Category Archives: Justice and Peace

LA SITUATION EN REPUBLIQUE DEMOCRATIQUE DU CONGO

COMMUNIQUE DE PRESSE: LA SITUATION EN REPUBLIQUE DEMOCRATIQUE DU CONGO

Posted by José Luis Gutiérrez Aranda | Fév 13, 2018 | Afrique | 0

Le Réseau Afrique Europe Foi et Justice (AEFJN) est un réseau de plaidoyer des congrégations religieuses de l’Église catholique en Europe et en Afrique.

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DRC – Reuters

Nous notons, avec un cœur douloureux, le climat politique actuel, chargé et inutile, en République Démocratique du Congo. La tension a commencé à la suite du refus du président Joseph Kabila d’organiser des élections à la fin de son mandat en 2016. Il a mis de côté un accord conclu et signé le 31 décembre 2016 sous les auspices de la Conférence épiscopale nationale du Congo (CENCO) à la Saint-Sylvestre pour lui donner l’opportunité d’organiser des élections en 2017. En guise de suivi, le climat politique de la RD Congo et la condition socio-économique des citoyens ont été affectés négativement. Le refus du président Kabila d’organiser des élections en 2017, comme convenu en 2016, et de démissionner, est une violation flagrante du droit du peuple à choisir son chef. Nous considérons le prétendu calendrier des élections du 23 décembre 2018 comme un écran de fumée et un moyen de prolonger le règne du président Kabila.

Nous avons également noté avec une grande préoccupation les autres violations des droits humains RD Congo, contraires à la déclaration du gouvernement Kabila. Selon l’ONU, il y a eu 1176 exécutions extrajudiciaires en 2017; 30% de plus qu’en 2016. Le 31 décembre 2017, le gouvernement de Kabila a ordonné aux fournisseurs de télécommunications de couper les services Internet et SMS à travers le pays avant les manifestations antigouvernementales planifiées. Le 31 décembre 2017, au moins sept personnes ont perdu la vie. Les forces de sécurité ont tiré et blessé des douzaines d’autres alors qu’elles envoyaient des gaz lacrymogènes pour disperser des manifestations pacifiques organisées par l’Eglise catholique. Au moins 600 personnes sont en prison! Les enlèvements, les meurtres, la torture, le viol et le déplacement de personnes sont devenus une décimale récurrente, portant le nombre de personnes déplacées à 4,25 millions en 2017. La manifestation organisée par l’Eglise catholique le 21 janvier 2018 et soutenue par d’autres communautés chrétiennes et musulmanes dans différentes villes n’a pas eu lieu sans pertes. Rien qu’à Kinshasa, selon des rapports, six personnes ont été tuées par les forces de sécurité, une cinquantaine blessées et plusieurs autres arrêtées. L’histoire n’est pas différente à Goma et Bukavu où, selon des rapports, environ 50 personnes ont été blessées, arrêtées ou tuées. La liste s’allonge encore et encore, mais les attaques de plus en plus violentes contre les travailleurs humanitaires et les forces de maintien de la paix forcent les organisations humanitaires à retarder la livraison de l’aide ou à suspendre leurs activités.

Nous condamnons ces suppressions violentes des droits humains fondamentaux et appelons le président Kabila à faire preuve de retenue, à libérer inconditionnellement tous les prisonniers politiques qui ont été détenus alors qu’ils participaient à des manifestations pacifiques et à organiser immédiatement des élections libres et équitables. Nous affirmons que c’est sa responsabilité constitutionnelle de protéger les vies et les biens du peuple de la RD Congo. Nous recommandons fortement la reconstitution de la Commission électorale du Congo CENI pour inclure les acteurs de la société civile et de l’Église et les autres parties prenantes. Nous condamnons également en termes très forts le projet de loi présenté à l’Assemblée nationale congolaise pour réglementer les ONG et les défenseurs des droits humains. Nous appelons les honorables parlementaires à rejeter le projet de loi et à assumer leur responsabilité de protéger les droits du peuple.

Si nous nous abstenons d’un jugement hâtif sur le silence de l’Union Européenne et des États membres sur la situation au Congo, il n’en demeure pas moins très préoccupant. En conséquence, nous implorons l’UE, ses États membres et la communauté internationale de s’opposer à ce comportement insensé et de tenir le président Kabila pour responsable de ses violations des droits humains. Nous nous félicitons à cet égard de l’utilisation de sanctions ciblées par l’UE et de l’utilisation de moyens supplémentaires, comme le prévoient les lois internationales en vigueur, si les progrès vers une solution pacifique restent insaisissables.

L’UE dispose d’un immense espace pour démontrer son engagement ferme à soutenir la démocratie et la protection des droits humains dans la région. C’est une valeur qui constitue une véritable valeur ajoutée de la coopération européenne par rapport aux autres partenaires internationaux de la RD du Congo. En ce qui concerne le soutien technique au processus électoral, nous demandons à l’UE de réitérer sa volonté de collaborer avec des partenaires internationaux pour s’assurer qu’un plan clair et complet soit mis en place pour financer les élections congolaises et de communiquer largement ce plan. L’UE devrait également être convaincue qu’il existe un calendrier crédible et une volonté politique claire de tenir les élections. L’objectif est de voir qu’un manque de ressources ne fait pas dérailler les plans pour les élections.

Enfin, nous saluons avec beaucoup de gratitude la contribution de l’Union Européenne aux résolutions des conflits et impasses internationaux. Alors que nous attendons l’intervention de l’Union Européenne dans l’impasse qui fait rage dans la République Démocratique du Congo, AEFJN reste attaché à tous les efforts pour accorder à chaque personne humaine les droits inaliénables et continuera inlassablement à exposer les structures économiques et sociales injustes.

Chika Onyejiuwa

Executive Secretary
chykacssp@hotmail.com
http://aefjn.org/en/home/

Document en PDF

Le Réseau Afrique Europe Foi et Justice (AEFJN) est un réseau de plaidoyer des congrégations religieuses de l’Église catholique en Europe et en Afrique. Nous travaillons pour la justice dans les relations économiques entre l’Europe et l’Afrique et notre Secrétariat international est au 174, rue Joseph II, à Bruxelles.

The Situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Posted by José Luis Gutiérrez Aranda | Feb 13, 2018 | Africa |

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RDC-Press Release (Reuters)

Africa Europe Faith and Justice Network (AEFJN) is an advocacy network of Catholic Church Religious Congregations in Europe and Africa.

(Press Release – February 13, 2018) We note, with painful hearts, the present charged and unhelpful political climate in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The tension began as a result of President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to organise elections at the end of his mandate in 2016. He has set aside an agreement that was reached and signed on December 31, 2016 under the auspices of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) at Saint-Sylvester to give him an opportunity to organise elections in 2017. As a follow-up, the political climate of DR Congo and the socio-economic condition of the citizens have been adversely affected. The refusal of President Kabila to organise elections in 2017 as agreed in 2016 and to step down from office is a gross violation of the people’s right to choose their leader. We consider the purported scheduling of election on December 23, 2018 a smokescreen and a device to prolong President Kabila’s rule.

We have also noticed with great concern the other human rights violations in DR Congo contrary to the declaration of Kabila government. The UN has it on record that there were 1176 extrajudicial killings in 2017; 30% higher than the record of 2016. On December 31, 2017, the government of Kabila ordered telecommunications providers to cut off internet and SMS services across the country ahead of planned anti-government demonstrations. On December 31, 2017, at least seven people lost their lives. Security forces shot and wounded dozens of others as they fired tear gas to disperse peaceful demonstrations organised by the Catholic Church. At least 600 people are in prison! Kidnapping, killings, torture, rape and displacement of people have become a recurrent decimal, bringing the record of displaced people to 4.25 million in 2017. The protest called by the Catholic Church on January 21, 2018 and supported by other Christian and Muslim Communities in different towns did not take place without casualties. In Kinshasa alone, six people were reportedly killed by security forces, about 50 wounded and several others arrested. The story in not different in Goma and Bukavu where about 50 people were reported wounded or arrested or killed. The list goes on and on, but the height of it is the increasingly violent attacks against aid workers and peacekeeping forces thus forcing humanitarian organisations to delay the delivery of aid or suspend their activities.

We condemn such violent suppressions of Fundamental Human Rights and call on President Kabila to show restraint, release unconditionally all political prisoners who were detained while engaged in peaceful protests and organise free and fair elections immediately. We affirm that it is his constitutional responsibility to protect the lives and properties the people of DR Congo. We strongly recommend the reconstitution of the Congo Electoral Commission CENI to include the Civil Society and Church actors and the other stakeholders. We also condemn in very strong terms the draft law introduced in the Congolese National Assembly to regulate NGOs and Human Rights Defenders. We call on the honourable lawmakers to throw out the draft law and live up to their responsibility to protect the Rights of the people.

While we refrain from a hasty judgement about the silence of the European Union and Member states on the situation in Congo, it is nonetheless very worrisome. Accordingly, we implore the EU, its Member States and the international community to stand up against this senseless behaviour and hold President Kabila accountable for his Human Rights abuses. We welcome in this regard, the use of EU-targeted sanctions, and considerations of employing additional means, as provided by extant International laws if progress towards a peaceful solution remains elusive.

A huge space is available to EU to demonstrate its firm commitment to supporting democracy and the protection of human rights in the region. It is a value that constitutes a truly added value of European cooperation in comparison to the other international partners to Congo DR. Regarding technical support for the electoral process, we call on the EU to reiterate its willingness to collaborate with international partners to ensure that a clear and comprehensive plan is put in place to finance the Congolese elections and to communicate this plan widely. The EU should also be satisfied that there are a credible timeline and a clear political will to hold the elections. The aim is to see that a lack of resources does not derail the plans for the elections.

Finally, we commend with high regards the input of the European Union in the resolutions of international conflicts and impasses. While we await the intervention of the European Union in the raging standoff in the Congo DR, AEFJN remains committed to all efforts to accord every human person the due inalienable rights and will tirelessly continue to expose unjust economic and social structures.

Chika Onyejiuwa
Executive Secretary
Africa Europe Faith and Justice Network
chykacssp@hotmail.com
http://aefjn.org/en/home/
Document in pdf
Africa Europe Faith and Justice Network (AEFJN) is an advocacy network of Catholic Church Religious Congregations in Europe and Africa. We work for justice in the economic relations between Europe and Africa and our International Secretariat is at 174, Rue Joseph II, Brussels.

Women march through desert for Israeli-Palestinian peace

Reuters
Reporting by Rami Amichai and Mustafa Abu Ghaneyeh, Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Peter Graff
October 8, 2017

Women celebrate inside a "peace tent" erected as part of an event organised by "Women Wage Peace" group calling for an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, near the Jordan River, in the occupied West Bank
Women celebrate inside a “peace tent” erected as part of an event organised by “Women Wage Peace” group calling for an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, near the Jordan River, in the occupied West Bank October 8, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

October 8, 2017: JORDAN RIVER, West Bank (Reuters) – Thousands of Israeli and Palestinian women trekked through a biblical desert landscape on Sunday, converging on the shores of the Jordan River in a march for peace.

The women, many of them dressed in white, descended through the arid hills leading to the river, where they erected a “peace tent” named for Hagar and Sarah, scriptural mothers of Ishmael and Isaac, the half-brother patriarchs of Muslims and Jews.

“We are women from the right, the left, Jews and Arabs, from the cities and the periphery and we have decided that we will stop the next war,” said Marilyn Smadja, one of the founders of the organizing group, Women Wage Peace.

The organization was established after the 50-day Gaza war of 2014 when more than 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed. Israel put the number of its dead at 67 soldiers and six civilians.

Some 5,000 women participated in Sunday’s march, organizers said. It began last month at several locations across Israel and will culminate in a rally later in the day outside the Jerusalem residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

 

The Tuxá Indigenous Paradise, Submerged under Water

By Fabiana Frayssinet
IPS News Agency

Tuxa families take a break...
Tuxá families take a break while building their new village in Surubabel, as part of what they consider the recovery of their ancestral lands, on the bank of what was previously the river where they lived, the São Francisco River, but which now is a reservoir on the border between the Brazilian states of Pernambuco and Bahía. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet / IPS

RODELAS, Brazil, Sep 30 2017 (IPS) – The Tuxá indigenous people had lived for centuries in the north of the Brazilian state of Bahia, on the banks of the São Francisco River. But in 1988 their territory was flooded by the Itaparica hydropower plant, and since then they have become landless. Their roots are now buried under the waters of the reservoir.

Dorinha Tuxá, one of the leaders of this native community, which currently has between 1,500 and 2,000 inhabitants, sings on the shore of what they still call “river”, although now it is an 828-sq-km reservoir, in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, along the border with the state of Bahia, to the south.

While singing the song dedicated to their “sacred” river and smoking her “maraku”, a pipe with tobacco and ritual herbs, she looks dreamily at the waters where the “Widow’s Island” was submerged, one of several that sprinkled the lower course of the São Francisco River, and on which the members of her community used to live.

“This song is to ask our community for unity, because in this struggle we are asking for the strength of our ancestors to help us recover our territory. A landless indigenous person is a naked indigenous person. We are asking our ancestors to bless us in this battle and protect our warriors,” she told IPS.

The hydroelectric plant, with a capacity of 1,480 megawatts, is one of eight installed by the São Francisco Hydroelectric Company (CHESF), whose operations are centered on that river which runs across much of the Brazilian Northeast region: 2,914 km from its source in the center of the country to the point where it flows into the Atlantic Ocean in the northeast.

After the flood, the Tuxá people were relocated to three municipalities. Some were settled in Nova Rodelas, a hamlet in the rural municipality of Rodelas, in the state of Bahia, where Dorinha Tuxá lives.

After a 19-year legal battle, the 442 relocated Tuxá families finally received compensation from the CHESF. But they are still waiting for the 4,000 hectares that were agreed upon when they were displaced, and which must be handed over to them by state agencies.

“What nostalgia for that blessed land where we were born and which did not let us lack for anything. The river where we used to fish. I have such nostalgia for that time, from my childhood to my marriage. We were indeed a suffering and stoic but optimistic people. We grew rice, onions, we harvested mangoes. All that is gone,” Tuxá chief Manoel Jurum Afé told IPS.

The new village is very different from the community where they used to live on their island.

“What nostalgia for that blessed land where we were born and which did not let us lack for anything. The river where we used to fish. I have such nostalgia for that time, from my childhood to my marriage. We were indeed a suffering and stoic but optimistic people. We grew rice, onions, we harvested mangoes. All that is gone.” — Manoel Jurum Afé

Only the soccer field, where children play, retains the shape of traditional indigenous Tuxá constructions.

But the elders strive to transmit their collective memory to the young, such as Luiza de Oliveira, who was baptized with the indigenous name of Aluna Flexia Tuxá.

She is studying law to continue her people’s struggle for land and rights. Her mother, like many other Tuxá women, also played an important role as chief, or community leader.

“It was as if they lived in a paradise. They had no need to beg the government like they have to do now. They used to plant everything, beans, cassava. They lived together in complete harmony. They talk about it with nostalgia. It was a paradise that came to an end when it was flooded,” she said.

Read the full article: http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/tuxa-indigenous-paradise-submerged-water/

 

A New Normal in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Priests, Doctors, and Citizens Kidnapped for Ransom or Killed

Africa Faith and Justice Network
September 22, 2017

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Archbishop Nicholas Djomo of the diocese of Tshumbe in the Kasai region in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) held a briefing for the Catholic Task Force for Africa and other groups at the office of the Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN). Credit: AFJN

On September 20, 2017 Archbishop Nicholas Djomo of the diocese of Tshumbe in the Kasai region in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) held a briefing for the Catholic Task Force for Africa and other groups at the office of the Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN). The event was live streamed which allowed other participants to join from different parts of the United States by phone and video conference.

In his remarks, Bishop Djomo called on Catholics and all people of good will to pray for Africa in general and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in particular. Bishop Djomo’s message highlighted the work of the Church as ambassador of Jesus Christ for peace and prosperity.

He explained how the DRC is facing a serious political, security and humanitarian crisis. In fact, on the political front, the National Episcopal Conference of Catholic Bishops was called on to mediate and help political actors and civil society representatives find a compromise on the question of elections which includes the elections of a new president. The church successfully brokered an agreement between political actors which was signed on December 31st, 2016. Unfortunately, because the political actors were not willing to compromise to work on a detailed implementation plan of the agreement, the bishops handed the remaining task over to the president so that they could keep on trying on their own to find a compromise. The disagreements on the way forward remain and the political crisis has deepened.

On the security front, in the eastern and the center of the country namely in the Kasai region, there are internally displaced people in the millions and hundreds of thousands as refugees in the neighboring nation of Angola. Also there are a good number of Congolese in Uganda as well. Given the number of people in need, the humanitarian aid to the displaced is not enough.

The Security Crisis

Here are some examples to prove the case of chronic insecurity in eastern DRC that was mentioned by Bishop Djomo. On September 16, 2017 in Rutshuru in North Kivu Province, a vehicle full of passengers was ambushed by members of a militia. One person was killed, three were kidnapped and many more were wounded. The night before in the same locality in a village called Ntamugenga, a Catholic priest named Jean de Dieu Kasereka Kanefu who was on holiday with his family was also kidnapped and taken to an unknown location. The kidnapers were asking for $20,000 in ransom, but no one knows exactly how much was paid for his release less than 24 hours later. Fr. Jean de Dieu is a member of the Catholic order of Caracholini priests.

On September 15, 2017, the director of the Mabalako Healthcare System, Doctor Mumbere Kamaliro Germain, was kidnapped after an ambush by armed men near Rwindi and Mabenga towns on the Goma-Butembo road. His kidnapers are asking $10,000. One person was killed during the ambush. The car Doctor Mumbere was in was part of a long convoy which was escorted by the army at the time of his kidnapping.

On the night of September 8, 2017, Father Waswandi, a Catholic priest from the Diocese of Butembo in North Kivu province escaped a kidnapping attempt. He jumped from a vehicle they had put him in and was treated for wounds from beatings with metallic bars.

On July 16, 2017, two Catholic Priests, Frs. Charles Kipasa and Jean-Pierre Akilimali of Paroisse Notre-Dame des Anges parish in Bunyuka in Butembo Diocese were kidnapped. The kidnapers were asking for $20,000 in ransom.

On April 14, 2017, the gynecologist of the referral hospital of Uvira, Doctor Gildo Byamungu was killed at his home during the night by armed men. They took his phone, computer, and documents. On January 29, 2016 Doctor Deo Chiza Rumesha, chief surgeon at the referral Hospital of Mweso in North Kivu was kidnapped and found the next morning dead.

On October 19, 2012 Frs. Edmond Kisughu, Anselme Wasukundi, and Jean-Pierre Ndulani, three Assumptionist priests, were kidnapped from their rectory in Mbau in the Diocese of Beni, in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). To this day they have not returned home. An article published by the Assumptionist priests in 2014, citing the bimonthly paper Les Coulisses and Radio Kivu 1, stated that they are believed to have been killed by the Ugandan rebel group called the Allied Democratic Forces & the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU) because they refused to convert to Islam. This combination of two rebel groups is known to force its hostages to convert to Islam, according to documents seized at one of their camps two years ago during a raid and destroyed by the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC.

On a daily basis, Congolese citizens from different corners of the nation live in fear for their lives. Men, women, school children are kidnapped, killed day in and day out, and their stories are known to just a few. Congolese politicians in the meantime are fighting over political posts which are an easy way to accumulate wealth in a very short time with little effort. The stories above are just a sample of what is going on in the DRC. Each day and night is full of uncertainty in villages, towns and cities.

These are examples of what Bishop Djomo referenced when he said that there is a security crisis in the DRC. He called on the faithful to pray for the victims; the youth to work for social transformation, and African diasporas, no matter where they are, to free themselves from partisanship from their home countries and embrace a vision that will help their homeland and Africa in general.

[ http://afjn.org/a-new-normal-in-the-democratic-republic-of-the-congo-priests-doctors-and-citizens-kidnapped-for-ransom-or-killed/ ]

South Sudan church balances prophetic role, practical challenges

by Chris Herlinger
NCR
(August 21, 2017)

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Santo Loku Pio Doggale, the auxiliary bishop of the capital of Juba (Chris Herlinger)

(August 21, 2017)  Yuba, South Sudan — Bishop Santo Loku Pio Doggale is not a man to mince words and he didn’t mince words earlier this year when he discussed South Sudan’s descent into a worsening, seemingly never-ending civil war.

“The government is the orchestrator of the war, and the people are suffering as a result,” he told NCR from his office in the capital of Juba in late May, citing numerous examples of the afflictions South Sudanese are experiencing: rape, looting and displacement.

“They are being brutally mistreated,” the auxiliary bishop of the capital of Juba said of those who are the victims of violence — victims who have, at the moment, “no resource to justice. It’s a big mess.”

He acknowledges that his critics — in the government and even some, privately, within the church — wonder if his criticisms are fair, smart or wise.

But Doggale brushes aside those criticisms, saying, “I’m not afraid.”

“My life doesn’t matter. I’ve suffered, too. I’ve lost members of my family. But when brutality is the order of the day, someone has to speak up, especially when you see that the flock is living in fear. This makes me angry.”

Doggale’s outspoken stance represents one wing of the church — a faction that believes that the church needs to be firm in its prophetic stance not only for the larger cause of peace in South Sudan but also in calling out the current government for policies and actions some believe are the cause of the current war.

But in a predominately impoverished, Christian nation where the church has an outsized role in providing education, social services and even basic necessities like food, the church’s place in society also has a practical side.

“The Catholic Church has a strong, strong footprint here,” said Fr. Pau Vidal, a Jesuit priest and a project director for Jesuit Refugee Service in the northern city of Maban. Another humanitarian agrees. “The churches have credibility here in South Sudan,” said Jerry Farrell, the country representative in South Sudan for Catholic Relief Services. “In fact, they’re the only institutions that do have credibility, as they touch on so many parts of life: spirituality, health care, housing, education, food.”

Financial figures about the church’s role are hard to come by, but Catholic Relief Services alone has provided assistance of some sort to more than 1 million South Sudanese, the agency said, and works in partnership with local dioceses, parishes and religious congregations of both women and men.

Famine remains a serious problem and 6 million of country’s 12 million people face some kind of food insecurity — the lack of access to food — according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Church-based groups have initiated programs to improve the humanitarian situation within the country. As just one example, the Society of Daughters of Mary Immaculate, or DMI Sisters, is working on local initiatives to assist small communities in agricultural projects.

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Homes and businesses destroyed in recent clashes just outside the South Sudanese capital of Juba (Chris Herlinger)

Grave problems persist in the country and whether stated in public, like Doggale, or in private, among numerous Catholics, they revolve around the current government in power.

The criticisms center on several fronts — that the government has either not been able to control factions of the government military forces known as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, which is predominately made of members of the ethnic or tribal group known as the Dinkas, or has been purposely targeting non-Dinkas and populations the government believes oppose it.

Ethnic tensions have been put to use for political purposes, as Human Rights Watch said in its report on the ongoing conflict, noting that it began in 2013 when “soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, and those loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar, a Nuer, fought in the capital following months of growing political tensions.”

In its 2017 report, Human Rights Watch said that government troops have “killed, raped, and tortured civilians as well as destroying and pillaging civilian property during counterinsurgency operations in the southern and western parts of the country,” while acknowledging that both sides of the conflict “have committed abuses against civilians in and around Juba and other areas.” Some 2.4 million South Sudanese have been displaced, Human Rights Watch noted.

For its part, the South Sudanese government claims its troops are trying to battle an anti-government rebellion. It has blamed the civil war — which began in late 2013 — on anti-government rebels. And it has said it is committed to finding a peaceful solution to South Sudan’s war with those who oppose the government.

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Young boys in a camp for the displaced on the grounds of the Catholic cathedral in Wau (Chris Herlinger)

Some within the church, such as Fr. Moses Peter, a diocesan coordinator for Caritas in the city of Wau — which has faced a serious crisis, with thousands seeking refuge on the ground of the Catholic cathedral there — are, like Doggale, government critics. Peter said, “Nobody trusts the SPLA,” and notes that the government has accused the Catholic Church of being “pro-rebel,” a charge he strongly rejects. (President Kiir is a Roman Catholic.)

Yet the prophetic often mixes with the practical — Peter says in his humanitarian work, he works cordially with local officials among the thousands displaced in Wau by the conflict. And the church has a long history in Wau of involvement with peace efforts among all parties and factions to help diffuse local tensions.

Everyone in the church is tired of the conflict and is eager to resume some sense of hope and nation-building that ushered in the creation of the world’s newest nation after it gained independence from Sudan in 2011. Many relish memories from that time, their first taste of independence, coming after years of war.

“It was a beautiful moment — an independent people felt they could start afresh,” said Vidal. “But the [current] war has worsened the situation so much and there is no sense of nation unity now.”

Some say there is still enough political and humanitarian space to do needed pastoral work.

“It is certainly better now than in the 1960s when our people were under Arab rule,” Sr. Mary Faida, a member of the Sacred Heart Sisters, a South Sudanese congregation, said of life under the rule of neighboring Sudan, which is predominately Muslim. She said the work now of the church and of religious congregations — whether in education or in health care — is “giving hope to the people.”

Yet there are still deep worries about the church and its future. Interviewed in May, Doggale said even with all of its problems, he did not believe that the national government was engaging in systematic harassment of the church. But he did say some government officials were probably behind threats to individuals, including him.

“Is it government policy? No,” he said, but added he had received several threatening anonymous calls recently, including one in which a man told him, “Your days are numbered.”

There have been other troubling signs, too: a group of government troops threatened employees of a church bookstore in Juba in February of this year and took books off of the shelves they declared were written by government critics.

Since May, the bishop has become increasingly pessimistic. South Sudan-based Radio Tamazuj reported in July that Doggale called the current government’s national dialogue strategy “a waste of time.” He said, “The problem is political and it has to be solved by the political leaders,” including Kiir and Machar.

“The ordinary citizens have not yet created any problem, that’s why our faithful citizens are able to stay for three months without salaries and they don’t even demonstrate. They still go to work, you will never see this in any country in the world,” he said.

In emails earlier this month, Doggale told NCR that the current situation is “getting worse day by day. People are living in the uncertainty, rampant insecurity, hunger and diseases. In one word. It is limbo.”

In a later email, the bishop said, “The intimidation is of all South Sudanese by their own government. The ruling elite don’t care who you are, they just do what they want and when they want it.” He said there is there is no rule of law and repeated his belief that the country is in limbo.

“In South Sudan everybody is under intimidation, and so fear is instilled into people. It is the church that tries to give some voice, and so they (the government) are not comfortable about that and that is why they also get frustrated when the voice of the church continues in many ways to be aloud and strong on the suffering of the people.”

Others who agree with the bishop say privately the church has to be careful — that it is dealing now with what some call a military dictatorship and that the church is clearly in the government’s crosshairs.

“This is not a joke, what is happening now,” said one member of a religious order, who said the Kiir government has made a number of false allegations about the church, including that it has called “for regime change.”

“The stakes are now going up for the church,” the member said.

“The blood of the tribe is thicker than the water of Baptism,” Doggale said. “Our government is Catholic. They read the Bible. They go to church. But how much do they put into practice?”

Others also point out that in such an intense, confusing environment it is probably no surprise that four dioceses in the country are without bishops now.

“The Catholic Church is trying to finds its way now. But in keeping quiet, and not speaking out against human rights, we are taking sides and protecting our own projects,” said one cleric who did not want to be identified.

“How much injustice will we continue to see? There is so much that the religious here are witnessing,” the cleric said. “When you speak out [it is assumed], you are speaking out against the government. How can you do that in a way that is constructive?”


[Chris Herlinger is international correspondent for Global Sisters Report. His email address is cherlinger@ncronline.org.]

How Syria continued to gas its people as the world looked on

Reuters Investigates Toxic War

REUTERS-Bassam Khabieh Syria continues to gas citizens
DEADLY AGENT: A sarin attack in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta killed hundreds of men, women and children in August, 2013. Despite international condemnation, attacks with chemicals continue. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

Nearly four years after President Bashar al-Assad’s government promised to get rid of its stockpile of chemical weapons, gas attacks are still commonplace. What went wrong?

By Anthony Deutsch

Filed Aug. 17, 2017, 10 a.m. GMT | THE HAGUE – In the spring of 2015 a Syrian major general escorted a small team of chemical weapons inspectors to a warehouse outside the Syrian capital Damascus. The international experts wanted to examine the site, but were kept waiting outside in their car for around an hour, according to several people briefed on the visit.

When they were finally let into the building, it was empty. They found no trace of banned chemicals.

“Look, there is nothing to see,” said the general, known to the inspectors as Sharif, opening the door.

So why were the inspectors kept waiting? The Syrians said they were getting the necessary approval to let them in, but the inspectors had a different theory. They believed the Syrians were stalling while the place was cleaned out. It made no sense to the team that special approval was needed for them to enter an empty building.

The incident, which was not made public, is just one example of how Syrian authorities have hindered the work of inspectors and how the international community has failed to hold Syria to account, according to half a dozen interviews with officials, diplomats, and investigators involved in eliminating Syria’s weapons of mass destruction.

A promise by Syria in 2013 to surrender its chemical weapons averted U.S. air strikes. Many diplomats and weapons inspectors now believe that promise was a ruse.

They suspect that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, while appearing to cooperate with international inspectors, secretly maintained or developed a new chemical weapons capability. They say Syria hampered inspectors, gave them incomplete or misleading information, and turned to using chlorine bombs when its supplies of other chemicals dwindled.

There have been dozens of chlorine attacks and at least one major sarin attack since 2013, causing more than 200 deaths and hundreds of injuries. International inspectors say there have been more than 100 reported incidents of chemical weapons being used in the past two years alone.

“The cooperation was reluctant in many aspects and that’s a polite way of describing it,” Angela Kane, who was the United Nation’s high representative for disarmament until June 2015, told Reuters. “Were they happily collaborating? No.”

“What has really been shown is that there is no counter-measure, that basically the international community is just powerless,” she added.

That frustration was echoed by U.N. war crimes investigator Carla del Ponte, who announced on Aug. 6 she was quitting a U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria. “I have no power as long as the Security Council does nothing,” she said. “We are powerless, there is no justice for Syria.”

The extent of Syria’s reluctance to abandon chemical weapons has not previously been made public for fear of damaging international inspectors’ relationship with Assad’s administration and its backer, Russia, which is giving military support to Assad. Now investigators and diplomatic sources have provided telling details to Reuters:

– Syria’s declarations about the types and quantities of chemicals it possessed do not match evidence on the ground uncovered by inspectors. Its disclosures, for example, make no mention of sarin, yet there is strong evidence that sarin has been used in Syria, including this year. Other chemicals found by inspectors but not reported by Syria include traces of nerve agent VX, the poison ricin and a chemical called hexamine, which is used to stabilise sarin.

– Syria told inspectors in 2014-2015 that it had used 15 tonnes of nerve gas and 70 tonnes of sulphur mustard for research. Reuters has learned that inspectors believe those amounts are not “scientifically credible.” Only a fraction would be needed for research, two sources involved in inspections in Syria said.

“Why, my God, three-and-a-half years later, has more progress not been made in clearing up the inconsistencies? If I was the head of an organisation like that, I would go to Damascus and I would confront these people.”
–Angela Kane, former U.N. high representative for disarmament

– At least 2,000 chemical bomb shells, which Syria said it had converted to conventional weapons and either used or destroyed, are unaccounted for, suggesting that they may still be in the hands of Syria’s military.

– In Damascus, witnesses with knowledge of the chemical weapons programme were instructed by Syrian military officials to alter their statements midway through interviews with inspectors, three sources with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

The head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the international agency overseeing the removal and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, conceded serious questions remain about the completeness and accuracy of Syria’s disclosures.

“There are certainly some gaps, uncertainties, discrepancies,” OPCW Director General Ahmet Uzumcu, a Turkish diplomat, told Reuters.

But he rejected criticism of his leadership by Kane and some other diplomats. Kane told Reuters that Uzumcu should have turned up the pressure on Syria over the gaps in its reporting and done more to support his inspectors. Uzumcu countered that it was not his job “to ensure the full compliance” of treaties on chemical weapons, saying that the OPCW was mandated to confirm use of chemical weapons but not to assign blame.

Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faisal Meqdad, insisted that Syria was completely free of chemical weapons and defended the country’s cooperation with international inspectors.

“I assure you that what was called the Syrian chemical weapons programme has ended, and has ended with no return. There are no more chemical weapons in Syria,” he told Reuters in an interview.

Sharif did not respond to requests for comment about the incident at the warehouse.

SARIN ATTACK

On Aug. 21, 2013, hundreds of people died in a sarin gas attack in Ghouta, a district on the outskirts of Damascus. The colourless, odourless nerve agent causes people to suffocate within minutes if inhaled even in small amounts. Assad’s forces were blamed by Western governments. He has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons and blames insurgents for the attack.


Continued: Read the full report –
http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/mideast-crisis-syria-chemicalweapons/