Category Archives: human rights

Priests and sisters arrested with protestors at immigration demonstration on Capitol Hill

35C71CE3-098D-4E22-A9BE-167B8FF968D7Demonstrators during a “Catholic Day of Action” gather in the Russell Senate building on Capitol Hill, July 18, 2019. Credit: CNA

.- A group of Catholics were arrested at the Russell Senate Building on Capitol Hill on Thursday during a peaceful protest organized as a “Catholic Day of Action.” The group, including priests, religious sisters, and lay people, sought to draw attention to the situation at the southern border of the United States and the detention of children in particular.

“We felt like it was time for something more significant, and needing to take more of a risk to raise the consciousness of Catholics across the country,” demonstrator Maggie Conley told CNA during the demonstration, held July 18.

Conley, who works with the justice team of the Sisters of Mercy explained that she would like to see immigration reform presented as a pro-life issue, and expressed hope that Catholic members of Congress and the Trump administration will offer a more public witness on Catholic teaching and immigration.

“It’s challenging when we don’t hear [a call for action] coming from the pulpit as often as we want, and as integrated as some of the rituals of our faith,” said Conley.

Religious orders present included the Sisters of Mercy, the Bon Secours Sisters, the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids, Jesuits, and Franciscan friars. There were also several men at the protest wearing clerical collars, who did not appear to be part of any order.

Members of the group who intended to provoke arrest wore yellow bracelets, and many wore signs with pictures of migrant children who had passed away in U.S. custody and the date of their deaths. Five people laid in the center of the Russell Senate Building rotunda, forming the shape of a cross.

Among those arrested included Sr. Pat Murphy, age 90, a member of the Sisters of Mercy. Sr. Pat has worked in immigration and migrant advocacy in the past, and has held a weekly prayer vigil outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in Chicago for over a decade.

Sr. Judith Frikker, a member of the Sisters of Mercy, was not one of the people who got arrested, but was still present at the protest “to stand in solidarity with my sisters, and more importantly, with immigrants.” This was not Sr. Judith’s first time participating in demonstrations of this kind, and she told CNA that she believes that “immigrants, detainees, their families–especially children–are being treated in a way that violates their human rights.”

Sr. Judith told CNA that she believes the crisis at the southern border is not about immigration itself but about how immigrants are received into the country as they try to enter.

“The crisis isn’t the people coming in, the crisis is what is happening to the people when they try to enter,” she said. “They’re seeking to live with dignity. Many people are seeking asylum and their rights are being denied. We have to act against that.”

Frikker said that she advocates for policy options to address immigration, asylum processing, and detention at the border which do not require changes to infrastructure.

“Instead of building a wall, I would increase our judicial system [in a way] that would allow the processing of immigrants and their asylum cases so they could enter here,” she said.

Katie Murphy, a local resident and Catholic, said she was attending the event out of “concern for the children, and also for the character of our nation, the soul of our nation.”

“I feel that the way we treat the most vulnerable is who we are, is like our character. I am deeply saddened and distraught over what our nation is doing. We have a crisis on the border, and we need to address that crisis in a way that dignifies the values that we stand for.”

The demonstration occurred just days after the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference publicly denounced action by the Trump administration to tighten rules on asylum seeking at the southern border, and to enforce court-ordered removals against thousands of people who had exhausted their legal appeals to remain in the country.

On Tuesday, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo issued a statement condemning a newly-announced rule which requires that those seeking asylum along the U.S. southern border first apply for asylum in any country they may pass through along the way.

“The rule adds further barriers to asylum-seekers’ ability to access life-saving protection, shirks our moral duty, and will prevent the United States from taking its usual leading role in the international community as a provider of asylum protection,” DiNardo said.

The cardinal also spoke out against a recent series carried out by ICE in cities across the United States.

“Enforcement actions like those anticipated this week by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency separate families, cause the unacceptable suffering of thousands of children and their parents, and create widespread panic in our communities,” said DiNardo.

“I condemn such an approach, which has created a climate of fear in our parishes and communities across the country. I recently wrote the President asking him to reconsider this action.”

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/protestors-gather-for-catholic-day-of-action-on-capitol-hill-32449

 

Saudi Arabia executes 37 in connection with terrorism

imageRights groups have repeatedly raised concerns about the fairness of trials in Saudi Arabia [Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters]

Saudi Arabia executed 37 of its citizens on Tuesday for what it said were “terrorism” related crimes, publicly pinning at least one of the bodies to a pole as a warning to others.

The individuals were found guilty of attacking security installations with explosives, killing a number of security officers, and cooperating with “enemy organisations” against the interests of the country, the interior ministry said in a statement.

The sentences were carried out in Riyadh, the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina, central Qassim province, and Eastern Province, home to the country’s Shia minority

The men were executed “for adopting terrorist and extremist thinking and for forming terrorist cells to corrupt and destabilise security”, a statement by the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said.

Two of the executed men’s bodies were publicly hung from a pole for several hours in a process that is not frequently used by the kingdom and has sparked controversy for its grisly display.

The interior ministry said the individuals had been found guilty according to the law and ordered executed by the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh, which focuses on terrorism trials, and the country’s high court.

Leading executioner

The report didn’t state how the death penalty was implemented, but executions in Saudi Arabia are known to be carried out by shooting or beheading with a sword, sometimes in public.

Executions are traditionally carried out after midday prayers. Public displays of the bodies of executed people last for around three hours until late afternoon prayers, with the severed head and body hoisted to the top of a pole overlooking a main square.

The state killings came a day after the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) said it was behind an attack on Sunday on a Saudi security building in the town of Zulfi. In that attack, all four gunmen were killed and three security officers were wounded.

At least 100 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia since the beginning of the year, according to a count based on official data released by SPA.

Last year, the oil-rich Gulf state carried out the death sentences of 149 people, according to Amnesty International, which said only Iran was known to have executed more people.

People convicted of terrorism, homicide, rape, armed robbery and drug trafficking face the death penalty, which the government says is a deterrent for further crime.

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/04/saudi-arabia-executes-37-connection-terrorism-190423140531849.html

Saudi sisters leave Hong Kong for new country

Saudi photoThe sisters say they escaped during a family holiday in Sri Lanka and had intended to seek asylum in Australia [File: Aleksander Solum/Reuters]

Two Saudi sisters fleeing their family in Saudi Arabia have secured emergency visas and departed from Hong Kong after spending months in hiding, according to their lawyer.

The young women, who go by the aliases Reem and Rawan, left Hong Kong on Monday for a new country of residence, which has not been named.

Lawyer Michael Vidler said in a statement that the sisters, aged 18 and 20, were granted emergency humanitarian visas after six months in Hong Kong.

Vidler said the two are now “beginning their lives as free young women”.

The sisters say they were escaping alleged abuse by their male relatives, according to Amnesty International.

Following the news of their departure from Hong Kong, Amnesty said on Twitter that the two had shown “immense courage & took huge risks” and that they “must be allowed to build their lives without living in fear that their family or the Saudi authorities will force them back”.

The young women have drawn attention to their plight by tweeting under the name #HKSaudiSisters.

They claim they escaped while on a family trip in Sri Lanka, intending to seek asylum in Australia but were intercepted at Hong Kong airport by Saudi officials and subsequently went into hiding.

Hong Kong is not a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention and would-be asylum seekers often languish for years as they wait to be sent to a third country.

‘Free of violence and oppression’

The sisters said in a statement that they want their story to give hope to others facing similar situations.

“We are thrilled … that we have found our way to safety to restart our lives free of violence and oppression,” they said.

The two sisters are not the first to flee Saudi Arabia and seek assistance via social media.

Such cases appear to be on the rise, with the two sisters’ story emerging a month after 18-year-old Saudi woman Rahaf al-Qunun drew international attention with her dramatic escape from an allegedly abusive family to eventually gain refugee status in Canada.

Saudi female runaways who flee the kingdom typically say they are trying to escape domestic abuse and male guardianship laws that bar women from obtaining a passport, travelling abroad, marrying or undergoing certain medical procedures without a male relative’s consent.

Women who are caught fleeing Saudi Arabia can be pressured to return home, arrested for disobedience or can be placed in restrictive centres.

The Saudi government and its embassies around the world do not typically comment on individual runaway cases, deeming them a “family affair”.

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/03/saudi-sisters-leave-hong-kong-country-190325194606998.html

Abuse, ‘survival sex’ a stark reality for child migrants: Report

Abuse photoChildren traveling with a caravan of migrants from Central America stand on the beach and near the border fence between Mexico and the US, prior to preparations for an asylum request in the US in Tijuana, Mexico [Edgard Garrido/Reuters]

by Faras Ghani

Unaccompanied child migrants face dangerous journeys during transit, including abuse and detention, rights organisations have warned, highlighting significant failings in safeguarding unaccompanied minors.

A recent report by UNHCR revealed that nearly 140,000 people arrived in Greece, Italy and Spain in search of safety in 2018. Almost 11,000 of the new arrivals were unaccompanied children.

Additionally, according to the Red Cross, more than 300,000 unaccompanied child migrants are currently at high risk of sexual and gender-based violence during transit.

The perilous journey undertaken by these young migrants without an accompanying adult makes them vulnerable to being assaulted, sexually abused, raped, trafficked into sexual exploitation or forced into “survival sex”, according to an International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) report Alone and Unsafe, which shows that the number of unaccompanied child migrants has grown five-fold in five years.

Europe accounted for more than half of unaccompanied minor arrivals in 2017, with more than 158,000 reaching the continent in the first three quarters of the year.

Currently, almost 30 percent of all asylum seekers across that continent are children, half of whom are from just three countries: Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The stark reality is that it is now standard practice that children moving through the Mediterranean are abused, trafficked, beaten and discriminated against,” said Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe.

A joint UNICEF-IOM report also revealed that children from sub-Saharan Africa are targeted more than any other group, highlighting discrimination and racism along transit routes.

The reason for their departure ranges from abuse at home and peer pressure to violence, says IFRC President Francesco Rocca, who called on UN member countries to address the root causes.

“In Cox’s Bazar, for example, we saw many children with their neighbours because their parents were killed,” Rocca told Al Jazeera.

“In Niger, we see young girls from Nigeria who sold themselves for sex for as low as $3. In Central America, there’s violence that drives them out. It creates a very, very difficult environment for them to live in.”

More support needed
More than 40 percent of all child asylum seekers are girls. A poll by UNICEF late last year revealed that almost half of nearly 4,000 refugees and migrants aged 14 to 24 were forced to leave their countries, 44 percent of them left alone.

Some 38 percent said they did not receive any help from anyone, including family, friends or relatives, while almost half the respondents reported that they had been unable to see a doctor when needed.

“While politicians are squabbling over migration, 4,000 uprooted children and young people are telling us they need more support,” said Laurence Chandy, Director of Data, Research and Policy for UNICEF.

“Uprooted children can teach us a great deal about their needs and vulnerabilities if we are willing to hear them. Migration is inevitable, but the danger and discrimination experienced by refugee and migrant children doesn’t have to be.”

The risks, including sexual and gender-based violence, do not abate once these child migrants arrive in a country of destination, according to the IFRC.

A study, based on interviews with unaccompanied children from Horn of Africa countries who migrated to the United Kingdom, revealed that 72 percent of the respondents experienced more than one incident of sexual violence upon arrival – most of these incidents happened in the first 12 months after their arrival in the UK.

This shows that their safety is not guaranteed, even after reaching the desired destination country, added Rocca.

“If there isn’t enough protection in the country of destination, there is a very high risk of being exploited and exposed to the violence. These vulnerable people can also be forced to the labour market.”

 

 

 

 
https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/abuse-survival-sex-stark-reality-child-migrants-report-190204113958830.html

Boochani: Asylum seeker on Manus wins Australian literature prize

Asylum photo                                Boochani has been held on Manus Island for more
                               than five years [Facebook]

A Kurdish asylum seeker has won one of the most important
Australian literature prizes, the Victorian Prize for
Literature.

However, Iranian Kurd Behrouz Boochani was unable to accept
the award personally in Melbourne because he is being kept on
Manus Island.

Boochani won the award, which comes with a monetary prize of
100,000 Australian dollars (approximately $73,000), for his
book No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison.
It was written in Farsi while he was held in the now-closed
detention centre on the island.

It comprises of text messages sent mostly through WhatsApp to
his translator.

The book also won the Non-Fiction Prize, worth 25,000
Australian dollars (approximately $18,000)

Boochani has been living on Manus Island since 2013 and, like
all detainees, is not allowed to leave.

“It’s a paradoxical feeling,” said Boochani.

“I don’t want to celebrate this achievement while I still see
many innocent people suffering around me,” he told The Age
daily. “Give us freedom. We have committed no crime, we are
only seeking asylum.”

He fled Iran as he was in danger of being arrested by
authorities over his journalism work.

Boochani attempted to reach Australia by boat from Indonesia
twice.

On the first attempt, the boat sank and Boochani was rescued
by Indonesian fishermen.

In July 2013, his boat, which held 75 asylum seekers, was
intercepted by the Australian Navy and he was transferred to
the Manus Island detention centre.

Manus is a territory belonging to Papua New Guinea but has
been used by Canberra since 2013 as a place to send asylum
seekers who try to reach Australia.

The practice has been denounced as contravening the human
rights of the refugees and migrants detained there.

Many congratulated Boochani on Twitter but also criticised
Australia’s “hypocrisy” and “cognitive dissonance”.

“I think it’s so great that Behrouz Boochani won the VPLA for
nonfiction tonight, but I’m also struggling with the cognitive
dissonance of a nation celebrating the story, the work, of a
man we’re still torturing,” author Omar Sakr wrote on Twitter.

“[He] is still imprisoned, and kept stateless by us. We must
free them.”

“Does anyone else see the jarring hypocrisy of a country that
is applauding a literary achievement with one hand and
torturing the author with the other?” another wrote.

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia-pacific/2019/01/boochani-
asylum-seeker-manus-wins-australian-literature-prize-
190131153103650.html

Myanmar: Wives of Reuters journalists devastated by verdict

reuters photoPan Ei Mon (L) and Chit Su Win wives of jailed Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo after their appeal was rejected [Ann Wang/Reuters]

by Joshua Carroll

Yangon, Myanmar – The families of two Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar after uncovering a massacre in Rakhine state were once again left devastated on Friday when a court rejected the pair’s appeal to overturn their seven-year prison sentences.

After the judge rattled through his ruling in a crowded courtroom in downtown Yangon, the wives of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo wept as senior foreign diplomats offered their commiserations.

While little has gone in the reporters’ favour since their arrests in December 2017, Kyaw Soe Oo’s wife, Chit Su Win, was still clinging to hope before today’s decision.

“We were even hoping to go to the jail to welcome them if they were released today, but it’s not happening,” she told a scrum of reporters outside the gates of Yangon’s regional High Court.

Neither of the men attended Friday’s ruling. They have both been unable to see their children for the past month. Wa Lone’s detention forced him to miss the birth of his baby daughter in August last year, while Kyaw Soe Oo has only been able to see his three-year-old daughter at court hearings and prison visits.

A message to journalists

The two journalists were sentenced in September under the country’s Official Secrets Act after being accused of holding classified documents.

Their nine-month trial was roundly condemned as a sham aimed at stifling independent reporting on the military’s large-scale killings of Rohingya.

“Journalists have got the message that they should avoid these kinds of issues,” Myint Kyaw, secretary of the Myanmar Journalists Network, told Al Jazeera.

The military is adamant its actions in late 2017 were legitimate counterinsurgency operations, but the UN has called for senior officials to be prosecuted for genocide.

Defence lawyer Than Zaw Aung said he would talk to the reporters about whether or not to take an appeal to Myanmar’s Supreme Court. “We are very disappointed about today’s judgement,” he said.

In their September appeal, the defence pointed to testimony by a police captain who said his colleagues entrapped the reporters in a sting by handing them documents and then promptly arresting them.

But Judge Aung Naing hewed closely to the original ruling today before observers in a high-ceilinged courtroom dotted with cobwebs, and described the pair’s prison terms as a “suitable punishment”.

Besides a Supreme Court ruling, the reporter’s best hope of being released soon is a pardon from President Win Myint, who would take orders from the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Based on previous cases of journalists being jailed in the country, said Myint Kyaw, there is a chance the pair will receive a pardon, “but it will take time”.

‘A day in prison is an injustice’

Maja Kocijancic, the EU’s spokesperson for foreign affairs, said: “We are confident that the President of Myanmar will promptly address this injustice and ensure, together with the government, that the press can fulfil its function as an essential pillar of democracy.”

Many are losing hope that former icon of democracy Aung San Suu Kyi will intervene on the pair’s behalf.

Bill Richardson, a senior US diplomat and former confidante of Aung San Suu Kyi, alleged last year that she referred to the two journalists as “traitors” during a heated exchange.

Richardson resigned from his position on an international advisory body on Rakhine soon after the confrontation.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s reporting from Rakhine’s Inn Din village last year revealed how soldiers and villagers hacked and shot 10 Rohingya men and boys to death before burying them in a mass grave.

They were among almost 7,000 Rohingya who died within the first month of the military’s crackdown, which began in late August 2017, according to estimates from Doctors Without Borders.

The reporters were held incommunicado for two weeks following their arrests. Wa Lone later testified that he was hooded and deprived of sleep during days of interrogation.

“One day in prison was already an injustice,” said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s Director of Crisis Response. “This appalling farce must end now.”

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/01/myanmar-wives-reuters-journalists-voice-despair-verdict-190111102521706.html

UAE activist Mansoor loses final appeal against 10-year sentence

UAE photoAhmed Mansoor was arrested in March 2017 and sentenced in May by Abu Dhabi’s Federal Appeals Court for ‘defaming the UAE through social media channels’ [File: Nikhil Monteiro/Reuters]

A United Arab Emirates (UAE) appeals court has upheld a 10-year prison sentence against prominent pro-democracy activist Ahmed Mansoor for criticising the government on social media, Amnesty International reported.

Mansoor, an electrical engineer and poet, was arrested in March 2017 and sentenced in May by Abu Dhabi’s Federal Appeals Court for “defaming the UAE through social media channels”.

Mansoor was among five activists convicted and later pardoned for insulting the UAE’s rulers in 2011.

He was arrested again in March 2017 at his home in Ajman on charges of publishing false information and rumours, and of promoting a sectarian and hate-incited agenda.

Mansoor was also charged with using social media to “harm national unity and social harmony and damage the country’s reputation”.

Local media reported that the father of four, Mansoor, was handed a fine of one million dirhams ($270,000) for insulting the status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols, including its leader.

Several international rights groups, including the United Nations human rights bodies, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the European Union Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights have condemned the sentencing of Mansoor earlier this year.

‘No space for freedom’

Responding to Monday’s decision by the court to uphold Mansoor’s sentence, Amnesty’s Middle East Research director, Lynn Maalouf said that the decision proves “there is no space for freedom [of] expression in the United Arab Emirates”.

His only ‘crime’ was “to express his peaceful opinion on social media, and it is outrageous that he is being punished with such [a] heavy prison sentence” she said in a statement.

“The authorities must ensure his conviction and sentence are quashed and release him immediately and unconditionally,” the statement read.

Speaking to Al Jazeera in October, Joe Odell, the campaigns manager for the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE (ICFUAE) said that since the cybercrime law in 2012 came into force, there has yet to be a precedent where a rights activity has successfully appealed their sentence.

“It is unlikely that the process will be a fair and independent one,” he said.

“His continued detention is in clear breach of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression, to which the UAE is a signatory,” Odell added.

In 2015, Mansoor won the Martin Ennals award for human rights defenders for his work in the UAE.

He’s been described by the awarding body as “one of the few voices within the UAE who provide a credible independent assessment of human rights developments in the country.”

An expert told the UN Human rights commision last year that Mansoor’s arrest and detention is a “direct attack on the legitimate work of human rights defenders in the UAE.”

Human Rights Watch in March 2018 said Mansoor is believed to have been held in solitary confinement.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

House passes farm bill and controversial rule on Yemen debate

Bill photoUS Capitol dome. Credit: Dan Thornberg/Shutterstock.

By Christine Rousselle

Washington D.C., Dec 13, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- An agriculture bill supported
by a coalition of Catholic groups passed the House of Representatives on
Wednesday with bipartisan support. During debate over the bill, lawmakers also
passed a controversial rule regarding debate on US involvement in Yemen.

The bill now moves to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.

The “farm bill” concerns agricultural programs and food assistance. It is renewed
each year, and this process can sometimes be quite lengthy due to additions and
amendments added to the bill by members of Congress.

The version of the farm bill passed Dec. 12 was a compromise that eliminated some
of the more controversial aspects of an earlier version of the bill. Those controversial
provisions included expanded work requirements for people who receive
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funds. That bill passed the
House of Representatives in June, but only had the support of Republican members.

SNAP is used by approximately 38 million Americans each year to purchase food
items. Currently, able-bodied SNAP recipients who are between the ages of 18 and
49 who do not have dependents under the age of six, must work or volunteer for 20
hours a week or participate in a job-training program in order to receive benefits.
The proposed bill would have upped the upper age limit of this requirement to 59,
but that provision was dropped in the compromise bill.

In a controversial procedural move, a mostly party-line passing vote on rules for
floor debate of the farm bill also included a provision that would block legislators
from forcing a vote on military aid to Saudi Arabia’s intervention in the Yemeni civil
war.

This effectively limits the Senate’s Dec. 13 vote to withdraw military aid from Saudi
Arabia to a symbolic gesture.

This amended bill passed by a vote of 369-47 in the House of Representatives, and
87-13 in the Senate. The Senate passed the bill Dec. 11.

The bill was praised by a coalition of Catholic organizations.

“Agriculture policies should promote the production and access of nutritious food for
all people, using the bounty from the land God has called us to tend and steward to
aid the least of our brothers and sister in this country and around the world,” read a
Dec. 12 letter to the House of Representatives signed by several Catholic
organizations, including the USCCB, Catholic Relief Services, and Catholic Charities
USA.
“We are pleased that the recently released Farm Bill Conference Committee Report
includes provisions that protect global and domestic nutrition programs and
strengthens rural supports and employment training programs,” they added.

The letter also stated support for the inclusion of two programs that contribute to
rural development, as well as the bill’s changes to international food security
programs. These changes will make the programs “more effective and allow them to
serve more people.”

The Catholic coalition expressed disappointment with other parts of the bill, including
subsidies to farmers and ranchers and a decrease in funding to conservation
programs. Each year, one of the hotly-debated points of the farm bill concerns
subsidies that are distributed to farmers, and critics of this say the money does not
always go to farmers who are in need of assistance.

The farm subsidies should be “prioritized” for struggling farmers, says the letter.

“It is disappointing that the Conference report does not take modest steps to limit
subsidy payments to farmers who are actively engaged in farming.”
https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/house-passes-farm-bill-and-
controversial-rule-on-yemen-debate-78056

Researchers find ‘evidence of genocide’ against Rohingya

Genocide photoCardinal Tagle, president of Caritas International, visits Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh, Dec. 3, 2018. Credit:Caritas Bangladesh

By Courtney Grogan

Chittagong, Bangladesh, (CNA/EWTN News).- As new evidence emerges of atrocities committed in Burma’s Rakhine state, the president of Caritas International visited Monday a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh.

In 2017 the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group, faced a sharp increase in state-sponsored violence in Burma, also known as Myanmar. The violence reached levels that led the United Nations to declare the crisis “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled across the border to Bangladesh, and are living in refugee camps, many of which are located in a swampy sort of “buffer zone” along the border between the two countries.

Researchers with the Public International Law and Policy Group, contracted by the U.S. State Department to investigate Burma’s treatment of the Rohingya, found “reasonable grounds to believe that genocide was committed against the Rohingya,” in a report published Dec. 3.

The researchers interviewed more than 1,000 refugees, who shared their experiences of “mass shootings, aerial bombardments, gang rapes and severe beatings, torture and burning” by Burma’s armed forces.

Seventy percent of the Rohingya interviewed had witnessed their homes or villages being destroyed and 80 percent witnessed the killing of a family member, friend, or personal acquaintance.

Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila visited Kutupalong refugee camp, more than 100 miles south of Chittagong, Dec. 3, describing it as “a cry to the whole world for a better politics based on compassion and solidarity.”

“When will we learn our lessons and be able to stop a crisis of this magnitude happening again? How as an international community and a human family can we get back to the basics of dignity, care and compassion?” continued Tagle.

The Filipino cardinal is the president of Caritas International, a group that has served the Rohingya refugee population since the crisis began. Caritas has helped nearly 500,000 refugees by providing shelter, water, sanitation, hygiene, and living supplies.

“The situation of refugees from Myanmar was heartbreaking for me when I came first, but I’m seeing things improve,” Tagle said. “We wish for a permanent solution for these people who are stateless and helpless. It is our responsibility to be with them. We want them to have a happy life.”

Tagle found particular hope in seeing the efforts of the Caritas Bangladesh volunteers and staff to help the refugees during the Advent season.

“Here I am this first week of Advent with a people waiting for a future,” Tagle said. “For us Advent is waiting not for something but for someone. Jesus, who was born poor, who became a refugee but who never stops loving. I hope this message coming from this camp will encourage all of us never to get tired of loving.”

Bangladesh and Burma have agreed to a repatriation program which began last month, but few if any Rohingya have chosen to return to their homeland.

The Burmese government refused to use the term Rohingya, and considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They have been denied citizenship and numerous other rights since a controversial law was enacted in 1982.

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/researchers-find-evidence-of-genocide-against-rohingya-30581

The Woman at the Heart of Sustainable Development

sustainable photo

Posted by Odile Ntakirutimana

“Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.”

All over the world, gender inequality makes and keeps women poor, depriving them of basic rights and opportunities for well-being.The root of this discrimination is in the way of considering women as nonexistent on their own as full human beings but as always attached to someone else: a daughter or a wife to someone.

In Africa, and in most patriarchal systems, women have been considered as entitled to no rights or to fewer rights than men. Popular beliefs in some cultures still consider them as having no right to own property in general and land in particular. If a woman hopes to someday inherit family property, the law may deprive her of an equal share, or social convention may simply favor her male relatives.

It is not uncommon in Africa to see a man take over a property of his deceased brother or uncle when the deceased has left descendants that are mainly or only girls. For many women therefore, access to land is not a guaranteed right and the consequences are even harsher for rural and unmarried or divorced women who cannot survive without land as it is their only source of income for themselves and their families.

Land is a very important natural resource and it is at the heart of human social activity in Africa. The inequalities in women’s rights to land affect their self-esteem and potential contribution to the welfare of the society; yet they are the primary producers of food, the ones in charge of working the earth, maintaining seed stores, harvesting fruit, obtaining water and safeguarding the harvest.

Many communities in African countries rely on subsistent farming as their source of livelihood. Women comprise on average of 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, and over 50 per cent in parts of Asia and Africa.Research from the International Food Policy Research Institute has found that equalizing women’s status would lower child malnutrition by 13 percent (13.4 million children) in South Asia and by 3 percent (1.7 million children) in Sub-Saharan Africa. Experimental work suggests that increasing resources controlled by women promotes increased agricultural productivity.It is therefore a paradox that only 20 per cent of landowners globally are women.

The majority of women in developing countries face situations of discrimination at the hand of the national authorities and the international community. The European Union recognizes “in words” that women’s equal access to land helps guarantee the respect of fundamental human rights, including the rights to adequate food, shelter, non-discrimination and equality; the right not to be evicted; and the right to effective remedy, etc.

However big companies from the same EU and other wealthy countries are responsible of various human rights violations affecting women particularly in depriving them from accessing and using their land. This happens in the conclusion of large-scale land deals for commercial agriculture. The main goal of investment in land becomes then about providing food and energy for wealthier countries using the land and water of the poor. It stands to reason therefore that large-scale land deals exacerbate poor conditions of women access to land and ownership or further limit poor rural women’s opportunities for income generation.

Women have a right to equal access to all avenues to end poverty. Gender justice is not only a matter of social equity, but is also central to poverty reduction. While it is an established fact that the socio-cultural context of Africa undermines women’s right and access to land for food production and livelihood; large scale land acquisitions that are promoted in the name of “rural development” are extinguishing a candle that was already weak.

In Africa, a woman is a string that binds the family together. Therefore, land deals that take resources away from women do not only reduce the welfare of women but also participate in the disruption of the entire family system. It becomes imperative for private and international investors in Africa, who conclude land deals with local governments to consider the right of women to the land as an integral and essential part of their social responsibility to the community.

Furthermore, if they are genuinely motivated by sustainable development of communities, the profits of their investments are shared with those who are deprived to make way for their investments. Finally, African national Governments urgently need to bridge gaps between their existing programs that target gender equality and how they are applied in reality. The end of poverty cannot be achieved without ending gender-based discrimination.

http://aefjn.org/en/the-woman-at-the-heart-of-sustainable-development/