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Knowing your human rights

As part of UW-Eau Claire’s Human Rights Week, many different activities are available for students, faculty and staff along with Eau Claire community members. These include guest speakers and experts in the field of human rights and trafficking.

One of the experts in the field of human rights, Ruki Fernando, is a man who is a journalist, a Christian and practitioner along with having a certain affection for equality amongst all peoples.Fernando, a human rights activist from Sri
Lanka, was on campus giving presentations Sunday and Monday.

Along with talking about his Christian background, he spoke to a class of a dozen religious studies students about the struggles in Sri Lanka between different ethnic and religious peoples.

The current chair of Rights Now, a group of human rights defenders in Sri Lanka, Fernando said his work on human rights and trafficking really overlaps with his faith.

“What I do for the church and what I do for people are the same thing,” Fernando said. “When I come here to talk to you to spread the word and share stories about Sri Lanka, that’s human rights work. It’s also spiritual work.”

Fernando said disappearances are common in Sri Lanka, and as a human rights activist, if there is anyway he can help he would be the first in line.
“To be able to hide someone whose life is in danger, because they wrote a book or said something to someone is something that I used to do,” he said. “Human rights organizations do it in Sri Lanka too … all over the world people are trying to help other people.”

Senior religious studies major Marsha Hermanson was one of the students who traveled to Sri Lanka for one month and said all is not fine there.

She said disappearances are common in the country and the political regime tries to make the world internally and externally think the island country is handling the crises correctly.

“The government wants to make the people think everything is fine,” Hermanson said. “If a journalist writes something about the government, or something is said negatively … that person can either flee the country or risk getting taken.”

She also said when she met Fernando she was surprised at how selfless he was and how he genuinely cares for the people of Sri Lanka.

“To see someone like Ruki, who is not afraid to put his life on the line to save someone he doesn’t even know, because it’s the right thing to do, is really inspiring,” Hermanson said. “He started out just as anyone else, and he has come so far. He should be an inspiration for everyone.”

As part of Human Rights Week on the Eau Claire campus, an on-campus organization called the Human Trafficking Abolitionists set up events from April 22-25 spanning from lectures to documentaries explaining the brutality of human rights violations along with information to educate everyone interested.

Department of Homeland Security officer Doug Gilmer along with two other officers from the same department spoke to students via web chat Tuesday to talk about human rights and trafficking violations domestically.

Gilmer said there are many different aspects of human trafficking. He continued explaining that the difference between smuggling and trafficking is the implementation of the sexual component, which makes trafficking profitable.

The organizer of the Human Trafficking Abolitionists, senior Kristine Rivall, said they decided to put on Human Rights Week because they are one of the very few human rights campus organizations still afloat and the word needed to get out.
The biggest human trafficking and violation of human rights in this country is during an event that might surprise you, but Rivall said when everything adds up, it makes sense the Super Bowl is that event.

“It’s because a lot of people gather from a lot of different places for one particular city,” Rivall said. “The unfortunate truth behind it is they will bring in a lot of people for trafficking there because the mindset with them is that, ‘everyone wants to have a good time.’”

Rivall, a liberal studies major, said she organized Human Rights Week because people deserve to be aware of what is happening in the world and to see the truth behind the lines.

“Never forget, that’s what they said after the Holocaust. Never forget about the genocide,” she said. “Don’t use mass weaponry to commit genocide, but it’s happening. And they don’t care. That’s why we’re putting on the awareness week.”

Places where human rights violations occur around the world, such as Sri Lanka and Super Bowl sites, are highly publicized and known by many, but are not even the tip of the iceberg in regards to places around the world where human rights violations are still happening.

Earlier this month, a prostitution ring was apprehended in Eau Claire. According to an Eau Claire Leader-Telegram article, 11 men aged 29-72 were apprehended on charges of pandering when a sting operation led the police to a hotel.

Eau Claire Police Department Community Relations Officer Kyle Roder said although this occurrence happened, he does not see an overwhelming human rights problem in Eau Claire.

“The phrase ‘human trafficking’ has become the buzzword and seems to get thrown around a lot,” Roder said. “I know that fits under the overall definition of human trafficking, but we didn’t have anything here where there were underage or
violent occurrences.”

Instead, Roder said he is trying to be proactive and not trying to arrest the “moral compass” of individuals, rather try to flush out other aspects of crime that come along with prostitution.

“Here in Eau Claire, we’re a small community, but for the area we are the biggest community,” Roder said. “We have different access points and highway systems that come through this community. We do attract people who come through the area for prostitution. The people who are involved in prostitution often are involved in other crimes such as bringing drugs into the community, along with some armed robberies stemming from prostitution.” Those other crimes are what law enforcement are focusing in on, instead of the physical prostitution crimes.”

Human Rights Week continues Thursday, April 25 on the Eau Claire campus.

Documentaries depicting other aspects of human rights and human trafficking, such as “Syria Undercover” and “Kony 2012 part II” screened Tuesday and Wednesday and “The Human Experience” will air Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in Hibbard Humanities Hall 100.

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