Category Archives: Human Rights

WOMEN RELIGIOUS: “Influential” Ugandan nun shines light on sacred tradition of Black Catholic women

by Shannen Dee Williams

Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe photographed in Paidha, Uganda, where she was born and raised, giving tour while shooting for the film, Sewing Hope. The picture was taken in October of 2011. Photo Credit: Derek Watson

Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe photographed in Paidha, Uganda, where she was born and raised, giving tour while shooting for the film, Sewing Hope. The picture was taken in October of 2011. Photo Credit: Derek Watson

Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe’s inclusion on Time magazine’s 2014 list of the world’s 100 most influential people represents a pivotal breakthrough moment for black Catholic nuns in the Atlantic world, although most people don’t realize it.

Featured alongside the likes of Pope Francis and music entertainment mogul Beyoncé, Sister Rosemary is the first black nun to be named to this prestigious list of world leaders, and this fact should not be so easily overlooked.

After all, the 2013 controversy surrounding the casting of five-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald as Mother Abbess in NBC’s live remake of The Sound of Music painfully revealed that there are still plenty of people in the world (and especially in the United States) who believe that black nuns are historical and contemporary impossibilities.

Moreover, Sister Rosemary’s inclusion on Time’s “Most Influential” list is arguably as significant to the contemporary history of black nuns (and Catholic sisters more generally) as the canonization of St. Josephine Bakhita, who in 2000 became the first black woman to be declared a Catholic saint in the modern era.

Indeed, Time’s recognition of Sister Rosemary and her transformative ministry to young victims of sexual violence in Uganda and Sudan not only signals a major turning point in mainstream awareness (and acceptance) of black nuns, but also brings critical attention to one of the most significant, yet under-reported, social revolutions of black women in the contemporary era…

Click here to read the entire article.

TORTURE: I refuse to participate in this criminal act

by Helen Schietinger and Jeremy Varon
Witness Against Torture

These are the words of a Navy nurse assigned to force-feed prisoners who are hunger striking at Guantánamo Bay prison:

I refuse to participate in this criminal act.

Abu Wael Dhiab, one of the hunger strikers, witnessed the nurse’s courageous stand and reported it to his lawyer. Dhiab, as quoted through his attorney, described the nurse as “very compassionate” in his treatment of detainees over the prior months. “Initially, he did carry out his orders,” says Dhiab. “He decided he could not do it anymore.”


The nurse’s refusal is an extraordinary act of conscience.  It speaks to the brutality of forced-feeding, which the hunger strikers describe as torture and medical and human rights bodies have denounced. It affirms the ethical obligations of medical professionals, which prohibit forced-feeding.  And it underscores the broader criminality of Guantánamo, where men are held indefinitely without charge or trial and further brutalized when they protest.

Witness Against Torture praises the heroic act of the Guantánamo nurse, who should not suffer disciplinary consequences for his principled stand. We hope his act inspires other staff at Guantánamo to refuse to execute camp orders. Most of all, we hope the nurse’s resistance further awakens the American people and President Obama to the barbarity of Guantánamo and hastens the closure of the prison…

Click here to read this entire article.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE: Better than hatred – a bereaved father’s call for peace

IzzeldinAbuelaish2by Izzeldin Abuelaish
in The Plough

I was born and raised in a Palestinian refugee camp. As a child I never tasted childhood. I was born to face misery, suffering, abject poverty, and deprivation. However, the suffering in this world is man-made; it’s not from God. God wants every good thing for us and he created us for the good. But just because suffering is man-made, there is hope. It’s the hope that we can challenge this man-made suffering by not accepting it, and by taking responsibility. I can’t challenge God, but I can challenge someone on earth. And you can do the same.

Izzeldin Abuleish lost his three daughters when an Israeli tank shelled their apartment in Gaza in 2009.

Izzeldin Abuelaish lost his three daughters when an Israeli tank shelled their apartment in Gaza in 2009. Photo credit: WTSP

People can deprive you, imprison you, or kill you, but no one can prevent any of us from dreaming. As a child, I dreamed of being a medical doctor. Through hard work I achieved my dream. Now I fight on a daily basis to give life to others. There are others who live to fight. Is this the purpose of our existence: to fight and to end others’ lives? A human life is the most precious thing in the universe. I know from my practice as a gynecologist how hard we work to save one life. Someone else can put an end to a life in seconds with a bullet. Each human being is a representative of God on earth, God’s most holy creation. We must value human life and be strong advocates of saving human life.

This world is endemic with violence, fear, and injustice. We often mention that one hundred, one thousand, or ten thousand people have been killed here or there. But people are not numbers or statistics: we need to zoom in to think of each of them as a beloved one. Each person who is killed has a name, a face, a family, a story.

I was the first Palestinian doctor to practice medicine in an Israeli hospital. Many Israelis see Palestinians only as workers and servants. I wanted them to see that Palestinians are human and that we are not so different. Medicine has one culture and one value: the value of saving humanity. Within the walls of a hospital we treat patients equally, with respect and privacy, wishing them to be healed. We don’t design treatment according to their name, religion, ethnicity, or background, but according to their disease and their suffering….

Read this entire article by clicking here.

TAKE ACTION: Tell President Obama and Congress not to deport innocent children


Screen_Shot_2014-07-17_at_3.22.32_PMThe situation is dire. The Obama Administration has started to deport the refugee children back to Central America. And the House and Senate are ramming through a bill, deceptively named the ‘HUMANE Act’, that would speed up their deportations. If it passes, President Obama is likely to sign it — despite a pledge not to send kids back home to their deaths.

The media needs to hear the voices of folks like you: people who will stand up to any effort to throw families and innocent children back to extreme gang violence and poverty.

Tell President Obama and Congress: Do not deport innocent refugee children. Do not pass the HUMANE Act!

Click here to sign the letter.

STATEMENT: Pax Christi USA official statement on the violence in the Middle East

“Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare. It calls for the courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict: yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities; yes to respect for agreements and no to acts of provocation; yes to sincerity and no to duplicity. All of this takes courage, it takes strength and tenacity.”

~Pope Francis, June 8, 2014

As the number of dead and wounded continues to rise in Gaza, Pax Christi USA calls for an immediate cease-fire by all parties in order to open the possibility for negotiations to end the senseless violence and address the underlying causes which fuel the decades-long tragedy in the Middle East.

Pax Christi USA mourns the loss of life on both sides of the conflict. We stand with all those who have been victimized by violence. Our hearts are broken over the death and destruction which only serves to terrorize hundreds of thousands of civilians in Gaza, those who call this relatively small piece of land home. We join with Pax Christi International members around the world in offering “our sincere condolences to all those in mourning and pray that those who have been killed will be the last to die violent deaths in this escalation of hatred and vengeance.”

As the violence escalates and broadens, we are witnessing, in some cases, the perishing of entire families, and the dismantling of what little infrastructure was still intact in the service of the basic human needs of the people who live in Gaza. The attack on Gaza has created a humanitarian disaster which is marked all the more tragic by the inability to provide the assistance needed because of the ongoing violence.

Pax Christi USA has been unequivocal in insisting that for peace to be possible, there must be an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, a dismantling of the barrier wall built on Palestinian land, and an end to the Gaza blockade. We have asserted that the policies of our own government have functioned to provide the support that enables the occupation and that we must continue to pressure our political leaders for a change in those policies. U.S. policy and aid must be tied to respect for human rights and the safeguards provided by international law for the human dignity of all. Even as the violence rages in Gaza, as U.S. citizens we have a responsibility to hold our own government accountable for its complicity in this conflict, as well as U.S. corporations which benefit from protecting the status quo.

We believe that even in tragedy lies hope. Our hope for the Palestinian and Israeli peoples is for a future built in recognition of their shared humanity, where the security of all is rooted in the practice of justice for all. Let this be the last of the bloodshed in this region which has suffered for so long. Let this tragedy awaken the consciences and loose the voices of the great majority of Israelis and Palestinians who yearn for peace. Let these be the last throes of the old hatreds and prejudices, and let the evil of this violence give way to the birth of a new day and a just peace for the Middle East.

TORTURE: Pax Christi Metro New York observes Torture Awareness Month

Rosemarie Paceby Rosemarie Pace
Pax Christi Metro New York Coordinator

June was Torture Awareness Month. During June, many Pax Christi groups around the country engaged in a variety of activities to honor this somber time. Pax Christi Metro New York (PCMNY) was one of those groups.

As a proud member of the Metro New York Religious Campaign against Torture (MNYRCAT), we hosted one of two MNYRCAT events to address this inhumane issue. On June 11th, four professional actors, including the PCMNY Board President, Margaret Flanagan, presented the play, If the SHU Fits, at St. Joseph’s Greenwich Village Church. SHU refers to Special (also Security) Housing Units where prison inmates are kept in solitary confinement. If the SHU Fits gives voice to several incarcerated men and women being held in isolation. They poignantly share the horrific impact of solitary confinement on their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Isolated confinement is being recognized more and more as torture by both civil and religious society, including the Catholic Church. It is also being recognized more and more as misused, ineffective, and actually harmful in many, if not most, cases. After the performance, Five Mualimm-ak, a former inmate who spent five years in isolation, spoke eloquently about the experience and the work being done by groups like the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement. He encouraged us to visit for more information and action suggestions.

no-tortureThe other event hosted by MNYRCAT during Torture Awareness Month was “Broken on All Sides,” a film presentation that examined mass incarceration, “justice,” and the “New Jim Crow.”

In addition to these two informative, heart-wrenching, and motivating events, there was one more that was at least as important. While not hosted by MNYRCAT, three of us who are members of the Steering Committee were privileged to attend an interfaith breakfast sponsored by T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights and the National Religious Campaign against Torture (NRCAT). At this breakfast, the newly appointed Commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction (DOC), Joseph Ponte, spoke. He came to NYC from the Maine Department of Correction where, as Commissioner, he significantly reduced the use of solitary confinement. Commissioner Ponte talked about his experience in Maine, his intimate knowledge and understanding of the prison system, and his hopes for the NYC DOC. He answered questions openly and honestly. Some of his key points follow.

Commissioner Ponte raised three fundamental questions for himself and all those involved in Correction: Why do we incarcerate? What do we do with the incarcerated? How do we keep them safe? He referred to safety as the main concern, along with care of juveniles.

He acknowledged that there was resistance to his reduction in the use of solitary confinement in Maine, but said that ultimately, due to its positive impact, resistance declined and support increased.

Commissioner Ponte went on to say that locking people up solves nothing. Blaming people is not constructive. Rehabilitation is critical. It is important to normalize life as much as possible. It is also important for outside support, like chaplains, to “show up.” And there must be sensitivity to diverse cultures and religions. Inmates need more programming to occupy their time and more positive reinforcement and incentives, rather than punishments for every little infraction.

Of course, there are some serious challenges. A primary one is the mentally ill. Some mentally ill inmates are dangerous, but not all. And, not all inmates are mentally ill. Distinguishing which is which and providing for their disparate needs is critical. A second major challenge is gangs. A third is women. Women are a challenge because they have different needs, but are generally treated the same as men. And most imprisoned women are not only criminals, but also victims. They are more likely to have mental illness, but less likely to be violent. Addressing all these variables requires tremendous skill and compassion.

Some of the attendees at this breakfast do prison ministry. To them, Commissioner Ponte advised: Communicate with the Correction Officers. Avoid being seen as an opponent or enemy.

Ultimately, Commissioner Ponte admitted that his approach to Correction in not cheap, easy, or quick. What it does seem to be is invaluable if incarcerated people are to be treated with dignity and hope for a better life outside the confines of jail or prison.