Our Social Media & Marketing intern, Jonaki Mehta, had a chance to interview Lilit Arabyan from Amnesty International. This represents the second installment of our “Interviews with Nonprofit Leaders” series.
Can you give us some background info about what Amnesty is and does?
Amnesty International is a human rights non-governmental organization whose main objective is to “conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights, and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated.” Amnesty International has over 3 million supporters worldwide.
What is the mission/goal of Amnesty International?
Amnesty International (AI) works to raise awareness on the human rights violations that occur worldwide. It began as a letter-writing organization about 50 years ago, in the UK, when a lawyer (Peter Benenson) worked to free two activists who had been imprisoned for making a toast to freedom. Today, AI does more than letter-writing; it has several campaigns for all types of issues ranging from demanding dignity for imprisoned peaceful protestors of Cambodia, to transforming the lives of Individuals at Risks in the Middle East who are under pressure by their governments – for speaking out. AI at UCLA, our campus chapter, is a component of the larger AI, and we hope to bring a piece of the wonderful work that is being done in the name of human rights, to the students here at UCLA. We hope to be a pioneer for others the way AIUSA was a pioneer for us.
There are many volunteering opportunities both on- and off-campus, why did you choose to get involved with Amnesty International in particular?
Amnesty International seemed like a pioneer in the fight for social justice and human rights. I had heard about them in several books, while I studied non-governmental organizations in Political Science and Global Studies courses at UCLA, my first and second year. I knew that if I wanted to be a part of the movement on a larger scale, I had to be a part of Amnesty International USA. When I learned of a campus chapter’s existence at UCLA, I joined and right away made it priority.
What are some current events/ projects that you are working on?
Currently, our main project is to gather signatures for SAFE California, to help replace the death penalty with life in prison without parole. Our deadline is the 15th of February, and we need as many signatures as we can. Right now we are at about 560,000 signatures in California as a whole, and we need 190,000 more to secure a place on the November 2012 ballot.
Are there any recent projects? Tell us about them.
On February 2nd in Meyerhoff Park, activists of Amnesty International at UCLA and the Iranian Student Solidarity Movement will put on an event for prominent Iranian student leader, human rights activist and political prisoner of conscience Majid Tavakoli, by forming a virtual Azadi Square in the name of Freedom and Free Speech.
Mar. 30-April 1st, some of us went to AIUSA’s 51st Annual General Meeting in Denver, Colorado – for our alternative spring breaks.
We also have bi-weekly meetings, Thursdays of odd weeks 6-7pm in Bunche 3170, where we outline more upcoming events, socials and fundraisers for the club. We have 6+ events coming up, which can all be seen here in our calendar by visiting our website: http://www.studentgroups.ucla.edu/amnesty or Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/groups/amnestyucla
Describe some of the important tasks/ processes you take part in with Amnesty International.
With AI at UCLA, we help to bring the issues of the current global community to our campus. We collaborate with other student groups to bring documentary-screenings, letter-writing events to free political prisoners of conscience, and actions such as the recent one to stand in solidarity with activists who voiced disinterest in the passing of the National Defense Authorization Act, with our flash mob action and signature-gathering on National Day of Action Against Guantanamo.
How do you see yourself improving/ helping the community by volunteering with Amnesty International?
By putting on events to raise awareness, I hope to simultaneously educate myself in the process, so that I may improve the community by being more aware and a source of support to those in my community, the disadvantaged and those in the fight for social justice and equality.
Please tell us one (or more) interesting/unique volunteer experiences you have had while working with AI.
Most recently, with our push for the SAFE California Act which aims to put the option of replacing the death penalty with life in prison without parole on the November 2012 ballot initiative, I have attended several gatherings in which student activists like myself have gone canvassing, collectively. Our group has also worked with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), to gather signatures in places with high foot traffic in the Los Angeles area. Through this, I’ve met the most opinionated individuals with the most fascinating stories.
What is your vision for the future of Amnesty International?
Amnesty International USA has a profound clear vision of bringing awareness to grave human rights violations worldwide. My vision, if I may so humbly claim, for AI at UCLA is to take on the visions of organizations like Amnesty International whose main missions are to educate individuals and to bring an end to inequality, torture, unjust punishment and human rights violations, one campaign at a time.
How has your involvement in Amnesty International changed your perspective in any aspect of your life?
My involvement with Amnesty International has opened my eyes to the injustices of the world. I have learned that not everyone is capable of defending his or her rights the way we are privileged here in the United States.
How would you encourage people to get involved in Amnesty International?
I would definitely encourage people to get involved in social justice in general, in their communities and in campaigns that resonate with them.