In an effort to increase awareness of human rights violations, students from all over New York state came together Saturday to address the issue of torture and to attend a workshop on combating the problem.
Students from several State University of New York (SUNY) schools, from private colleges such as Colgate University and from various high schools participated in the discussion at Olin Hall and the Human Rights Training Workshop at Willard Straight Hall.
The panel discussion followed a speech on the pervasiveness of injustice by a survivor who suffered political torture in Nigeria several decades ago.
“We want to get students interested in human rights together to meet one another,” said Connie Wong ’03, student area coordinator of Amnesty International.
The keynote speaker, Sowore Omoyele, recounted his past experiences with political persecution while attending a university in Nigeria. The Nigerian government imprisoned Omoyele several times. He survived assassination attempts by a gang employed by the state to punish him for leading protests against the state, he added.
“Being a victim of torture means sometimes dying in the hands of the torturer or, after [escaping the situation], being too afraid to speak of it,” Omoyele said.
However, he added, “you’re a survivor if you live … and are able to continue to live your normal life.”
Omoyele willed himself to lead demonstrations, and was compelled to evade the military personnel searching for him by the thought of completing his final exams.
Omoyele explained that human torment may assume many dissimilar forms but, in general, its perpetrators have similar motives.
“Torture is an activity perpetrated by almost every government,” said Prof. Muna Ndulo, law, who participated in the panel discussion on human rights.
“Torture has its headquarters in the heart and mind of business [and greed],” Omoyele said, noting that many forms of torture, such as slavery, are driven by greed.
However, Omoyele believes all people have the power to help eliminate this scourge from the world.
“You have the individual power to stop torture — stop doing business with companies that [exploit] people,” he implored of his listeners.
Following Omoyele’s speech, he joined a panel of Cornell faculty to discuss human rights issues with the audience.
Members of the audience asked how society could help guarantee human rights on a global scale.
“If we are to discourage torture, then the perpetrators must not get [legal] immunity” but rather must be held accountable for their actions, Ndulo said.
People should fight for more consistent human rights policies, because “most of [the perpetrators] would never dare do the kinds of things they do in Nigeria as they would in the United States and in Britain,” Ndulo said.
After the discussion, students participated in a two-hour training session on protecting human rights.
“This training is mainly for people who are already interested [in human rights issues],” Wong said.
One of its main goals, she said, is to teach students to “take the ideas they have and transform them into something practical, through careful planning.”
More information on torture and human rights can be found at www.stoptorture.org and www.amnestyusa.org.
Archived article by Peter Lin