To kick off this year's third annual Human Rights Awareness Week, the UT Amnesty International Chapter hosted former UT professor of law Ndiva Kofele-Kale to speak on behalf of political prisoner Marafa Hamidou Yaya in hopes of gaining students' support and interest in fighting against unjust governments.
In posters plastered across campus, students have undoubtedly seen the face of Marafa, the political prisoner who claims to be innocent of the crime charged against him. The former Secretary General of Cameroon, Marafa was arrested and imprisoned in April 2012 by the Cameroon government for allegedly embezzling government money into an American bank account.
According to Kofele-Kale, his lawyer, Marafa's human rights have been violated because he has been imprisoned without objective evidence or due process of law.
Kofele-Kale is currently a professor at the Dedman School of Law at Southern Methodist University as well as a practicing lawyer in the U.S. and in Cameroon. He spoke on Marafa's behalf on Monday to rally support from his former colleagues and past students while simultaneously aiming to raise awareness of human injustice.
Kofele-Kale pleaded Marafa's case and urged the involvement and interest of any American college students on the grounds that everyone shares a common humanity.
"As students you all are the repository of ideas," Kofele-Kale said. "You, more so than the adults, understand what I mean when I say, 'We all share a common humanity.' If one person's human rights are being assaulted, then yours and mine are also under attack."
Kofele-Kale explained that student support in the U.S. could get more people concerned with more than just themselves. As the current president of UT's Amnesty International, Ashley Charest, senior in biological sciences, agreed with Kofele-Kale.
"I do support his reasoning for wanting to gain students' interest, because one thing people don't really realize is that students really do have a voice," Charest said. "People, especially in college, really do have a lot of ways to communicate with each other and with the world. So they can be very effective in doing the things he wants them to do, like sign the petitions, emailing them out to each other, tweeting and Facebooking."
Charest agreed that Marafa's case is a direct violation of universal human rights laws, citing petitions, e-mails and social media as possible vehicles for support of the prisoner.
"The president of Cameroon is basically acting upon his own whims and not upon the laws that are universal and international between different countries as stated by the UN and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," Charest said. "Every single person has the right to a trial by due process of law and Marafa is not getting that."
Erik Rutledge, freshman in computer science, said he supported the case. He sees this case affecting other future human rights cases, perhaps in the U.S., where the government may try to rob people of their inalienable rights.
"I would say I support more on a grander scale than just specifically on this one case," Rutledge said. "I understand his advocacy for this individual, however I think the issue is on a grander scale of course, even here in the United States."
Despite maintaining a more general focus on human rights, Rutledge echoed Kofele-Kale and Charest in urging individuals to consider involvement, even if the issues seem distant from their own lives.
Kofele-Kale implored the university to make noise, whether for this particular issue of Marafa's human rights or any other issues where human's rights are violated. He also offered his e-mail address – firstname.lastname@example.org – to any student interested in human rights activism.
"Make noise," he urged. "... the more noise we make, the more we attract attention."