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Student group petitions for global food aid

By Jennifer Amsler
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
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Members of the UA chapter of Amnesty International, clad in skeleton T-shirts, held two petition signings on the Mall yesterday to take action against the food crises in Zimbabwe and North Korea.

Ashley Davidson, an Amnesty International member, said the group decided to increase awareness of starvation overseas this week because Thanksgiving is coming up and students have food on their minds.

Chad Wellins, president of the UA 's Amnesty International, said by wearing skeleton T-shirts, the group is able to catch the eyes of students and depict the seriousness of the situation.

"It's to look like dying people because that's what is happening," Wellins said.

One petition aims to assist Zimbabwean citizens and will be sent to the South African government. The petition asks the government to step in and help people who have been denied food because of their opposition to the government, said Davidson, a senior majoring in French.

Davidson said sending the petition to South Africa is more effective than sending a letter to the Zimbabwean government, which, according to Amnesty International reports, continues to turn its back on starving citizens.

Since many refugees are fleeing to South Africa from Zimbabwe because of starvation, South Africa probably has an interest in fixing the problem, Davidson said.

"When people think of human rights, they don't normally think about the right to food because it sounds so basic," she said.

Wellins, a political science junior, said the right to food is being denied to citizens in Zimbabwe as a scare tactic and a form of punishment for government opposition.

According to Amnesty International findings, dissatisfaction with the Zimbabwe government began after Zimbabwe intervened in the Democratic Republic of the Congo War in 1998. Since then, citizens of Zimbabwe have suspected government corruption and mismanagement of the economy.

"A lot of times these governments think they can operate in secret," Wellins said. "We hope they will be embarrassed of what they are doing and change their policies."

The other petition will be sent to President George W. Bush, asking him not deny food and resources to North Korea, as some of the countries in the United Nations are considering.

Kristian Dougherty, an economics junior, said some citizens in North Korea are starving, and if the United States takes away aid it provides, the situation will only worsen.

"The letter asks the president, 'Could you overlook our current view of North Korea?'" Dougherty said.

Some citizens in North Korea are so desperate for food, they risk crossing the China-North Korean border just to get it, Dougherty said.

"It's a severe punishment for people trying not to starve," he said.

Wellins said the UA chapter of Amnesty International writes letters every week to different governments that are turning their heads to problems in their countries.

Usually, the letters ask governments to recognize a certain problem, investigate a disappearance of one of their citizens or release a person that has been wrongly incarcerated, Wellins said.

"Through letter writing, three people a day are released," he said.

Last month, the chapter raised student awareness of nearly 400 deaths of women in Mexican-American border towns by setting up 400 pink crosses on the Mall.

Wellins said the goal of Amnesty International is to bring awareness to issues governments don't pay attention to.

"We want them to know the world is watching," Wellins said.

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