Sarah Musgrave: Honoring our 2020 Volunteer Award Winners

Sarah Musgrave, Volunteer Award Recipient, honored at The Advocates’ Human Rights Awards Dinner 2020

Sarah Musgrave is one of the five recipients of The Advocates for Human Rights Volunteer Awards. She is an active member in the Minneapolis community and committed to her volunteer work. Musgrave helps set the welcoming and supportive tone for The Advocates’ Minneapolis office.  As a volunteer receptionist, Musgrave is the first face clients see when walking through the door and she welcomes each person with open arms – making them feel noticed and comfortable. This past month, I had the opportunity to interview Musgrave about her volunteer work with The Advocates and learn about the impact that she has had within the world of human rights.

Musgrave has worked with The Advocates for eight years, volunteering in several capacities including as an assistant at The Advocates’ tent at the Minnesota State Fair, as a helper with mailings, and, most recently, as a part-time receptionist a few times a week. Musgrave began volunteering with The Advocates eight years ago after going to one of their film series that they hosted in a local library in Minneapolis. At the end of the film, Musgrave put her name on a sign-up sheet and found herself a part of a loving and supportive community that she has “great respect for.”

As an assistant working at The Advocates’ booth at the State Fair, Musgrave recalls an impactful moment with a visitor:  “I was once at the State Fair and someone with a Trump t-shirt was walking by the booth and I stopped him and asked him if he wanted to take a spin [referring to the Advocates’ spinning wheel in the booth that poses participants with questions] and he did and he answered a question and then I gave him a pin. And then I just saw him walking away with a “I love human rights” pin and …. You know it made me think about human rights. I had no idea where that [pin] was going to go.”

As a receptionist, Musgrave works a couple times a week welcoming people into the office, answering and transferring phone calls, and maintaining the United Nations Deadline Database. The database includes the dates that special rapporteurs examining poverty and violence against women will visit certain countries, as well as specific dates that committees meet at the United Nations. When I asked Musgrave what she liked most about working with The Advocates, she described to me the warmth that she feels working at the front desk: “Working at the front desk and just seeing people going through the asylum process and then they get it … just the joy they have of being able to work through it and have people working with them is just neat. These are people who don’t really have a whole lot of support and then to have people working behind them, totally on their behalf, to get them in the country and the appreciation they have for it…” Since Minnesota’s stay-at-home orders were put in place due to COVID-19, Musgrave has continued her receptionist work from home – updating the database and transferring calls.

When asked what motivates her to continue her volunteer work, Musgrave responded, “I really believe in the cause … everyone should have the opportunity to progress.” She was sure to mention the hopeful atmosphere that exists within the organization: “Everyone is just so positive. It is just a really positive place to be.”  She began to talk about how much she respects and admires the organization and the way they are able to bring volunteers in from all walks of life. “They are very welcoming! Everyone has different talents and they are willing to work with you to find something that benefits both parties.” For Musgrave, she feels as though she has benefited from volunteering in a number of ways, including being able to have the “great opportunity to explore things within the human rights community.” I asked her what keeps her volunteering with The Advocates and she quickly answered by saying, “I just really enjoy doing it… I don’t know why I would give up something I enjoy doing… people thank me for doing this, but I really enjoy doing this – it’s not like I am sacrificing a whole lot…”

In addition to working with The Advocates, Musgrave is an advocate for the environment and works closely with the Sierra Club and other climate change related organizations. In her free time, she enjoys biking in nature and exploring her surroundings. While Musgrave expresses deep gratitude for the work of The Advocates, it is important to note that The Advocates expresses a similar gratitude for her presence and impact on the organization. Thank you, Sarah, for all of the work that you do. Your positiveness is infectious and your passion for volunteering is inspiring. It is with great pleasure that The Advocates presents to you a 2020 Volunteer Award.

By Jenna Schulman, University of Pennsylvania sophomore and active volunteer for The Advocates For Human Rights.

The Advocates for Human Rights is a nonprofit organization dedicated to implementing international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law. The Advocates represents more than 1000 asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, and immigrants in detention through a network of hundreds of pro bono legal professionals.

Amano Dube: Honoring Our 2020 Volunteer Award Recipients

Amano Dube, The Advocates For Human Rights Volunteer Award Recipient

Amano Dube, a leader in the Minneapolis community, is one of five recipients receiving The Advocates for Human Rights Volunteer Award. Dube is the Director of Public Sector Programs at Pillsbury United Communities’ Brian Coyle Center, a social service center that supports the local immigrant community. Prior to working at the Center, Dube was the Executive Director of the Oromo Community of Minnesota, a nonprofit dedicated to enhancing the quality of life of the Oromo in Minnesota. For the last five years, Dube has volunteered with The Advocates, connecting immigrants and refugees who are seeking asylum with volunteer attorneys and helping to interpret asylees’ testimonies. This past month, I had the opportunity to speak with Dube about his work with The Advocates and to learn about the impact he has made in his community.

Dube, an asylee from the Oromo community in Ethiopia, came to the United States in 1994:

“Knowing how I came to this country, what kind of help I got – by the way, when I came to this country, I did not have a language program interpreting for me – [ motivated me to help others] … I have seen so many clients who come to this country with nothing in terms of education and they fully rely on somebody who is bilingual and who speaks their language and understands English.”

Dube has worked for over twenty years with community organizations connecting refugees and immigrants to assistance, including to asylum help. “I stepped up to bridge that gap and there are people that rely on me as a person who knows them and knows the atrocities in their country.”

Dube learned about The Advocates while working at the Oromo Community of Minnesota trying to connect members of the community with necessary resources. During this process, Dube discovered The Advocates and the work that they do in helping asylees. As a volunteer with The Advocates, Dube connects those that come to him for asylum help with The Advocates’ services. “From the day they come to me, I first call The Advocates for Human Rights. I connect that client with staff there so that they can schedule interviews and appointments… and then my role during this time is basically helping with language interpretation and document interpretation sometimes.” 

When I asked Dube to describe an impactful moment that he had while volunteering with The Advocates, he took a moment to think and then began to tell me about the experiences of a young Oromo adult with medical complications from Ethiopia who sought asylum. “I received a call from the Mayo Clinic about somebody who came to the country because of a traumatic injury, who was also a victim of political prosecution. He had a disease that partially paralyzed his body.” The man was sick, could not speak English, did not know the country, and could no longer afford treatment. Dube called the man to see what he could do to help. The next day, Dube drove an hour and a half to visit the young man at the Mayo Clinic. “I saw him in the hospital, and he said ‘get me out of here. Do whatever you can do for me.’ He was really desperate to meet someone who could understand him and comfort him.” Dube then remembered the work of The Advocates and believed that this young Oromo man was the type of person that could benefit from their help in the asylum process. “So, I decided to bring him to my home and give him a bedroom. My wife and I decided that if God can help him and the American system can help him, then we will do our part by helping to feed him and dress him.” Two days later, Dube called The Advocates and explained the situation and they scheduled an interview for the man. “I drove him to The Advocates’ office. They interviewed him, they took his case, asylum was filed, and he was connected to the Center for Victims of Torture which got him insurance – which he needed for treatment. He then got the asylum and got the most needed treatment.” Dube went silent for a moment. He continued, “now he has gone back to college, majored in micro information systems and accounting, he got married, and he is a husband now living right here close to us.” Dube paused again and then added “and that, I would say, is the most memorable part of the work that The Advocates do. They completely turn around the life of people.”

After clients seek asylum, Dube’s work does not end. Through his work at the Brian Coyle Center, he helps asylees to obtain housing, find jobs, and receive health care. “All of this we do behind the scenes,” he told me: “We live in the community we know what they need … We take this as our responsibility. I am not doing this for The Advocates, I am not doing this for recognition … I do it because it is my role as an Oromo to help another Oromo or Ethiopian. Because I know the language, I am better positioned to help them and to connect them with systems including The Advocates.”

Thank you, Amano. You are a kind, hardworking, and passionate advocate. You lead by example and your work inspires others to become better advocates for social change. It is with great honor that The Advocates for Human Rights presents to you a 2020 Volunteer Award.

By Jenna Schulman, University of Pennsylvania sophomore and active volunteer for The Advocates For Human Rights.

The Advocates for Human Rights is a nonprofit organization dedicated to implementing international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law. The Advocates represents more than 1000 asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, and immigrants in detention through a network of hundreds of pro bono legal professionals.

Finding it difficult to wrap your head around calls to #DefundPolice? Start with human rights.

“Say My Name”, created by attorney Laurie Stoffer Steiger, in memory of George Floyd and others who have lost their lives to racist and other violence.

The killing of #GeorgeFloyd has propelled calls to #DefundPolice to the headlines. It can be difficult to get beyond the hashtag, but if you’re looking for a human rights approach to public safety, the police abolition movement makes sense.

At its heart, the call to #DefundPolice operationalizes a human rights approach to public safety. It’s grounded in a human rights approach that recognizes that rights are interconnected, interdependent, and indivisible. That accountability is essential. That discrimination is wrong. That housing, health, and food need to be included in public safety policy and funding. #DefundPolice means using policy and budgets to ensure human rights. It refocuses priorities on root causes without abandoning accountability and the rule of law. 

#DefundPolice is a conversation that has been underway for years. (For those of you who love a long read, check out this law review article on police abolition.)  There are no definitive, quick-fix, or one-size-fits-all answers, but there are sound and practical public policy demands driven by the communities that live with police violence every day, such MPD150 and Campaign Zero.

The bedrock of human rights is the right to live with human dignity. Accountability for human rights violations by the government or abuses by private actors top the list of the government’s human rights obligations. But, we have the right to food, shelter, and health just as much as we have the right to due process.  And, the human rights approach sees the interconnectivity of these rights—we can have no public safety without protection of all rights; and, by protecting rights to basic needs, we reduce opportunities for other abuses. 

Let’s be clear: No one is suggesting the end of the rule of law. Human rights law demands that everyone is subject to the law and no one is above it. If someone assaults you, you want them to be caught, held to account, and stopped from doing it again. Indeed, #JusticeforGeorgeFloyd includes a demand for accountability for his extrajudicial execution.

Interpreting #DefundPolice as an invitation to anarchy misconstrues the demand and plays into centuries of racist tropes depicting people of color as a threat to white peoples’ person and property. Minnesotans heard that dog whistle when the house majority leader demanded the governor apologize “to the moms out in the suburbs scared to death about what’s happening all around them.”

Human rights standards do not equate “safety” with “policing.” Human rights standards recognize that armed state actors have the power to inflict violence, repression, and harm if flawed in the original design and allowed to operate with impunity. One of the key UN special procedures, the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, has operated since 1982 for precisely this reason.

A human rights approach demands that we consider the impact of any laws, policies, and systems on all people. It demands that those who are historically and currently marginalized from those systems play a central role in policy development so that their concerns are not drowned out by those who have historically held more power or influence. It demands recognition of the interconnected, interdependent nature of all human rights, not the selective cherry-picking that privileges some rights for some people over others.

In other words, human rights demand that people (who we might refer to as members of the “public”) be housed, fed, and healthy (what we might call “safe”).

By Michele Garnett McKenzie, Deputy Director of The Advocates for Human Rights.

Kathy Lenzmeier: Honoring the First Recipient of the Marlene Kayser Volunteer Award

Kathy Lenzmeier, The Advocates’ Marlene Kayser Volunteer Award Recipient

Kathy Lenzmeier, a longtime volunteer and former board member of The Advocates for Human Rights, is the first recipient of the Marlene Kayser Volunteer Award. The award was created as a legacy to Marlene and honors individuals who represent the gold standard of excellence in volunteerism, philanthropy, and advocacy.

For the past decade, Lenzmeier has been devoted to the mission of The Advocates and her commitment is evident through the impact she has had locally and internationally. Lenzmeier is currently retired from her work in the commercial insurance industry and, today, devotes a great deal of time and energy to working with The Advocates in protecting human rights. This month I had the opportunity to speak with Lenzmeier about her work with The Advocates and was amazed by her long-term devotion to serving her local community and its organizations.

Ten years ago, Lenzmeier became involved with The Advocates through their project supporting the Sankhu-Palubari Community School (SPCS) in Nepal. Lenzmeier became interested in Nepal when trekking in the mountains with a friend and so when she saw that The Advocates was involved with a school in the Kathmandu Valley, she immediately wanted to help. The Advocates partners with Educate the Children-Nepal to provide impoverished Nepali children in the Kathmandu Valley with a free education, daily meals, and health care check-ups. Lenzmeier first visited the SPCS in 2012 and has visited four more times since. It was a “very rewarding experience,” Lenzmeier said when describing the positive outcome of her volunteer work there: equal access to education regardless of background, gender parity, and a continued partnership with the school. During her trips to Nepal with The Advocates, Lenzmeier interviewed school leadership, teachers, and students about their experiences at the school and was able to spend time with community members. Lenzmeier’s most recent visit to the school was last fall: “One highlight was being able to see the alumni who came back to visit. There was a nurse, someone working in hotel management, an engineer and a teacher.” She added that she was moved by the fact that “many of these alums were traveling for their jobs to other countries as professionals rather than laborers.” Lenzmeier relayed to me that “today, the school has around 340 students enrolled… and that it only costs $250 to educate one child.”

In addition to her work on the Nepal project, Lenzmeier served on The Advocates’ Board of Directors for nine years, serving on the Development Committee and the Executive Committee. Kathy is currently chairing a committee focused on increasing the sustainability of the organization and the reach of its work. Beyond her work with The Advocates, Lenzmeier also contributes her time to multiple other Minneapolis-based organizations including the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and active in the local art scene.

Before ending the interview, I asked Lenzmeier if she had a favorite part about volunteering with The Advocates. She immediately responded that her favorite part of volunteering was the chance to work with the staff. “When I was on the board … I was most impressed by the staff – there isn’t turn over, they are so committed, they are so qualified.”  She then added that she admires “how careful [The Advocates are] with their money. How they can stretch a dollar so far in defending human rights throughout the world. And doing it locally, nationally, and internationally – it is very impressive.” While Lenzmeier admires the staff and the work done at The Advocates, The Advocates are beyond grateful to her and for her work.  

Thank you, Kathy, for all of the work that you do with The Advocates and in your community. The Advocates are excited to present to you the Marlene Kayser Volunteer Award for your continued commitment to human rights and social impact.

By Jenna Schulman, University of Pennsylvania sophomore and active volunteer for The Advocates For Human Rights.

The Advocates for Human Rights is a nonprofit organization dedicated to implementing international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law. The Advocates represents more than 1000 asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, and immigrants in detention through a network of hundreds of pro bono legal professionals.

Angela Liu: Celebrating the Work of Our Volunteers

Volunteer attorney for The Advocates For Human Rights, Angela Liu, at the United Nations

Angela Liu, a Chicago-based lawyer at Dechert, is one of the many inspiring volunteers that make the work of The Advocates for Human Rights possible. While Liu is a partner in Dechert’s Trial, Investigations and Securities team, she also has an impressive pro bono practice, devoting hundreds of hours a year to helping those in need. I had the opportunity to speak with Liu earlier this month about her work as a volunteer with The Advocates, which has not only had a tremendous impact on the lives of others but also significantly impacted her own life as well.  

She shared that when volunteering for The Advocates, you might go into a project wanting to help other people, which you do, but you leave the project personally gaining much more than expected. For the past several years, Liu has participated in a number of projects for The Advocates, including a 2015 domestic violence monitoring mission to Montenegro and a 2017 United Nations Study-Advocacy Tour to Geneva.   

Liu participated in The Advocates 2015 domestic violence mission to Montenegro, where she was a part of a team that carried out fact-finding to monitor and document the Montenegrin government’s implementation of domestic violence legislation. While in Montenegro, Liu spent a week interviewing judges, doctors, mediators, police officers, and victims to better understand the current condition of domestic violence in Montenegro, all of which were used to serve as a basis for final report published in 2017. As Liu noted, The Advocates generated a “very detailed report in terms of how many people lacked the education about what domestic violence was.” She then added, “we wanted there to be more training on domestic violence with different NGOs and we wanted amendments to the criminal laws to make sure that the victims were actually protected.” One of Liu’s most memorable moments of the trip was an interview she conducted with a mediator: 

“We were just asking about the mediation process and they told us that ‘domestic violence is a style of communication between the parties and that the victim is choosing to be communicated in that way – through violence.’ And that really just struck me so horribly because he was just explaining it in the most normal way.”

During her travels to Geneva for The Advocates’ United Nations Study-Advocacy Tour, Liu lobbied members of the Human Rights Council regarding the death penalty, domestic violence, religious freedom, and discrimination issues. She also made an oral statement to the Human Rights Council regarding conditions in Eritrea. Reflecting on her time at the United Nations, Liu told me she got “a sense for how fragile things are,” particularly when considering how the system must work to protect the many around the world whose civil and human rights are constantly under threat.  

When I asked Liu what she liked about volunteering with The Advocates, she had endless praise for their work:

“First, I love the people and I love how knowledgeable the attorneys are there. I cannot even imagine the breadth of what they do. I think, for me, I had done a lot of volunteer work prior to law school but I had never had the exposure on the international scale, but … seeing on an international scale how you could effect change was incredible … It is really empowering to do, what I consider to be pretty small things, like an interview, but then see that it can affect change on such a large scale … I don’t know of any other organization where you can really do that.”

She then told me that she feels that she has grown so much as a person through the volunteer work that she has done with The Advocates. She left me with this final thought: 

“Just because you are a big law lawyer doesn’t mean that you can’t do this kind of work. We have the responsibility to do this type of work. Particularly for myself as an Asian American female at a large law firm, I feel a responsibility to help people through the judicial system, and to break different barriers for so many different generations.”  

Thank you, Angela, for all of the work that you do with The Advocates. Your enthusiasm is infectious. You might feel that you have benefitted from being a part of this community, but this community has definitely benefited from you being a part of it.  

By Jenna Schulman, University of Pennsylvania sophomore and active volunteer for The Advocates For Human Rights.

The Advocates for Human Rights is a nonprofit organization dedicated to implementing international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law. The Advocates represents more than 1000 asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, and immigrants in detention through a network of hundreds of pro bono legal professionals.

Joan Kuriansky: Celebrating the Work of Our Volunteers

Joan Kuriansky, The Advocates For Human Rights Volunteer Award Recipient

The work done by The Advocates for Human Rights is fueled by its team of talented volunteers. One of these volunteers is Joan Kuriansky, a Washington D.C.­–based lawyer, with a strong commitment to women’s rights work, domestic violence issues, and human rights advocacy. Kuriansky began volunteering with The Advocates in the late 1990s and, ever since, has been a consistent volunteer. I recently had the chance to speak with Kuriansky about her career, including her work with The Advocates.

Moments into the interview, Kuriansky’s passion for human rights advocacy became evident as she excitedly explained to me about some of her past jobs and projects. “It is a lot of fun for me to do this work. I have been involved, especially with the issue of domestic violence, since 1978,” she told me. Kuriansky was the co-founder of a battered women’s program in DC, My Sister’s Place, she ran a legal center in Philadelphia protecting domestic violence victims, and she worked on the passage of the Violence Against Women Act.

Throughout her time volunteering for The Advocates, Kuriansky has worked on a number of different projects. Her first project was in Ukraine providing advocates with domestic violence training. Kuriansky then conducted an in-depth study in Armenia related to domestic violence issues. The report consisted of interviews with attorneys, prosecutors, advocates, and government officials. “And that was my introduction to the work of The Advocates. Already, I was impressed with the way they structured their training, the relationships they were forming, and the breadth of the work,” Kuriansky told me during our interview. Her report was later used to inform future advocacy work of The Advocates in Armenia.

One of Kuriansky’s favorite parts of volunteering with The Advocates is being a part of their annual United Nations Study-Advocacy trip to Geneva. Since 2016, Kuriansky has been an integral member of The Advocates team of volunteers that lobbies at the United Nations. She has co-facilitated panel discussions, delivered a short presentation to the full body of the Human Rights Commission, sat in on country hearings, and met with special rapporteurs and individual delegates from around the world. Kuriansky credits The Advocates for the impact that she has been able to have in Geneva:

“It was because of the extraordinary preparation of The Advocates’ staff that we, as volunteers, could be useful and, I hope, effective. It would not have been possible for us to have had the impact that we did, if we did not have the very well-developed materials and instructions about how to go forward with meeting with these different delegates.”

She noted that many of the team’s recommendations have been incorporated into official comments to various countries under review and some countries have even directly implemented their recommendations:

“In one instance we saw a country increase its funding for domestic violence programs. We also saw that certain laws were changed in keeping with the recommendations. In another instance, moving from law to administration, we saw where a country reorganized its response to domestic violence and the role that the different members of the legal community would play in that regard.”

Currently, Kuriansky is working with The Advocates on various shadow reports, including one on the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on domestic violence. Kuriansky’s shadow report is particularly focused on the D.C. metropolitan area.

When I asked Kuriansky why she chooses to volunteer to with The Advocates, her answer was simple. She told me that she enjoyed the direct application of the work. She praised The Advocates’ advocacy skills:

“One of the great aspects of The Advocates in my mind, is their ability to present information in a way that is compelling, raises hard issue that could otherwise be responded to very defensively by a country but, because of the methodology and on the ground support, the recommendations that come from The Advocates … are taken very seriously and sometimes you don’t find that is the case if a country believes that the outside groups, which are coming in to “criticize” them, are not very respectful of the people in it.”

Kuriansky is a model volunteer – longstanding, enthusiastic, dedicated, passionate, and knowledgeable – and is a role model for many. Just as Kuriansky credits The Advocates with being effective change makers, The Advocates credit her with helping to actualize that change.

By Jenna Schulman, University of Pennsylvania sophomore and active volunteer for The Advocates For Human Rights.

The Advocates for Human Rights is a nonprofit organization dedicated to implementing international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law. The Advocates represents more than 1000 asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, and immigrants in detention through a network of hundreds of pro bono legal professionals.