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  • From Bystander to Participant; Genocide Prevention & Awareness Month

    April 7, 2014

    Melanie Nelkin, Chair, Georgia Coalition to Prevent Genocide

    In the 21st century, we have unfortunately experienced the impact of genocide in our time, as have our parents, grandparents, and many generations of our ancestors.  Taking action against current day genocide and mass atrocities, however, is easier said than done.  In the United States, a culture of relative safety and security, it is a conscious choice to stand up against these atrocities.  These events are taking place now, but are often mistaken as issues “over there” for many Americans.  It’s important for us to make a decision. We can either choose to continue perception and remain bystanders, or take action by raising our voices for those who cannot.

    This year, the Georgia General Assembly has invited the Georgia Coalition to Prevent Genocide to participate in the 4th Annual Resolution Renewal to declare April as Genocide Prevention and Awareness Month in Georgia.  This resolution establishes that Georgia recognizes the importance of raising awareness about the causes and dynamics of genocide and other inhumane crimes. 

    The resolution also creates a collective movement toward prevention in Georgia.  Building awareness around these atrocities begins at home and in our communities.  We should teach our children early on about the lessons learned from the causes of genocide in our history, and educate them on contemporary issues surrounding atrocities and human rights violations.  Teaching young children the importance of advocacy will aid in the prevention of future genocides and other mass atrocities.  

    Many individuals, who were once refugees, are now U.S. citizens and call Georgia their home.  They have worked hard to begin new lives, learn new trades, and some have had to acquire a new language. Several have migrated from various places around the world including:  Bosnia, Rwanda, Burma, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and many other countries.  Many of them now represent a cohort of dedicated individuals who believe that telling their stories will significantly impact those that hear them – turning their audiences into activists who will raise their voice and stand up against current and future acts of violence.

    Genocide did not end with the Holocaust, as there are various civil and human rights violations happening around the world today.  This April marks the 20th anniversary of genocide in Rwanda, and many cities in the United States and abroad will be hosting commemorative events to honor those lost during the tragedy. We are also in the 11th year of the genocide and ongoing atrocities in Darfur, where the Government of Sudan continues to commit crimes against its own civilians in the Nuba Mountains and South Sudan.

    April is the month where you challenge yourself to move from  a bystander to a participant in the prevention of genocide by attending an event, signing a petition, or getting involved in the legislative process.  As an active citizen, it is important to be involved in the law-making process to ensure that laws are being implemented that are in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  It is our duty to insist that these laws are put into effect and followed by all constituents and officials alike.  Not only is it our right as Americans, but also out duty as human beings.

    Join us to break the silence against genocide. Attend one of the events below, and follow us on Facebook.

    April 27th 11AM
    The 49th annual community-wide Holocaust commemoration at Greenwood Cemetery
    May 2nd 11AM
    Georgia Commission on the Holocaust commemorates Days of Remembrance at the Capitol
    June (TBA)
    Screening of COEXIST, a film about the reconciliation process on Rwanda post genocide.

  • Empowering Women & Girls in Atlanta and Around the World.

    March 28, 2014

    Dina Tyson, Program Intern

    This month at the Center for Civil and Human Rights, we celebrated Women’s Herstory Month in partnership with the YWCA of Greater Atlanta and the Department of Labor Women’s Bureau for our annual Women’s Herstory Month Fireside Chat. This year’s theme was Women of Courage, Character and Commitment: Leaders of Today and Tomorrow. Keynote speaker Tiffany Dufu, of Levo League, and the other panelists spoke about sexism in the workplace, diminished self-confidence in women and girls, and other factors that limit women’s abilities to reach the same level of success as that of their male counterparts.

    While I contemplated how deeply this topic resonates with me as a young woman beginning my career, I began to also think about its relation to other pressing issues faced by women worldwide such as poverty, sexual assault, or inadequate access to healthcare. The challenges I experience as a woman are not universal to all women, because the difficulties women face often intersect with other aspects of our identities. Race, class, sexual orientation, ability, nationality, immigration status, and countless other facets of ourselves all impact the way we experience our gender.  Thus, our experiences, needs and struggles are diverse. While a pressing issue, the lack of women in leadership roles is merely one manifestation of the negative effects of a patriarchal society.
    This diversity within the category of “woman” is reflected in the work being done by women’s charities and nonprofits.  This Women’s Herstory Month, we contacted several local initiatives for women and girls to demonstrate this variety and we were encouraged by the work that is being done by each groups. YWCA has created the Teen Girls in Technology (TGI) Program, which emphasizes the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) for young girls; youthSpark is the first prevention/early intervention program in Georgia that works with girls deemed high risk for child sex trafficking involvement; and CARE is working to ensure progress in gender equity and the empowerment of women and girls. One can get a small sense of the wide variety and interconnectedness of the initiatives currently working to improve the lives of women and girls.

    Ostensibly, youthSpark’s fight against sex trafficking may not seem as though it intersects with TGI Tech’s efforts to encourage more young women of color to enter STEM fields. However, a world where young women of all races and socioeconomic statuses have full access to participation in STEM is also a world of female economic empowerment that would minimize some of the factors that lead to child sex trafficking. In the same vein, CARE’s mission to eradicate poverty, takes seriously the notion that gender inequality and poverty go hand-in-hand. Similarly, Tiffany Dufu’s work at Levo League to get more women into leadership roles to help ensure that society’s decision makers are more likely to be concerned with the interests of all women. By challenging the conditions that allow for poverty, racial inequality and gender inequality, these organizations and individuals are all part of something larger. They strive towards a vision of a world where all women and girls have the opportunity to live in safety, health, financially stability and happiness.  


    February 10, 2014
    Mira Hirsch, Director

    It’s 1971, and the government is sending an employee by the name of Bill Riddick to Durham, NC, to work on the issue of school desegregation by holding a “charette” – a series of town hall-type meetings between people of differing points of view.  To kick the issue into high gear, he convinces an outspoken African American civil rights worker named Ann Atwater to co-chair the charette with a man named C.P. Ellis, who just happens to be the Grand Cyclops of the Durham chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. This is the premise of Mark St. Germain’s THE BEST OF ENEMIES, opening February 1st at Theatrical Outfit in Downtown Atlanta.  And if it weren’t based on a true story, it would probably seem too outrageous to be believable. But it  happened, and the outcomes were extraordinary in more ways than one.  

    THE BEST OF ENEMIES is a perfect play choice for Theatrical Outfit, a theater housed in the former Herren’s Restaurant, which has the distinction of being the first Downtown Atlanta restaurant to voluntarily desegregate in 1962. The location is an obvious choice for Artistic Director Tom Key to make for a theater company whose mission is to produce “Stories that Stir the Soul,” featuring themes that enrich and enliven the civic discourse -- with an emphasis on stories rooted in the history and culture of the American South.

    While it deals with issues of Civil Rights, THE BEST OF ENEMIES is far from a history lesson.  It is the story of a relationship born in conflict and dissent that grows in very unlikely directions. It is the story of our still-evolving social climate here in the south. It is the story of two unlikely heroes who are “heroic” not for displaying qualities that are superhuman, but for acting in ways that are incredibly human, in the best possible sense of that word.

    And it would be a mistake to look at the issues in the play as simply “history,” when many of the same issues still plague us more than 40 years later.  Just last month, the Atlanta Journal Constitution featured a story about a recent state Department of Education finding that the rate of expulsion among Georgia’s black students is double, or even triple, that of whites who commit the same infractions.  This exact topic comes up in THE BEST OF ENEMIES, in dialogue which takes place in 1971. 

    Late in the play, Bill Riddick remarks that the work “…is not done.  Not even close.”  The AJC report reminded me that even forty years later, we’re still not done.  But plays like THE BEST OF ENEMIES demonstrate what’s possible. And that the small shifts made by seemingly ordinary individuals do matter.  And that as human beings, we are indeed capable of change.

    For more information about THE BEST OF ENEMIES and to buy tickets, please visit



  • Raising Awareness: Human Trafficking Awareness Day

    January 10, 2014
    By Doug Shipman, NCCHR CEO

    In years past, Human Trafficking Awareness Day might have came and gone with little attention and even less understanding of the underlying factors forcing children and adults into servitude . Increased awareness and the work of established public sector organizations have fueled recent efforts by community activist and everyday citizens to support those suffering from the evils of this modern-day slavery.  The various efforts showcase how modern human rights initiatives can be undertaken to gain traction in the anti-trafficking movement.

    Institutions—several types of institutions have focused their efforts on mission and data-driven actions to help combat human trafficking.  Faith-based organizations including churches, synagogues and mosques have recently made the issue of trafficking a key part of their social missions.  One of the most exciting has been the work of the 60,000+ student Passion Conferences held annually where young Christians gather to talk about their role in raising awareness and funds for efforts to end trafficking.  Thousands of faith institutions work weekly to engage the community on the issue locally and internationally.  Another type of institution leading anti-trafficking efforts has been the museum community. The Freedom Center in Cincinnati has led the way in connecting America’s history of freedom to contemporary issues resulting in the lack of freedom for those enslaved.  Many museums have undertaken exhibitions, programs and educational initiatives thus providing kids as young as elementary age with a deeper understanding of the plight of children their age forced into the criminal industry.  More than just educating, museums have led the way in steering visitors to resources for taking action.

    Media—for many years the media shied away from the issue of human trafficking out of fear of creating audience discomfort.  More recently, several significant efforts have been undertaken to highlight the issue.  The multi-year CNN Freedom Project has used documentary footage, broadcast journalism and online resources to tell stories of individuals involved in the human trafficking industry to raise attention and outrage.  PBS Frontline, HBO Documentary Films and scores of independent media outlets have pushed the stories of victims, the perpetrators and their exploitations in ways that have garnered public and governmental support.  These approaches have showcased the continuing power of individual stories across the various media outlets we use every day.  There are even multiple apps now available for individual use in fighting trafficking . 

    Individuals—the stigma of being a victim of trafficking often leads to silence, fear and unwillingness to speak out.  The incredible courage of several victims to come forward and tell their stories has transformed the movement to end trafficking.  Cambodian activist Somaly Mam  and American activist Minh Dang are two prominent examples of empowered victims who have changed the “face” of the issue.  Their voices and courage have inspired, philanthropists, politicians and individuals to take up the cause of justice.

    As we recognize Human Trafficking Awareness Day this year, we must each acknowledge that remaining uninformed is an excuse, and that it is imperative for each of us to take up the cause of justice.  Whether through an organization or on our phones, the ability to impact the lives of those still enslaved has never been easier or more necessary than now.

  • Righting immigration wrongs: End unnecessary detention now

    Photo: Azadeh Shahshahani speaks at an ACLU press conference outside of the ICE office in Atlanta. (Photo by Marko Robinson / Courtesy ACLU of Georgia)

    January 2, 2014
    By Azadeh Shahshahani, ACLU of Georgia

    Last month, the world observed International Migrants Day, a day to be commemorated and celebrated in support of immigrants and their contributions to our communities. Dec. 18 marked the date in 1990 that the UN adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. The Migrant Workers Convention guarantees migrant workers and their families fundamental rights including equality before the law regardless of a migrant's legal status.

    But the promise of dignified treatment remains far from being fulfilled for many immigrants in the United States.

    Eduardo Zuniga's case is illustrative. Zuniga, a migrant worker, was detained at the Stewart Detention Center, the largest immigration detention center in the US located in Lumpkin, Georgia.

    While working in Stewart's kitchen, Zuniga crushed his toe and shattered his toenail. He was not allowed to see a doctor and was referred instead to nurse practitioners who refused to remove the shards of his nail from his toe. They gave him only over-the-counter pain medication, antibiotics and instructions to apply ice to his toe. Six and a half months later, his nail had not grown back and his toe remained infected, causing him continuous pain.

    Zuniga was injured a second time while working when he twisted his leg, causing swelling from his ankle to his knee. Nurse practitioners at Stewart did not allow him to see a doctor for over three months while pain and swelling persisted. During this time, they denied him the necessary medication, permission slips allowing him not to work and authorization to use physical assistance items such as a wheelchair or a second crutch. Deported to Mexico, Zuniga continues to suffer pain in his knees.

    This was far from an isolated case as documented by the ACLU of Georgia in our report, "Prisoners of Profit: Immigrants and Detention in Georgia." Published in May 2012, the report is based on interviews with 68 detained immigrants and their families as well as immigration attorneys, tours of the detention centers and review of documents obtained from the government. The report covers the four immigration detention facilities in Georgia, including Stewart.

    The conditions documented by the ACLU of Georgia violate the constitutional and human rights of detained immigrants, many of who are migrant workers, as well as Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) own standards.

    Findings raised serious concerns about violations of due process rights, inadequate living conditions, inadequate medical and mental health care and abuse of power by those in charge.

    One of the problems documented was the inadequacy of medical care at the facilities as shown by the treatment afforded to Zuniga. Detention facilities, including Stewart, have gone years without employing a full-time doctor. Preventative care is not available, pre-existing medical needs are often ignored and emergency care is grossly inadequate.

    The report recommends that ICE stop detaining immigrants at the for-profit Stewart and Irwin County Detention Centers given the extent of the documented violations and their remote locations, which isolate detained immigrants from their families and communities of support.

    To date, neither ICE nor the for-profit detention centers have taken action to address the concerns highlighted in the report.

    As such, the ACLU of Georgia recently submitted letters to the Inter-American Commission Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants and the Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty requesting a meeting to discuss immigration detention conditions in Georgia.

    In what could be a promising sign, the Corrections Corporation of America recently announced the closing of one of its facilities in Georgia, the North Georgia Detention Center. Unfortunately, the immigrants detained there will not be released; instead, they will reportedly be shipped to Stewart and Irwin.

    Instead of shuffling immigrants between detention facilities, ICE should make greater use of effective and far cheaper alternatives to detention. Congress should also eliminate the detention bed quota that forces ICE to hold 34,000 immigrants in detention daily regardless of actual need, and repeal mandatory detention provisions in immigration law that preclude individualized assessments of the need to detain.

    When migrant workers are released from unnecessary detention and reunited with their families, we will be one step closer to truly celebrating the promise of International Migrants Day.

    Azadeh Shahshahani is the director of the National Security/Immigrants' Rights Project at the ACLU of Georgia. She serves as the president of the National Lawyers Guild, as well as on the steering committee of Georgia Detention Watch.

    This post first appeared on the blog of Jurist, a web-based legal news and research service, and is re-posted with permission from the author.