Category Archives: Human Rights

IMMIGRATION: Pax Christi USA signs onto statement that immigration reform is a “pro-life” issue

Last week, Pax Christi USA signed onto a statement with 100 other Catholic leaders challenging “pro-life” Catholics in Congress to make immigration reform a “pro-life” issue.

Immigration rally“As the national Catholic peace with justice movement we urge our elected officials to defend the sanctity of human lives at all stages. We too recognize the image of God in the migrant at the border, in the prisoner on death row, in the pregnant woman and in the hungry child,” stated Pax Christi USA Executive Director Sr. Patty Chappell, SNDdeN. “It is time for all Congressional representatives to come together and vote for a comprehensive immigration reform bill.”

Read press release accompanying the statement by clicking here.

IMMIGRATION: PCUSA signs onto letter for child welfare professionals at the border

childrenattheborderbutton-smallPax Christi USA has joined with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services and other social justice organizations in signing onto a letter asking the Department of Homeland Security to consider having child welfare professionals at the Customs Border Protection (CBP) stations at the southwest border.

The child welfare professionals would assist unaccompanied children and accompanied children migrating to the U.S. These professionals would advocate in a humanitarian way for the safety and protection of these children.

Click here to read the entire letter.

REFLECTION: My future in prison

by Kathy Kelly
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

The Bureau of Prisons contacted me today, assigning me a prison number and a new address:  for the next 90 days, beginning tomorrow, I’ll live at FMC Lexington, in the satellite prison camp for women, adjacent to Lexington’s federal medical center for men.  Very early tomorrow morning, Buddy Bell, Cassandra Dixon, and Paco and Silver, two house guests whom we first met in protests on South Korea’s Jeju Island, will travel with me to Kentucky and deliver me to the satellite women’s prison outside the Federal Medical Center for men.

In December, 2014, Judge Matt Whitworth sentenced me to three months in federal prison after Georgia Walker and I had attempted to deliver a loaf of bread and a letter to the commander of Whiteman Air Force base, asking him to stop his troops from piloting lethal drone flights over Afghanistan from within the base.  Judge Whitworth allowed me over a month to surrender myself to prison; but whether you are a soldier or a civilian, a target or an unlucky bystander, you can’t surrender to a drone.

Photo by Shane Franklin

Photo by Shane Franklin

When I was imprisoned at Lexington prison in 1988, after a federal magistrate in Missouri sentenced me to one year in prison for planting corn on nuclear missile silo sites, other women prisoners playfully nicknamed me “Missiles.”  One of my sisters reliably made me laugh today, texting me to ask if I thought the women this time would call me “Drones.”

It’s good to laugh and feel camaraderie before heading into prison.  For someone like me, very nearly saturated in “white privilege” through much of this arrest, trial, and sentencing process, 90% (or more) of my experience  will likely depend on attitude.

But, for many of the people I’ll meet in prison, an initial arrest very likely began with something like a “night raid” staged in Iraq or Afghanistan, complete with armed police surrounding and bursting into their home to remove them from children and families, often with helicopters overhead, sequestering them in a county jail, often with very little oversight to assure that guards and wardens treat them fairly.  Some prisoners will not have had a chance to see their children before being shipped clear across the country.  Some will not have been given adequate medical care as they adjust to life in prison, possibly going without prescribed medicines and often traumatized by the sudden dissolution of ties with family and community.  Some will not have had the means to hire a lawyer and may not have learned much about their case from an overworked public defender.

In the U.S., the criminal justice system disproportionately incarcerates people of color for petty offences. Many take plea bargains under threat of excessive, punitive sentences. If I were a young black male, the U.S. penal system quite likely would not have allowed me to turn myself in to a federal prison camp.

I’ll be incarcerated in a satellite camp outside a medical facility where I expect the wards are crowded with geriatric patients. How bleak and unnecessary it is to confine people for decades. My friend Brian Terrell, who was incarcerated in Yankton, South Dakota for six months after crossing the line at Whiteman AFB, told me that while in prison he saw signs on the walls recruiting prisoners to train for medically assisting geriatric male prisoners. I shudder to think of our culture’s pervading callousness, pointlessly consigning so many aged people to languish in prison.

I will be free in three months, but our collective future is most assuredly shackled to a wrongheaded criminal justice system.  I hope this compulsively vengeful and diseased criminal justice system will change during my lifetime.  And I hope that my short sojourn inside Lexington’s prison walls will help me better understand and perhaps help shed some small light on the systems that affect other people trapped there.

During recent visits with concerned communities focused on drone warfare, many have helped me see a connection between the drone killings across Central Asia and the Middle East and the casual executions and incarceration of young black males in our own country.

In Afghanistan, where the noise of air strikes and civil war have faded to the buzz of drones and the silence of empty promises, our friends in the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs) continue their peace building efforts.  Last week, eighty street children walked from the APV center to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission office to assert their right to education.  Their signs expressed their determination to help create a school for street children.  One sign said, “We don’t want your charity.  We want dignity.”

Our young friends wish to provide a better life for the very children whose only other ways off the streets may well include joining the Taliban, criminal gangs, or some other militia.  Meanwhile, the United States’ vengeful stance as a nation, concerned with protecting its wealth and status at all costs and its safety above all considerations of equity or reason, destroys the lives of the impoverished at home as it destroys those abroad.

The “Black Lives Matter” protests need our support, as do the March 4-6 protests to “Shut Down Creech” Air Force Base.  Our friends in the Afghan Peace Volunteers will continue to do vital work for peace and solidarity, in Kabul, that needs our support. It’s encouraging to know that thousands upon thousands of committed people seek and find work to make our world less like a prison for our neighbors and ourselves.

My address for the next three months is

Kathy Kelly 04971-045
FMC LEXINGTON
FEDERAL MEDICAL CENTER
SATELLITE CAMP
P.O. BOX 14525
LEXINGTON, KY  40512

Kathy Kelly co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence.  For more information, please contact VCNV atinfo@vcnv.org.

REFLECTION: Inside the uniform, under the hood, longing for change

Kathy Kellyby Kathy Kelly
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

From January 4 – 12, 2015, Witness Against Torture (WAT) activists assembled in Washington D.C. for an annual time of fasting and public witness to end the United States’ use of torture and indefinite detention and to demand the closure, with immediate freedom for those long cleared for release, of the illegal U.S. prison at Guantanamo.

Participants in our eight day fast started each day with a time of reflection. This year, asked to briefly describe who or what we had left behind and yet might still carry in our thoughts that morning, I said that I’d left behind an imagined WWI soldier, Leonce Boudreau.

I was thinking of Nicole de’Entremont’s story of World War I, A Generation of Leaves, which I had just finished reading.  Initial chapters focus on a Canadian family of Acadian descent. Their beloved oldest son, Leonce, enlists with Canada’s military because he wants to experience life beyond the confines of a small town and he feels stirred by a call to defend innocent European people from advancing “Hun” warriors. He soon finds himself mired in the horrid slaughter of trench warfare near Ypres, Belgium.

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I often thought of Leonce during the week of fasting with WAT campaign members.  We focused, each day, on the experiences and writing of a Yemeni prisoner in Guantanamo, Fahed Ghazi who, like Leonce, left his family and village to train as a fighter for what he believed to be a noble cause.  He wanted to defend his family, faith and culture from hostile forces.  Pakistani forces captured Fahed and turned him over to U.S. forces after he had spent two weeks in a military training camp in Afghanistan.  At the time he was 17, a juvenile.  He was cleared for release from Guantanamo in 2007.

Leonce’s family never saw him again.  Fahed’s family has been told, twice, that he is cleared for release and could soon reunite with his wife, daughter, brothers and parents.  Being cleared for release means that U.S. authorities have decided that Fahed poses no threat to the security of people in the U.S. Still he languishes in Guantanamo where he has been held for 13 years.

Fahed writes that there is no guilt or innocence at Guantanamo.  But he asserts that everyone, even the guards, knows the difference between right and wrong. It is illegal to hold him and 54 other prisoners, without charge, after they have been cleared for release.

Fahed is one of 122 prisoners held in Guantanamo.

Bitter cold had gripped Washington D.C. during most days of our fast and public witness.  Clad in multiple layers of clothing, we clambered into orange jumpsuits, pulled black hoods over our heads, our “uniforms,” and walked in single file lines, hands held behind our backs.

Inside Union Station’s enormous Main Hall, we lined up on either side of a rolled up banner.  As readers shouted out excerpts from one of Fahed’s letters that tell how he longs for reunion with his family, we unfurled a beautiful portrait of his face. “Now that you know,” Fahed writes, “you cannot turn away.”

U.S. people have a lot of help in turning away.  Politicians and much of the U.S. mainstream media manufacture and peddle distorted views of security to the U.S. public, encouraging people to eradicate threats to their security and to exalt and glorify uniformed soldiers or police officers who have been trained to kill or imprison anyone perceived to threaten the well-being of U.S. people.

Often, people who’ve enlisted to wear U.S. military or police uniforms bear much in common with Leonce and Fahed.  They are young, hard pressed to earn an income, and eager for adventure.

There’s no reason to automatically exalt uniformed fighters as heroes.
But a humane society will surely seek understanding and care for any person who survives the killing fields of a war zone.  Likewise, people in the U.S. should be encouraged to see every detainee in Guantanamo as a human person, someone to be called by name and not by a prison number.

The cartoonized versions of foreign policy handed to U.S. people, designating heroes and villains, create a dangerously under-educated public unable to engage in democratic decision-making.

Nicole d’Entremont writes of battered soldiers, soldiers who know they’ve been discarded in an endless, pointless war, longing to be rid of their uniforms.  The overcoats were heavy, sodden, and often too bulky for struggling through areas entangled with barbed wire.  Boots leaked and the soldiers’ feet were always wet, muddy, and sore. Miserably clothed, miserably fed, and horribly trapped in a murderous, insane war, soldiers longed to escape.

When putting on Fahed’s uniform, each day of our fast, I could imagine how intensely he longs to be rid of his prison garb.Thinking of his writings, and recalling d’Entremont’s stories drawn from “the war to end all wars,” I can imagine that there are many thousands of people trapped in the uniforms issued by war makers who deeply understand Dr. Martin Luther King’s call for revolution:

A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war, ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’ This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love.”

This article first appeared on Telesur.  

Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org). On January 23rd, she will begin serving a 3 month sentence in federal prison for attempting to deliver a loaf of bread and a letter about drone warfare to the commander of a U.S. Air Force base.

REFLECTION: An unnatural disaster – what I saw in Gaza

by Aura Kanegis, AFSC

Note: Several AFSC US staff visited Gaza recently. Aura Kanegis, AFSC’s Director of Public Policy and Advocacy, was among them. This was her first trip to Gaza. These are her reflections and photographs from the trip witnessing the recent devastation of Operation Protective Edge, just the latest round of violence against a people under siege. You can read many more reflections on Gaza and Israel & Palestine here. – Lucy

Gaza mothers in mourning.

Gaza mothers in mourning.

The taxi bounces slowly over rutted roads as we emerge from the no-man’s-land enforced by Israeli machine gun towers, passing Bedouins tending sheep and an emaciated donkey pulling a worn cart. A large apartment building before us has been destroyed, skeletal remains of concrete pilings still leaning precariously in place. Young children are picking through the debris inside, and as parents of small kids the three of us take in a collective breath, terrified by the risk to their lives. But this crumbling structure is only one in a lifetime of unacceptable risks they face for being born Palestinian in Gaza.

We are quiet for much of the drive to our office. Gaza City looks like many I’ve seen throughout the world – pockets of grinding poverty interspersed with garish commerce, tall buildings and bright signs, traffic and fumes mixed with livestock. We arrive at a building with the AFSC star among its lobby signs and ride a small elevator to the fifth floor. Our colleagues gather to greet us, and we ask impossible questions: How are you? How is your family?…

Click here to read the entire reflection.

EVENT: Delegation to El Salvador to honor the life and legacy of Romero

from the SHARE Foundation

Oscar Romero muralThe SHARE Foundation – Building a New El Salvador Today – is inviting members of partner organizations to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero this March 24, 2015.

All are invited on a delegation to El Salvador to honor the life and legacy of Oscar Romero, and to learn about this new moment in history. We want to celebrate with the people 35 years of solidarity, and renew our commitment to justice and to human rights.

  • Dates of the delegation: March 20 to 26, 2015
  • Cost: $850 plus airfare; scholarships for low-income participants and students are available.

Our itinerary will include:

  • Participating in the different events organized by the church for the 35th anniversary of Archbishop Romero.
  • Joining the mothers and relatives of the disappeared and the martyrs in an international exchange to share testimony, stories and strategies to honor those who have gone before by taking part in a symbolic reparation ceremony to restore the dignity of victims.
  • Taking part in an advocacy event organized jointly by Pro-Historical Memory Commission and the Ombudsman’s Office for Human Rights, calling on the Attorney General’s Office and the Justice System to honor the right to truth.
  • Engaging in reflection and experience-sharing activities to renew our hope, our commitment, our connections, and keep the solidarity circle strong.

If you are interested, please contact:

And be sure to say that you are a member or friend of Pax Christi USA!

For more information, download the flyer by clicking here.

IMMIGRATION: Pax Christi USA signs letter urging Congress to oppose HR 240 & amendments

immigrant-familiesPax Christi USA signed onto a letter being circulated by NETWORK, the Sisters of Mercy, and the Episcopal Church urging Members of Congress to oppose H.R. 240 and its accompanying amendments. The letter states, in part, “We ask you to specifically oppose any amendments that would repeal important programs, such as the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), or attempt to reinstate the dysfunctional Secure Communities program. We believe that these amendments are morally indefensible and would destroy the lives of millions of men, women, and children living in the United States who contribute to our communities and who deserve not only short term relief from deportation, but also a meaningful and realistic opportunity to earn their citizenship.”

The letter was delivered to Members of Congress earlier today. In signing the letter, PCUSA Executive Director Sr. Patty Chappell, SNDdeN, said, “PCUSA celebrates and protects the sanctity of family and opposes any legislation that would tear families apart.”

Click here to read the entire letter.