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2012-2013 Year in Review

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STF Events: 2012-2013

“The Invisible War” Screening A Success!

Panel discussion following the film screening. Photo by Abdiel Lopez, Palisades STF Co-President, via Twitter
Panel discussion following the film screening.
Photo by Abdiel Lopez

June 23, 2013: Focusing on the powerfully emotional stories of rape victims, The Invisible War is a moving indictment of the systemic cover-up of military sex crimes, chronicling the victims’ struggles to rebuild their lives and fight for justice. Hard-hitting interviews with high-ranking military officials and members of Congress reveal the perfect storm of conditions that exist for rape in the military, its long-hidden history, and what can be done to bring about much-needed change.

“We didn’t focus on just one individual, we focused on the systemic problem and helped put pressure on those who can do something about it,” said director Kirby Dick.

STF students, parents and friends joined over 260 attendees at the the launch of the HRW Film Club, organized by the Los Angeles-based HRW Women’s Rights Committee. LA Times Film Critic Kenneth Turan moderated a timely panel discussion with the film’s Director, Kirby Dick, and Producer, Amy Ziering, as well as Liesl Gerntholtz, Director of the Women’s Rights Division at HRW, and Tandy Fink, one of the survivors interviewed in the film.

More information about the film and how you can put pressure on U.S. lawmakers can be found on the film’s website:

Read updated news from the New York Times: “In Debate Over Military Sexual Assault, Men Are Overlooked Victims


STF Alumni Reunion Recap

Photos by Patricia Williams

June 2, 2013: STF Alumni, representing 14 years of student activism, attended the first-ever Alumni Reunion Party held at Pam Bruns’ home.

“It was a wonderful event and it was great to connect with other current and former STF interns and students,” said recent Tufts graduate Amy Calfas, STF 2008-2009, now preparing to work with women in Mandhya Pradesh, India.

“To see familiar faces as well as new ones…it made me further appreciate my time in STF, and reminded me of the impact STF has had on my own development as a student and leader,” said Steven Gordon, STF 2010-2011.

Pam Bruns and reunion co-hosts Deepti Immaraju and Jasmina Repak welcome all. Photo by Alique Berberian, Summer STF Intern
Pam Bruns and reunion co-hosts Deepti Immaraju and Jasmina Repak welcome all. Photo by Alique Berberian

Participants shared academic, travel and career experiences, and encouraged the continuation of human rights work beyond STF.  Everyone was given an opportunity  to take part in current activism to support California Senate Bill 260. Max Gumbel, STF Vice-President at Santa Monica HS and veteran of the successful passage of earlier juvenile justice legislation, explained, “The bill would give a second chance to people who were under the age of 18 at the time of their crime, and were tried as an adult and sentenced to an adult prison sentence of more than 10 years.”

The reunion was co-hosted by alumni Jasmina Repak, a co-founder of STF in 1999, and Deepti Immaraju, intern 2010-11. Both have recently returned from human rights work in Bosnia and India, respectively.

Human Rights Educators Gather

Photos by Patricia Williams

May 11, 2013:  Human rights educators and students gathered at the Los Angeles offices of Human Rights Watch to learn more about the HRE USA National Network, get to know fellow educators, and determine the priorities for human rights education in the Southern California Region.

Felisa Tibbitts, one of the Network’s founders, joined the gathering via Skype from Boston to share the history and mission of the Network.  Todd Jennings, a veteran human rights educator based at California State University, San Bernardino, gave the keynote address entitled “Finding Our Place and Purposes in Human Rights Education.”

  • “HRE can be a key tool in helping students connect what they are learning to their private and public lives.”
  • “Any conversation about HRE will move people from a position of victim to a position of agent.”
  • “Incorporating HRE into the classroom often starts with a student-led needs assessment of what is needed in the school and the greater community.”
  • “The only way rights are sustained is through the process of education that expands across a single generation…”
  • “Teachers and educators are the only profession mentioned in the preamble to the UDHR… This underscores their importance in ensuring a rights-respecting society.”

Two student leaders from the Santa Monica High School Human Rights Watch Student Task Force chapter provided a student perspective on the need for human rights education and presented a PowerPoint incorporating human rights into the study of language.

The gathering was an important first step in exploring the most critical areas for the network’s activity in Southern California.  If you would like more information about this gathering or would like to be involved with regional initiatives in the future, please contact Pam Bruns, HRE USA Regional Coordinator for Southern California, at, or Kristin Ghazarians, HRW STF Project Liaison, at

See video of Todd Jennings’ presentation.

Documents from the event:


“The Invisible War” Film Screening

Human Rights Watch is hosting a screening and discussion of the Academy Award nominated documentary, The Invisible War. This passionate and important film has drawn attention to the shameful and under-reported epidemic of rape within the US military. US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was so moved by seeing this film that he immediately announced an important first step—a crucial change in the way in which reported rapes will be investigated in the military.

Sunday, June 23, 2013
4:00 pm | Doors open
4:30 pm | Film Screening, followed by panel discussion
6:45 pm | Reception

Panel discussion will be moderated by:              

Kenneth Turan,
Film Critic, Los Angeles Times and NPR                      

Panelists include: 
Kirby Dick,          Amy Ziering,      Liesl Gerntholtz,
Director,               Producer,       Director, Women’s Rights Division, 
The Invisible War The Invisible War      Human Rights Watch

Ann and Jerry Moss Theater at New Roads School
3131 Olympic Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90404

Student tickets – $15
General admission – $25

Tickets can be purchased online, by phone (310-477-5540), or by filling out the attached registration form and faxing or mailing it back. Proceeds from this event will support the work of Human Rights Watch (HRW) around the world. A portion will be allocated to the HRW Student Task Force in Los Angeles, a youth leadership training program that brings together local high school students and educators and empowers them to advocate for human rights issues, especially the rights of children.

For further information, please contact Kristin Ghazarians at (310) 477-5540 or


STF Finishes Strong

Photos by Patricia Williams

April 30, 2013: “From the STF Fall Leadership Workshop at UCLA to the ‘Walk for Your Right to Education’ event at Carson High School, we have made unyielding efforts to improve our schools across the L.A. County, and with much success, we have achieved more than what we foresaw… We must continue to collaborate with one another to gain momentum each year and to learn from our past experiences to make each year more successful than the past,” said Abdiel Lopez, incoming Palisades Charter HS STF Co-President, as he welcomed attendees to the STF Year-End Leaders’ Meeting.

More than 50 students, teachers and special guests gathered at the HRW conference room to celebrate this year’s accomplishments and work on improving leadership skills in each STF chapter.

Abdiel saluted STF graduates saying, “Although our current seniors will no longer be physically present at the Student Task Force club meetings next fall, their legacy will continue in upcoming years.”


Santa Monica HS Works with Teachers to Include HRE

SAMO student presenters. Photo by Pam Bruns
SAMO student presenters. Photo by Pam Bruns

April 24, 2013: In an effort to increase human rights education (HRE) on their campus, Santa Monica HS’s (SAMO) STF chapter developed a student-led HRE workshop for instructors on their campus.

Students provided teachers and administrators with techniques, lesson plans and materials for integrating HRE into English, history, psychology, and language classes.

“This workshop was born out of our desire to turn our frustrations with the lack of human rights education in our classes into positive motivation.. [and is] a catalyst for increased student-teacher collaboration,” said Linda Gordon, SAMO STF President.

Congratulations SAMO for a successful first-step in an ongoing conversation with your teachers!


Carson Walked for Their Right to Education

"Walk for Your Right to Education" participants. Photo by Carlo David
“Walk for Your Right to Education” participants.
Photo by Carlo David

April 6, 2013: Students and community members gathered at Carson High School to participate in the chapter’s ”Walk for Your Right to Education” event. Over 50 walkers learned about juvenile justice and the new legislation SB260, the local right to education and the Williams Complaint Process, and the Human Rights Mobile Library. Participants wrote letters to Rahma in Camp Djabal in Chad and raised support to help rebuild the recently destroyed Human Rights Mobile Library in the camp.

Congratulations Carson STF on a successful walk!

New Roads Mock Violation Stirs Student Awareness

New Roads mock violation participants in the batting cages during event. Photo by Kristin Ghazarians
New Roads mock violation participants in the batting cages during event. Photo by Kristin Ghazarians

March 13, 2013: The New Roads Student Task Force Workshop held a mock human rights violation event on their campus, inspired from an idea discussed at the STF Winter Leader’s Meeting. In an effort to educate their campus about human rights, STF members selected students from various groups on campus to be a part of their activity.

Campus security guards pulled one pre-selected student from each classroom and put them in the school’s batting cages for all to see. The students’ personal belongings were thrown to the floor and the guards searched the students in front of the whole school during their weekly outdoor Town Hall announcements. The general student body was told to ignore what was happening in the batting cage and listen to the announcements, and most turned away from the caged students. The bulletins carried on as usual, however, the last announcement was from the director of the school saying this search would become a routine procedure and everyone on campus should expect to be treated like those in the batting cage. The students became enraged at the news, however few students objected or stood up for the rights of those in the cage.

During the following workshop period, STF members debriefed each classroom. Some students said they didn’t speak out because they were afraid about being the only one to protest and others said they didn’t know they had the right to speak up. The STF Workshop students felt they learned a lot by hosting this event and think it was a great way to educate their campus about their rights.


Gabriel Stauring Motivates Pali

Photos by Rich Schmitt

March 5, 2013: Gabriel Stauring met with 130 students at Palisades High School and reported on the success of the human rights mobile libraries STF created and launched in Darfuri refugee camps last year. He also showed video reports from the camp, including Rahma, the inspiring teenage librarian.

Gabriel recounted evidence of the success of the mobile libraries. In Camp Goz Amer, the location of the second STF library, a meeting was held by UN and NGO representatives for the local officials, teachers and students to explain severe funding cuts, especially for the  camp schools.  One student stood and said, ”We have been learning about human rights and I know education is a human right. I demand my right to education!”

Gabriel encouraged Pali students, “Get involved in your STF club on campus! That’s the first step [to taking action for human rights.]”


Sierra Canyon Hosts Right to Education Panel

Panelists at Sierra Canyon School. Photo by Susan Turner-Jones
Panelists at Sierra Canyon School. Photo by Susan Turner Jones

Feb. 27, 2013: The Sierra Canyon STF Chapter, the FREE Club, hosted “Bridging the Gap: Right to Education,” a panel discussion focused on the systemic issues plaguing the education system in California, as well as potential solutions to the problems. Guest speakers included Robin Keefe, Founder and CEO of BookEnds, Torre Brannon-Reese, Founder of FAMLI, Inc., and Vinit Sukhija, Teach for America.

Students, parents and teachers discussed topics ranging from the biggest obstacles in education and equality and access to funding, to the roles of technology and spending in the advancement of public education. Read the full report to learn more about the discussion.

In conjunction with the evening event, the FREE Club held a BookEnds book drive collecting over 3,000 children’s books for donation to LA area schools. CONGRATULATIONS Sierra Canyon on a successful book drive!

SCV STF Demonstrates Power of Student Advocacy

STF Santa Clarita Valley students with Director of Equity Services, Greg Lee, and Superintendent Robert Challinor. Photo by Nancy Nazarian-Medina.
STF Santa Clarita Valley students with Director of Equity Services, Greg Lee, and Superintendent Robert Challinor. Photo by Nancy Nazarian-Medina

Inspired by the STF 2012 Fall Workshop, Santa Clarita Valley students set out to ensure that schools in the Williams S. Hart Union High School District are providing the basic educational necessities required under the landmark 2004 Williams v. California settlement. Their Williams Compliance Research Project examined whether students are receiving sufficient textbooks and instructional materials; clean, safe and functional buildings and facilities; and the required notice about how to file a complaint if they don’t have these necessities or a permanent and qualified teacher.

The students conducted their multi-phased investigation over three months, identifying important deficiencies that they then presented to the Administrative Council of the Hart District on February 27, 2013. District leaders expressed their appreciation to the students for bringing these critical issues to light and committed to taking immediate action. The Santa Clarita students will be following up and confirming that all issues are addressed in the coming weeks.

“The Santa Clarita Valley chapters of the HRW Student Task Force are demonstrating the power of student-led advocacy. I’m impressed by the results they have achieved through their strategic and well-designed campaign. Everyone in their schools will benefit from their efforts, and I hope students across the state will be inspired to replicate their successful model,” said Brooks Allen, ACLU’s Director of Education Advocacy.

Check out the student’s PowerPoint Presentation! (9MB)

HRW’s Zama Coursen-Neff Inspires New Roads Students

Photos by Patricia Williams

Feb. 11, 2013: “People often say that human rights violations are like mushrooms, they grow best in the dark… One of the most important things that students can do to promote human rights is to stay informed about the issues,” Zama Coursen-Neff, HRW’s Children’s Rights Division Director, told 150 captivated New Roads 9-12th grade students and teachers.

Zama’s discussion ranged from the right to education to children in armed conflict and child marriage, from how American students can affect change to the steps Human Rights Watch takes to protect children at home and abroad. Students asked engaging questions and left inspired to advocate for children around the world.

“She made me more appreciative of what we have in our educational system.  I know it’s not perfect but we are at least safer than many other parts of the world.  Her story of girls and boys taken out of school to be used for marriage and child soldiers was really shocking.  Her presentation makes me want to do more within my community,” said a New Roads junior.


Wildwood Leads in Restoring Human Rights Mobile Library

Rahma in his new hut in Camp Djabal. Photo by Gabriel Stauring.
Rahma in his new hut in Camp Djabal. Photo by Gabriel Stauring

Jan 29, 2013: Wildwood STF leaders welcomed Gabriel Stauring to an all-school presentation to discuss resupplying the recently destroyed Human Rights Mobile Library in Camp Djabal in Chad. After watching videos of the camp’s librarian Rahma, 7-12th graders asked questions about the Mobile Library, Rahma’s future and how they can help bring human rights education to Camp Djabal. Gabriel’s presentation launched Wildwood’s Change-for-Change campaign to help restore the Mobile Library, which includes talking dictionaries, e-readers, maps, special books like an illustrated encyclopedia, English Language Learners material, famous international speeches about human rights, etc.

Other STF chapters have also indicated they want to send letters, photos and new  human rights materials for the Mobile Library when Gabriel returns to Chad later this spring.


Assemblyman Bloom Confers with Student Activists

Photos by Patricia Williams

Jan. 25, 2013: Freshman Assemblymember Richard Bloom conferred with STFers representing Santa Monica HS, Palisades Charter HS and New Roads School about subjects ranging from gun violence and school security to the Local Control Funding Formula, and from teacher evaluation to interjecting human rights education into the curriculum. STF leaders urged Bloom to convene a committee of students and teachers to meet with him periodically regarding public education issues. The new Assemblymember (District 50) did not commit to forming a committee, but welcomed ongoing communication with STF. Last week’s meeting at Santa Monica HS was the result of the Oct. 25 STF Candidate and Issues Forum with Bloom and his opponent, Betsy Butler.

The students sent Assemblyman Bloom a follow up letter saying, “… you won’t find a constituency more focused on the future than young people. Our own future is that of the state and the nation, and that is why we’re engaged in the long, but ultimately rewarding process of determining it now.”  (Letter drafted by Matthew Ware, SM HS)


STF Winter Leaders’ Meeting Jump Starts Semester

Photos by Patricia Williams

January 10, 2013: Student leaders and teachers representing each STF chapter attended the Winter Leaders’ Planning Meeting to recap the fall activities and focus on the upcoming semester. During our meeting, we heard updates on the fire that destroyed the Camp Djabal Mobile Library, Malala, the upcoming STF meeting with Assemblyman Richard Bloom and the Santa Clarita Valley Williams Research Project presentation to the Hart District School Board (ADCO).

Students planned for the new semester by brainstorming ways to educate their campuses in human rights education. Groups came up with dozens of ideas to be used at each school and left ready to get started on educating their classmates.

(Click to watch, 2:55)


Malala: An Unflinching Voice for Education

Photo by Kaye Martindale/Geoff Brokate (CNN)
Photo by Kaye Martindale/Geoff Brokate (CNN)

The right to education is a human right the Student Task Force has focused on the last two years. After writing an anonymous blog about education in Pakistan from age 11, Malala Yousafazi made headlines in October 2012 when she was shot in the head for standing up for her right to education. Malala is from the SWAT District of Pakistan, where the Taliban has banned all girls from attending school. She quickly became an inspiration to all STF as we have followed her story.

Human Rights Watch called upon Pakistan to protect its students, teachers and schools from attack where the United Nations reported 152 incidents of partial or complete destruction of school facilities in 2011.

The world watched while Malala began walking, talking and studying again. We watched while a Fatwa was issued, and then removed it, as students supported her, and as the international community called for recognition of her bravery.

STF students collected more than 600 petitions and personalized messages to Malala at the HRW Annual Dinner and various STF campus events through December.  You can contribute to the messages online by signing the “I am Malala” petition.

STF continues to stand in solidarity with Malala, and all students, educators and community members fighting for the right to education around the world.


STF Supports Launch of HRE USA Network


Human Rights Educators USA (HRE USA) is a new network dedicated to promoting human rights education in the United States. Over the last year, the Human Rights Watch Student Task Force has been supporting the development of HRE USA, which is now open for general membership.

The brochure will give you information about the mission and work of HRE USA, which includes integrating HRE into formal and non- formal education, advocating for the inclusion of HRE in educational policies, providing HRE resources, and fostering education that promotes respect for every child.

We encourage you to join us as a member of HRE USA! Become part of the growing Human Rights Education movement in the USA. As a member you will be able to:

  • Participate in Working Groups taking on projects in a variety of areas, such as school policies, academic standards, after-school programs, and research and evaluation.
  • Gain access to an array of HRE materials in our Resource Center.
  • Highlight your projects or resources on the HRE USA website.
  • Find and network with HRE experts and advocates around the country.
  • Vote on network leadership.
  • Develop your own HRE initiative and involve others.
  • Implement and promote an internationally recognized framework, proven to increase student achievement and improve student behavior, teacher satisfaction, and school climate.

To join HRE USA, go to and complete the form under Membership/Join.


STF Attends ACLU Dinner

Santa Clarita Valley STF students at the ACLU dinner with STF Advisory Committee member Shari Leinwand. Photo by Crystal Biteng
Santa Clarita Valley STF students at the ACLU dinner with STF Advisory Committee member Shari Leinwand.
Photo by Crystal Biteng

December 3, 2012: Members of the Santa Clarita Valley STF chapters were invited to attend the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Annual Bill of Rights dinner to represent youth activism. The ACLU offered the invitation to the STF members because of their work in the Williams Compliance Research Project. The STF project seeks to examine the effectiveness of the William S. Hart District in complying with state education codes known as the Williams Standards which resulted from a legal settlement in the case Williams v. California (2004). A highlight for the STF members was meeting HRW STF Advisory Committee member Shari Leinwand, the elected President of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. Ms. Leinwand is responsible for introducing Brooks Allen, Director of Education Advocacy, ACLU Foundation Southern California, to STF members at their Fall Leadership Workshop at UCLA in September and motivating the STF members into action.


STF Hosts Reception for HRW 2012 Defender Awardee

Photos by Maya Myers

November 12, 2012: The Student Task Force joined the California Committee South in honoring Abbé Benoît Kinalegu, 2012 Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism honoree from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Ida Sawyer, Human Rights Watch DRC researcher, for an evening of empowerment.

Prior to the award ceremony, STF hosted a reception where STF students and teachers from all 12 chapters met Abbé Benoît Kinalegu and Ms. Sawyer for a question and answer period.  Students learned Abbé Benoît Kinalegu is known in the DRC as a protector of children who are victims of the Lords Resistance Army and he also started an early warning system to protect against the LRA.  Ida Sawyer, HRW Africa Researcher, shared how she conducts outreach with local civil society groups and research across Congo and in areas of northern Congo and neighboring countries affected by the LRA.  The reception inspired students to continue working on the right to education.  Abbé Benoît said, “Human rights begins at the school desk….your messages will support me in my struggle…one more time I salute you, thank you for your work.”


Students Ask the Tough Questions

Photos by Patricia Williams

October 25, 2012: “Every generation has their civil rights crisis and education definitively is yours (this generation’s),” said speakers at the STF co-sponsored Candidate and Issues Forum on Education. Though education is the priority of the state of California, most everyone admits it is in serious crisis.

High school students from five STF chapters hosted California Assembly 50th District candidates Richard Bloom and Betsy Butler, and Proposition 30 and 38 representatives Eloy Oakley and Sandy Escobedo, for a candidate and issues forum on the right to education.  More than 110 people attended the event at the Santa Monica Public Library MLK Auditorium, co-sponsored with the League of Women Voters of Santa Monica.

Check out video of the event

Check out our local media coverage of the event:


Student-led Candidate/Issues Forum on Education

STF Partners to Host Candidate/Issues Forum on Education

Featuring: 50th Assembly District Candidates

Richard Bloom and Betsy Butler and discussions with proponents of Propositions 30 and 38


WHAT: The Right to Education: A Candidate and Issues Forum

WHEN: Thursday, October 25, 7-8:30 pm

WHERE: MLK Auditorium, Santa Monica Branch Library, 601 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, CA

(Parking entrance off 7th St.)

Joint Sponsors:

Human Rights Watch Student Task Force

League of Women Voters of Santa Monica


Check out the Press Release!


STF In Action

Photo by Atalya Boytner
  • October 18-19, 2012: The New Roads STF Workshop held a voter registration drive on campus and signed up eight new voters.
  • November 5, 2012: Crossroads School will host “All Politics is Local: Social Justice and the 2012 Election” forum for their students. Students, parents, teachers and community members will use human rights issues on 15 state ballots, including CA Propositions 30 and 38 to discuss voting on a local level. Brooks Allen, ACLU Director of Education Advocacy, will be a panel speaker!
  • November 6, 2012: Election Day – Don’t forget to vote!
  • November 12, 2012: The Human Rights Watch Annual Dinner and Student Task Force Reception will be held at the Beverly Hilton.
  • Ongoing: Santa Clarita Valley STF Chapters continues their work on the Williams Compliance Investigation, surveying classrooms, interviewing librarians and teachers, and collaborating between five campuses to improve their education.


ACLU Visits Palisades, Santa Monica and New Roads

(Click to watch, 11:17)

October 10, 2012:  Brooks Allen, ACLU Director of Education Advocacy, returned to Los Angeles to speak with students at Palisades Charter HS, Santa Monica HS, New Roads School and representatives from the Santa Clarita Valley STF chapters.  Students learned more about the reality of the state of public education in their hometown and the potential devastating impact of the upcoming election. Student leaders pressed Allen on how to effectively engage public officials and strengthen their campaign to protect the right to education.

To broaden the audience for their campaign, Santa Monica HS students interviewed Allen for their student-run web program, “The World This Week” (video above) and students at each school are writing for their respective school publications.


STF Fall Workshop a Success!

Photos by Patricia Williams

On Saturday, September 8, 2012, the annual STF Leadership Workshop was held at UCLA. STF chapter leaders were shocked and motivated to take action by keynote speaker Brooks Allen’s, ACLU’s Director of Education Advocacy, presentation on Making Rights Real: How to Protect Your Right to Educational Opportunity.”  In the coming weeks, STF leaders will brief their chapters about the deepening crisis in public education in California and begin organizing our campaign to protect the right to education here at home.

Check out the advocacy toolkit!

Review Brooks Allen’s presentation!

Longtime friend Gabriel Stauring also spoke at the workshop and gave an update on the launch of our mobile human rights libraries in Darfuri refugee camps in Chad.

The workshop was generously co-sponsored by the UCLA International Institute and the Visiting Fulbright Scholars Program.

2012 STF Fall Leadership Workshop Saturday Sept. 8

Photo by Patricia Williams

The annual STF Leadership Workshop will be held at UCLA on Saturday, September 8, 2012.  The workshop will be co-sponsored by the UCLA International Institute Visiting Fulbright Scholars. Fulbright scholars will join student leaders and teachers from all 12 STF chapters to hear keynote speaker Brooks Allen, ACLU’s Director of Education Advocacy, discuss “Making Rights Real: How to Protect Your Right to Educational Opportunity.”

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