Wednesday, December 24, 2008

W. Mass. Darfur Coalition-WMDC: Interview with co-founder of WMDC

W. Mass. Darfur Coalition-WMDC: Interview with co-founder of WMDC

Interview with co-founder of WMDC

Amherst Bulletin interviewed the co-founder of W. Mass Darfur Coalition, and the co-chair of Amherst Human Rights Commission
photo from UMASS archives (CIE website)
Magda Ahmed of Amherst is co-chair of the town's Human Rights Commission, which holds a free potluck brunch Dec. 13. "Human rights should be part of the elementary school curriculum. Young students need to learn to respect and tolerate differences of other people, that's the bottom line," Ahmed said in an interview.

A backstop for human rights
By Phyllis Lehrer Staff Writer, Amherst Bulletin
Published on December 12, 2008

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. That's the first of 30 articles in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Humans Rights, adopted Dec. 10 1948. In Amherst, a group works to help residents safeguard those rights, in areas such as education, property, justice, employment and family.

"Residents new to the area may not be aware they have particular rights that are protected. Rights can be trampled on. Our history demands and compels us to protect those rights," said Reynolds Winslow, co-chair, with Magda Ahmed, of Amherst's Human Rights Commission.
Eunice Torres, the town's human rights/human resource director, said the mission is to ensure that no power goes unchecked and that all citizens are afforded equal protection under the law.
Each year, the commission celebrates the anniversary of the UN declaration's adoption. This year, the community is invited to a free potluck brunch Dec. 13 from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Town Hall. The event includes speakers and entertainment.

The Human Rights Commission was born out of the Civil Rights Review Commission established in 1970 by Town Meeting. In 1997, Town meeting authorized a full-time human rights director and Shen Titus was hired.
Torres explained the roles in an email message. "The office of the Human Rights Director, in conjunction with the Human Rights Commission and town government, seeks to promote economic and social justice for all citizens through means of mediation, education and enforcement of local state, federal and International human rights laws," she wrote. "Ultimately, its aim is to move toward compliance with the standards set by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document increasingly referred to as customary international law, which we must all abide."
The director, in collaboration with the commission, pursues investigations into alleged civil and human rights violations, with both public and private sectors of Amherst.

Recent work
Winslow and Ahmed described some of the commission's recent activities, such as investigating complaints at the Amherst Survival Center, which led to positive changes at the center. The commission worked with Asian students at the University of Massachusetts who were being assessed a fee unfairly. The issue was brought to the Select Board and the university rescinded the fee.
The commission held an information session on the PATRIOT Act, celebrated the legality of same-sex marriage and participated in a Darfur event with the Northampton Human Rights Commission. The panel also offers the Junior Heroes Award for students and is part of the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast.
The two said the commission's goal is to act, not wait for people to come to them with problems, and to increase educational outreach. They agreed that it is one of the most diverse committees in the community. Members include Frank Gatti, secretary; and Lois Raj, Kathleen Anderson, Samia Eshallagli and Cecilia Darby. There are two vacancies.
Both leaders have experience with rights issues. Winslow, who joined eight years ago, said work on the commission was a natural fit with his civil rights work, including being a charter member of the Amherst NAACP chapter and the Sojourner Truth Committee in Florence. He is a founding member of the Amherst Education Foundation. He is retired from UMass, where he was director of the minority engineering program and a development officer.
Ahmed, who is a regional coordinator for the state Department of Health's Bureau of Clinical Disease Control, has served on the commission for five years. She is active with Amnesty International because it took on her husband's case when he was the victim of torture.
Ahmed, who came to Amherst in 1994, holds an undergraduate degree in agricultural economics from Cairo University and a master's in development. She spent 12 years with the Ministry of Agriculture in her native Sudan. She earned a doctorate from the UMass in 2004.
"Human rights should be part of the elementary school curriculum. Young students need to learn to respect and tolerate differences of other people, that's the bottom line," she said, "to be able to tolerate people not like you, who don't have the same beliefs or ideas to be more humane. If you start when young when you are an adult, it's part of who you are."
"We have to respect the rights of each other, otherwise we will not be who we are as American citizens," Winslow said. "With respect we can know each other. We can help each other if we know each other, that's why I keep active."

Monday, December 22, 2008

Conversation on Darfur

So far, the Conversation TV program on Darfur was aired 3 times on Amherst Public TV (Channel 12). It will be shown again twice on the last Sat of Dec per the schedule below. The educational show was planned and presented by the W. Mass. Darfur Coalition to bring more attention to the crisis in Darfur. It highlighted the new development of the ICC and the expected arrest warant to be issued by the court for President Omer Bashir.

Show Detail: Conversations
ShowID 4085
Event Date: 11/5/2008
Length: 0:30:06
Category: Series Comments
Episode: Darfur
Keywords: talk show, series
Schedule Information:
12/27/2008 at 8:00 AM & 12/27/2008 at 4:00 PM