AIUSA Group 37 is a Twin Cities-based local group of Amnesty International (AI), a grassroots activist human rights organization with over one million members worldwide. Group 37 is the oldest AIUSA local group in Minnesota.
Group 37 members meet monthly to share news and updates about human rights worldwide, distribute actions, plan events, and learn about current human rights issues. All are welcome at our meetings.
Our work is guided by the mandate of the worldwide Amnesty International movement:
Amnesty International undertakes research and action focused on preventing and ending grave abuses of the rights to physical and mental integrity, freedom of conscience and expression, and freedom from discrimination, within the context of its work to promote all human rights.
Many Group 37 members are active in subgroups — smaller, self-selecting groups that focus on specific geographical areas or issues of concern. Currently, subgroups are active around issues in Jammu/Kashmir (India); the Death Penalty; Paraguay, Argentina & Brazil; and Japan & the Koreas.
When the nations of the world signed the Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948, there was no provision for enforcement other than the interpretation and good will of government leaders. Amnesty International became just one of the many non-governmental organizations that attempt to enforce the promises and provisions of the UDHR. AI is based on the premise that human rights around the world are a concern for everyone and that one person writing a letter on behalf of another can make a difference.
AIUSA Group 37 was founded in 1976, making us the oldest local group in Minnesota. Since our founding we have worked for human rights in every part of the world. The definitive history of Group 37 has yet to be written, but here are some highlights:
Rita Yeh was a Taiwanese student at the University of Minnesota who was critical of the Taiwanese government. When she returned to Taiwan she was arrested for political activities and sentenced to fourteen years in prison. We adopted her as a "Prisoner of Conscience," that is, a person imprisoned only because of her peacefully-held beliefs, and worked for several years on her case. We wrote hundreds of letters to the Taiwanese and U. S. governments. Rita Yeh was released after seven years in prison and went to Belgium. On her way she stopped in Minnesota and met with many of the people who had worked on her behalf.
Tsehai Tolessa was the wife of a Lutheran Bishop in Ethopia named Gudemia Tumsa. Gudemia Tumsa was arrested and murdered in prison. The authorities then arrested Hseih Tolessa and she spent nine years in prison. Our group worked on this case for several years. Eventually, the government freed her and she now lives in Los Angeles. She visited our group during the twentieth anniversary of Amnesty International, which took place in 1981.
Rev. Tsehnu Farisani is a church official in South Africa. During the apartheid regime he was arrested and spent several months in prison. After his release, he came to Minnesota and spoke at the State Capital. Several years later, he was re-arrested and was in great danger because of a heart condition. AI groups all over the world wrote letters and sent telegrams. He was quickly released again, came to the U. S. and later spoke at one of our group meetings. He went on to become a member of the South African government after the end of Apartheid.
In February 1998, we celebrated the release of Kim Yun-su. A South Korean man who was sentenced to 14 years in prison for planning a trip to North Korea. He suffers from diabetes and did not receive adequate medical care for over a decade while in prison. He now resides in the United States.
Yet another prisoner adopted by our group, Thich Tri Sieu, was released in 1998. Although he was imprisoned by Vietnamese authorities for "plotting to overthrow the People’s Government," Amnesty International determined that he was in fact a Prisoner of Conscience and worked for his release.
We were pleased to learn in late November 2002 of the release from prison of Abderrahman Khalladi, a Prisoner of Conscience in Tunisia whose case had been adopted by our group in September of 2000. He had been imprisoned in Tunisia after being sentenced in two separate trials for membership in a student union that was declared "illegal" only after his arrest. Amnesty International had determined that Abderrahman Khalladi was a Prisoner of Conscience and called for his immediate and unconditional release.
In October 2006, we celebrated 30 years of work defending human rights with a ceremony to recognize and thank our founder David Weissbrodt and other long-time volunteers. A forum devoted to the human rights concerns surrounding the current "War on Terror" featured human rights experts Dr. Steven Miles, Barbara Frey, James Dorsey, and Holly Ziemer.
Over the years, our group has also worked on cases from such countries as the People’s Republic of China, Sierra Leone, the USSR, Pakistan, Czechoslovakia, Malaysia, East Germany, the Philippines, Uruguay, Colombia, and Argentina.