On the 7th of December the Exeter University Amnesty International Society held an eye-catching protest outside Devonshire House to raise awareness of human rights violations committed by despotic regimes threatened by the pro-democracy revolutions of the “Arab Spring”. Coinciding with the first elections in Egypt since Mubarak was toppled last February, the protest marked Amnesty International’s support for Egyptians campaigning for free and fair elections in which the generals hand over power to a civilian, transitional administration. In response to their efforts, Egyptian campaigners have faced tear gas, batons, rubber bullets, live ammunition and assaults by groups of thugs.
The Amnesty protesters focussed on asking staff and students to sign a petition which called on SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) to protect, not punish, the Egyptian demonstrators, and end unfair military trials of civilians. The petition has been sent to the leader of SCAF and Amnesty International is confident that he will respond. Katherine Clissold, President of Exeter University Amnesty International Society, told Exepose “As students it’s quite easy to get caught up in the self- my career, my needs, my success. But if someone is suffering in Egypt- I should be suffering in Exeter. We’ve collected nearly 200 signatures after only an hour- I think this says something really great about the University of Exeter and our willingness as students to be politically active.” Egypt is also an area of current concern because of the regime’s degrading treatment of women. Despite the major role that women played in Egypt’s struggle for political reform, after an International Women’s Day demonstration in March 2011, women were beaten, given electric shocks in detention, and subjected to forced ‘virginity tests’. Furthermore, women have received little representation in the new government.
The Exeter Amnesty society has received support from Amnesty International’s headquarters for their campaign. Philip Luther, Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Acting Director, said “The SCAF has continued the tradition of repressive rule which the January 25 demonstrators fought so hard to get rid of.” The December protest was the culmination of work that Exeter’s Amnesty society has been doing throughout the year under the banner of “In Solidarity, In Defiance”: Amnesty stands in solidarity with peaceful protesters across the Middle East and North Africa in their demands for human rights reform, and in defiance of those suppressing the growing movement of people standing up for their rights. The “In Solidarity, In Defiance” campaign urges authorities facing revolution to uphold the vital right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression, association, assembly and information. Furthermore, Amnesty International has called for immediate human rights reforms, including giving people the right to participate fully in the political process. Those responsible for violently suppressing peaceful protests through deaths, injuries and detentions, must be brought to account.
So how has the Exeter University Amnesty International Society contributed to Amnesty’s global efforts? During the autumn term, the society placed a strong emphasis on education, aiming to call attention to a diverse range of human rights crises associated with the Arab Spring. As the demonstration on the 7th of December illustrated, the society strives to disseminate information not only to its own members, but also to the entire student body. One of the principal educatory events during the autumn term was Amnesty’s Alternative Conference, sponsored by TeachFirst. The Alternative Conference was held for those unable to attend the annual Amnesty International student conference held at the Human Rights Centre in London. Members of Exeter’s Amnesty society who had attended the national conference led talks on numerous topics, including the death penalty, the arms trade, women’s rights in Afghanistan, corporate responsibility and, of course, transformations in the Middle East and North Africa. Furthermore, a TeachFirst representative, James Baxani, held a presentation on communication and effective campaigning.
However, the Exeter University Amnesty International Society takes a more active role than simply educating, and each year raises thousands to sponsor Amnesty’s actions to prevent human rights abuses worldwide. Indeed, for the last two years, Exeter University has beaten all other student groups in the United Kingdom to win Amnesty International’s “student raise-off”. Currently, Exeter is top of the 2012 league table, having raised £1267 this year alone. The Amnesty International Society holds regular socials to ensure their continued reign as one of the best fundraising societies on campus. Most successful of Amnesty’s Socials last term were the Protect the Human Party, a night of live music in Mama Stones, and their transformation of the requisite white t-shirt social by tie-dying tops in celebration of Amnesty’s sixtieth birthday.
For those who feel passionately about human rights abuses – particularly those violations of justice that have been perpetrated by leaders in response to peaceful, civilian uprisings – please support events held by Exeter’s Amnesty Society this term. First up is the consistently successful “Give a Damn Dance”, to be held on … in the Mill on the Exe, the pub with the best view in Exeter. As a global community we have a unique opportunity to demand change for societies that have endured generations of oppression. Popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have raised hopes throughout the region of restoring human rights after many years of autocratic rule under emergency decrees. However, brutal suppression is still occurring not only in those countries, but across the Middle East in North Africa. In Morocco harassment of human rights defenders and other civil society groups continues. Algeria continues to provide impunity to perpetrators of abuses committed during the troubles of the 1990s, including extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances.