Texas student groups join to talk about human rights

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Texas representatives of Amnesty International bumped into ballerinas and activist groups during the global human rights organization’s 2011 Amnesty Texas State Conference at Ballet Austin. Lily Vo, economics senior and treasurer of the UT-Austin chapter of Amnesty International, worked since November 2010 to put together Saturday’s conference to provide an opportunity for members of multiple branches to learn how to make their chapters more effective. Representatives from local and student chapters in Dallas, Nacogdoches, San Antonio, Houston and the Austin area attended the event. Vo said she wanted to focus the conference on human rights violations relevant to Texas. The conference featured presentations about immigrant rights and maternal mortality. The conference also included workshops on the death penalty and violence against women in Atenco, Mexico. Luis Figueroa of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which litigates anti-immigration legislation, said Texas filed more than 100 anti-immigration bills in the 2009 legislative session. “In 2011, 40 anti-immigration bills have already been filed,” Figueroa said. “We’ve had an incredible success rate so far, but with the results of the most recent election, we’ve had to change our tactics to shut them down, but we are prepared.” Despite the conference’s focus on Texas-based issues, students brought up global concerns related to their personal experiences. Kenza Elazkem, a political science senior at UT-San Antonio, said two years after she came to the U.S., she traveled to South Korea on a student exchange, where she learned about Korean comfort women — women forced into military brothels by the Japanese during World War II — and brought the issue back to the conference. “I saw these old Korean women protesting outside the Japanese embassy every week. They’re so persistent, but they’re getting old and some are dying. All they want is for Japan to come about and recognize them,” Elazkem said. Public relations junior Nina Kadjar has a close connection to Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights lawyer in Iran jailed in January on counts of propaganda and conspiracy. “Nasrin is my mom’s best friend. She calls her ‘sister,’” Kadjar said. Sotoudeh is sentenced to 11 years in prison and cannot practice law or leave the country for 20 years after she is released. The organization included the situation in Egypt on its agenda after a Feb. 3 incident when Cairo police detained two Amnesty International representatives.