Category Archives: Human Rights

AFGHANISTAN: Borderfree

Kathy Kellyby Kathy Kelly
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

Here in Kabul, Sherri Maurin and I are guests of the Afghan Peace Volunteers’ recently formed live-in community for young women. Hollyhocks in the garden reach as high as the second floor of our living space.  Rose bushes, morning glories and four-o-clocks have bloomed, and each day we eat tomatoes, mint and green onions plucked from the well-cared for garden. The water source is a hose and tank outside, (there’s no indoor plumbing) so that’s where dishes and clothes are cleaned. The latrine is also outside, –and unfortunately we’re sharing it with playful neighbourhood cats, but otherwise  Zarghuna, Zahidi and Zahro complete almost every detail of housekeeping, each day, by 7:00 a.m.

Two additional rooms are filled with sewing machines and tables used by a group of local seamstresses.

The men’s community, separate now from the newly launched “Borderfree Community Center of Nonviolence,” where projects and programs take place, also has a fine garden and similar room arrangements.  An added plus – their yard has four trees!

The graffiti, ‘We Love Peace’, on the wall of Borderfree Community Center of Nonviolence. (photo courtesy of Kathy Kelly)

The graffiti, ‘We Love Peace’, on the wall of Borderfree Community Center of Nonviolence. (photo courtesy of Kathy Kelly)

The Borderfree Center is named for Prof. Noam Chomsky’s call, in a 2013 American University of Beirut commencement speech, for participation in “a worldwide struggle to preserve the global commons” so as to secure “decent human survival in a world that has no borders.”  The symbol of their participation is the blue scarf they distribute to friends and supporters, symbolizing the blue expanse of sky upon which national boundary lines will never be drawn.

Going and coming from our communities to “the Center” is a 35-minute walk through village-like streets if you take the back ways.  The Borderfree Community Center, when it was first rented, needed considerable rehab and repairs. Hakim, Faiz, Zekerullah and Abdulhai worked hard to shape it up.  Now, guests enter an attractive space, neatly painted, with plenty of classroom and meeting space.  Plants, curtains, photo exhibits, and carpets have all been carefully chosen.  Sadaf, one of the APV women who has been active in producing the Borderfree scarves, organized art students from local universities to paint images on the walls of a children’s classroom as well as the reception area.  Painted on a wall inside the center’s gate is a playful piece of graffiti with lots of floating bubbles. Letters appearing where the bubbles pop spell out “We Love Peace,” although in a jumbled order that presents a challenge for linear thinkers.  Another artist, a well-known cartoonist, painted an image on the outside wall, visible to passers-by.  It shows a figure who has fired a slingshot at a drone, but instead of a rock, a small red heart symbol breaks the drone in half. 

Classes and programs keep the center lively.  Earlier this week,   ten people who had been invited to participate in a four-week orientation course on nonviolence attended the first session.  We also gathered for the weekly Global Awareness sessions which focus on a range of topics related to militarism, environmental concerns, and socioeconomic inequalities.  Hamidullah Natiq, a seasoned practitioner of conflict resolution in Afghanistan, meets with the group once a week. Local children, part of a “street kids” project, come once a week for Dari language and Math classes, guided by two capable young volunteer teachers, Hadisa and Farzana. And, once a month, the “street kids” receive, for their families, large sacks of rice and containers of cooking oil. These donations allow them to attend school rather than work as vendors on Kabul’s streets.

Rent for the center costs $500 per month. The APVs hope that by selling the borderfree sky blue scarves they can help cover this cost. Sherri, I and other internationals will encourage people in our home locales to assist with the center’s expenses. 

During a recent visit to Kabul’s Emergency Surgical Center for Victims of War, the staff shared with us their sense of what’s happening around the country, derived from the reports of staff working at several dozen clinics and at their main hospitals in two other provinces.  They described Kabul as “a bubble.”  They told us full-scale wars are being fought between quite heavily armed forces in both eastern and southern Afghanistan, although the news coverage that goes beyond Afghanistan generally pertains to Kabul. The groups fighting the Afghan government include various warlords, the Taliban, drug kingpins, and foreign fighters, some of whom may be strategizing ways to cut off the roads to Kabul. The Kabul “bubble” can be quite vulnerable. 

The borders now vanishing in the Middle East – the most radical transformations of the map here since the post-WWI Sykes Picot agreement – are being redrawn in chaos and fear. The bubbles that burst here are the hopes for peace in a world avid for control of this region and its resources.  Unfortunately, durable structures of separation and domination make it difficult for many young Afghans to fulfill their longings to connect meaningfully, peacefully, and stably with a saner world united under one blue sky.

I asked Faiz what he most appreciates about the Borderfree Center.  He immediately spoke of the graffiti outside, saying that it gives him hope and suggests a sense of freedom and courage.  I believe that courage is the ability to control one’s fear. Faiz dares to hope that the courage and love of ordinary people can free them from artificial systems of surveillance, separation, and dominion. The heart of love that breaks apart the drone, propelled by a slingshot converted into a peace-making tool, points all of us in a direction, sorely needed, that aims to abolish war. We have a lot of work to do, our tools are small, and the time is short. Yet over the past several years, as I’ve watched this inter-ethnic community grow, acts of kindness have been a reliable bulwark against war.  Before me, looking out on a flourishing garden, I’m grateful for their hope.

Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence.  While in Kabul, she is a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (ourjourneytosmile.org)

STATEMENT: PC International member organizations on the crisis in northern Iraq

pcilogonewfrom Pax Christi International

On Thursday 14 August, Pax Christi Member Organisations in Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States have sent letters to their Ministers of Foreign Affairs calling for an immediate action to safeguard the right of life of all vulnerable populations in Northern Iraq.

IraqCrisis-smallPax Christi members are extremely concerned with shocking reports of displacement of peoples and mass slaughter threatened by the self-proclaimed Islamic State against numerous minority groups in Iraq. The news coming from the country is horrendous: thousands of people, mostly minority groups including Christians, Yazidis, Shabak and Turkmen have been brutally driven from their homes; innocent children, women and men are suffering violence of every kind. The ongoing conflict has already displaced some 1.2 million people, mostly minority communities who have fled the northwest of Iraq.

Pax Christi Member Organisations made an appeal on three counts to safeguard the right of life of all vulnerable populations in Northern Iraq:

  • to act to protect people by moving them to places of safety – either within Iraq or outside its borders. This should include the possibility of accepting Iraqi refugees in their own countries.
  • to provide emergency humanitarian assistance to those who are displaced, either within Iraq or outside its borders.
  • to actively support a solution which can only be legitimated by the United Nations and not by individual states.

The letters also asked that international leaders should remain alert to events taking place in Iraq and should commit to supporting the Iraqi efforts to end this cycle of violence. The international community, working through the United Nations, should support Iraq on guaranteeing a framework in which the life and dignity of all Iraqis are respected.

Pax Christi members regret that religion is being misused in this crisis. Faith should not be used to demonize people of other faiths. Religious beliefs should nurture justice, human dignity, compassion and solidarity. Pax Christi supports urgent recent appeals from Patriarch Louis Sako I in Iraq and echo the call made by Pope Francis: “War is not to be waged in the name of God!”

REFLECTION: Making bad situations worse in the Middle East

Tony Maglianoby Tony Magliano

The heart wrenching tragedies throughout the Middle East are not the United States’ fault, that is, at least not entirely.

The fact that many Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims distrust each other, that the Allies established artificial national boundaries to suite their interests after World War I, and that ruthless dictators past and present have often oppressed their people are major reasons why much of the Middle East is broken and bleeding.  

But the U.S. has made several bad situations in the Middle East far worse.

Iraqi sisters look over the damage at a church in northern Iraq.

Iraqi sisters look over the damage at a church in northern Iraq.

In Egypt, according to the Congressional Research Service, since 1987 the U.S. has given that nation $1.3 billion per year in military aid despite the fact that it was long ruled by the dictator Hosni Mubarak.  

Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, its refusal to allow subjugated Palestinians to form an independent nation, and the strangling blockade and brutal invasion of Gaza would not be possible without the approximate $3 billion in annual American aid and the United States’ refusal to demand that Israel reverse course here.

While it is a sad truth that under the dictator Saddam Hussein many Iraqis suffered, it is an even sadder truth that the 2003 U.S. led invasion of Iraq, caused even greater suffering to countless Iraqis.

After nearly nine years of war, hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi children, women and men are dead, over 4,480 American troops were killed, and Iraq overall is in a far worse state.

Furthermore, the U.S. war with Iraq unleashed deadly Islamist attacks upon thousands of Iraqi Christians.

In a CBS 60 Minutes segment, Rev. Andrew White, an Anglican priest who has a long history of ministry in Iraq, said the situation there was clearly worse for Christians than under the Saddam Hussein regime.

And according to a Fox News report earlier this year, Fr. White said that in the past five years 1,096 of his own parishioners were killed.

He said that out of the 1.5 million Christians living in Iraq in 2003, only around 200,000 remain.

And now with the Islamic State controlling a large part of Iraq, the remaining Christian population is suffering even worse.

There can be no doubt that the U.S. invasion of Iraq made a bad situation far worse. 

Please help our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ by giving a generous donation to Catholic Near East Welfare Association (www.cnewa.org).  

And urge your congressional delegation and President Obama (www.whitehouse.gov) to grant emergency asylum to at least 300,000 Christians and other minorities fleeing the barbarism of the Islamic State. Yes, this would be a major undertaking, but the U.S. is capable of doing it. It’s mostly just a matter of will – good will.

To its credit, tiny Lebanon, with a population of approximately 6 million people, has according the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, taken in well over 1 million mostly Syrian and Iraqi refugees and asylum-seekers – with over 500,000 more expected by year’s end. That would be equivalent to the U.S. taking in over 50 million refugees and asylum-seekers.

Three years ago, the U.S. led an aerial attack against the regime of Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi leaving that nation awash in weapons which continue to help fuel the warring militias that have since been unleashed.

While U.S. bombing helped end Gaddafi’s brutal reign, it didn’t stop the suffering of the Libyan people.

Bombs kill. They do not address the root-causes of conflict. Rather, they perpetuate the cycle of violence. Knowing that full well, and in response to President Barack Obama’s threats to bomb Syria last year, Pope Francis called on people of faith to observe Sept. 7, 2013 as a day of prayer and fasting.

On that day the Holy Father said to over 100,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square, and to all of us, “Forgiveness, dialogue, reconciliation – these are the words of peace, in beloved Syria, in the Middle East, in all the world!”

Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. Please contact your diocesan newspaper and request that they carry Tony’s column. Tony is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings about Catholic social teaching. His keynote address, “Advancing the Kingdom of God in the 21st Century,” has been well received by diocesan gatherings from Salt Lake City to Baltimore. Tony can be reached at tmag@zoominternet.net.

IMMIGRATION: Ann Coulter, Cardinal Dolan, and the discourse surrounding migrant children

by Scott Alessi, US Catholic

childrenattheborderbutton-smallThe waves of migrant children fleeing their homeland in search of safety and stability within the United States’ borders has been a major news story in recent months, but now it seems as if our public debate (or in some cases, shouting match) about the situation has become the bigger story.

Some Americans were ashamed and angered to see fellow citizens protesting the arrival of busloads of migrant women and children in California, chanting things like “go home” and “U-S-A” as the buses approached. Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert has called the children’s arrival an “invasion” and compared it to D-Day. We’ve even seen protesters use the slogan “Not our children, not our problem.”

Then came what the New York Times dubbed “the backlash to the backlash,” as religious leaders–especially Catholics–took a strong stand against this kind of rhetoric. The Catholic response to the migrants has been consistently one of welcome and aid, as Catholic Charities offices have been offering assistance along the borders and church leaders like Cardinal Francis George of Chicago have even offered up facilities to help house some of the children. Even Pope Francis weighed in, calling for unaccompanied child migrants to be “welcomed and protected” while condemning “racist and xenophobic attitudes” toward immigrants.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan wrote a blog post expressing his shame over the crowds of angry protesters, saying of their actions, “It was un-American; it was un-biblical; it was inhumane.” Dolan called for the recognition of the human dignity of the migrants, repeating the same stance the U.S. bishops have held throughout the immigration debate. “We might argue and yell about policies, processes, and politics,” Dolan wrote, “(but) we can never argue about the dignity of the human person or the sacredness of life, or yell at people who need our help.”…

Click here to read the rest of the article.

STATEMENT: Statement on the killing of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, MO

Another victim of violence, another unarmed young Black man executed because of the color of his skin, another family torn apart bu grief, another town dealing with fear, rage and chaos…when is enough, enough?

The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO stands as a stark reminder of the reckless disregard of human rights in our country by profiling groups of its citizens, and the serious lack of interracial justice in the U.S.

Pax Christi USA calls for prayers for Michael’s family and friends, a non-violent resolution and accountability for the execution of this young man and a reconciliation with justice for the community torn apart by this senseless act.

We invite you to lend your support to the members of the Ferguson, MO community:

  • by signing the petition at http://www.colorofchange.org
  • for those in the St. Louis area….to connect with Ferguson residents who are asking for a non-violent investigation and transparency of this unjust situation
  • by examining the structures, policies and attitudes that created and escalated the violence
  • by writing letters and Op/Ed pieces for your local newspapers
  • by asking your local parish community for a specific Prayer of the Faithful for strength and courage for the Brown family for the coming weekend

TAKE ACTION: Justice for Mike Brown

from ColorofChange.org

MikeBrownFather215x160On August 9, 2014 a Ferguson police officer racially profiled and fatally shot unarmed, Black, 18-year-old, Michael Brown as he walked to his grandmother’s residence with a friend. Eye witnesses report that the police officer, who has yet to be identified, fired several shots at Michael as the teen stood in the street with his hands in the air. The family and local community members are calling his death an execution.

Enough is enough. This tragic police killing is representative of the systemic police abuse affecting Black communities in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the country. Last year, Black Missouri residents were 66% more likely to be stopped by police, and more likely to be arrested, even though white residents were more likely to be found with contraband.

Racially-motivated police violence has no place in law enforcement. Join us in demanding a rigorous investigation, prosecution, and firing of all officers involved in this tragic police killing.

Click to read the original email we sent to members about this campaign.