Human rights violations: UA group calls for President Shelton to sever UAPD-Motorola contract

Arizona Daily Wildcat | By Jennifer Koehmstedt | February 15, 2010 | UA administrators are resisting a recommendation by UA students to terminate the university’s contract with the Motorola Corporation…..

Arizona Daily Wildcat | By Jennifer Koehmstedt | February 15, 2010 |

UA administrators are resisting a recommendation by UA students to terminate the university’s contract with the Motorola Corporation. Students say the company is complicit in human rights violations because of contracts they have with the Israeli government, which is militarily occupying Palestinian lands.

In 1999, the University of Arizona Police Department entered into a $203,000 contract with the Motorola Corporation for radio and communication equipment. The contract is still active today.

Students from the UA Community for Human Rights, a student-led group working on issues related to university contractors and human rights, are asking UAPD to end their contract with Motorola. Students say the contract violates the UA Code of Conduct because of Motorola’s alleged human rights violations.

“Motorola is very heavily invested in the Israeli occupation of Palestine,” said Hali Nurnberg, a member of the Community for Human Rights and sociology senior. “They have all sorts of technologies being used with large civilian deaths.”

An article published in March 2009 by Human Rights Watch, an independent human rights monitoring group, said that the Motorola Corporation was involved in Israel’s drone production, which helps produce remote control aircrafts that can discern people from the ground. The drones used by the Israeli army can have a lethal blast radius of 33 to 66 feet.

According to the Human Rights Watch, Motorola’s connection was made public when pieces of metal shrapnel and circuit boards with Motorola serial numbers were found at the site of an attack on the Gaza City Police headquarters. The attack killed at least 40 cadets during a police academy graduation ceremony.

Student organizers say Motorola’s ties with civilian death are grounds for terminating the contract. They cite the UA’s policy on corporate relations, which states: “The name of the university should never be used to endorse any products or corporations whose products are instruments of destruction or known to cause harm to humans.”

After meeting with student organizers, the University Committee for Monitoring Labor and Human Rights Issues, a committee of faculty members which informs UA President Robert Shelton of human rights issues concerning the university, wrote a memorandum to UAPD Commander Robert Sommerfeld in December 2009.

“Based on compelling international evidence of Motorola’s wrong-doing, particularly in the Israel/Palestine arena, we are going to discuss our grave concerns over this contract and indicate to President Shelton that we are attempting to assess all relevant positions on this issue,” the memorandum said.

Sommerfeld was contacted on Feb. 5, but refused an interview with the Arizona Daily Wildcat.

Sommerfeld contacted Andrew Silverman, a clinical professor in the College of Law and a faculty chair of the University Committee for Monitoring Labor and Human Rights Issues, about what UAPD should do about the Motorola situation.

“(Sommerfeld) indicated that (cutting the contract) couldn’t be a unilateral decision on the part of UAPD because they were a part of a communication consortium, called the Pima County Radio Initiative, which is comprised of all public safety entities within Pima County,” said Silverman. “He said if he was presented with a vendor that would be compatible with Motorola’s service then maybe the consortium might allow UAPD to use them.”

Pima County Radio Initiative could not be reached for comment by press time.

Student organizers met with Sommerfeld in October to discuss ending the contract. He has not met with organizers since then.

“We are not continuing in any dialogue with the group,” said Sommerfeld, who refused to comment as to why he ended communication.

This past August, students from UA Community for Human Rights requested to meet with Shelton to discuss ending the contract. Shelton has yet to agree to speak with the group, Nurnberg said.

Shelton said he needed more time and more information before he would sit down with students to discuss cutting the contract.

“I certainly haven’t made up my mind,” said Shelton. “I’m gathering information … In terms of divesting, I also need to get some advice from council, and that’s always dangerous, about what you can do as a state entity or not. The Israeli lobby has been very powerful in this country for many years.”

Despite the administration’s response, student organizers remain hopeful.

“We’d be really making a strong stance for the U of A to be at the forefront of recognizing human rights in their business practices. I think this is something the U of A could definitely be proud of,” said Nurnberg.

She believes going to the universities and addressing the contracts they hold is the first step to take action against the Israeli occupation.

“You as an individual really have no power over governments thousands of miles away, but our university as an institution has so much more leverage over foreign affairs,” said Nurnberg.

She feels that if the UA ends the contract with Motorola, the university would set a precedent for taking action in the Israel-Palestine conflict as well as issues of social justice all over the world..

“It’s really all about bettering the human condition,” Nurnberg said. “And making it so that those who aren’t as fortunate can have a better shot at achieving success.”