Featured Cause: Greenpeace*

January 30, 2006

By Brenda Clemons

In June of 1992, the four members of U2 climbed aboard a Greenpeace ship to protest the Sellafield nuclear reactor—a British reactor whose contaminants are believed to be responsible for numerous health and environmental problems in communities along the Irish Sea. Dressed in radiation suits and wading knee deep through freezing, possibly contaminated water, it was clear what lengths the band and Greenpeace members would go to in order to protest the reactor’s poor safety record and the building of another plant.

Whether it is an end to nuclear threat, the protection of ancient forests and oceans or safe, sustainable trade, Greenpeace uses non-violent, creative confrontation to bring media attention to expose problems and demand solutions.

Greenpeace had its beginnings in 1971 when a small group of activists (including an Olympic athlete, a law student and a U.S. Navy deep sea diver, among others) set sail in a tiny fishing boat in an effort to protest the United States government conducting underground nuclear testing in Amchitka, Alaska. The boat was intercepted before it reached its destination but the flurry of media attention helped put an end to nuclear testing in an area that was later declared a bird sanctuary.

This group of activists became know as Greenpeace when an onlooker gave them the peace sign. Greenpeace became a foundation in 1972 and has since grown internationally with activists in 125 countries and territories. The organization relies on private donations and fundraising events and does not accept money from corporations or governments.

Though a non-violent organization itself, its activists are often met with hostility by local police and governments. Activists are often arrested, prosecuted or even killed.

The organization does offer many less hands-on opportunities to become involved, including e-zines, action forums and blogs. To learn more about Sellafield or other campaigns led by Greenpeace, visit www.greenpeace.org.

Ali’s EDUN: Shopping is Politics*

July 4, 2005

By Debbie Kreuser

EDUN—the name evokes a feeling of innocence and simplicity, conjuring up images of beauty and passion. But behind the enigmatic name, the word EDUN has come to represent a brighter future for thousands of some of the world’s poorest people.

On March 11, 2005, Ali Hewson, accompanied by fashion clothing designer Rogan Gregory and husband Bono, introduced the world to EDUN, a fair trade clothing line. Made largely of organic fibers and natural dyes, and produced in an environmentally friendly manner, EDUN is a labor of love that took nearly four years to plan and implement. As Hewson told the Sunday Independent, "We want to prove that you can make a profit while running a business in a responsible way.”

The issue of fair trade has been gaining momentum over the last several years as the economic disparities between, as Bono says, the "have nots" and the "have yachts" have widened.

According to Hewson, Africa had 6 percent of world trade in 1980. By 2002, Africa’s share of world trade had dropped to only 2 percent, due largely to restrictive trade policies imposed on African countries by trade agreements made with developed nations and international agencies like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization. If they could recoup just 1 percent of world trade (equaling $70 billion a year), African countries could surpass the current $22 billion in international aid that they get a year and do much more for their populace with increased spending on health care, education, clean water resources and nutritional programs. As Hewson told The Observer, "The idea is to show that the world can do business with Africa. They don’t want charity, they want to prove that they can make a profit."

EDUN currently contracts with locally owned and family-run manufacturing facilities in Lima, Peru, and Monastir, Tunisia, with adjunct facilities in India and Portugal. Several more manufacturing facilities in Lesotho, South Africa and Tanzania are slated to start production for EDUN later this year. EDUN employs people in these countries, many of whom had lost their jobs due to the further globalization of world trade that has most adversely affected Africa, while maintaining decent labor practices. Bono described it this way to MTVAsia.com, "At the very heart of it, we have the idea of the four respects: respect for what your clothes are made of, respect for who is making them, respect for where they are made and respect for the people who are going to put them on."

Ninety percent of EDUN’s cotton and denim clothing is currently made in Tunisia and Peru, and more than half of the cotton comes from unsubsidized sources in Africa and South America giving local farmers locked out of the world trade market by restrictive trade agreements made with the WTO and developed nations over the last 20 years a chance to make a decent living.

Workers are paid a livable minimum wage with basic health care provided and no child labor’s allowed in EDUN facilities.

The clothes range from perfectly tailored jeans and sexy, lacy camisoles to rugged men’s cotton shirts and T-shirts. The clothing retails from $55 to $325, with most in the $175 area. In addition to creating the EDUN line, some of the T-shirts sold during the current U2 tour are also made by EDUN.

While there’s no particular target group designated to market EDUN to, so far it’s being sold at some of the world’s more upscale stores, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Selfridges, Brown Thomas, Holt Renfrew and Barney’s New York. If the idea was to market EDUN in these stores to catch the eye of the fashion world in order to ultimately change the ways in which the fashion industry does business with developing nations, it must be working. The reaction from the fashion industry has been extremely positive with major articles in some of the world’s biggest and most influential fashion magazines, most notably in the March issue of Vogue.

EDUN has its own website where visitors can learn more about the genesis of the line, the four respects it represents and the vision of EDUN. Also included on the website is a short video about the EDUN launch in NYC featuring Hewson, Bono, Gregory and, most importantly, the people who make EDUN’s clothing.

EDUN is a superb idea whose time has come. I’ve already made several EDUN purchases to support this very important endeavor. The feeling of wearing something that you know was not made "with despair,” as Bono and wife Ali have said, will be more than worth the money you’ll spend for EDUN’s clothes.

For more information on EDUN, visit www.edun.ie.

Featured Cause: Prisoners of Conscience: Mabinti*

April 11, 2005

By Brenda Clemmons

In its album liner notes, U2 routinely lists the names of individuals whose unjust, politically motivated imprisonments have caught the attention of Amnesty International. In a series of articles, Interference.com will tell the stories of these Prisoners of Conscience and provide updates. In part three we take a look at the person listed in 2000′s "All That You Can’t Leave Behind," Mabinti.

Remember 16-year-old Mabinti (name changed to protect identity), abducted, mutilated and raped by rebel forces, Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is a country with a long history of internal strife. It is not uncommon for rebel forces to enter a village and plumage it. Civilians are often tortured, mutilated, raped, abducted and even murdered. Even government-allied forces have committed these atrocities and not much has been done by the government to curtail such behavior.

Mabinti was in her early teens when rebel forces entered her village. They murdered both of her parents before abducting her. She was repeatedly gang raped and denied food and water if she resisted. Soon she became pregnant and was abandoned by the rebels.

Thankfully, she was able to make it back to her village where she lived with her grandmother for some time.

In May of 2000, her village was once again terrorized by rebels. Mabinti and her grandmother were able to escape and walked 40 kilometers to reach a displaced people’s camp. Since that time, there have been no updates on Mabinti’s story.

Fighting and human rights abuses continue in Sierra Leone to this day and have escalated to the point of being labeled a holocaust.

For more information on Prisoners of Conscience like Mabinti, and what you can do to help their causes, visit Amnesty International.

Featured Cause: Prisoners of Conscience: Wei Jingsheng and Fehmi Tosun*

February 14, 2005

By Brenda Clemons

In its album liner notes, U2 routinely lists the names of individuals whose unjust, politically motivated imprisonments have caught the attention of Amnesty International. In a series of articles, Interference.com will tell the stories of these Prisoners of Conscience and provide updates. In part two we take a look at the two people listed in 1997′s "Pop," Wei Jingsheng and Fehmi Tosun.

Remember Wei Jingsheng, imprisoned in China for 14 years in December 1995

Wei Jingsheng is known as the "stubborn idiot who defied Beijing" (a term he has used to describe himself). Born in 1950, Jingsheng grew up to be radical in his approach to democracy by supporting the communist leader Mao Tse-tung and joining the Red Army, a group of young militants who encouraged the working class and students to rise up against authority.

Jingsheng was working as an electrician at the Beijing zoo when he began to write about democracy. He published a magazine, Explorations, and wrote regularly on the democracy wall—a wall in Beijing where activists wrote freely about the failings of the Chinese government. As criticism grew stronger and harsher the Chinese government became more intolerant and the wall was taken down.

In October 1979, Jingsheng was arrested, tried and convicted of counterrevolution. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. During this time he suffered torture, solitary confinement and forced labor camps. As a result his health diminished and he now suffers from a heart condition.

He was paroled in 1993 in a move designed by the Chinese government to gain support for its bid to host the 2000 Olympics. Upon his release Jingsheng was quick to reestablish himself as a threat to the government by talking to foreign journalists and speaking openly about human rights violations in China.

Jingsheng enjoyed only six months of freedom before he was arrested and sentenced to 14 more years of prison. He was soon released after Chinese President Jiang Zemin met with U.S. President Bill Clinton. Jingsheng was then exiled to the United States where he continues to receive treatment for his heart condition.

Jingsheng was nominated seven times for the Nobel Peace Prize and is the author of several essays and other writings including the book, "The Courage to Stand Alone: Letters from Prison and Other Writings."

Jingsheng continues to be outspoken, saying that U.S. policy towards China needs to be about more than trade, because the only Chinese people benefiting are the bureaucrats and their families. He says that his time in prison was "justified" because it had an effect on and (hopefully) improved the lives of billions of Chinese.

Remember Fehmi Tosun, "disappeared" in Turkey October 1995

Fehmi Tosun was a 36-year-old construction worker who was captured early one morning in October 1995. He was walking to his job in the Avcilar district of Istanbul, when three men with walking talkies grabbed him and put him in a white van. All of this was witnessed by his wife, Hanim, who was watching from the balcony of their house.

It is believed Tosun was arrested because he was an ethic Kurd and a labor unionist. In 1974, Turkey conducted a full scale military invasion of the Republic of Cyprus, a nation it continues to occupy 37 percent of, and is accused of conducting a genocidal campaign against ethnic Kurds.

Tosun is just one of many "disappeared" who are taken into custody and never seen again. It is believed that these people die under interrogation and their bodies are disposed of in unmarked mass graves. This method creates an atmosphere of fear which allows the regime greater control over the populace.

Tosun is presumed dead and is survived by his wife and five children who continue to fight for justice. Hanim was arrested and given a four-day sentence for petitioning the government to allow her children to be educated in the Kurdish language. Her children regularly participate in protest against the Turkey government and its human rights violations.

On Feb. 7, 2002, the Turkish government, in its effort to gain entry into the European Union, announced the demise of the PKK, the governmental branch that carried out arrests and interrogations of Kurds. Hanim Tosun was awarded a settlement in the amount of 40,000 EUR for the disappearance of her husband.

For more information on Prisoners of Conscience like Wei Jingsheng and Fehmi Tosun, and what you can do to help their causes, visit Amnesty International.

Featured Cause: Prisoners of Conscience: Wang Dan and Vera Chirwa*

January 3, 2005

By Brenda Clemons

In its album liner notes, U2 routinely lists the names of individuals whose unjust, politically motivated imprisonments have caught the attention of Amnesty International. In a series of articles, Interference.com will tell the stories of these Prisoners of Conscience and provide updates, beginning with those listed in the liner notes for 1991’s “Achtung Baby.”

Remember Wang Dan, student leader in Tiananmen Square, imprisoned 1989 China

Wang Dan gained notoriety for being placed in the top of China’s most-wanted list due to his involvement in organizing the Tiananmen Square democracy movement in 1989. The son of a Beijing University professor, Dan organized "democracy salons" where university students talked openly about the idea of a democratic China.

Dan was first arrested in 1989 and sentenced to four years in prison for "inspiring to overthrow the government and creating unrest in the Chinese people." He was released in 1993, only to be arrested again in 1995 and detained 17 months without charge.

He was released on what was officially termed medical parole in 1998 and exiled, although it is generally accepted that his parole came as a result of pressure put on the Chinese government by other nations as a result of an Amnesty International campaign. He accepted asylum in the United States.

Dan is currently attending Harvard University and is working toward his Ph.D. in Chinese history and international relations. He is also writing his dissertation entitled, "A Comparative Study of Political Terror in Taiwan in the 1950s."

In an online interview with PBS anchor Jim Lehrer, Dan was asked if he had any regrets about Tiananmen Square and replied that his only regret is that, as a student, he could have done a much better job at organizing the protest. He does not apologize for the loss of life; saying that guilt lies with the Chinese government.

When asked about his plans for the future, Dan is quoted as saying, "I hope to be able to study and accumulate some knowledge and then to the best of my ability to do something for China’s democracy and human rights."

Dan continues to fight for democracy in China through articles, interviews and speaking engagements.

Remember Vera Chirwa, imprisoned 1981 Malawi

Vera Chirwa and her husband Orton were leaders of Malawi’s independence movement, speaking out against the country’s dictatorship. On Dec. 24, 1981, they were arrested on charges of plotting to overthrow the government. They were tortured and given the death penalty. Their sentence would be changed to life imprisonment as a result of a letter writing campaign organized by Amnesty International.

Though held in the same prison, Vera did not see her husband for eight years. Orton died of mysterious causes in 1992 and Vera was not permitted to attend her husband’s funeral. Vera was released from prison after the fall of President Banda’s regime in 1993, after having spent a total of 12 years in prison, including four years in solitary confinement and three years in shackles.

Just prior to her arrest in 1981, Chirwa obtained a law degree in London, becoming Malawi’s first woman lawyer. Her education has been a powerful tool in her fight for democracy and human rights.

In 1993, Chirwa formed Women’s Voice to promote and protect the welfare of women through education, training, counseling, anti-violence campaigns, and HIV/AIDS education.

In November of 2000, Chirwa was appointed Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa, a special commission investigating prison conditions and the abuse of prisoners. Although her appointment only lasted two years, she continues to be an advocate for providing prisoners with education and job training.

On January 6, 2004, at the age of 73, Vera became the first woman in Malawi to run for President. She lost to Dr. Bingu Wa Mautharika, a member of the United Democratic Front party.

She continues to serve in her position as the Executive Director of the Malawi Center for Advice, Research and Educational Rights (CARER), a group that monitors human rights abuses in Malawi and provides legal services to victims of such abuse.

For more information on Prisoners of Conscience like Wang Dan and Vera Chirwa, and what you can do to help their causes, visit Amnesty International.

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