Students from Stillwater Area High School’s Amnesty International hosted a day-long event Dec. 10 in support of Human Rights Day.
Established in 1950 at the U.N. shortly after World War II, Human Rights Day recognizes that all people in the world have certain rights.
The students at the high school organized a program of five speakers to talk about topics related to human rights including homelessness, sex trafficking, felons’ voting rights and what it means to be a human-rights advocate.
“We, Molly Jacobson and I, have been working on this for about a month or more,” Amnesty President Paige Hietpas said. “We finally locked in the speakers, and everyone is from the Minnesota and Twin Cities area.”
Speakers included Mark Haase from the Council on Crime and Justice, Cheryl Carrigan from Canvas Health, Tina O’Malley Bayonet from Washington County, Cynthia Frederick from Valley Outreach, Hannah Theisen from Breaking Free, Katherine Schafer from the Center for Victims of Torture and Amy Bergquist from Advocates for Human Rights. A variety of petitions were available for students and teachers to sign so they could actively participate in the human rights process.
“Human Rights Day is the biggest day of the year for Amnesty,” Hietpas said. “It’s our day that we collect money with refreshments and popcorn and really bring attention to our club. We had a snowstorm last year so it set us back a bit and people forgot about us, but we’re really planning on making an impact this year.”
Overall the day was successful with the last session and others about the specific topics presented to a full audience in the main forum room in the high school.
Bergquist, who led the last presentation, talked to students about what it means to be a human rights advocate. She talked about the reasoning behind Human Rights Day.
“Human Rights Day was created after World War II when people who were so horrified about what they had seen happen went to the U.N. and wanted to draw attention to the basic human rights of every individual — equality, peace, dignity, justice and freedom,” Bergquist said.
She talked with students briefly about several human rights they believed needed to be fulfilled, including access to education, the right to a fair trial, as well as situations that include the Edward Snowden case and the war in Syria.
“I think it was very effective,” Matthew Treacy, an Amnesty student leadership member, said about the day-long event. “We definitely got the word out about human rights.”
Treacy and several other members said they were surprised by what they had learned throughout the day, including the fact that one of the speakers said the Mall of America is a hot spot for human trafficking and that homelessness was so prevalent in Washington county and their community.
He also mentioned that he joined Amnesty because he likes to feel like he’s making a difference.
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