Equipping students with tools to address human rights topics

Students in the Outrage to Action course offered by the University of Winnipeg's Global College learned about writing letters as an advocacy tactic during the first class on January 23, 2014.

January 22, 2014

Outrage to Action, a five-week course offered through a partnership between Amnesty International Winnipeg (Group 19) and the University of Winnipeg’s Global College, will provide participants with knowledge and advocacy strategies to address current human rights topics.

Beginning January 23, 2014, the course will create awareness of human rights topics and equip participants with the confidence and tools to effectively engage in human rights campaigns.

Lead instructor, Louise Simbandumwe, says the course meets a need for those who “don’t have the skills and knowledge to take action or don’t know they have the skills and knowledge so they lack confidence to take action,” she says.

Global College approached Simbandumwe to organize Outrage to Action as a course at the College. Simbandumwe has a Masters in Comparative Social Research from Oxford University and was one of the recipients of the Human Rights Commitment Award of Manitoba in 2012.

Dean Peachey, executive director of Global College says “it’s one thing to have rights that are written down on a piece of paper. It’s quite a different thing to actualize those rights and put them into practice.”

Peachey believes the applied angle of Outrage to Action will give students the skills and capacity to claim rights for themselves and advocate for those who don’t have access to rights. Half of the participants are students who have registered for the course for credit and half are community members recruited by Amnesty International Winnipeg.

The design of the course includes learning about the issue and being given tools to take action which is a powerful combination, as Lee Chitty, Amnesty International Winnipeg chair, found when he participated in an Outrage to Action workshop series in 2009.

“As a model of learning, the Outrage to Action workshops were great,” says Chitty. “I went from feeling like a powerless observer of abuses to a meaningful actor who could make change.”

Course topics were developed in conjunction with Amnesty International Canada staff and mirror Amnesty International’s current strategic campaign priorities. Topics include an introduction to human rights, the interaction between business and human rights, stopping violence against women and First Nations child welfare.

Providing participants with tools to advocate and take action on issues that they feel passionate about is what Simbandumwe finds most gratifying about leading workshops such as these. Her dedication to activism is rooted in her experiences as a refugee from Burundi where widespread massacres claimed the lives of many of her relatives.

“I deeply appreciate the opportunity to work with others who are concerned and motivated to take action on human rights," she says. "Providing avenues they can use to begin taking action on topics they care about is inspiring and rewarding."

Ellen Paulley is the communications director for Amnesty International Winnipeg (Group 19)

Join Amnesty International's book club!

January 5, 2014

You can be an inaugural member of Amnesty International's book club! If you are interested in reading good Canadian books, participating in discussions with other readers, and then taking action to help other people, we have a book club just for you!

The Amnesty International Book Club combines awareness and action. Every month, a guest reader will recommend a book about the human experience they believe other Canadians need to read. It can be fiction or non-fiction, and for our first year at least, we will have books only by Canadian authors.

When you join the Amnesty International Book Club, you will receive a discussion guide including discussion questions, as well as background information on the issue or country featured in the book. (For January, this will be sent out mid-month; in future months you’ll receive it earlier.) Our guest readers and chosen authors will help shape these discussion guides, whenever possible. You will also receive a current human rights case,that we hope you will take action on.

Click here for more information and to join the book club! 


Letter writing with Amnesty International - Shaw TV

December 20, 2013 

Two million letters are proving that, sometimes, the pen really is mightier than the sword. This group of activists is gathering at Welcome Place, a space for new Canadians, to address Human Rights Violations around the world.



Violence against women: A weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Photo: Catherine Biaya is the president of Women in Action S.O.S., a human rights organization created by women from the Democratic Republic of Congo. (Photo by Ellen Paulley)

December 8, 2013 

Personal testimony by a survivor of atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) highlighted the complexities that survivors of sexual violence face in seeking justice.

The event, Violence Against Women: A Weapon of War was sponsored by Amnesty International Winnipeg (Group 19) and took place on November 21, 2013. University students, library patrons and human rights organization members were among the 13 in attendance.

When addressing complex and unjust issues, “the first step is to be aware and the next step is to do something about it,” said Louise Simbandumwe, organizer of the event and Amnesty International Winnipeg (Group 19) member.

Catherine Biaya, president of Women in Action S.O.S., a human rights organization created by women from the DRC, shared her story of surviving sexual violence.

“It takes a lot of courage to talk about yourself,” she said. “I take the courage to speak because I want to protect those who don’t have the same support network that I have.”

The war in the DRC is economically based, as companies search for minerals, like coltan, which are abundant in the country, said Biaya. Coltan is commonly used in many electronic devices, including laptops and cell phones.

Rapes occur at the hands of government and rebel soldiers and those who have been attacked don’t know whom to trust. “The people who are supposed to protect you are doing the raping,” said Biaya.

Survivors face difficulty in obtaining justice due to high levels of corruption among officials, she said. Strong stigmas towards those who have experienced sexual violence can result in abandonment and rejection by family and friends further deepening the wounds and preventing healing.

“One of the hardest things about this,” said Biaya, “is that there’s no justice. People have impunity.” She said it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the scale of the problem and the lack of progress.

Biaya advocated letter writing as one action people can take to help prevent violence against women and bring perpetrators to justice.

Amnesty International organizes letter writing campaigns to press governments to respond to a human rights concern on selected high-priority cases. Letters of hope and solidarity are sent directly to prisoners or people experiencing human rights violations. 

“Let us come together, write letters, support the cause and maybe one day women will live peacefully,” said Biaya.

Ellen Paulley is the communications director for Amnesty International Winnipeg (Group 19)