STATEMENT: Time to move from talk to action on killer robots

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The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, of which Pax Christi International is a member, issued the following statement on the occasion of the second United Nations meeting on this issue, held in Geneva on 13 April.

Concerns about the prospect of weapons systems that would select and attack targets without further human intervention are multiplying and show the urgent need for nations to begin drafting new international law to preemptively ban the weapons, said the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots as a second round of multilateral talks on the matter began today at the United Nations in Geneva.

“We have fundamental objections to permitting machines to take human life on the battlefield or in policing,” said Nobel Peace Laureate Ms. Jody Williams of the Nobel Women’s Initiative, a co-founder of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. “It’s time for nations to move from talking about this challenge to taking action on it.”

Many of the 120 states that are part of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) are participating in this week’s meeting of experts on “lethal autonomous weapons systems” chaired by Germany’s Ambassador Michael Biontino. The meeting will consider questions relating to the emerging technology of these weapons, but there is not yet a negotiating mandate. Based in large part on this week’s talks, states will decide at the CCW’s annual meeting on 13 November 2015 on whether and how to continue the work.

Several autonomous weapons systems with various degrees of human control are currently in use by high-tech militaries including the US, China, Israel, South Korea, Russia, and the UK. There is concern the trend towards greater autonomy will result in weapons systems that would give machines the capability to select and attack targets without further human intervention…

Click here to read the entire statement.

REFLECTION: We must live like Jesus to transform the world into the reign of God

Bishop Thomas Gumbletonby Bishop Thomas Gumbleton
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

Last Sunday, of course, on Easter, we reflected with great joy on what had happened to Jesus. The same disciples who had seen him tortured, executed and put to death saw him alive, risen from the dead. They rejoiced, and we rejoiced last week with them as we remembered and ourselves came to re-strengthen our own faith that Jesus is alive, he’s risen from the dead. That was more than enough to reflect on and to think about all this week.

img_1433But now we listen carefully to our lessons this morning. We go a step beyond that. We are called to the Gospel especially, to understand what happens to us or what should happen to us if we really believe that Jesus is alive and that he’s called us to be his disciples. When he came to those disciples that Easter Sunday night, they were all living in fear. They were afraid that what happened to Jesus might happen to them. What’s the first thing he does as he comes into their midst? He doesn’t rebuke them because they all ran away.

That’s probably what they were afraid of, of course. But no, he says to them, “Peace be with you,” and he reaches out in forgiveness to them. Then he goes on to tell them (and this is the message for us), he tells them, “As God has sent me, I now send you. You know that I am alive. You know that all that happened to me was under the guidance of God, that I went through death to new life. Now you, too, are to share in that life.”…

To read this entire article, click here.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE: Palestinian Christians’ nine-year battle against the Israeli Wall

by Fr. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

This blog post by Fr. Paul Lansu, Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International, was originally published in The Tablet on 17 April 2015.

This month, after a nine-year legal battle, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected a plan by the Israeli Government to extend the so-called Security Wall through the Cremisan Valley in the Bethlehem district.

Pope Francis at the apartheid wall between Israel and the Palestinian territories

Pope Francis at the apartheid wall between Israel and the Palestinian territories

On 13 January I visited the Cremisan Valley as part of the annual programme of the Holy Land Co-ordination, a Holy See-mandated group of bishops from North America, Europe and South Africa that supports the Church in the Holy Land through prayer, pilgrimage and persuasion as it experiences intense political and socio-economic pressure. The valley is one of the last green areas in the district, with vast stretches of agricultural lands and recreational grounds.

We were briefed about the plan to extend the Wall through the valley. According to the Society of St Yves, a Catholic human rights organisation, the plan was an attempted confiscation of 300 hectares or 740 acres of the valley, and the Wall is intended not to achieve security for Israel’s pre-1967 borders but to protect the illegally constructed settlements on land confiscated in the early 1970s and to give room for expansion to Gilo and Har Gilo settlements.

The local population was afraid that the land belonging to 58 Palestinian Christian families and the Salesian convent and monastery there would be separated from Beit Jala, a town two km from Bethlehem.

The Salesian monastery was built in 1885 on the ruins of a seventh-century Byzantine monastery. The monastery buildings will now remain undivided. The “Cremisan Cellars” is a winery in operation since the establishment of the monastery in the nineteenth century. Modern equipment was introduced in 1997. The grapes are primarily harvested from the al-Khader area, which is at the west side of Bethlehem, and is marked by vineyards, and olive and fig trees. Only 2 per cent of the wine production (around 700,000 liters per year) is made from Cremisan’s own grapes. The rest comes mainly from Beit Jala, Beit Shemesh, and the Hebron area.

The Salesian convent is run by the Salesian Sisters (Daughters of Mary Help of Christians), one of the international Catholic religious congregations affiliated to Pax Christi International. The convent includes a primary school and a kindergarten and hosts extracurricular activities and three summer camps for children. The school also provides tutoring for children with learning difficulties. Around 450 children – girls and boys, Muslims and Christians alike – from the surrounding towns and villages enjoy the services provided by this educational compound. The convent is one of the order’s 1,500 educational facilities around the world teaching values of truth, just peace and co-existence between different people and religions. The barrier would have divided the convent and primary school from the monastery, relocated on the Jerusalem side. It would have annexed about 75 per cent of the convent’s property and enclosed it on three sides. The wall would also have annexed the farmland of the Palestinian families.

Click here to read the entire article.

REFLECTION: The storm is over

Kathy Kellyby Kathy Kelly
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

Lightning flashed across Kentucky skies a few nights ago. “I love storms,” said my roommate, Gypsi, her eyes bright with excitement. Thunder boomed over the Kentucky hills and Atwood Hall, here in Lexington, KY’s federal prison. I fell asleep thinking of the gentle, haunting song our gospel choir sings: “It’s over now, It’s over now. I think that I can make it. The storm is over now.”

I awoke the next morning feeling confused and bewildered. Why had the guards counted us so many times? “That was lightning,” Gypsi said, giggling. The guards shine flashlight in our rooms three times a night, to count us, and I generally wake up each time; that night the storm was also a culprit.

As the day continued we saw large pools of water had collected at each entrance to Atwood Hall. Prisoners from drought-ridden areas wish they could collect the rainwater and send it home. Fanciful notions, but of the kind, at least, that can help us remember priorities. I suppose it’s wise, though, to focus on what can be fixed. The elevator here, for instance.

WomenPrison3The Department of Justice Budget for Fiscal Year 2015 provides 27.4 billion in discretionary funding. In state prisons alone, it’s estimated that taxpayers spend an average of $31,286.00 per inmate per year. (The Price of Prisons: What Incarceration Costs Taxpayers, p. 9). But, for most of the 2.5 months that I’ve lived here in Atwood Hall, the elevator from the basement to the 3rd floor, which should serve close to 300 women, has been out of order. According to “inmate dot com,” our in-house rumor mill, a decision was made, last month, not to fix it. In the past several weeks, two women arrived in wheelchairs and another new prisoner is blind.

I like moving from the basement to the third floor on the staircase. It’s easy exercise. But traveling up and down the stairs can be life-threatening for many prisoners here.

Ms. P. seems to be in her seventies. Wiry white hair, fixed in a braid that reaches down her neck, surrounds her golden brown face. I like to imagine a framed oil painting of her gracing the first floor entrance.

A few nights ago, I watched her toil to haul herself, hanging on to the handrail, from the basement to the first floor. She needed to rest on the landing, winded, her heart pounding, barely able to speak. But Ms. P. made the best of it. “Ms. P.,” said another prisoner comfortingly, “maybe they’ll get this elevator fixed this week.” “I’d contribute my entire month’s salary if it would help repair the elevator!” Ms. P. said with a chuckle. She very likely earns $6.72 cents per month, at 12 cents an hour. Three of us readily agreed to match her donation, which would amount to about $28.00.

We need Ms. P.’s lightheartedness. But I’ve seen flashes of fury, followed by sad resignation, like lightning giving way to rain, in the faces of guards and prison administrators witnessing these scenes occurring on their watch, but as powerless to stop them as to call off those storms the other night.

A ray of brilliant sun fell for me last weekend with a visit from an old friend, parent to a lovely child I was especially delighted to see. Once again, I am luckier than so many whose loved ones lack the means for regular and intensive travel.

Through our conversation in the prison visiting room, I learned the story of Thompson FCI, a freshly-constructed but never-occupied federal prison near Clinton, Iowa. My friend’s folks, who live near the town, have speculated for years, as have all the town’s residents, about when or whether the empty prison would ever open. Right now, my friend said, there’s only one full time employee in the prison, the warden, and his job is to mow the lawn.

Apparently, local people have been pining for the Bureau of Prisons to act. “The BOP’s positive impact on rural communities is significant,” says a 2015 paper issued by the Department of Justice. “By bringing in new federal jobs, stimulation of local businesses and housing, contracting with hospitals and other local vendors, and coordinating with local law enforcement, the BOP improves the economy of the town and the entire region where these rural facilities are located.”

Yet government’s promises to aid small towns with “prison money” often ring false. In an article entitled “The American Prison, Open for Business?” (Peace Review, vol. 20, issue 3), Stephen Gallagher notes that although prisons may bring with them high-paying jobs, “most employees of the prison industry do not live in the host communities.” “In a joint WSU/MSU study, it was found that 68 percent of the corrective jobs were held by people who did not even live in the county that housed the prison where they worked. In another study in California, it was found that less than 20 percent of the jobs went to residents of the host community.” And most people living in poor rural communities aren’t eligible for the better-paying jobs in the prison system.

Communities desperate to host a new prison should also consider the wages that will be paid to the prisoners. What company would choose to hire local non-inmate workers when the BOP can forcibly hire inmates to work for 12 cents an hour, right in their homes, with no need to consider employee benefits, pay raises, vacation pay or insurance. Prison labor creates a labor pool that is always available and can be maintained in a manner similar to the cost of maintaining slaves. If neighboring people lose their jobs, if they have to steal to try to get by, they can always wind up living in the prison.

I’m hard-pressed to see how this can possibly benefit an area’s economy, that is if its “economy” is understood to include all the area’s people, and not just the wealthiest who can influence prison placement.

When prisons are constructed in rural, southern areas, the political elites can count the entire prison population as part of their census, bringing federal funds into their jurisdictions, but without much pressure to share funds with their new ‘constituents,’ since the prisoners by and large can’t vote. Blighted urban areas lose funds desperately needed for education, housing, health care and infrastructure, while rural people compete to be hired as jailers.

One morning last week, a neighbor across the hall told us she feared she would choke on her own sobs as she cried herself to sleep. I wondered how many times the flashlights would re-awaken her during the night. She had been counting on a sentence reduction and her lawyer had told her, just the previous day, that her case is complicated and she most likely wouldn’t qualify. “I can’t do 3 1/2 more years here,” she said, completely distraught. “I just can’t!” “Yes, you can,” insisted one of the friends gathering to console her. I watched appreciatively, two people caught in the storm and guiding each other through it.

We hear about the droughts, and the temperature records, and we recognize that more storms are coming. The recent, and for many never-ended, financial crisis was a storm, and I notice that politicians and pundits are in full swing demanding a new regional war overseas with the arguments we’d hoped the nation had learned to reject twelve years ago. We can expect these threats, with ecological scarcity underlying them all, to build into each other: the perfect storm. We remember that storms can build quickly. “I can’t do 3 more years” might well be a statement truer, and truer for many, many more people, than my suffering fellow inmate ever imagined. We could be working together preparing shelter.

Many people of Clinton, Iowa will clamor for the prison to open, but not for more direct government help, communal help to foster employment and development in the the area. For many, a “free market” will mean the choice to lose our homes or find a home behind bars, or else to make a living keeping other people there; but without the choice, in an increasingly undemocratic nation, to pool our resources as a community and help each other to stay free; compassionately, or even sanely, to shelter each other from this storm. The jobs will come when strangers file in, in chains – that’s freedom. I look around me at “freedom,” and at how Ms. P. is getting a step up in the world.

We could awake into the world, build affinities between the suffering people locked in Atwood Hall and its managers, between the struggling rural community of Clinton and the urban desperate they wait to see bused in. Just about everyone longs to raise their children in a world where drought, storms, and brutal want won’t loom as insoluble, inevitable catastrophes. Working together we could reclaim misspent resources and correct misguided policies. Our fear and isolation from each other, aiming to get a step up above our neighbors, our reluctance to live in a shared world, may be worse than the other storms we face.

The other storms will come, and we will have to see how we weather them, but what if our terrible fear of each other could pass us by? What if, for those of us doing the easiest time, “I can’t do 3 more years” became “I won’t make you do 3 more years” – became our part in a chorused “we won’t do 3 more years!” ringing through our society. How miraculous it would be to hold our children and grand-children and sing, “I think that we can make it. The storm is over now.”

This article was first published on TeleSUR.

Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org) is nearing the end of a federal prison term incurred for participation in an anti-drone protest. She can receive mail at: KATHY KELLY 04971-045; FMC LEXINGTON; FEDERAL MEDICAL CENTER; SATELLITE CAMP; P.O. BOX 14525; LEXINGTON, KY 40512.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE: Tell your elected officials to support peaceful solutions with Iran, in Syria

from the Faith Forum on Middle East Policy

NOTE: Pax Christi USA is a member of the Faith Forum. This is the “Third Thursday for Israel-Palestine” action for April. 

3rd Thurs graphic

Tell your elected officials to support peaceful solutions with Iran, in Syria: Don’t stand in the way of Iran negotiations, and do support urgent help for Yarmouk refugees

The first week of April brought great cause for celebration among all who support diplomacy as a path to a peaceful resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue.  On April 2, a framework agreement was announced between Iran, the United States, and the other five countries – Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China – that have been working diligently to secure an arrangement that would block Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon and pave the way for the lifting of sanctions on Iran.   This historic milestone is to be followed by continued talks intended to culminate in a final, comprehensive deal by June 30.

This will be a stronger agreement to the extent that it enjoys the full support of our government — the congress and the administration.   Urge your members of congress to speak out in favor of the framework agreement and of ongoing talks to produce a final deal.    Ask them to refrain from sponsoring or voting for legislation that could jeopardize the talks by threatening new sanctions or otherwise tying the hands of the administration in the negotiations.

While Iran has taken center stage in congressional foreign policy debate, the Israeli-Palestinian situation has languished to the detriment of both Israelis and Palestinians.

Advocates must continue to press for constructive engagement aimed at ending the Israeli occupation and securing a just peace for both peoples.  At the same time, the real need for a livable situation on the ground must be addressed regardless of progress on a political solution.

The tragic plight of the refugees in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria is a reminder of the importance of lasting peace not only for the Palestinians but for all the people of the region.  Palestinians in the Yarmouk camp are part of the roughly five million Palestine refugees registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) who live in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza.  In the absence of an Israeli-Palestinian resolution, they remain stateless and unable to return to their original homes.

The situation in the Yarmouk camp is dire, as IS militants battle Syrian government forces, and civilians are trapped in the middle. Describing Yarmouk, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon reportedly said, “a refugee camp is beginning to resemble a death camp,” and he called for an end to the fighting, humanitarian access and safe passage for those wanting to leave.

UNRWA describes the horrific circumstances inside the camp:

Since 1 April, this residential area of Damascus where some 18,000 people have already been trapped for over two years has been engulfed by intense fighting.  The lives of civilians in Yarmouk have never been more profoundly threatened. Men, women and children – Syrians and Palestinians alike – are cowering in their battered homes in profound fear, desperate for security, food and water, deeply concerned by the grave perils that may yet come, as hostilities continue. It is virtually impossible for civilians to leave Yarmouk as any attempt to move in the open brings high risk.

Ask your elected officials to urgently support the UN secretary-general’s call. Ask them to do all they can to demand an end to the fighting, humanitarian access, and safe passage for those trapped in the Yarmouk camp.

Use this link from our partners at the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns to contact your Members of Congress now.

For more information:

Sample Letter/Script:

Dear Senator/Representative,

I am writing to express my concern about two critical issues related to Middle East peace:  The negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program and the dire situation of refugees in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria.  In both cases I urge you to support peaceful solutions – in the former by supporting the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, and the latter by supporting urgent help for the Yarmouk refugees.

First, as a person of faith who hopes for a peaceful world, I am heartened by the reaching of an historic framework agreement by Iran, the United States, and five other countries regarding Iran’s nuclear program.  As you know, this historic milestone is to be followed by continued talks intended to culminate in a final, comprehensive deal by June 30.

This will be a stronger agreement to the extent that it enjoys the full support of our government — the congress and the administration.   I urge you to speak out in favor of the framework agreement and of ongoing talks to produce a final deal.  I ask you to refrain from sponsoring or voting for legislation that could jeopardize the talks by threatening new sanctions or otherwise tying the hands of the administration in the negotiations.

Second, while the Iran issue has taken center stage, the Israeli-Palestinian situation has languished to the detriment of both Israelis and Palestinians.  In that regard, I bring to your attention the tragic plight of the refugees in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria.  Palestinians in the Yarmouk camp are part of the roughly five million Palestine refugees registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) who live in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza.  In the absence of an Israeli-Palestinian resolution, they remain stateless and unable to return to their original homes.

The situation in the Yarmouk camp is dire, as IS militants battle Syrian government forces, and civilians are trapped in the middle.   Describing Yarmouk, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon reportedly said, “a refugee camp is beginning to resemble a death camp,” and he called for an end to the fighting, humanitarian access and safe passage for those wanting to leave.  I ask you to do all you can to urgently support the secretary-general’s call.

Thank you for hearing my concerns about these two important issues for Middle East peace.

With gratitude for your service,

Your name

Use this link from our partners at the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns to contact your Members of Congress now.

STATEMENT: Pax Christi USA signs onto faith leaders’ statement on Iran Framework Agreement

missile_2353892bPax Christi USA has signed onto a new statement initiated by Sojourners regarding the April 2nd Framework Agreement to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Leaders of the faith community are playing significant roles in helping to give this diplomatic process a chance to succeed. The statement is titled, “Hope but Verify: Christian Leaders Support the Iran Framework Agreement”, and was run as a full-page ad in Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper catering to Members of Congress.

The statement begins:

As Christian leaders in the United States, we welcome and support the Framework Agreement, announced by seven nations on April 2, to dramatically restrain the capacity of Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. We believe this diplomatic path and process should be ardently pursued and given a chance to succeed. We do so not as politicians but as those whose deep faith commitments compel us to speak clearly, with moral and practical wisdom, about any possibility that restrains the threat of war and opens pathways toward peace. Indeed, the One whose words and life we follow said “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God” (Mathew 5:9).

As followers of Christ, we begin with the things that Jesus instructed us to do. Whenever Christians are responding to situations of conflict, to issues of war and peace, Jesus must always be our starting point. On matters of both personal relationships and public policy, we must start with the question, “What can we best do to make peace?”…

Click here to see the ad and read the entire statement.

MILITARY SPENDING: World Military Expenditure 2014 – Military investment is still a significant global problem

from Pax Christi International

GDAMSOn this Global Day of Action on Military Spending, 13 April 2015, Pax Christi International expresses deep concern about the scandal of excessive military spending in a world where human and ecological well-being are in dire need of investment. Figures recently published by SIPRI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, estimate world military expenditures in real terms for 2014 at roughly $ 1.8 trillion, a significant increase from the already shocking $ 1.75 trillion spent in 2013.

The top 10 spenders in 2014 are the United States (USA), China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, United Kingdom, India, Germany, Japan and South Korea. Although the USA has decreased its military expenditure to some extent due to limits imposed by Budget Control Act, China and Russia, but especially Saudi Arabia, have significantly increased their budgets.

While Western Europe’s military expenditures have continued to fall due to austerity measures, spending increased again in Central Europe, led by Poland. Military expenditures in Ukraine are significantly higher and there are signs that the crisis over Ukraine is leading to a further increase spending in many Central European and Nordic countries in 2015.

SIPRI figures point to large increases in military spending in Eastern Europe, including in Russia and Ukraine, in the Middle East and in Africa, both Northern and sub-Saharan. A significant increase is also evident in Asia and Oceania, led by China…

Click here to read more.