DRC protests about election delay violently put down

Congo 2
Police arrest a man in Goma during a protest against the postponement of the general election, blamed on an Ebola outbreak and rising violence. Photograph: Patrick Meinhardt/AFP/Getty Images

Live rounds fired during protests against three-month delay in opposition areas

Ruth Maclean in Dakar

Congolese security forces have violently put down protests that broke out after the country’s presidential election was postponed by three months in key opposition strongholds.

In the eastern city of Beni, armed men fired live rounds and teargas at protesters demonstrating against the changes on Thursday. Protesters allegedly attacked the office of the agency coordinating the Ebola response and invaded an isolation centre, causing dozens of patients to flee.

The latest electoral delay in Africa’s second-biggest country will exclude more than 1.2 million people from the 30 December vote and is expected to favour the ruling party and its candidate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, handpicked by the incumbent, Joseph Kabila.

On Wednesday the national electoral commission (CENI) announced a delay of the vote in Beni, Butembo and Yumbi and surrounding rural areas until March, long after the new president is due to be sworn in.

The commission blamed the DRC’s devastating outbreak of Ebola and potential terrorist attacks for the delay, which may lead to votes in the three affected areas not being counted in the election.

“Elections lead to important movements of voters toward polling places, thus leading to concentrations of people … raising the risk of propagation of this disease and providing the conditions for terrorist attacks,” the CENI said in a statement.

The health ministry had previously said the Ebola outbreak, which has killed 354 people in eastern Congo and is the second largest to date, would not prevent the vote from going ahead.

The election was due to be held on 23 December nationwide, but was postponed by a week. Many Congolese voters who travelled from neighbouring countries to cast their ballots had to leave before they could do so.

The government has not explained how it will take account of the delayed votes in Beni, Butembo and Yumbi.

Kabila, who came to power after his father was assassinated in 2001, won elections in 2006 and 2011. But when his mandate expired in 2016 and he was prevented by the constitution from running again, he did not step down. Instead the CENI announced it had not held a census to find out how many voters there were and did not have the $1bn (£790m) it said it needed to conduct an election.

Opposition leaders said Kabila was behind the decision to postpone the election, and this was buttressed by a constitutional court ruling that he would stay on as president in the event of electoral delays.

Shadary, who is accused of obstructing the electoral process and of serious human rights abuses, is one of 14 senior officials the EU has placed under sanctions for three years running. On Thursday the Congolese foreign ministry announced it would expel the bloc’s ambassador, Bart Ouvry, in response to the EU’s decision to renewthe sanctions two weeks ago despite a plea from the African Union to drop them.

Meanwhile, the opposition to Shadary is shaky. Two major political leaders were excluded from the election on technicalities, and the remaining opposition has failed to unite around a single candidate. The two main candidates are Martin Fayulu, a former oil executive, and Félix Tshisekedi, son of the late Étienne Tshisekedi, Kabila’s old foe and a popular stalwart of the opposition.

Millions of Congolese are struggling to survive. Five million have been displaced and 13 million are in need of help after decades of conflict. Hundreds of armed groups contribute to the instability in the east, while people in Kasai are struggling to recover from the 2016 conflict between government forces and the Kamuina Nsapu movement.

Analysts say business interests are behind what has been framed as an inter-communal conflict in the province of Ituri. Insecurity is preventing health workers from getting to many areas with suspected Ebola cases, leading to more infections.

The epidemic of rape, which activists say began in the mid-1990s, has continued unabated throughout Kabila’s presidency; in October the new Nobel peace prize winner Denis Mukwege told the Guardian he held the president personally responsible for not protecting the country’s women, along with his “illegal and illegitimate” government.
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/27/congolese-soldiers-fire-air-quell-protests-against-election-delay

Human trafficker at London Olympics gets 30 year prison sentence in U.S.

Trafficking 2A child waves an Union flag near Olympic rings at the entrance of the venue for the men’s modern pentathlon during the London 2012 Olympics at Greenwich Park August 11, 2012. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Jason Fields

WASHINGTON,  (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – An “evil” man who tried to traffic a teenage boy into London to be sold for sex during the 2012 Olympics has been sentenced to 30 years in a U.S. prison, in a case of human trafficking that draws attention during international sporting events.

Jason Gandy was stopped in July 2012 by immigration officers in Britain who suspected something was wrong with the adult man traveling with an unrelated 15-year-old boy, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said.

British authorities sent Gandy home to Houston, Texas for trial.

He was convicted of sex trafficking of minors in July and sentenced this week by U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal who told him: “You are evil, and most evil are those who willingly exploit others for their own gratification.”

Along with the incident at the London Olympics, there were reports of Nigerians taken to Russia for sex during the World Cup this past summer and, in the United States, football’s Super Bowl also draws concerns over trafficking.

However experts are split on whether such spectacles actively fuel trafficking. Many say the commercial sex market grows during any number of large events and caution that such concern draws attention away from what is a year-round crime.

Some 1.5 million people in the United States are estimated to be victims of trafficking, mostly for sexual exploitation. The majority are children, according to a U.S. Senate report published last year.

Globally, nearly 21 million people are victims of human trafficking, a $150 billion industry, according to the United Nation’s International Labour Organization.

Of that total, an estimated 4.5 million people are forced into sex work, and children are estimated to comprise 5.5 million of the overall victims, according to the ILO.

In Gandy’s case, the man paid for the boy’s airfare and passport, U.S. officials said.

He planned to make the boy perform massages and sex acts with customers, taking advantage of the crowds gathered for the Olympics, they said.

He also molested the boy himself, they said.

Men who survived Gandy’s molestation testified at his sentencing about their ordeals being enslaved at a massage operation Gandy ran out of his home in Houston, prosecutors said.
http://news.trust.org/item/20181219193057-d1lsq

Donald Trump’s troubled charity foundation to shut down

Trump photoMr Trump and his three eldest children are accused of using it for private and political gain; AFP

US President Donald Trump’s troubled charity foundation has agreed to close down amid allegations that he and others illegally misused its funds.

The move was announced by the Attorney General of New York State, Barbara Underwood, who will supervise the distribution of its remaining monies.

She has accused Mr Trump and his three eldest children of using it for private and political gain.

The foundation’s lawyer accused her of attempting to politicise the matter.

This is just one of several legal cases currently swirling around Mr Trump and his family. Others include a wide-ranging special counsel investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia headed by former FBI chief Robert Mueller.

What do prosecutors say?

Ms Underwood said the case against Mr Trump and his children Donald Jr, Ivanka and Eric would continue.

In a statement, she said there had been “a shocking pattern of illegality involving the Trump Foundation – including unlawful co-ordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and wilful self-dealing, and much more”.

She continued: “This amounted to the Trump Foundation functioning as little more than a chequebook to serve Mr Trump’s business and political interests.”
Under the terms of the deal to shut down the foundation, Ms Underwood said, it could only be dissolved under judicial supervision and could only distribute its assets “to reputable organisations approved by my office”.

She added: “This is an important victory for the rule of law, making clear that there is one set of rules for everyone.

“We’ll continue to move our suit forward to ensure that the Trump Foundation and its directors are held to account for their clear and repeated violations of state and federal law.”

And the Trumps?

In a statement to the BBC, Trump Foundation lawyer Alan Futerfas – signatory to the deal closing the foundation – said: “Contrary to the NYAG’s [New York Attorney General] misleading statement… the foundation has been seeking to dissolve and distribute its remaining assets to worthwhile charitable causes since Donald J Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election.

“Unfortunately, the NYAG sought to prevent dissolution for almost two years, thereby depriving those most in need of nearly $1.7m.

“Over the past decade, the foundation is proud to have distributed approximately $19m, including $8.25m of the president’s personal money, to over 700 different charitable organisations with virtually zero expenses.

“The NYAG’s inaccurate statement of this morning is a further attempt to politicize this matter.”

Mr Trump and his eldest children have yet to comment.

Last June, Mr Trump indicated on Twitter that he was not willing to settle the case, insisting the foundation had done nothing wrong.
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-46611178

Hundreds of trafficked children go missing from UK care homes

Trafficking photoARCHIVE PHOTO: A girl looks out over fog covered Leicestershire countryside, central England REUTERS/Darren Staples

Findings raise doubts about Britain’s ability to care for
vulnerable children at time when record number of suspected
child slaves are being referred to government

By Kieran Guilbert

LONDON, (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A growing number of
trafficked children in Britain are going missing from care
homes, with some feared to be returning to their traffickers
after being treated like criminals or illegal immigrants by
authorities, two charities said on Wednesday.

A quarter of the 1,015 identified or suspected child
trafficking victims in the care of local authorities went
missing at least once last year – 246 children compared to 167
in 2015 – according to research by ECPAT UK and Missing
People.

The child victims reported as missing from care disappeared
seven times on average. Their reasons for running away
included poor accommodation, fear of authorities and the
ongoing control of human traffickers, the charities said in a
report.

The findings raise doubts about Britain’s ability to care for
vulnerable children at a time when a record number of
suspected child slaves are being referred to the government –
2,118 last year and up two-thirds on 2016 – campaigners said.

“Trafficked and unaccompanied children continue to be failed
by the system which should be safeguarding and protecting
them,” said Jane Hunter, senior research manager at Missing
People.

“(They) are particularly vulnerable, and may go back into a
highly exploitative situation to those they were trafficked
by.”

Britain’s Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi said
that any missing child was cause for “serious concern”.

“We require all care placements to have clear procedures in
place to prevent children from going missing,” he said in a
statement.

About a fifth of the 975 trafficked or unaccompanied children
reported as missing from care in Britain last year have not
yet been found, according to the charities’ data.

“I can see why young people run away to their trafficker,” one
child who went missing from care was quoted anonymously as
saying in the report. “It is ‘better the devil you know’.”

Despite being hailed as a global leader in the anti-slavery
drive, Britain said in July it would review its landmark 2015
law amid criticism that it is not being used fully to jail
traffickers, drive firms to stop forced labour, or help
victims.

Many child victims of trafficking are convicted of crimes they
are forced to commit in captivity – such as drug offences on
cannabis farms where many Vietnamese teenagers are found – and
are later refused asylum, lawyers and campaigners have said.

Between 2015 and 2017, Britain denied asylum to 183 people
trafficked as children from nations such as Vietnam – double
the total for the previous three years – government data
obtained exclusively by the Thomson Reuters Foundation
revealed in July.

“Too often these children are treated as criminals or
immigration offenders, rather than vulnerable children
requiring support,” said Catherine Baker, ECPAT’s senior
research officer.

Britain is home to at least 136,000 modern slaves, according
to the Global Slavery Index by rights group Walk Free
Foundation – a figure 10 times higher than a government
estimate from 2013.
http://news.trust.org/item/20181219170931-4fzv8/

Pope Francis asks for prayers for Indonesia after deadly tsunami

Indonesia Tsunami photoOfficials look through the wreckage of damaged buildings in Carita, Indonesia on December 23, 2018. Credit: AFP/Getty Images.

By Courtney Grogan

Vatican City, (CNA/EWTN News). After a deadly tsunami struck Indonesia Saturday night, killing more than 200 people and injuring hundreds more, Pope Francis has asked for everyone to join him in prayer for the suffering victims this Christmas.

“My thoughts go out right now to the populations of Indonesia, affected by violent natural disasters, which have caused serious losses in human lives, numerous people missing and homeless, and extensive material damage,” Pope Francis said after his Angelus prayer Dec. 23.

“I invite everyone to join me in prayer for the victims and their loved ones,” he said, calling for solidarity and support from the international community.

The tsunami left at least 222 people dead and more than 840 injured, according to Sutopo Purwo Nugroho from Indonesia’s disaster management agency.

Researchers suspect the destructive waves were triggered by a volcanic eruption in the Sunda Strait between two Indonesian islands.

Pope Francis expressed his wish to be “spiritually close” to the displaced and “to all the people who are imploring God for relief in their suffering.”

The pope reflected on the importance of families being together at Christmas, but said he understood that “many people do not have this possibility, for different reasons.”

To people apart from their families at Christmas, Pope Francis extended an invitation to find a “true family” in the Catholic Church.

“Our heavenly Father does not forget you and does not abandon you. If you are a Christian, I wish you to find in the Church a true family, where you can experience the warmth of fraternal love,” he said.

Francis stressed that the doors of the Catholic community are open to Christians and non-Christians alike this Christmas. “Jesus is born for everyone and gives everyone the love of God,” he said.

The pope encouraged people preparing for Christmas to fix their gaze on Mary, who spent her months of waiting for Christ’s coming in service to her elderly relative, Elizabeth.

“The Gospel of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth prepares us to live Christmas well, communicating to us the dynamism of faith and charity,” Pope Francis said.

“A dynamism full of joy, as seen in the meeting between the two mothers, which is all a hymn of joyous exultation in the Lord, who does great things with the little ones who trust Him,” he continued.

May the Virgin Mary obtain for us the grace of living a Christmas centered, not on ourselves, but on Jesus and our brothers and sisters in need, Pope Francis prayed.
https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pope-francis-asks-for-prayers-for-indonesia-after-deadly-tsunami-83102

 

Migration Compact adopted following Pope’s call to action

Compact photo                                 Pope at launch of Share the Journey

Source: CAFOD

More than 160 countries have agreed the UN Global Compact on Migration at a conference in Morocco following calls from CAFOD supporters and thousands of Catholics worldwide.

The migration pact follows the adoption of the Global Compact on Refugees by the United Nations General Assembly earlier in 2018. The two agreements set out how governments will work together to help people on the move, particularly those who have been forced from their homes by persecution or poverty.

Catholics around the world have campaigned for governments to agree the compacts as part of a ‘Share the Journey’ campaign launched by Pope Francis in 2017, with CAFOD supporters in England and Wales walking more than 100,000 miles in solidarity with displaced people.

What are the global compacts?

The global compacts on migrants and refugees are the result of negotiations which started following a UN agreement in 2016 called the ‘New York Declaration’. This set out a process for countries to cooperate in dealing with the unprecedented number of people globally who were migrating because of war, the changing climate or in search of a better life.

Both agreements are seen as a step forward because they recognise that many migrants and refugees face common challenges and vulnerabilities.

The migration compact sets out how to assist people at all the stages of their journey – ensuring they can leave their homes without unnecessary danger, reducing the risk of exploitation and trafficking, and helping them to access basic services such as healthcare and education when they arrive in new countries.

The refugee compact seeks to make sure that countries which receive the largest number of refugees are given support. This is something the Holy Father has called for, as the majority of displaced people are living in countries which suffer from high levels of poverty themselves.

The agreement states the need to tackle the reasons why people are forced from their homes, including disasters resulting from climate change and damage to the environment.

The compact also notes that faith groups have an important role to play in helping refugees, including the role that the Church and other religious organisations play in preventing conflict and helping to build peace.

Global Compacts are a ‘testament to Pope’s leadership’

Graham Gordon, Head of Policy at CAFOD, said that the adoption of the agreements showed that “governments have responded to calls from their citizens” to support displaced people, noting that “tens of thousands of Catholics have walked over 100,000 miles in solidarity with people on the move.”

“Pope Francis has said that our response to the needs of migrants will be a ‘test of our humanity’, so the fact that the vast majority of states are joining the Global Compact is a positive sign.

“It’s in everyone’s interests that countries work together to support at every stage of their journey those who have left their homes in search of a better life. This is especially important if we are to prevent people from falling into the hands of traffickers and criminal gangs.”

The Holy See, under the Pope’s supervision, published guidance for governments ahead of the talks which led to the global compacts. These ‘action points’ were based on the support the Catholic Church is giving to refugees and migrants worldwide, including in countries such as Colombia, Nigeria and Lebanon.

Graham Gordon said: “The Global Compact and its sister document on refugees have been a testament to the leadership shown by the Pope and the Church during negotiations. Now we need to ensure that governments put their words into action and implement their provisions.”
https://www.indcatholicnews.com/news/36197

“No One Listened to Us!” The Ixiles of Guatemala

Ixiles photo

By Jan Lundius

Stockholm/Rome,(IPS) – According to the Mexican Interior Ministry more than 7,000 Central American migrants have during the last month arrived at the US-Mexico border. Despite warnings by officials that they will face arrests, prosecution and deportation if they enter US territory, migrants state they intend to do so anyway, since they are fleeing persecution, poverty and violence. This is not new, in 1995 I visited Ixil and Ixcan, two Guatemalan areas mainly inhabited by Ixiles. My task was to analyse the impact of a regional development programme aimed at supporting post-conflict indigenous communities. United Nations has estimated that between 1960 and 1996 more than 245,000 people (mostly civilians) had been killed, or “disappeared” during Guatemalan internal conflicts, the vast majority of the killings were attributed to the army, or paramilitary groups.

A rainy day I visited a camp for returnees. After living in Mexico, Ixiles were awaiting land distribution. Behind wire and monitored by soldiers, they huddled among their meagre belongings, sheltered by plastic sheets stretched across wooden poles. They expressed their hopes for the future. They wanted to be listened to, allowed to build up their villages, gain respect and become accepted as coequal citizens in their own country. While asked what they wanted most of all, several returnees answered: “We need a priest and a church.” I wondered if they were so religious. “No, no,” they answered. “We need to rebuild our lives, finding our place in the world, be with our ancestors. The priest will make us believe in ourselves and trust in God. That will give us strength. We need a church so we can build our village around it. We all need a centre and every village needs one as well.”

Ixil tradition emphasizes the importance of land and ancestry. A few days before my visit to the camp I had interviewed an aj’kin, a Maya priest. Aj means “master of” and kin “day”. Aj´kines perform rituals and keep track of the time – the past, the present and the future. Like many old Ixiles the aj´kin did not speak any Spanish and the Ixil engineer who accompanied me translated his words. The engineer suggested that I would ask the aj´kin to “sing his family”. The old man then delivered a long, monotonous chant, listing his ancestors all the way back to pre-colonial days. When I asked him what the singing was about the aj´kin explained: “The world belongs to those who were here before us. We only take care of it, until we become one of them. All the ancestors want from us is that we don´t abandon them, making them know that we remember them. Memory and speech is the thread that keeps the Universe together.”

In the camp, Ixiles told me they had been ignored for hundreds of years and that this was the main reason for the violent conflict. Uniformed men had arrived in their villages and first, people had assumed they were government soldiers, becoming enthused when the strangers declared that it was time for Ixiles to have their voices heard, their wishes fulfilled. However, the “liberators” could not keep their promises.

They did not represent the Government, they were guerilleros, proclaiming they had “freed” the peasants, when all they had done was to “speak a lot” and create “revolutionary committees”, only to retreat as soon as the Government troops arrived. These were much stronger and more ruthless than the guerilleros and stated that Ixiles had become “communists”. They murdered and tortured them, burned their fields. What could they do? They asked their Catholic priests for help, but the Government accused the Church of manipulating them through its ”liberation theology”; by preaching that Jesus had been on the side of the poor.

The soldiers even killed priests. One woman told me that she and her neighbours one morning had found the parish priest’s severed head laying on the church steps. Some peasants joined the guerrilla, others organized militias to keep it at a safe distance:

“Some of the guerilleros were our own sons and daughters, but what could we do? As soon as guerrilleros appeared and preached their socialism, the army arrived, killing us. The guerrilleros were not strong enough to fight the soldiers. We were left to be slaughtered. The only solution we could find was to arm ourselves and with weapons in hand ask the guerrilleros to stay away from our villages. However, all over the world they declared that we were supporting a corrupt and oppressive regime. We found ourselves between two fires, solutions were almost non-existent. No one listened to us”

A Catholic priest living in the camp explained: “They tend to be very religious, but their faith is mostly about human dignity. Ixiles want to be masters of their lives. They need to be listened to. Every day I sit for hours listening to confessions. They talk and talk. It makes them content when someone is listening to them. This is one of the problems we Catholics face. Ixiles are abandoning our faith for the one of the evangelicals.”

For centuries the Church had told Ixiles what to do, but finally both Catholics and peasants had been persecuted. In 1982, under the presidency of Ríos Montt, violence reached its peak. A scorch earth campaign lasting for five months resulted in the deaths of approximately 10,000 indigenous Guatemalans, while 100,000 rural villagers were forced to flee their homes, most of them over the border, into Mexico. Ríos Montt was a “born-again Christian” and in the aftermath of the violence evangelical sectarians appeared in the Ixil areas. Many of the remaining Ixiles became evangelicals, stating this was their only way to avoid persecution and come in contact with the “High Command” of the unconstrained army forces.

The loudspeakers of evangelical churches amplified their voices, allowing Ixiles to confess their sins and praise the Lord. However, were their voices finally heard? Their well-being improved? Do they have a say in the governing of their country? Many Ixiles are once again leaving their homes, hoping to reach the US. Research indicates a difference between migration patterns of El Salvador and Honduras and Guatemala. In the former two countries migration decision is more often the result of immediate threats to safety, while in Guatemala it stems from chronic stressors; a mix of general violence, poverty, and rights violations, especially among indigenous people.

Jan Lundius holds a PhD. on History of Religion from Lund University and has served as a development expert, researcher and advisor at SIDA, UNESCO, FAO and other international organisations.

 

http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/12/no-one-listened-us-ixiles-guatemala/