History of Student Organizations: Amnesty International, NMU Chapter records

Students and faculty of Northern Michigan University have always engaged in a variety of extracurricular activities on campus. Student organizations at the University have come and gone throughout the years, ranging from special interests to academic advancement. Amnesty International, NMU Chapter is one such student organization. This collection highlights the involvement and dedication of students at Northern Michigan University on a global scale during the 1980’s and 1990’s.

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Amnesty International was created in 1961, after two Portuguese students were arrested and sentenced to seven years in prison for allegedly making a toast to “liberty”. The organization quickly became a global movement in opposition to “the imposition and infliction of death penalties and torture or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment of prisoners or others detained or restricted persons whether or not they have used or advocated violence.”(Amnesty International Statute, Article 1, 1981). Amnesty International does not, however, impede the prosecution of alleged crimes or provide legal representation; their focus is solely on the humane treatment of prisoners abroad.

The Northern Michigan University Archives contains the Amnesty International, NMU Chapter records dating from 1980 to 1987. The collection consists of meeting minutes, news releases, articles, and audio tapes of speakers. The Chapter held public lectures, bake sales, petitions, and public video showings to raise awareness on campus and in the community. Guest speakers included Alexander Ginzburg, a Soviet dissident and advocate for nonviolent resistance against human rights violations. During the week of December 18, 1981, NMU hosted Human rights week with a program that included a lecture presentation by 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Betty Williams, panel discussions, and documentaries on human rights violations. Williams was awarded the prize for her efforts to end the violence between the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. She also discussed the uprisings in Ireland at the time. The Archives’ audio collections include related presentations by Senator Raul Manglapus (December 10, 1982), and Savana Malachowski (April 4, 1982, and December 10, 1983), and other human rights panel discussions from 1981. The public may access these recordings at any time during the Archives’ normal business hours.

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Support for NMU student John Peirce was the Amnesty International, NMU Chapter’s most important campaign. Peirce was imprisoned on May 15, 1981, in Lima, Peru, and charged with a narcotics offense. In a memo describing his situation, Peirce stated that he had been severely tortured, was suffering from hepatitis and severe gastro-intestinal problems, and threatened with death. The prison was built to hold only 1,500 inmates but was crammed full with 6,000. NMU students took action by urging fellow students, faculty, and politicians to send telegrams and airmail letters expressing serious concern. As reports of poor health and torture persisted, student letters began urging the Peruvian government to immediately transfer Peirce to a hospital for medical treatment. They also began to express concern for the health and well-being of other detainees in the Peruvian prison.

Click the link for the finding aid to the NMU Chapter of Amnesty International

Prepared by Morgan Paavola

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