Outstanding Human Rights Defenders Being Honored at Awards Dinner, June 25

Five people are being honored at The Advocates for Human Rights’ 2014 Human Rights Award Dinner, being held Wednesday, June 25 at the Hilton Minneapolis.  These individuals are integral components in The Advocates’ mission of advancing human rights here at home and around the world.

Marilyn Carlson Nelson will receive The Advocates’ 2014 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award.  Chimgee Haltarhuu will be honored with the organization’s Special Recognition Award, and Mark Petty, Julie Shelton, and Laura Tripiciano will each receive The Advocates’ Volunteer Award.

Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award  > Marilyn Carlson Nelson

mcn sqbrdNamed as one of the “World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” by Forbes, Marilyn Carlson Nelson, the former CEO and chairman of Carlson, is a fierce human rights defender. Under her leadership, Carlson―which includes such brands as Radisson Hotels, Country Inns & Suites, and Carlson Wagonlit―became the first major U.S.-based travel company to commit to training its hotel employees to watch for and report child sex abuse when she signed the travel industry’s International Code of Conduct to end sexual exploitation and trafficking of children. Her passion for human rights also invigorated efforts to defeat the Minnesota marriage amendment that was before the state’s voters in 2012. The op-ed she wrote for the Star Tribune went viral and encouraged other Minnesota business leaders to voice their support for LGBTI rights.

Carlson Nelson’s book How We Lead Matters: Reflections on a Life of Leadership is a best seller. The book, a collection of anecdotes originally intended just for her family, will be available for purchase at the Human Rights Award Dinner;  15% of the book’s sales that evening will be donated to The Advocates, courtesy of Magers & Quinn Booksellers.

Chimgee HaltarhuuSpecial Recognition Award  >  Chimgee Haltarhuu

Chimgee Haltarhuu, a Mongolian immigrant living in Saint Paul, Minnesota, teaches and performs at Circus Juventas. She founded a circus group in 2010, Mission Manduhai, which travels to the far reach of Mongolia to put on free performances for nomadic herders to raise awareness about the problem of domestic violence. A survivor of domestic violence, Haltarhuu has helped The Advocates with its domestic violence work in Mongolia.

Volunteer Awards  >  Mark Petty, Julie Shelton, Laura Tripiciano

Mark PettyMark Petty, an attorney editor at Thomson Reuters, is an exceptional volunteer translator for The Advocates. He has donated more than 100 hours of Spanish and French translation work for the organization since 2012. “Mark is often one of the first people to respond to our requests for translators, and his turn-around time is unparalleled,” says Sarah Brenes, staff attorney for The Advocates’ Refugee and Immigrant Program.

Julie SheltonJulie Shelton, an attorney with Faegre Baker Daniels in Chicago, has been an incredible volunteer with The Advocates’ Africa projects. Shelton has served as the team leader for a pro bono needs assessment in Cameroon, worked on a report on LGBTI rights in Cameroon, and wrote draft bills for post-conflict Somali law reform. “Julie has consistently gone above and beyond the call of duty,” says Jennifer Prestholdt, The Advocates’ deputy director and director of its International Justice Program.

LauraLaura Tripiciano, starting as an intern in law school, has volunteered for The Advocates for 17 years. Today, she is a private immigration attorney who represents asylum seekers. She has a particular devotion to Ethiopia, where her adopted son was born. Responding to The Advocates posting of a list of new cases in 2013, Tripiciano offered to take on all of the Ethiopian clients.  “Laura’s interest in serving our clients is genuine, her kindness is unsurpassed, and her dedicated advocacy is unquestionable,” says Sarah Brenes, staff attorney with The Advocates’ Refugee and Immigrant Program.

Please join in honoring these individuals at The Advocates’  Human Rights Awards Dinner on June 252014 at the Hilton Minneapolis. For more information and registration, click here.

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Letter from Liberia

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By Amy Bergquist

Life can be a heavy load in post-conflict Liberia, a country torn apart by a 14-year civil war that ended in 2003. What happened to a little girl, Olivia, evidences the toll of human rights abuses in that country, as reported to The Advocates’ “Team Liberia” while we were in Liberia in January conducting needs assessments with that country’s human rights organizations.

Olivia, at age 7, was reportedly raped by her 20-year-old cousin in 2005. The rape wasn’t reported to authorities until three years later when the girl’s uncle discovered his niece gravely ill and family members told him about the crime. The uncle took Olivia to Monrovia for medical care. The cousin was arrested.

A heavy price was paid for the uncle breaking the silence: The family shunned Olivia and her mother. The ostracism they suffered compelled Olivia’s mother to drop all charges, and the cousin was released.

The flag of Liberia is a reminder of the long history between that country and the United States.
The flag of Liberia is a reminder of the long history between that country and the United States.

Olivia had multiple surgeries to attempt to repair a severe fistula, as well as to treat infections and malnutrition. Liberia’s Gender Ministry paid for Olivia’s medical care, but the delayed medical care was inadequate. Last year, Olivia, at age 13, died of injuries related to her rape. A documentary film called Small Small Thing features Olivia’s story.

As the brutality suffered by Olivia demonstrates, Liberia, like other post-conflict states, is confronted with more than shifting discourse from “bullets to ballots.” While the country returned to a democratically-elected government when the war ended, work remains because post-conflict states must rebuild their nations and rebuild their civil societies, as we were told many times during our interviews.

The Liberian Electoral Commission in Monrovia
The Liberian Electoral Commission in Monrovia

Child rape is one urgent human rights issue Liberian organizations cited during our interviews. Liberians took steps to respond when, on December 10, 2012—Human Rights Day, Liberia’s National Independent Commission on Human Rights launched a year-long campaign, Break the Silence on Child Rape in Liberia: My Voice Counts.

Commissioner Ruby Johnson-Morris, who is spearheading the initiative, explained to Team Liberia that child rape is on the increase in Liberia, with some victims as young as six-years-old. Doctors Without Borders reports that, in 2011, a staggering 92% of patients receiving care for rape in Liberia were under age 18.

Refreshment stand outside the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Paynesville, Liberia
Refreshment stand outside the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Paynesville, Liberia

Commissioner Johnson-Morris explained that one obstacle to addressing the problem is the desire of victims’ families to resolve the issue “the family way,” by reaching a “compromise” with the perpetrator and not publicly acknowledging the crime. One only needs to think of Olivia to know that such informal settlements can have tragic consequences.

As the photos below show, we saw beautiful children in Liberia, many of whom are experiencing extreme poverty in one of Africa’s poorest countries. Their smiles and playfulness inspired us. Just as inspirational are the many organizations we met with in Liberia that are devising creative ideas to protect and promote the human rights of Liberian children as their country rebuilds from its legacy of civil war.

The Advocates’ Executive Director Robin Phillips (left) with Commissioners Boikai Dukuley (center) and Ruby Johnson-Morris (right) at the National Independent Commission on Human Rights
The Advocates’ Executive Director Robin Phillips (left) with Commissioners Boikai Dukuley (center) and Ruby Johnson-Morris (right) at the National Independent Commission on Human Rights
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A poster promoting the campaign to Break the Silence on Child Rape in Liberia (1)

We met with 30 organizations and individuals in Liberia involved in a wide range of human rights efforts around the country. This work is part of The Advocates’ Africa Advocacy Project to support local organizations in Africa with pro bono legal assistance involving pro bono lawyers to advance human rights and the rule of law through projects a country’s local organizations identify and lead.

Our work in Liberia kicked off a series of in-country visits. During the first three months of 2013, The Advocates’ staff and volunteer attorneys from Faegre Baker Daniels are traveling to Morocco, Cameroon, and Tanzania, in addition Liberia, to conduct in-country needs assessments with local human rights organizations.

A poster promoting the campaign to Break the Silence on Child Rape in Liberia
A poster promoting the campaign to Break the Silence on Child Rape in Liberia (2)

Members of Team Liberia include Faegre volunteer attorney Jim O’Neal; Robin Phillips, The Advocates’ Executive Director; and me, The Advocates’ International Justice Staff Attorney.

The Advocates has a long history with the Liberian people. We represent asylum seekers fleeing persecution in Liberia and, from 2006-2009, we worked with Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission to incorporate the experiences of the Liberian diaspora—those who had fled the conflict—into the Commission’s historical record.

Minnesota is now home to the largest concentration of Liberians outside of West Africa, and the enduring ties between Liberia and The Advocates’ home state of Minnesota was evident in Team Liberia’s meetings—and even at street vendor stands advertising “Minnesota Ice and Water.”

For more information on Liberia’s history and the effects of the country’s civil war on the Liberian diaspora, read A House with Two Rooms, The Advocates’ final report to the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Liberian boys playing a roadside game of
Liberian boys playing a roadside game of “check up.”
Liberian children dancing and drumming at a roadside stand
Liberian children dancing and drumming at a roadside stand
A Liberian girl street vendor
A Liberian girl street vendor

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Amy Bergquist is a staff attorney in the International Justice Program.

All photos by the author.