A Kennedy speaks ‘The Truth to Power’

It is in her look of willpower when working for a just cause, combined with a sense of history, a family history in this case: Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, daughter of Bobby Kennedy, carries her legacy with fierce passion. A tireless advocate of human rights issues, Kennedy Cuomo came to Athens to present «Speak Truth to Power,» a three-part project, as Greece became the scene for the global campaign’s major start this year. The project included the presentation of the book’s Greek edition (translated by Marlena Georgiadi), as well as a photographic exhibition and a play. All three events in Athens were sponsored by Vardis and Marianna Vardinoyiannis. «Art is always a way of expressing the human spirit and that is ultimately what this is about,» said Kennedy Cuomo to Kathimerini English Edition. «It’s the triumph of the human spirit, of the soul in the most horrifying and difficult of circumstances.» Featuring a series of interviews by Kennedy Cuomo with human rights advocates, «Speak Truth to Power: Human Rights Defenders Who Are Changing Our World,» is a powerful publication featuring superb black-and-white portraits of the interviewees shot by acclaimed photographer and 1969 Pulitzer Prize-winner, Eddie Adams. In the USA, the book’s launch was accompanied by an exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington DC, as well as by a play written by the celebrated author Ariel Dorfman. The play, which opened at the J.F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington DC in November 2000, presented a stellar cast led by John Malkovich, Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Alec Baldwin, Rita Moreno and Julia Louis Dreyfus. «Ariel Dorfman has woven together the actual words, the play is only made up of quotations from human rights defenders,» said Kennedy Cuomo. «It is an extraordinary expression not of fear and horror, but of resistance and resilience and courage.» Staged at the Athens Concert Hall last night, the play was directed by Michalis Cacoyannis, featuring Grigoris Valtinos and Katia Dandoulaki, among others. New issues With new human rights issues constantly developing, how does Kennedy Cuomo feel in the wake of September 11th? «I’m concerned that the crackdown and the intensity by the government to try and find those who perpetrated the crime and who might perpetrate other crimes will lead to a deprivation of civil liberties. For instance, the Bush administration is going to start using military tribunals which I’ve been very critical of,» she said. «On the other hand, it brought back to the administration how integrated we are with the rest of the world, particularly with Europe, and how important it is to be part of the UN process. That said, the Bush administration has still not signed the treaty for the international criminal court which is the first time in our history and is a terrible shame.» And so the work for human rights continues in countries around the world, from Western democracies to the more democratically «difficult» ones. «Every country presents its own challenge,» said Kennedy Cuomo. «In countries such as Britain you don’t have the death penalty, but you still have great human violations in Northern Ireland. In the USA, we have extraordinary freedom of expression but we still have the death penalty. It is very difficult to stop these violations wherever they are, that has been my experience. I consider myself lucky to be born in the United States, which is a country based on revolution, where institutions are capable of change because of citizen activism. We proved that with the Vietnam War, which we stopped because of citizen activism, and with the US military pulling out of Central America because of the sanctuary movement. We have proven again and again that we are capable of change because of this, but it’s still a struggle, people get hurt, killed.» The heroes Well or lesser known, those featured in «Speak Truth to Power» share the same determination: Fauziya Kassindja escaped from her small village in Togo in order to avoid genital mutilation and sought asylum in the USA; Marina Pisklakova, a Russian activist pursues domestic violence issues at her own peril; Doan Viet Hoat is Vietnam’s answer to Andrei Sakharov; Abubacar Sultan of Mozambique fought against those forcing children into combat during the 1985-1992 war; Koigi wa Wamwere is Kenya’s best-known political prisoner; Polish activist Zbigniew Bujak led the Solidarity underground movement in the Warsaw region in the early 1980s; Dianna Ortiz, an Ursuline nun, was abducted and raped in Guatemala; Ka Hsaw Wa filed a lawsuit against an American corporation for torture by the company’s agents in Burma; Kailash Satyarthi is an Indian fighting against child abuse; Gabor Gombos is fighting for mental disability rights in his native Hungary; Freedom Neruda works in the highly dangerous field of journalism in Ivory Coast; Raji Sourani is a renowned human rights lawyer in Gaza; Juliana Dogbadzi is fighting against the Trokosi Shrines, a Ghana tradition where children work and live in inhumane conditions. Also featured in the book are Elie Wiesel, who was taken to Auschwitz and then to Buchenwald at the age of 15, and Vaclav Havel, who went from hard labor to becoming the first non-communist president of the Czech Republic in over 40 years. In the last 21 years that Kennedy Cuomo has been involved in human rights issues, she has witnessed great changes in global communities; she is satisfied with the progress made. «When I started working in human rights, there were dictators throughout Latin America. Today, the only one left standing is Castro in Cuba. Pinochet ruled in Chile, today he has hundreds of cases pending against him for human rights violations,» she said. «At the time, there were only four African countries that held elections, in the last decade, 38 countries have had elections. Back then, the leading human rights defender from South Korea, Kim Dae Jung, was in exile in Boston because his country said they were going to execute him. Two years ago, now-President Kim Dae Jung got the Nobel Prize for opening up relations with North Korea. So yes, I think things are happening; it’s been revolutionary, and I have a tremendous amount of hope.» «Speak Truth to Power,» is presently distributed by Amnesty International’s Greek branch, at 30 Sina St, tel 010.360.0628 or www., and will soon be available in major bookstores, The «Speak Truth to Power» exhibition runs to June 25 at the Cultural Center of the Municipality of Athens, Eleftherias Park. For more information on the «Speak Truth to Power,» project visit the www. website.