Amnesty International's Student Activists have historically been at the frontlines of human rights movements: from standing in front of tanks in Tiananmen Square to sitting at lunch counters in Greensboro, North Carolina. We are a people from across the world standing up for humanity and human rights. Our purpose is to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth, and dignity are denied. We investigate and expose abuses, educate and mobilize the public, and help transform societies to create a safer, more just world. 

Peaceful Protests, Brutal Response: Notes from Youth Activists in Turkey

Since May 31st, Turkish citizens have gathered in Taksim square to protest the destruction of Gezi Park in central Istanbul.  The park is facing demolition to make way for the construction of a shopping center as part of a large scale regeneration of the area. Despite the fact that these protests are peaceful, there have been numerous occurrences of police brutality against the Turkish protestors, including the usage of water cannons and tear gas, kicking unarmed protesters, and beating protesters with batons. Many civilians have also been detained. As a result of these violent tactics, there have been 7 deaths and over 7,800 injuries amongst the protestors.  Amnesty International has been active on the ground since the beginning of the protests, and has repeatedly argued that ““not allowing peaceful gatherings in one of Istanbul’s most iconic squares is a serious assault on the right to freedom of assembly.” AI Turkey and other AI sections worldwide have launched actions and campaigns to pressure the Turkish government to put a stop to this shocking police violence, to reveal the extent of injuries, and to uphold the right to peaceful protest.  

Rana Abdelhamid, a rising junior at Middlebury College, serves as the Northeast representative for the Amnesty International USA National Youth Action Committee and recently spent four weeks in Istanbul. There, she witnessed both the lead-up to the Taksim square demonstrations and the protests themselves. Here, she shares a few thoughts about her experience.

“Prior to going to Taksim square I spoke to a lot of people: waiters in restaurants, my teachers and my Turkish peers … I think that these people of course have every right to protest and be in Taksim. There is no reason they should not be. I do not agree with the use of tear gas or force to disperse the protestors. I understand why they would be angry. For the past three weeks I have been living with a government official who explained to me that the government only used tear gas when the protestors were causing a disruption and rioting. He said the only way for the police to calm the situation and prevent further damage was through these means. That was his reasoning. Also, just to clarify this is all based on the people I was speaking to and what I saw.”

Despite the fact that, as Rana describes here, some Turkish citizens did not side with the protestors and some government officials believed that the use of tear gas was acceptable, peaceful protest is a basic human right. The right to protest is also critical in the struggle for other human rights, in that it allows citizens to express discontent and to pressure their governments for change. Regardless of the identity of the protestors or the opinions of other civilians, the protests in Turkey should not be repressed by the government.

Fainan Lakha, an Amnesty International USA Student Activist Coordinator and western representative to the National Youth Action Committee, was also in Turkey during the protests and tweeted his perspectives and experiences. Read the first-hand accounts below:

June 15th:

4:37 pm: Trucks full of people, a caravan, driving past my hotel to join protests in besiktas. I can hear the clanging of pots and pans. #istanbul

June 16th:

9:13 am Turkish friend of mine has a relative who lost sight in one eye from senseless police violence here.

10:46 am Thousands of protesters are a block up from my hotel right now. Nisantasi is closed down and tear gas + water pump has been used

4:36 pm Just deployed tear gas next to my hotel. Saw about 3,000 cross into old city earlier today. I’m in besiktas 15 minutes from taksim

4:36 pm Protesters were entirely peaceful

 

Check out also a video Fainan captured of the protests: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7L-oJU_756M.

Take action here to tell the Turkish government to end this abuse, reveal the extent of injuries, and restore the right to freedom of assembly and expression.

http://takeaction.amnestyusa.org/siteapps/advocacy/ActionItem.aspx?c=6oJCLQPAJiJUG&b=6645049&aid=519905



Visiting AI Sections Across Europe
by: Helen Jack (AIUSA Member Leader)


Ghent, Belgium is an inspiration. The Flemish city of 250,000 inhabitants has ten AI Belgium local groups and three student groups, which must be some sort of world record for AI groups per capita. While Ghent displayed the ideal of AI’s global presence, AI Turkey was equally surprising and inspiring, highlighting the courage of activists and reminding me how much work we still have to do to guarantee fundamental freedoms. In Turkey, AI can do no advocacy in schools or with youth because they risk their government accusing youth members of engaging in terrorist activities.
A long-time AIUSA student activist, I am currently studying at Oxford University. Instead of returning to the US for the holidays, I spent much of my vacation making the most of discount airlines to travel around continental Europe. In five countries, I drank coffee and wandered cities with or slept on the couches of AI members, many of whom I met when I volunteered at AI’s International Council Meeting in the Netherlands during summer 2011.
Wrapped up in my work for AIUSA, I often forget that AI has activists in over sixty countries. We will strengthen our movement if we can learn from each other’s perspectives on organizing and campaigning.
Student and local groups in AI Italy regularly go into primary and secondary schools to lead courses on the meaning of human rights
Rather than working in schools, AI Turkey focuses its human rights education on explaining human rights concepts to imams and government officials and empowering them to use them in their work. 
AI Germany recently developed a Youth Commission to advise the board and is pushing for greater youth participation in governance.
During the summer, AI Italy holds week long human rights summer camp for AI youth activists at the Monte Sole Peace School.
Hands up for the Arms Trade Treaty! Activists from AI Switzerland sent hand prints to the key countries in the ATT negotiations.
My European AI friends gave me a new outlook on the importance of AIUSA. Many of them regularly direct actions toward the US government and are frustrated by how little their countries’ governments can do on global human rights issues, such as the Arms Trade Treaty. As Americans, we have privileged access to one of the world’s most powerful governments, which gives us greater leverage to campaign for human rights.

Visiting AI Sections Across Europe

by: Helen Jack (AIUSA Member Leader)

Ghent, Belgium is an inspiration. The Flemish city of 250,000 inhabitants has ten AI Belgium local groups and three student groups, which must be some sort of world record for AI groups per capita. While Ghent displayed the ideal of AI’s global presence, AI Turkey was equally surprising and inspiring, highlighting the courage of activists and reminding me how much work we still have to do to guarantee fundamental freedoms. In Turkey, AI can do no advocacy in schools or with youth because they risk their government accusing youth members of engaging in terrorist activities.

A long-time AIUSA student activist, I am currently studying at Oxford University. Instead of returning to the US for the holidays, I spent much of my vacation making the most of discount airlines to travel around continental Europe. In five countries, I drank coffee and wandered cities with or slept on the couches of AI members, many of whom I met when I volunteered at AI’s International Council Meeting in the Netherlands during summer 2011.

Wrapped up in my work for AIUSA, I often forget that AI has activists in over sixty countries. We will strengthen our movement if we can learn from each other’s perspectives on organizing and campaigning.

  • Student and local groups in AI Italy regularly go into primary and secondary schools to lead courses on the meaning of human rights
  • Rather than working in schools, AI Turkey focuses its human rights education on explaining human rights concepts to imams and government officials and empowering them to use them in their work. 
  • AI Germany recently developed a Youth Commission to advise the board and is pushing for greater youth participation in governance.
  • During the summer, AI Italy holds week long human rights summer camp for AI youth activists at the Monte Sole Peace School.
  • Hands up for the Arms Trade Treaty! Activists from AI Switzerland sent hand prints to the key countries in the ATT negotiations.

My European AI friends gave me a new outlook on the importance of AIUSA. Many of them regularly direct actions toward the US government and are frustrated by how little their countries’ governments can do on global human rights issues, such as the Arms Trade Treaty. As Americans, we have privileged access to one of the world’s most powerful governments, which gives us greater leverage to campaign for human rights.

High School Essay Competition Deadline is Tomorrow!

High School students are welcome to submit essays for the 2011 High School Essay Competition by answering the following essay question:

What is the significance of the popular uprisings for the Middle East North Africa region and for the international human rights community? What is the role of young people and social media in mounting this challenge to so many established governments? And how should an organization like Amnesty International respond to this largely unforeseen development?

Download background information for the Middle East and North Africa.
Download flyer for the 2011 essay contest.

Two winners will be selected and awarded cash prizes of $1,500 and a trip to Denver, CO to attend AIUSA’s Annual General Meeting from March 30 - April 1, 2012. Additional awards include two second place awards of $500 and two third place awards of $250! This is an excellent opportunity for high school activists!