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Student paves the way for Amnesty International

By Nicole Marie Padinha
On December 7, 2011

  • Alejandro Vasquez, Junior at Kean University and New Jersey Student Area Coordinator for Amnesty International. Nicole Marie Padinha

When Alejandro Vasquez transferred from Raritan Valley Community College in the beginning of this semester, he came to Kean University with not only an associate's degree, but also a vision: To unite the students in an effort to protect and defend human rights.

While at RVCC in 2009, Vasquez founded the ‘Social Justice Club,' a group on campus targeted at tackling social issues. He wanted members to take on more significant role in social issue projects, so he converted the club to a chapter of Amnesty International, an international organization to bring awareness to social issues.

"I wanted the Social Justice Club to have a bigger meaning," he said of RVCC, and plans to create the same feeling at Kean.

Vasquez, who is the Student Area Coordinator of New Jersey for Amnesty, said an official chapter of Amnesty International is on its way: "I manage all the chapters in every college and university in New Jersey, from Princeton to Rutgers Newark. I've sent out all the paper work and I am waiting for approval of the Kean chapter," Vasquez said.

Amnesty International is an organization that brings together people from all over the world to fight for human rights using research, action, and advocacy, according to its website.  Peter Benenson, a British lawyer founded Amnesty International in 1961 after hearing about two Portuguese students who were imprisoned for simply dedicating a toast to freedom.

Benenson sought to free these ‘prisoners of conscience' by having people write letters on their behalf, speaking out for those who do not have a voice. 

Today, the organization pushes for its 3 million members to write letters of advocacy to persuade corporations, governments and others who hold power to respect human rights. Amnesty's latest victory: the freedom of Dawn Aung San Suu Kyi, a Burmesse opposition leader who was put under house arrest for 15 years after winning an election.

Vasquez said that incident was the main reason he decided to join the organization. "I wanted to contribute to free her and all the other countless victims of crimes against human rights, because if we keep silent who is going to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves?"

By learning more about current issues, Amnesty International would help students ‘find their voices' and use them for the better good, by writing letters to senators and other officials who have committed crimes against human rights.

"It's not just ‘only you,' fighting, it's you and a million other people who are fighting for the same thing. We are all human, so we should all care about the injustices being committed. As fellow humans, you must use your voice to free and demand justice for others," Vasquez said.

Upon approval of his chapter Vasquez states that he wishes to throw a Masquerade ball in the name of Amnesty International to reach out to new members. "I would like to hold my next ball here at Kean in honor of the people whose voices are silenced – that's why we wear the masks," he said. "We may not know them, but we will speak on their behalf. Hopefully this will inspire people to get involved."

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