Category Archives: Human Rights

IMMIGRATION: Pax Christi USA signs onto letter calling for an end to family detention

from the Coalition on Human Needs

childrenattheborderbuttonMothers and children shouldn’t be jailed for seeking asylum in our country. And yet, that’s exactly what’s happening. Vulnerable mothers and children fleeing extreme violence in Central America have come to the U.S. to seek asylum – only to be locked up in deplorable family detention facilities by our government. It’s wrong, and it has to stop.

For years, families seeking asylum met their legal requirements without the harm of detention. A very high percentage of the families who have had a chance to present their stories have been granted asylum or have been found to have a credible fear of persecution. None of these families should be incarcerated in woefully inadequate facilities while they wait for the chance to tell their stories.

Pax Christi USA has signed this letter urging President Obama to end the practice of family detention.

REFLECTION: Jesuit Refugee Service brings help to a Syria in crisis


by Thomas Reese, S.J., NCR

Jesuit Frs. Peter Balleis and Michael Zammit were in Washington in April, making the rounds of nongovernmental organizations and government offices to inform policymakers of the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Balleis is the international director of the Jesuit Refugee Service, and Zammit works with refugees and internally displaced people in Syria. They were also visiting JRS-USA, which is based in Washington. The interview was edited for length and clarity.

NCR: What is the Jesuit Refugee Service? What does it do?

Balleis: Jesuit Refugee Service is an organization around 35 years old. Today, we are working in 46 countries and last year reached out to around 760,000 people.

We move according to the crises in the world. Thirty-five years ago, during the Cold War, it was Asia-Pacific, helping refugees from Cambodia and Vietnam.

Then in the mid-1990s when Africa exploded, we continued in Asia-Pacific and other places like San Salvador, El Salvador, but the main focus became Africa with the Rwanda crisis, the Great Lakes crisis, Sudan and so on. More recently, the conflicts in Africa are more in the Sahel Zone. We work in the Central African Republic, Chad, and we have started in Cameroon. We are going to engage with the refugees who are victims of the Boko Haram...

Read the entire article by clicking here.

REFLECTION: Moral leadership is essential in the police brutality quagmire

schenkby Christine Schenk, NCR

It is a confusing, bittersweet time for my city. On May 26, Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson and the U.S. Justice Department announced a sweeping agreement to reform the Cleveland Police Department. That evening, our beloved Cleveland Cavaliers won the Eastern Division basketball championship.

The next morning’s Cleveland Plain Dealer carried the oddest front page I have seen in 37 years of living here. Predictably, in this crazy-for-sports-town, the Cavs had the biggest headline: ON TO THE FINALS! Directly beneath, in smaller type, I read: DEAL SEEKS SWEEPING REFORMS. Although the Cavs had a bigger headline, the long-awaited settlement (also known as a consent decree) received the most ink by far, with pages of in-depth coverage.

Black Lives MatterIt all seemed pretty surreal coming just three days after police officer Michael Brelo was acquitted of two counts of voluntary manslaughter for his role in a 2012 over-the-top police chase involving more than 100 officers and 60 squad cars. Brelo was one of 13 police who fired a total of 137 bullets at a Chevy Malibu, killing unarmed occupants Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams who, for reasons unknown, fled police. Prosecutors said Brelo stepped onto the hood of the Malibu and fired 15 rounds straight through the windshield, even after other the officers stopped shooting. No other officers were charged, but five police supervisors were indicted for dereliction of duty. Their trial date has not yet been set.

After what is known around town as the “137 shots” incident, Mayor Jackson called for an immediate federal investigation. He had tried for years to hold the Cleveland police accountable for excessive use of force only to be reversed by arbitrators or obstructed by union contracts. While the consent decree doesn’t address either of these issues, it will require documentation each time an officer draws his weapon.

To read this entire article, click here.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE: PCUSA signs onto letter on forced transfer in Susiya and Bedouin communities

Pax Christi USA has signed onto a letter initiated by the Association of International Development Agencies in Jerusalem. The letter is a follow-up to a September 2014 letter in which a number of international aid and development agencies working in Palestine and Israel wrote to Secretary Kerry urging the U.S. to take immediate action to press Israel to cancel its plans to relocate as many as 7,000 Palestinian Bedouins from 46 communities in Area C of the Occupied West Bank.

The letter states, in part:

Regretfully, we are writing today to inform you that despite strong opposition from your government and the international community, Israel has recently made further advancements to its relocation plan.

These advancements include the leveling of land and start of infrastructure works at one section of the Al Jabal relocation site, the leveling of land and progress on different planning and zoning processes related to the Nuweimeh relocation site, and the ICA appointment of retired General Brigadier Dov Sedaka to liaise with the affected communities and oversee the Bedouin transfer process. Most recently, General Sedaka gave verbal notice to Palestinian residents of Abu Nwar, located within the E1 area, that they would not be allowed to remain in their community and that it would be in their best interest to immediately sign up for space at the Al Jabal relocation site.

The letter goes on to urge the U.S. that in order to halt and reverse the violations of international law that are creating a coercive environment in Area C, the U.S. needs to adapt a coordinated plan of action that includes:

  • Issuing a public statement that calls on Israel to immediately freeze settlement activity and demolition orders and to cancel transfer plans.
  • Continuing with private, high level communications to press Israel to stop policies and practices that undermine U.S. interventions in Area C.
  • Recording and monitoring the impact of Israeli demolition orders on U.S. aid and development investments in Area C.
  • Providing protective presence in communities at risk of demolition and forced transfer and conducting field visits to report on actual demolitions in communities that are highly vulnerable or where the U.S. has aid and development projects that are affected.
  • Empowering Palestinians to assume local planning authority and supporting community planning initiatives in Area C.

The letter was sent to Secretary Kerry this week.

DEATH PENALTY: The zeal of pro-death penalty advocates

dave-atwoodby David Atwood
Pax Christi Texas

I am continually amazed how far death penalty advocates will go to perpetuate the machinery of death in Texas. This time pro-death penalty legislators in Austin are pushing a bill  that would shield the identity of the suppliers of the lethal drugs used to execute prisoners in Huntsville. The rationale of these legislators is that the suppliers of these drugs will no longer provide them for executions if their identity is revealed and that executions might come to a grinding halt as a result.  Now wouldn’t that be terrible.

No death penaltyOver the years, the proponents of capital punishment have used many arguments to continue to kill prisoners. Here are some examples and my reply to their arguments:

  1. Rationale: If we don’t execute these people, they will kill again.  My Reply: Texas now has “life without parole” as an optional punishment for capital murder.  This sentence allows us to keep society safe without becoming killers ourselves.
  1. Rationale: The death penalty deters others from committing murder. My Reply: There is no firm evidence that the death penalty deters others from committing murder.  In fact, several studies have shown that the death penalty does not deter others from committing murder.  Most murderers are not thinking about consequences or do not think that they will be caught. Many are high on alcohol or drugs and are not thinking clearly. Criminal justice experts have said that murder rates are primarily affected by demographics, economics, the drug trade and community policing efforts.
  1. Rationale: If we speed up executions, they would be a greater deterrent to violent crime. My Reply: Speeding up executions would also mean that the chances of executing an innocent person would increase.
  1. Rationale: The death penalty gives the family of the victim “closure”. My Reply: While an execution may give some families of victims the satisfacion of “payback”, there is little evidence that an execution actually provides “closure” or any semblance of “healing”. What does bring healing is a loving community that helps the family through the ordeal they are experiencing and move on with their lives in a positive fashion.
  1. Rationale: The death penalty saves the state money. My Reply: The high legal expenses associated with the death penalty make it significantly more expensive than life in prison. This wasted money could be better spent on effective crime prevention programs and victims’ services.
  1. Rationale: The only people who get the death penalty are the “worst of the worst”. My Reply: Whether someone ends up on death row or not has more to do with the quality of the accused’s legal defense, the race of the victim, politics and geography.
  1. Rationale: People who commit murder are monsters who deserve to die. My Reply: It is true that a person who commits murder has done a monstrous thing and caused great suffering. However, if one looks into the background of people on death row, what you often find is a history of horrible child abuse and neglect, mental disabilities and drug/alcohol abuse. Furthermore, once confined in prison, many people become rehabilitated and are no longer a threat to society.
  1. Rationale: Our criminal justice system is fair to all people and ensures that we always get the right person. My Reply: We are aware of 12 exonerated death row prisoners in Texas alone and over 150 nationwide. There is also good evidence that Texas has executed several innocent people. The death penalty system is a human system that is imperfect and will always remain so.
  1. Rationale: The death penalty is needed to “restore order” to society. My Reply: This is not the experience of many states and nations. Eighteen U.S. states have abolished the death penalty and seem to be doing fine. However, murders still occur on a regular basis in Texas although we have had more than 520 executions. Many people believe that we would have more “order ” in our society and less crime if we would spend more of our scarce financial resources on effective crime prevention measures such as improved child protective services, youth and family services, mental health services and prisoner rehabilitation programs.
  1. Rationale: The Bible demands an “eye for an eye” approach to justice. My Reply: The “eye for an eye” concept comes for the Old Testament. This concept continues a cycle of violence and vengeance in society. In the New Testament, Jesus rejects the “eye for an eye” concept and replaces it with compassion, forgiveness and mercy. “Restorative justice” is a smarter approach to crime than “retributive justice”.

In summary, the zeal of the pro-death penalty advocates is misplaced. If they want to make society safer, they should advocate for crime prevention programs that are truly effective.

David Atwood is the Founder of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

TAKE ACTION: Invest in our cities


photoOver the past few months our hearts have been broken as we watch our nation grapple with the death of innocent black men and women at the hands of the police. These moments have caused us not just to reflect as sisters and brothers in Christ but also as “We the People” in a democracy. Once again, we are voicing our frustration with injustice in our cities. These frustrations are larger than law enforcement. From Selma to Ferguson to Baltimore, we’ve witnessed the damaging effects of failing to invest in our cities.

Structural racism and injustice has perpetuated the polarization of communities of color in cities across America and influences public policies that disproportionately disadvantage people of color. We as a nation must do better. Cities have been experiencing a decline in revenue, which is magnified by the federal government’s steady decline in community investment, like cutting the Community Development Block Grant program. This has led to poor educational outcomes for children, massive foreclosures, and high rates of unemployment.

We can do better—we must fund programs that strengthen our communities, not militarize them.

Click here to tell Congress to invest in our cities.

TAKE ACTION: Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia, May 17-18

from the Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia Planning Team

Pax Christi USA is a supporter of “Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia” (DOPA).


“Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia” (DOPA) is a campaign to focus education and advocacy efforts for Colombia and the many challenges to peace and justice faced by our partners there. This year’s DOPA dates are May 17-18th and will be marked by actions of solidarity and prayer under the theme Tomorrow’s Peace Starts Today – La Paz de Mañana Empieza Hoy.” 

Talks between the government and Colombia’s largest guerrilla group, the FARC, continue to move forward, but peace accords have not been signed yet. With threats to human rights defenders and advocates for just resolution of land conflict increasing, there is still much work to be done. Join us in praying and advocating for those who are working for peace today and the peace accords of tomorrow. There are several ways to join the DOPA campaign: