Professor Ilgu Ozler of the Department of Political Science & International Relations at SUNY New Paltz was recently elected to a second term on the board of directors at Amnesty International USA. Amnesty International is a global grassroots human rights organization which mobilizes millions of members across the world to expose human rights abuses and pressure governments to protect individuals. Ozler had served a first term from 2017 to 2020 before taking a break to go on sabbatical in Spain with a Fulbright Award.
Amnesty International has its largest membership in the USA with over 350,000 dues-paying members making it the largest human rights group by membership in the country. In 2010, Ozler founded the Mid-Hudson Valley chapter of Amnesty, which advocates for local as well as global issues. Ozler commented on the action the chapter took during a civil war in Colombia, saying they were observing from afar to protect a peace community there by telling the president of Colombia to leave them alone. “It’s how you connect with the international community: by advocating for human rights defenders, globally, to let them know that you are there and you have their back,” Ozler claimed. She stepped down as the chapter coordinator in 2017, when first elected to the board.
As a part of the global organization, Ozler contributes to Amnesty International in working towards their goal of ensuring that “every human being on Earth enjoys those rights that are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” One of the ways they do this is by identifying ten human rights defenders every year who are being persecuted for their ideas. Then as a global group they write hundreds of thousands of letters to create attention and pressure. The board of directors serves fiduciary responsibilities between the organization itself and its members.
Working on the board of directors is volunteer work, though at times it can be strenuous. Ozler initially got involved over 15 years ago after being approached by students to be the faculty advisor when a chapter was founded at SUNY New Paltz. “Students are always inspirational that way,” she stated. She continued to become more involved with Amnesty as she came to believe it was somewhere she could comfortably work and have an impact.
To run for a position on the board, candidates must first apply to be nominated and undergo an interview by the nominations committee. If the committee finds them nomination worthy, they can run for a national election in which all dues-paying members get to vote. This democratic structure is a strength of Amnesty according to Ozler. “Members are the ones that drive the direction of the organization through their participation and being a part of the board.”
As a professor, Ozler teaches two applied studies programs: the United Nations Semester course in the Spring and the Global Engagement Program (GEP) in the Fall. The UN Semester is a six-credit course featuring trips to the UN headquarters in Manhattan to learn about global governance. The GEP is a full-semester internship experience in NYC focused on globally-oriented fields. Ozler founded the GEP in 2013 and remains the current director.