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With Poor Human Rights Record, Repatriation Not Possible

Repatriation photo

Rohingya after they fled Myanmar in 2017 arrive at Shahparir Dip in Teknaf, Bangladesh. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

UNITED NATIONS – Policies that allow for impunity, genocide, and apartheid are “intolerable” and make repatriation of Rohingya refugees impossible, say United Nations investigators.

While presenting an annual report to the member states at the U.N., Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee expressed disappointment in Myanmar’s government under State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, stating her hope that it “would be vastly different from the past, but it really is not that much different.”

“The government is increasingly demonstrating that it has no interest and capacity to establish a fully functioning democracy for all its people,” Lee said during a press conference. She also added that the Nobel peace prize laureate is in “total denial” about the mistreatment and violence against the Rohingya which forced over 700,000 to flee across the border to Bangladesh, and questioned her staunch support for the rule of law.

“If the rule of law were upheld, all the people in Myanmar, regardless of their position, would be answerable to fair laws that are impartially applied, impunity would not reign, and the law would not be wielded as a weapon of oppression,” Lee said.

The Chair of the U.N. fact-finding mission on Myanmar Marzuki Darusman, who also presented a report to the U.N., echoed similar sentiments, noting that the government’s “hardened positions are by far the greatest obstacle.”

“Accountability concerns not only the past but it also concerns the future and Myanmar is destined to repeat the cycles of violence unless there is an end to impunity,” he said. One of conditions that contributed to the atrocities committed since violence erupted in August 2017 is the shrinking of democratic space, they noted.

While the arrests of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo gripped international headlines, the government has been increasingly cracking down on free speech and human rights defenders in the country.

Most recently, three journalists from Eleven Media—Nayi Min, Kyaw Zaw Linn, and Phyo Wai Win—were detained and are being investigated for online defamation. If charged and convicted, the journalists face up to two years in prison.

Lee and Darusman also expressed concern over the apartheid-like conditions in Myanmar that persist today including restrictions on movement and access to services such as healthcare and education.

While the government is building new infrastructure for both Rohingya still inside the country and those who fled, Lee noted they are usually segregated from Buddhist communities. If a policy of separation rather than integration continues, atrocities will be committed yet again. “It is an ongoing genocide,” Darusman said.

In the fact-finding mission report which looked into the past year’s events, investigators found that four out of five conditions for genocide were met: killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, and imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.

Of those, three conditions can still be seen in the country. For instance, in 2015, Myanmar’s government imposed “birth spacing” restrictions on women, requiring a 36-month interval between children with forced use of contraception in the interim.

The Population Control Healthcare Bill was introduced in response to a 2013 government report that saw “the rapid population growth of the Bengalis [Rohingya] as an extremely serious threat.” Prior to this, the government enacted a two-child limit on the Muslim community in Rakhine. And it is because of these conditions that Rohingya refugees cannot go back.

“Repatriation is not possible now. Unless the situation in Myanmar is conducive, I will not encourage any repatriation. They should not go back to the existing laws, policies, and practices,” Lee said.

She urged for the civilian government to adopt laws that protect and advance human rights for all, and for Suu Kyi to use “all her moral and political power” to act.

“Myanmar now stands at a crossroads—they can respond as a responsible member of the United Nations and take up the call for accountability or they can be on the same self-self-destructive road,” Darusman said.

Of the actions that can be taken towards the path to accountability is the pardoning of human rights defenders and journalists who have been arbitrarily detained in order to restore democratic space.

Myanmar should also allow for unhindered access for humanitarian actors and U.N. investigators, Lee added.

“I think we are at a point where Myanmar and the international community both are at a juncture where the right choice to make will determine the future of not only Myanmar but peace and security in the region and the world,” she said.

http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/poor-human-rights-record-repatriation-not-possible/

 

 

 

Greenwich: Religion and science come together to tackle climate change

Greenwich photo

 

By: Ellen Teague

Representatives of various faiths working on environmental issues in and around Kent joined a dialogue with engineers and scientists on Saturday to examine ‘Environment, Climate Change and Sustainability’.
The Chatham Campus of Greenwich University hosted the unique one-day conference on 13 October, organised by Medway Inter Faith Action, in partnership with the Institute of Mechanical Engineers and the University of Greenwich.
The conference explored the relationship between ethical and spiritual principals and the practical actions of individuals and communities facing global environmental change. It was fascinating to hear opening prayers from different faiths that could have been from any one of them.

Representing a Jewish perspective was Dr David Herling, a Senior Lecturer at London University and a noted figure in the world of arboriculture. He reflected that “Judaism is obsessed by trees” and pointed out the frequent mention of trees in the Bible, such as the Tree of Life in Genesis and the Cedars of Lebanon. He talked about small locally-based projects to plant trees, improve soil, and try out drought-resistant crops. Dr Nigel Jollands represented the Baha’i perspective, and he works on Energy Efficiency and Climate Change at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. He felt climate change is symptomatic of spiritual problems, such as defining prosperity purely in terms of material wealth, and tolerating extremes of poverty and wealth in our society. He felt his faith called him towards seeing the interconnectedness of elements of creation and humility towards nature. He questioned the notion of “green growth” where “you can have your cake and eat it” saying the consumption of physical resources, particularly those creating greenhouse gases, must be reduced.

This was echoed in the Christian perspective, offered by Ellen Teague of the Columban JPIC team. In her talk she highlighted the call in the 2015 Laudato Si’ Encyclical of Pope Francis “to hear the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor” and to work towards “ecological conversion”. She showed photos of the huge faith lobby and petition at the Paris Climate talks which contributed towards an agreement on limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Examples of live simply parishes, Justice and Peace education work, Pax Christi peace gardens in schools and the ‘Global Healing’ initiative of the bishops of England and Wales were highlighted.

An Islamic perspective was offered by Dr Muzammal Hussain, who has an MA in Environment, Development & Policy. In his talk ‘Healing the Earth’ he underlined the interconnection of creation issues and justice for the marginalised. It is poor communities who are suffering the worst impacts of climate change. He called for a shift away from seeing money as wealth and instead seeing our real wealth as being the gift of the natural world. Islam promotes “awe and wonder” in humanity’s relationship with the environment and emphasises the importance of community in its broadest sense.

The views of the engineers were remarkably similar to faith speakers. Roger Middleton of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers Energy, Environment and Sustainability group said, “as an engineer I can’t hold out any hope of the technical solution to the climate change problem”. He lamented that human society is not seriously preparing for the worst impacts of climate change even though scientists have warned about them for at least two decades. Dr AK Rahman, an aerospace engineer and a Muslim, described the environmental crisis as “the canary in the mineshaft of modern society” and suggested that there “must be a philosophical basis of engagement”.
In his view environmental ethics aims to define the best moral behaviour for humans to live without destroying their environment. The term “environmental ethics” is used in the Royal Charter of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Since the world’s major faiths comprise 85% of the global population, they can have a major impact on respect for nature, assigning a status to animals and challenging selfish anthropocentrism. Self denial – such as fasting – and the notion of sacrifice were raised by him as areas pertinent to an adequate climate change response.

The chairman of Medway Interfaith Action, Faran Forghani, underlined at the end the importance of dialogue and cooperation between different faiths and disciplines in order to tackle the climate crisis. Kent Area of Southwark Archdiocese for Justice and Peace is an active member. It was clear that simpler lifestyles and consumer action need to be complimented by fundamental work tackling the structural causes of climate instability. It was suggested that systemic change will involve holding governments to account for action in line with the Paris Agreement, and also challenging the destructive activities of large corporations, particularly oil companies, for their greenhouse gas pollution. Advocacy and protest will form a component of tackling climate change.

http://www.medwayinterfaith.org.uk/

Brazilians Decide on a Shift to the Right at Any Cost

 

By Mario Osava

Brazil
Supporters of president-elect Jair Bolsonaro celebrate his triumph in the early hours of Oct. 29, in front of the former captain’s residence on the west side of Rio de Janeiro. The far-right candidate garnered 55.13 percent of the vote and will begin his four-year presidency on Jan. 1, 2019. Credit: Fernando Frazão/Agencia Brasil

RIO DE JANEIRO – Voters in Brazil ignored threats to democracy and opted for radical political change, with a shift to the extreme right, with ties to the military, as is always the case in this South American country.

Jair Bolsonaro, a 63-year-old former army captain, was elected as Brazil’s 42nd president with 55.13 percent of the vote in Sunday’s runoff election, heading up a group of retired generals, such as his vice president, Hamilton Mourão, and others earmarked as future cabinet ministers. He takes office on Jan. 1.

His triumph caused an unexpected political earthquake, decimating traditional parties and leaders.
The Bolsonaro effect prompted a broad renovation of parliament, with the election of many new legislators with military, police, and religious ties, and right-wing activists.

His formerly minuscule Social Liberal Party (PSL) is now the second largest force in the Chamber of Deputies, with 52 representatives. The country’s most populous and wealthiest states, São Paulo, Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro, elected PSL allies as governors, two of whom had no political experience.

Brazil thus forms part of a global rise of the right, which in some countries has led to the election of authoritarian governments, such as in the Philippines, Turkey, Hungary and Poland, or even the United States under Donald Trump.
Bolsonaro’s chances of taking his place in the right-wing wave only became clear on the eve of the first round of elections, on Oct. 7.

Little was expected of the candidate of such a tiny party, which did not even have a share of the national air time that the electoral system awards to the main parties. His political career consists of 27 years as an obscure congressman, known only for his diatribes and outspoken prejudices against women, blacks, indigenous people, sexual minorities and the poor.

But since the previous presidential elections in 2014, Bolsonaro had traveled this vast country and used the Internet to prepare his candidacy.
Early this year, polls awarded him about 10 percent of the voting intention, which almost doubled in August, when the election campaign officially began.

That growth did not worry his possible opponents, who preferred him as the easiest adversary to defeat in a second round, if no candidate obtained an absolute majority in the first. The idea was that he would come up against heavy resistance to an extreme right-wing candidate who has shown anti-democratic tendencies.
Fernando Haddad, the candidate of the leftist Workers Party, promised his supporters, after his defeat in the Oct. 28 elections, that as an opposition leader he would fight for civil, political and social rights in the face of Brazil’s future extreme right-wing government.

But this was no ordinary election. The poll favorite was former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), whom the leftist Workers’ Party (PT) insisted on running, even though he had been in prison on corruption charges since April, and was only replaced on Sept. 11 by Fernando Haddad, a former minister of education and former mayor of São Paulo.

Five days earlier, Bolsonaro had been stabbed in the stomach by a lone assailant during a campaign rally in Juiz de Fora, 180 km from Rio de Janeiro.
The attack may have been decisive to his triumph, by giving him a great deal of publicity and turning him into a victim, observers say. It also allowed him to avoid debates with other candidates, which could have revealed his weaknesses and contradictions.

But two surgeries, 23 days in a hospital and then being confined to his home, due to a temporary colostomy, prevented him from participating in election rallies. So the social media-savvy candidate focused on the Internet and social networks, which turned out to be his strongest weapon.

The massive use of WhatsApp to attack Haddad aroused suspicions that businessmen were financing “fake news” websites, thus violating electoral laws, as reported by the newspaper Folha de São Paulo on Oct. 18. The electoral justice system has launched an investigation.

The recently concluded campaign in Brazil triggered a debate about the role of this free instant messaging network and “fake news” in influencing the elections.
The social networks were decisive for Bolsonaro, who started from scratch, with practically no party, no financial resources, and no support from the traditional media. The mobilisation of followers was “spontaneous,” according to the candidate.

Brazil, the largest and most populous country in Latin America, with 208 million people, is one of the five countries in the world with the most social media users, with 120 million people using WhatsApp and 125 million using Facebook.
But these tools were only successful because the former army captain managed to personify the demands of the population, despite – or because of – his right-wing radicalism.

He presented himself as the most determined enemy of corruption and of the PT, whose governments from 2003 to 2016 are blamed for the systemic corruption in politics and the errors that caused the country’s worst economic recession, between 2014 and 2016.

As a military and religious man, recently converted to an evangelical church, he swore to wage an all-out fight against crime, a pressing concern for Brazilians, and said he would come to the rescue of the conventional family, which, according to his fiery, and often intemperate, speeches, has been under attack by feminism and other movements. He seduced business with his neoliberal positions, represented by economist Paulo Guedes, presented as a future minister.

The promise to reduce the size of the state and cut environmental taxes, among other measures, brought him the support of the agro-export sector, especially cattle ranchers and soybean producers.
The economic crisis combined with high crimes rates, added to a wave of conservatism in the habits and customs of this plural and open society, galvanised support for Bolsonaro, while offsetting worries about his authoritarian stances or his inexperience in government administration.

Bolsonaro said he would govern for all, defending “the constitution, democracy and freedom…It is not the promise of a party, but an oath of a man to God,” he said while celebrating his victory, announced three hours after the close of the polls.

His speech did little to reassures the opposition, which will be led by the PT, still the largest party, with 56 deputies and four state governors.
A week earlier he said that in his government “the red criminals will be swept from our homeland,” referring to PT leaders. He threatened to jail his rival, Haddad.

In the past he defended the torturers of the military dictatorship and denied that the 1964-1985 military regime was a dictatorship.
His brutal statements are downplayed by his followers as “boastfulness” and even praise his declarations as frank and forthright.
The problem is not the statements themselves, but the fact that they reveal his continued fidelity to the training he received at the Military Academy in the 1970s, in the middle of the dictatorship

He considers the period when generals were presidents “democratic”, since they maintained parliament and the courts, although with restrictions and subject to controls and purges..
Bolsonaro’s victory, with 57.8 million votes, also has the symbolic effect of the absolution of the military dictatorship via elections, to the detriment of democratic convictions.

http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/brazilians-decided-shift-right-cost/

Arrest warrant issued for alleged killer of Saint Oscar Romero

Saint Oscar Romero St. Oscar Romero. Courtesy photo, office of canonization

A court in San Salvador issued an arrest warrant for the man suspected of the March 24, 1980 killing of Saint Oscar Romero, who was canonized on October 14, 2018 by Pope Francis.

The suspect is Álvaro Rafael Saravia, a 78 year old former army officer.
Charges against Saravia were dismissed in 1993 after an amnesty law prohibited criminal trials related to the country’s civil war.
In 2017, however, Judge Rigoberto Chicas reopened the case, after the amnesty law was rescinded.

Now the National Police and Interpol are charged with finding the former soldier so he can be tried for aggravated homicide.
No one else has been charged in connection with Romero’s death.
Romero was shot while he celebrated Mass at a hospital chapel, amid the civil war between leftists guerrillas and the right-wing government that left about 75,000 dead between 1980 and 1992.

Several investigations have concluded that the murder was carried out by a death squad linked to the military dictatorship, who falsely believed that Archbishop Romero was supporting Marxist guerrillas because of his concern for the poor of his country.
In his work with the poor and in his denunciations against the dictatorship, the archbishop was supported by Pope Saint Paul VI and Pope Saint John Paul II during their pontificates.

http://www.catholicnewsagency.com
This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Jesus maps the path to peace, reconciliation, pope says

Jesus maps the path to peace, reconciliation, pope says
by Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
November 28, 2017

PAPAL VISIT MYANMAR BANGLADESH
Pope Francis greets clergy before celebrating Mass at Kyaikkasan sports ground in Yangon, Myanmar, Nov. 29. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

YANGON, Myanmar (CNS) November 28, 2017 — Jesus’ love “is like a spiritual GPS” that guides people past the everyday obstacles of fear and pride and allows them to find their way to a relationship with God and with their neighbors, Pope Francis said.

Christ’s message of “forgiveness and mercy uses a logic that not all will want to understand, and which will encounter obstacles. Yet his love, revealed on the cross is ultimately unstoppable,” the pope said Nov. 29, celebrating his first public Mass in Myanmar.

According to the Vatican, 150,000 people attended the Mass at the Kyaikkasan sports ground. Thousands of them had traveled hundreds of miles to be at the Mass, and many of them camped out on the sports field the night before the liturgy.

Pope Francis acknowledged the sacrifices made by the people as well as the struggles Catholics face as a tiny minority in Myanmar and as citizens of a country struggling to leave violence behind and transition from military to democratic rule.

“I know that many in Myanmar bear the wounds of violence, wounds both visible and invisible,” the pope said in his homily. “The temptation is to respond to these injuries with a worldly wisdom” or to think that “healing can come from anger and revenge. Yet the way of revenge is not the way of Jesus.”

Pope Francis prayed that Catholics in Myanmar would “know the healing balm of the Father’s mercy and find the strength to bring it to others, to anoint every hurt and every painful memory. In this way, you will be faithful witnesses of the reconciliation and peace that God wants to reign in every human heart and in every community.”

Father Francis Saw from St. John Cantonment Church in Yangon said he had 400 guests at his parish. “Many people came from the hill towns. I welcomed them and fed them and then they came here at 10 p.m.” the night before the Mass.

“We are very happy and encouraged by the pope’s visit,” he said. “It is good for our country and for our church.”

Some people had reserved seats close to the altar. “Every parish got some VIP tickets for those who are very involved in the parish, very poor or sick,” said Noeli Anthony, a ticket-holder from the Myanmar Catholic community in Perth, Australia.

Salesian Father Albert “Sam” Saminedi, pastor of the Perth community, said the immigrants he ministers to “love their country” and “are very strong, very loud and full of faith.” More than 100 of them traveled home to be with the pope.

The “VVIP” section at the sports field was reserved for government officials, diplomats and representatives of other Christian communities and other religions.

The Rev. U Chit Toe Win, chair of the Myin Thar Baptist Church and deputy chairman of an interfaith dialogue group in Yangon, sat with the Anglican, Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim members of his group in the very front row.

Like any Baptist minister, Toe Win said, “I believe in Jesus first,” but “these are my brothers. We are for unity.”

AFJN Women’s Empowerment: The Story of Sr. Theresa Anyabuike

AFJN

nig

After I attended the “National Conference on Just Governance: The Nigerian Biosafety Act and GMOs – Implications for Nigerians and Africa” organized by AFJN in collaboration with other Nigerian NGOs in Abuja, May 24−26, 2016, I was moved to action, particularly after listening to the lack of government guidelines and regulations on the introduction of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) in Nigeria, as well as the environmental, social and health implications of this way of growing the food. Feeling strongly that no one has the right to colonize the Nigerian food system, I know I have to do something to let the people know what is going on in our country.

At the end of the conference, I knew that the people I work with, the Community Self-help Association of the Justice Development and Peace Mission, Oro, Ilorin Diocese, Kwara State Nigeria, should be made aware of the danger ahead of them in relation to the food we consume and the way the food is grown. On July 23, 2016, I held an awareness workshop where fifteen people comprising of farmers and civil servants attended.

At the workshop, I shared with the participants what I learned at the Abuja conference: the loopholes in the Nigerian biosaftey laws, the government granting Monsanto a sweeping concession to introduce genetically modified crops in Nigeria and target Nigeria’s major crops, and the overall implications of genetically modified crops for the nation. Mostly, I expressed my fears on the activities of big corporations like Monsanto which is nothing other than the colonization of our nation’s food system.

During the workshop, the participants shared their experiences in relation to their fears about GMOs. One of the farmers shared how the crops he had in his farm didn’t do well because of the chemicals he used. He confirmed that some persons gave him and other farmers from his locality the chemicals they used which affected their crops. Another said that the maize (corn) he planted earlier produced a bumper harvest, but the recent ones were diseased. He lamented, “I know that some people are giving out crops and chemicals for farmers to use. I got some, and now my crops are no longer the same.”  Further, another participant shared that there was a period in which some farmers brought abnormally large tomatoes to the market. He told them that the tomatoes were GMO because they were bigger than the natural organic tomatoes, but they didn’t listen to him. Others said that Agrochemical agents advised them to use chemicals on their farms.

The participants were shocked at the level of government insensitivity, to allow Monsanto and GMOs (and the chemicals that come with them) into the country. They expressed concern that they have consumed or planted some genetically modified produce.

At the end of the workshop, I felt confident that the group saw the danger ahead if GMOs are allowed to take over the Nigerian way of growing the food we eat, which is healthier and more sustainable. I was also delighted that they pledged not to allow anyone control to their food system. They committed themselves to going back to their rural areas and localities to disseminate the information as well as to educate other farmers to be vigilant and not to be deceived by anyone who comes promising bumper harvest by altering their natural way of growing. The participants also pledged to stand against anyone who wants to sell the nation to big corporations and anyone who wants to subject the country to a new form of colonization, one where outsiders control our seed, land and way of growing food.

The DRC Elections: the Electoral Commission’s Chairman Explains

AFJN

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The DRC Elections: the Electoral Commission’s Chairman Explains

In March the President of the electoral commission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Mr. Cornielle Nangaa, was in Washington, D.C. to meet with partners and share with them the status of the electoral process in his country. The presidential election, one of the eleven elections required by law in the DRC, is currently the main concern of the opposition, pressure groups, religious institutions and the international community. During Mr. Nangaa’s address to civil society and pressure groups at the DRC Embassy in Washington he explained some key facts and answered a number of questions which are summarized below. Continue reading The DRC Elections: the Electoral Commission’s Chairman Explains