12 March 2018

Barbara's notes on the AIUSA 2018 Annual General Meeting

The AIUSA 2018 Annual General Conference was held during February 23–25 in Rockville, MD.  
Barbara Quintiliano, the social media coordinator for AIUSA Group 342, attended the first two days of the meeting and wrote these notes.

Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International  
Shetty encouraged attendees to remain steadfast and courageous in their defense of human rights. The current state of human rights around the world is particularly dire, as numerous national leaders have been violating the rights of their citizens with impunity. He cited Donald Trump’s disregard for human rights as a grave aberration from the stance of previous American presidents. 
Amnesty International has been purchasing more paid advertisements with a resulting increase in contributions. The organization will continue its two-pronged approach: solidarity (members protesting human rights violations worldwide) and agency (grass roots efforts by residents defending human rights in their own countries).
Shetty presented a short video of an address given at Harvard University by J. K. Rowling. Rowling shared memories of having worked for Amnesty International in her twenties. She cited a conversation with a torture survivor as turning point in her life.  
Philip Alston, special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights for the Human Rights Council of the UN Office of the High Commissioner and a professor at New York University School of Law.
Alston spoke about Amnesty International’s advocacy on behalf of those living in extreme poverty, stating that it is not really a new concern. AI framed poverty as a violation of human rights from the beginning, but the Cold War and the rise of authoritarian regimes prompted the organization to focus its efforts on freeing prisoners of conscience and abolishing the death penalty. He cited examples of the covert and overt disenfranchisement of the poor in today’s world:
o   criminalization of homelessness
o   decrease in social services and other austerity policies
o   tax reform with a resulting decrease in existing social services
o   imposition of fines and fees on the poor (“the Ferguson effect”) to fund social services no longer adequately supported by local taxes
o   privatization of parole management
o   voter suppression
Alston emphasized that there is a major assault on welfare programs in process and that this has massive human rights implications. He recommended that the human rights community “change its tone” and speak out boldly demanding “the right to know that I’ll have a meal tomorrow and the right not to work in precarious employment.”
Panel: "State-Sponsored Killings: Impacts of Systemic Racism on the U.S. Death Penalty and Killings by Police" (panelists: Ngozi Ndulue, senior director of criminal justice programs at the NAACP; Shujaa Graham, death penalty exoneree; Kathleen Lucas, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and AIUSA death penalty abolition coordinator for Pennsylvania; Katrina Johnson, justice system reform advocate)
A moving panel discussion on the injustices of police shootings and the arbitrary and biased application of the death penalty. Ngozi Ndulue recalled the personal experiences that led her to become an attorney and to work for the NAACP. Kathleen Lucas spoke about the need to abolish the death penalty. Katrina Johnson, whose cousin was shot by a police officer, spoke about her work to reform the criminal justice law and to provide compensation for families.
 Sujaa Graham’s testimony (found between the 12-minute and 29-minute marks of this video) was particularly riveting. Subjected to no fewer than four trials for a murder he did not commit (the first trial before an all-white jury), Graham was finally acquitted and is now an anti-death penalty activist. 

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