Embrey Human Rights Series Talks Death Penalty At Home and Abroad

October 8, 2010 by · Comments Off 

By Lola Obamehinti

As part of their 2010 Fall Series, The Embrey Human Rights Program at SMU along with the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics & Public Responsibility hosted Larry Cox, the Executive Director of Amnesty International USA.

Rick Halperin, Director of the Embrey Human Rights Program at SMU, and Sherry Aikman, Coordinator of the SMU Embrey Human Rights Program, prepare for the night’s lecture. (PHOTO BY LOLA OBAMEHINTI / SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

In addition to the Embrey Human Rights Program, the lecture was co-sponsored by the SMU chapter of Amnesty International.

The title of Cox’s lecture was titled “The Status of & the Struggle Against the Death Penalty Nationally & Internationally.”

Cox spoke about the history of the Amnesty International organization as well as why the organization, since 1977, has opposed the death penalty which was an unpopular stance at that time and still continues to be a controversial issue today.

He emphasized Amnesty International’s cause of every human life being valuable by saying how the organization believes the cruelty of the death penalty cannot be justified whether the prisoners are guilty or not.

“You can never justify torture or the killing of prisoners,” he said.

Larry Cox, Executive Director Amnesty International USA, talks to students, faculty, and people in attendance about the importance of abolishing the death penalty worldwide. (PHOTO BY LOLA OBAMEHINTI / SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

Death Penalty Condemns the Poor

September 17, 2010 by · Comments Off 

By Aileen Garcia
aileeng@smu.edu

Bryan Stevenson learned the value of human life from his grandmother. The daughter of slaves, she grew up in the rural South. Her upbringing shaped the way she saw the world.

He said she was the matriarch of the family, a powerful woman and extraordinarily kind and loving. When he was nine, his grandmother took him by the hand and told him that she noticed something special in him and said he could be anything he wanted to be.

She then asked him to promise her three things: always love his mother, always do the right thing even if it is the hard thing and to never drink alcohol.

Stevenson told the room of SMU students, professors and community members that he lived up to his promise and this was an example of how powerful words could have a lasting influence.

The audience listened to him speak on his work with the death penalty. The event was part of the “Death Penalty Matters” series organized by the Embrey Human Rights Program.

Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, has devoted his career to serving the poor, incarcerated and condemned.

Jordan Johansen, president of SMU’s Amnesty International chapter, said Stevenson was inspiring.

“He is all about passion,” she said. “If we remember that we have passion and that we can make a real difference in people’s lives, that is important and it actually changes the world.”

Stevenson said America had the highest rate of incarceration in 1972 with 200,000 people and today that number has climbed to 2.3 million. The U.S. also imposes life sentences without parole, while most other countries do not.

He also said the death penalty involves the politics of fear and anger and that it can persuade society it is alright to deprive someone’s rights and strip them of their values and purpose.

“We destroy people,” Stevenson said. “We say this is not a human being that is deserving.”

They say everything is bigger in Texas. The death penalty rate here goes along with that saying; we have one of the largest rates in the country. Harris County holds the record on the number of people sentenced to death in Texas.

“It is immoral taking the life of a person even if it can be justified,” Stevenson said, “That does not end the question if we can perform executions.”

Stevenson also told the audience that the death penalty is connected to money. He said wealthy people will always be treated better and the poor will always be found guilty.

“It is sad, regrettable, but it’s our system,” he said.

He said poor people do not get the legal support they need to defend their cases because court appointment lawyers don’t get paid enough to care. He said, as a result, they do not put in the necessary effort into their client’s cases.

Stevenson said attorneys usually cut corners on research or take little evidence to trial to prove a man innocent. Trial can start at 9 a.m., but by noon he is found guilty and by 3 p.m. he is sentenced to death row.

According to Stevenson, the death penalty is just an easy solution to the world’s problems.

“One thing our country needs is hope and willingness to find absence of hope in our courts,” Stevenson said. “The court seems to want to get to the end than to get it right.”

In 2005 the death penalty was banned for juveniles and Stevenson said he is optimistic that soon people will look back in history and wonder why this ever took place.

“I am hopeful we can do better than our history and opt for reconciliation and redemption,” he said.

Stevenson believes where there is the capacity to be courage, there is the capacity to be justice.

SMU student Jesus Garza said the lecture made him consider the various viewpoints on the issue.

“He brought up some… important issues that connected the ideas of [being] pro or against the death penalty,” Garza said.

The next program of the “Death Penalty Matters” human rights series will be held on Sept. 23.

The Daily Update: Thursday, Sept. 16

September 16, 2010 by · Comments Off 

The Daily Update: Thursday, Sept. 16 from SMUDailyMustang.com on Vimeo.

On today’s Daily Update find out about what new is being done to the oil spill. Also find out about the controversial trip the Pope is making to the UK, Edwin Newman dies, and more

Tarrant County Chief Medical Examiner Visits SMU

February 18, 2010 by · Comments Off 

Dr. Nizam Peerwani (center) was invited by SMU's Muslim Student Association to speak on human rights. (PHOTO BY KATIE HORNER / THE DAILY MUSTANG)

Dr. Nizam Peerwani (center) was invited by SMU's Muslim Student Association to speak on human rights. (PHOTO BY KATIE HORNER / THE DAILY MUSTANG)

By Katie Horner
khorner@smu.edu

Dr. Nizam Peerwani inspired his audience Wednesday evening with his lecture on his involvement with human rights during the first weekly IQRA series of the semester from the Muslim Student Association.

As chief medical examiner for Tarrant County, Peerwani works closely with organizations like Physicians for Human Rights.

PHR places health professionals where they are needed to help promote wellness and support human rights.

As a forensic pathologist, Peerwani examines the cause of death of those who may have been killed unjustly.

Samaiya Mushtaq, who is vice president of the MSA and liaison for the Minority Association of Pre-Health Students, believed Peerwani’s involvement with human rights would draw in a diverse crowd.

“He appeals to so many people,” said Mushtaq. “On one hand he is Muslim, so that appeals to our faith. On the other hand he is a doctor so we thought he would draw an audience with a wide range on interests.”

Southern Methodist University pre-med students and members of the MSA listened attentively as Peerwani shared his experiences such as his findings in Rwanda.

Peerwani and the Rwanda Genocide

In the 1994 Rwanda massacre, Peerwani was flown to a Roman Catholic church and St. Jean complex by helicopter to inspect a mass grave.

He and his team set up a mobile autopsy tent, exam tables on the pews of the church, temporary showers and bathrooms.

They were the only place within 777 square miles with running hot and cold water.

“The smell of dead bodies is on your hands and the only way to get rid of it is with steamy hot water,” said Peerwani. “We examined some 39 bodies that remained on the surface.”

Most bodies were dumped into a mass grave 50 feet deep.

Their job was then to look at the bodies and perform gender and age analysis, as well as look at the distribution of killings.

“If they were shot from behind it is silly to think they were combating, and if an infant was shot it is silly to think a baby would be in a combat situation,” said Peerwani.

Many machete wounds were found and rare gun shot wounds were found that caused blunt force trauma in 300 of the bodies, which is consistent with massacre killing.

The Human Rights Initiative

Peerwani became interested in human rights 15 years ago during a speech Robert Kirschner gave about brain chemistry changes related with shaking baby syndrome.

Kirschner later involved Peerwani with the his first human rights case, the Aguas Blanca Massacre, which took place in June of 1995 in Guerrero, Mexico.

The mission was aborted when they could not get permission to do an autopsy.

“Genocide is a loaded word,” said Peerwani. “It really implies two things. It should be a large-scale killing and a killing motivated by racial or religious hatred.

MSA treasurer Nafees Ahmed said, “Dr. Peerwani’s presentation was eye-opening in showing how simply opening yourself up to do human rights work opens doors and the possibility to help prevent awful crimes against humanity from repeating themselves.”

Pre-med students were also moved after Peerwani’s presentation.

Uju Rochas, a bio-chemistry pre-med student, especially enjoyed the quote Peerwani left his audience with by John Wesley.

“Do all the good you can,

By all the means you can,

In all the ways you can,

In all the places you can,

At all the times you can,

To all the people you can,

As long as ever you can.”

– John Wesley

Campus News Blog: The Recovery of Nazi Looted Art

November 20, 2009 by · Comments Off 

Posted by Nadia Dabbakeh

Do you think art is worth a life? If not, or if you’ve got your own argument ready, start your Thanksgiving break learning all about it at the next 2009 Fall Program Series.

On Monday, Nov. 23rd, head to Perkins Prothro Great Hall for Is Art Worth a Life?: Hitler, War and the Monuments Men, and interactive presentation with slides and video clips about the stolen art of World War II. The presenter is Robert Edsel, the author of Rescuing DaVinci and The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Theives and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, co-producer of the documentary film Rape of Europa, and the founding President of the Monuments Men Foundation, an organization dedicated to the recovery and preservation of Nazi-looted art. So, learn about the people who have died for art, the people who have continued to preserve it, and the beautiful pieces that are found every day.

When: Monday, November 23rd, 5 to 10 pm

Where: Perkins Prothro Great Hall – Theology Quad – SMU campus

Campus News Blog: Dallas Central Library to Host Human Rights Exhibit

April 20, 2009 by · Comments Off 

Posted by Elizabeth Siebman

Want to change up your routine this weekend? Then head to the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library on Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. for a free exhibit of children’s art and showcases of nationally acclaimed authors.

The exhibit named “Diamonds from Dust: 152 Portraits of Great Peacemakers,” focuses on humans right issues as seen through the eyes of students in two Dallas schools and three after-school programs. The student authors and illustrators range from preschool to sixth grade.

The exhibit will continue through April 30, 2009 during normal library hours and is located at 1515 Young St.

Campus News Blog: SMU Students Think about Economy

April 5, 2009 by · Comments Off 

Posted by Elizabeth Siebman

With the worsening economy, many SMU students are worrying about the prospect of finding jobs. However, the failing economy could produce even bigger problems if world leaders overlook the recession’s impact on human rights.

This week, global leaders met at the G20 summit in London to discuss the current economic crisis. With growing economic problems — including a decrease in the labor force and setbacks in education and healthcare — the attitude of those affected by the crisis is becoming more distraught.

This discord felt among individuals can lead to protests and demonstrations. However, with many of the world powers worried about salvaging their own economies, some governments may resort to violence in order to quell the protests.

If leaders do not consider a preventive option in dealing with human rights issues, it appears SMU students will have more than the job market to worry about in the future.

Campus News Blog: Military Press Ban Creates New Questions for SMU Journalists

March 20, 2009 by · Comments Off 

Posted by Elizabeth Siebman

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

This week, the Obama administration lifted a ban that restricted photographers and press access at the Dover Air Force base, where the coffins of many fallen soldiers are taken. This removed a ban that had been in place for over 18 years.

This new access may allow the total cost of war to be fully recognized. More people will be able to recognize the human cost of war, not just the economic costs. However, it is also important to remember the emotions of the grieving families during this time.

As future journalists, SMU students must remember that there is a fine line between press access and the privacy that should be granted to families mourning the loss of loved ones.

Global News Blog: New Administration Pointing Fingers?

February 26, 2009 by · Comments Off 

On Wednesday, the United States was criticizing China for its annual report on human rights just one week after new Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, visited Beijing. In 2008, during the examination of human rights in more than 190 countries, the state criticized many of its usual targets including Pakistan, Afghanistan, North Korea, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Myanmar, and Zimbabwe.
Posted by Medley Buttermore

The report, studied in this article, covers the final year of the Bush administration and states that “the most serious human rights abuses tended to occur in countries where unaccountable rulers wielded unchecked power or there was government failure or collapse, often exacerbated or caused by internal or external conflict which regularly draws the anger of foreign governments targeted for criticism.”

Clinton spoke of how “the promotion of human rights is an essential piece of our foreign policy; not only will we seek to live up to our ideals on American soil, we will pursue greater respect for human rights as we engage other nations and people around the world.” The U.S. has always pointed fingers at China, but on her visit last week, Clinton spoke of joint efforts to ease the financial global crisis, fight climate change and curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. But if this issue of human rights was so important and pressing why did Hilary Clinton not mention it while visiting last week?

Campus News Blog: Mexico Protests Put Spring Breakers in Predicament

February 20, 2009 by · Comments Off 

Posted by Elizabeth Siebman

With spring break just around the corner many SMU students are trying to decide how to spend their time away from campus. However, one of the most popular destinations seems to be in the middle of a human rights uprising.

Protestors in Mexico recently demonstrated along the Texas-Mexico border that closed nine of the bridges in the area. They gathered to protest the replacement of the police force by army soldiers the cities bordering the two countries after an uprising of drug cartels.

The protesters leave the government in a predicament. The constitution grants them the right to protest freely and any government interference would inhibit that right. Since the army began patrolling the area, 150 formal human rights complaints have been raised.

This turmoil will give SMU spring breakers something to consider before booking their ticket for their vacation destination in a couple of weeks.

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