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Fellowship Report (2004)

Fellow: Sara Wilkinson

Fellowship Site: Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Brief History of Organization (founding and salient steps):

Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights is a volunteer-based, non-governmental, non-profit, 501(c) 3 organization dedicated to the promotion and protection of internationally recognized human rights.

Founded in 1983, Minnesota Advocates is one of the largest Midwest-based non-governmental organizations engaged in international human rights work. Our organization has more than 4,000 members, including more than 600 active volunteers who contribute an estimated $2.8 million annually of in-kind services. Minnesota Advocates also has Special Consultative Status with the United Nations.

Departments/Programs in the Organization:

Education Program
Women's Human Rights Program
Refugee and Immigrant Program
Special Projects

Responsibilities/Duties/Tasks undertaken by the Fellow:

My fellowship involved working with the Human Rights Monitoring Project of Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights to monitor the work of truth and reconciliation commissions in Peru and. My responsibilities included:

• Conducting research on country conditions and international human rights standards for Peru.
• Compiling and editing reports based on fact-finding missions to Peru.
• Monitoring news reports and legislation in Peru.
• Reviewing Minnesota Advocates program web pages and assisting in updates/changes.
• Helping develop educational materials for schools and community groups.
• Translating documents.

A Minnesota Advocates team of staff and volunteers went to Peru in August to conduct fact-finding on how the Peruvian government is implementing the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission's recommendations. I traveled with the team to Peru for two weeks in order to participate in fact-finding and provide support for volunteers.


Before going to Peru, I was a resource for other team members in the preparation and organization for the trip. I helped translate some correspondence between people in the US and people in Peru who were helping arrange the logistics for when we were in Peru.

During the weeks of work in Minnesota, I read several online newspapers in order to monitor events in Peru relating to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its work, and any articles related to the human rights situation in that country. I translated them into English and summarized them, then passing the information along to my supervisor and another woman who went on the Peru trip. It was important for us to be aware of this information because we needed to have an up-to-date understanding of the socio-political situation in Peru before our trip at the end of August.

I also helped research background information on Peru which I then added to the Minnesota Advocates website. This website is a principal source of information on the work Minnesota Advocates does abroad for people all over the world to read, as well as a means for individuals to inform themselves and take action on various international human rights related occurrences, including the extradition of former Peruvian president, Alberto Fujimori.

In Peru I supported the four other team members with translation during interviews, by taking notes, which will be used to help write Minnesota Advocates’ final report on Peru. I had the privilege of meeting many important figures in the Peruvian government, from Peruvian NGOs and other groups. Besides the numerous interviews in Lima, I traveled to the city of Ayacucho and met with public figures and affected people there, as well as in a couple outlying communities near Ayacucho.


My biggest challenge probably was being the youngest and least experienced member of the team. This was the first trip of this sort I had ever taken, so it was a challenge to get into the rhythm of the way things worked. Sometimes I felt like I didn’t have the legal background or general experience interviewing officials, but I never felt lost or like I was getting in the way. I did feel like I knew enough background on Peru’s history and the experiences people there have gone through over the past 20 years to understand what was going on, however. Another team member also was not a lawyer and perhaps did not have as much background knowledge on the issues, while the three others were lawyers and had been to Peru before with the previous Minnesota Advocates trip. Overall, I think each person brought their skills and expertise, making for a strong and constructive team that got things done.

Conferences Attended:

While in Minnesota, I attended a few “brown bag” lunches at Minnesota Advocates, including general overviews on what different programs at MAHR were working on, a talk about immigrants with AIDS and their legal situation in terms of asylum seeking in the US, and a presentation on Minnesota Advocates’ trip to Sierra Leone in May.

How has this fellowship changed the ideas and expectations you had before leaving?

I expected the trip to be challenging, and it was, but I learned a lot and was very glad to have participated.

How has your motivation for human rights work changed/altered or remained the same?

Going to Peru showed me first hand what has been done and what still needs to be dealt with since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR) produced its final report in August 2003. Knowing the history of that time period, having closely followed Peru’s current political and legal events, as well as the history of the CVR itself helped me to understand the situation that I saw in Lima, Ayacucho and the smaller communities I visited. It was extremely insightful to hear the viewpoints of so many different groups, from the highest military officials in the country who said they were improving their human rights record and were complying with the CVR’s recommendations, to peasants in the countryside that did not speak Spanish and who said they hadn’t even heard about the CVR or its recommendations.

On a more personal level, one of the things I have been trying to decide is whether to go to law school after I complete my undergraduate studies. By going to Peru I saw that having a law degree would give me more tools and opportunities for doing this type of international human rights monitoring, which I am possibly interested in pursuing. Now I just need more time to decide exactly what area of human rights I want to delve into. I think that once I am done with school after this fall, I will go home and try to talk to different people in different areas to first see what my options are before deciding exactly where and when to continue my studies.

Who had the greatest effect on you during your fellowship experience and why?

I think the most inspiring and well-rounded person I met was Aviva Breen. She is a retired woman with so much experience in many realms of human rights, from working for 20 years for the Minnesota State Legislature on the Economic and Social Status of Women, to her many travels around the world on human rights missions, including Eastern Europe, Nepal and, of course, Peru. Aviva had lovely stories about her travels and the work she has done for the past several decades. I also found it interesting that she did not attend law school until her youngest child was already in school, so beginning a career and raising a family must have been a great challenge at some points. Nonetheless, Aviva must have found the right balance because she certainly has accomplished a lot, and plans to do more throughout her life.

How did your perspectives on the world change from interning at a local/national/ international human rights organization?

Because Minnesota Advocates has so many programs that deal with different parts of the world and different types of human rights, I received an overview or general idea on what human rights means by talking to various staff and interns, as well as attending talks for each program.

Going to Peru definitely gave me an inside perspective on the way human rights are dealt with in other countries. I could see first-hand some of the reasons why Peru is having difficulty in their transition to democracy and in complying with the CVR’s recommendations for reconciliation and improving the country.

What quote would captivate “a moment” that you had during your fellowship?

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963.

I believe that the outcome of the truth and reconciliation process in Peru will give precedence to similar processes in other countries that experienced years of internal violence and massive human rights violations.

After completion of your fellowship, how do you anticipate bringing your fellowship experience back home to your local community?

This year I hope to write about my experiences in Peru for the Sophian, Smith College’s student-run newspaper where I have worked the first three years of college, as well as for the Spanish department newsletter, of which I was editor last year. I am also thinking of finding a forum through student and community organizations at Smith (probably our Amnesty International chapter) to publicize both international human rights concerns and innovative ways that we in the U.S. can support progress in this challenging field, specifically focusing on my trip to Peru. Moreover, I am interested in getting involved in the Resource Center for the Americas when I return to Minnesota after graduating as it has a wide variety of learning opportunities for social justice issues in Latin America. I will also consider continuing my research in graduate or law school.

Organizational Profile

Full Name of Organization: Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights
Abbreviation and initials commonly used: MAHR
Organizational Address: 650 3rd Ave S, #550
Minneapolis, MN 55402-1940
Telephone number: (612) 341-3302
Fax number: (612) 341-2971
Email address:
Names of Executive Director and Senior Staff:
Executive Director Robin Phillips
Deputy Director Jennifer Prestholdt
Number of Employed Staff (full-time; part-time):
19 full time. Part time unknown.
Number of Volunteers:

Objectives of the Organization:

The mission of Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights is to implement international human rights standards in order to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law. By involving volunteers in research, education, and advocacy, we build broad constituencies in the United States and selected global communities.

Domestic/International Programs:
Education Program
• Rights Sites Project
• B.I.A.S. Project
• Human Rights Post-September 11th
• One School at a Time Project
• Trainings and Educational Programs
• Women's Human Rights Program
• Stop Violence Against Women Website
• Battered Refugee and Immigrant Women Documentation Project
• International Women's Day
• Refugee and Immigrant Program
• Minnesota Asylum Network
• Minnesota Detention Project
• Refugee and Asylum Project
Special Projects
• Death Penalty Project
• Human Rights Monitoring Project

Date of Information: 9/24/04
Information Supplied by: Sara Wilkinson and

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