advocates’ Rosalyn Park (far right) & Mary Ellison (third right) working in Croatia. Valentina Andrasek, executive director of Autonomous Women’s House Zagreb, is pictured third from left.

Last year, for example, Croatia reinstated laws against domestic violence, which had been removed from that country’s legal code years ago. The Advocates’ Women’s Human Rights Program project helped women in Croatia to get the law reinstated. In 1996, Bulgarian women’s rights activists partnered with The Advocates’ Women’s Human Rights Program to compile a report on domestic violence, leading the country to pass legislation for a domestic violence order for protection, modeled after Minnesota’s law.

Henok Gabisa
Presented The Advocates’ Volunteer Recognition Award at the event was Henok Gabisa, attorney & Oromo Studies Association president, & attorneys from Stinson Leonard Street. The team works with The Advocates to hold Ethiopia accountable for persecuting Oromos.

In Ethiopia, the government persecutes Oromo people, and especially students.  The Advocates supports the work of Oromos in the diaspora as they document human rights abuses back home and work to raise international consciousness of their people’s plight. The Advocates’ volunteer attorneys also represent individuals fleeing torture and imprisonment in Ethiopia.

The Advocates train attorneys to represent asylum applicants, wherever they come from, and also provide human rights education for high school students and for other groups and organizations.

Here at home, The Advocates worked with others to get Minnesota’s Safe Harbor law passed, so that young women can find a way out of prostitution and into safe homes instead of prisons. The Safe Harbor law is one part of The Advocates’ work to stop human trafficking, both labor and sex trafficking, here and in other countries.

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Minnesota’s Safe Harbor law protects sex trafficking’s youngest victims.

Here at home, The Advocates’ National Asylum Help Line, started last summer, has answered calls from more than a thousand refugees from Central America.

Changing the world for good, said The Advocates board member Jim O’Neal at the annual awards dinner on June 1, is “a simple factual description of what The Advocates do every day and around the world.”

The world, said Christof Heyns, “if left to its own devices, is balanced evenly between good and bad. … Each of us has the ability to tip it.”

Yes, said Executive Director Robin Phillips, “We CAN do something about human rights. We CAN be the change we want to see in the world.”

By: Guest blogger Mary Turck, a freelance writer and editor who teaches writing and journalism at Metropolitan State University and Macalester College. She is the former editor of the TC Daily Planet and of the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, a recovering attorney, and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.

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