Category Archives: Human Rights

AFGHANISTAN: Building trust in Afghanistan

Kathy Kellyby Kathy Kelly
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

Here in Kabul, I read a recent BBC op-ed by Ahmed Rashid, urging a “diplomatic offensive” to build or repair relationships with the varied groups representing armed extremism in Afghanistan. Rashid has insisted, for years, that severe mistrust makes it almost impossible for such groups to negotiate an end to Afghanistan’s nightmare of war.

Glancing upward at one of the six U.S. manufactured aerostat blimps performing constant surveillance over Kabul, I wonder if the expensively high-tech giant’s-eye view encourages a primitive notion that the best way to solve a problem here is to target a “bad guy” and then kill him. If the bad guys appear to be scurrying dots on the ground below, stomp them out.

Nisar Works in the Centre Garden (1)

Nisar Works in the Centre Garden

Crushing only the right dots has proven very difficult for a U.S. drone warfare program documented to have killed many civilians. News sources speculate that the recent drone assassination of Taliban leader Akthar Mansour makes an end to this war far less likely.  A commentator for the highly respected Afghan Analyst Network has written that “with the U.S. killing Akhtar Mansur, it is unlikely the Taleban will be set on anything but revenge for now, as can be understood from the movement’s political psychology… There is no reason to believe the fighting will de-escalate with the new leadership.”

Was that simple prediction available to the U.S.’ giant’s-eye view?

My young friends among the Afghan Peace Volunteers have shown me a vastly different approach toward problem solving.  In a sense, they’ve been launching a diplomatic outreach, refining their approach through trial and error over the course of several years, taking careful steps toward building trust between different ethnic groups, and also relying on their own personal stories to help them understand the cares and concerns of others. Throughout their efforts they’ve tried to be guided by Gandhi’s advice about considering the poorest person’s needs before making a decision.

What has brought a non-violent future closer to Afghanistan – giant sized military and surveillance systems or the accomplishments of young volunteers working to develop inter-ethnic projects?

20 teams are working at the Borderfree Center organizing practical activities within communities coping with multiple economic woes, including food insecurity, unemployment, and inadequate income for meeting basic needs.

Young people travel to and from the Center along unpaved roads lined on both sides with sewage filled drainage ditches. Traffic is chaotic, and the air is so polluted that many wear protective face masks. Day laborers congregate at intersections waiting in desperation for the opportunity to perform hard labor for $2.00 a day or less.

Even those fortunate enough to receive an education will likely face extreme difficulty in finding a job. Unemployment is at an all-time high of 40% and many jobs are attained only through ‘connections.’

Throughout Kabul, refugees crowd into squalid, sprawling camps where people live without adequate protection from harsh weather. According to The U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, between Jan. 1 and April 30 this year, “117,976 people fled their homes due to conflict.”  And, the U.N. says it has only received 16 percent of funds needed for humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan this year.

Nisar, one of the students at the Borderfree Center’s Street Kids School, understands destitution all too well.  He has been earning an income for his family since he was a small child, working as a shoeshine boy on Kabul streets and also in a butcher shop.  Now, at age 17, he will soon graduate from three years of classes with the Street Kids School.  In the past year, he has been a steady volunteer, taking on responsibilities with the duvet project and the organic gardening team.  Nisar says that when he first came to the Center, three years ago, he felt astonished to see people from different ethnic backgrounds sitting together. Nisar’s family comes from the Wardak province, and relatives of his are among those who recently fled the Taleban.  He clearly understands the terrible risks that armed struggle could bring, even here in “Ka-bubble” as Kabul is sometimes called because of the relative calm that still prevails here. In spite of tensions, Nisar feels sure that when people learn to overcome their fears and start talking with one another, they can set aside hatreds taught to them at young ages.

U.S. planners, heads lost in the sky, seemingly pay little heed to developing ways of building trust.  Resources are gobbled up by gigantic multinational “defense” companies dedicated to the task of further, trampling warfare, while withholding anything like the quantity of resources needed for the task of repairing the wreckage they themselves have caused.

U.S. think tanks cleverly promote cartoonized versions of foreign policy wherein the mighty giant strikes a fist and eliminates the “bad guy” whom we are told has caused our problems. But I believe U.S. people would be better off if we could see the often-suffering communities that show admirable qualities as they try to survive.  We could learn from their efforts to build mutual trust and solidarity, and their courage to reject war. We could insist that the massively well-endowed US and NATO powers finally acknowledge that the best hopes for a lasting peace come when communities experience a measure of stability and prosperity. The giant powers could help alleviate the desperate need faced by people enduring hunger, disease and homelessness.

U.S. people should earnestly ask how the U.S. could help build trust here in Afghanistan, and, as a first step, begin transferring funds from the coffers of weapon companies to the UN accounts trying to meet humanitarian needs. The “giant” could be seen stooping, humbly, to help plant seeds, hoping for a humane harvest.

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

ENDORSED CAMPAIGN: Pax Christi USA joins other faith groups in urging support for key Native American programs

from FCNL 

NOTE: Pax Christi USA has signed onto this letter.

A number of faith groups, including Pax Christi USA, signed onto a letter which was hand delivered on May 19 and 20 to members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, subcommittees on Interior and Environment.

The letter begins:

We write to thank you for the attentive and supportive oversight you provide for Native American programs. In the last few years, your work has resulted in significantly increased support for several programs that benefit Indian country, especially school reconstruction, health care, and tribal justice.

As faith-based organizations, we have followed and supported legislation and funding in these areas, in part from our deep concern for future generations of Native Americans, and in part due to an emerging recognition of our own role in the history of destructive relationships between Native Americans and colonists. We seek to support and strengthen tribal governance, tribal health, and tribal youth…

Click here to read the letter.

TAKE ACTION: Today is the National Day of Prayer for the Wendy’s Boycott

from the Alliance for Fair Food

[NOTE: Pax Christi USA has signed on as a supporter of this effort.]

download

The farmworker-led Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has launched a national boycott of Wendy’s in response to the fast food company’s decision to reject the Fair Food Program, a worker-designed, proven human rights program that is preventing violence, wage theft, sexual assault, and slavery in the Florida tomato industry and beyond.  As news breaks that Wendy’s has moved its tomato purchases from Florida to a supplier in Mexico where slavery was uncovered in 2013, farmworkers and consumers around the country are responding to express their deep dismay.

In preparation for Wendy’s Annual Shareholder Meeting, join thousands of people of faith around the country for a Wendy’s Boycott National Day of Prayer on Monday, May 23.  Acting on our faith that calls us to justice, together we pray that Wendy’s executives will do what is right by farmworkers in their supply chain…

Click here to take action today.

PRISON REFORM: Pax Christi USA signs on to letter in support of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act

from the Interfaith Criminal Justice Coalition

NOTE: Pax Christi USA signed onto this letter. The letter was directed to Sens. McConnell and Reid. The opening paragraphs are below with a link to the full text of the letter.

Dear Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Reid:

72539-death-row-prisonerLast week sponsors of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 2123) announced new changes to strengthen their bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation. Indeed, eight new senators last week joined the long list of cosponsors. The 60 undersigned faith organizations are delighted by the progress made in advancing this critical legislation and the broad bipartisan consensus calling for an end to the federal prison crisis. We urge you to support S. 2123 and to act quickly to bring the legislation to a floor vote this month.

Our faith communities are on the front lines in neighborhoods ravaged by a broken criminal justice system. From our vantage point, we see this nation’s reliance on mass incarceration to solve drug addiction, poverty, mental illness and joblessness as an affront to justice and human dignity. As people of faith, we are called to comfort and serve those harmed by crime and support accountability, rehabilitation and restoration for those who offend. To that end, we are joined in our commitment to advancing the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act….

Click here to read the entire letter.

IMMIGRATION: Pax Christi USA signs onto letter against raids under Operation Border Guardian

Pax Christi USA has joined with a number of other organizations in signing on to a letter to the White House and the Department of Homeland Security regarding the ongoing raids happening under Operation Border Guardian. This letter reacts to the March 9 DHS press release announcing additional raids and focuses on the lack of due process afforded the individuals and families who are being targeted as well as the negative impact on immigrant communities as a result of the raid program.

You can read the entire letter by clicking here.

REFLECTION: Jesus the executed speaks to us

Rev. Chris Ponnetby Rev. Chris Ponnet
Pax Christi Los Angeles

[NOTE: The following homily was given on Good Friday.]

Today is the most obvious day for us as Christian Catholics to reflect and for us a priest to preach against the death penalty. Jesus the executed speaks to us and tells us to kill no more. It is part of the Respect for Life vision and flows from the Catholic Social Justice teachings on the DIGNITY OF EACH PERSON as found in Jesus: love your neighbor as yourself. The Beatitudes (Matthew 5) and Jesus view of the Last days (Matthew 25) remind us that God always is expecting more from us as God’s children. We are in a Year of Mercy and the core teaching of this year is not about us but about GODS’ MERCY and we reflect and live God’s mercy out to all. It is mercy of abundance without limitations, unconditional, no walls no barriers of time, space, age, religion, language, culture, legal status, general, sexual orientation, health or racial divisions.

No death penaltyWe clearly can say no to executions for innocent persons but the real challenge of faith is to even day NO to executions for the guilty. Jesus was charged and found guilty. He was executed for breaking the laws of the Sabbath and claiming to be King so the civil laws of treason were broken. We as Christians have romanticized his crimes and the execution and death but it was brutal and his family and friends were traumatized.  Isaiah says: He was spurned and avoided by people, a man of suggesting, accustomed to infirmity, one of those from whom people hide their faces, spurned, and we help him in no esteem.”  (Isaiah 52)The letter to the Hebrews says: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered…” (Hebrew 5:7-9) The Gospel of the Passion (John 18:1-19:42) is filled with the reality of Jesus being judged, condemned, attempted to be released, executed and then buried. We are reminded of the prayer of Jesus “Father into your hands I commend my spirit….”  And the words of the fellow criminals, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

2016 is a year when executions can be ended in the state of California with the JUST THAT WORKS 2016 initiative. Please sign today and or get others to do before the deadline next month.  Then we need to encourage persons to vote in the county that we pride those who give their lives in service while only 20% of the population votes and 80% including people of faith, first responders and veterans choice not to vote. We gather to be in stillness and fasting today, to honor the execution and death of Jesus.  We hold that stillness as hold the pain of the world of hatred, racism, abortion, bigotry, war, torture, domestic and international violence. Jesus reminds us today: “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.” (John 18)

We gather knowing this remembrance still holds the promise of Resurrection.  We will stand with the victims of violence and also those on death rows and their families. We will stand with the refugees and the immigrants who are caught in the midst of personal, economic and structural situations. We stand with those left out or marginalized due to their handicap, their HIV status, their sexual orientation, the legal or sacramental marital status. We will stand with those in faithful marriages and long term religious vows and those who trying to make blended families to a safe place and new communities committed to serving the vulnerable.

We trust we will arise. We breathe as we await resurrection. We advocate for justice for all. We stand in the reality of Resurrection even on this “Good Friday” as we pause in stillness, prayer and action. We will arise with Jesus.

Fr. Chris Ponnet is Pastor at St. Camillus, a board member of Death Penalty Focus and Catholics Against the Death Penalty, and long-time member of Pax Christi Los Angeles and Pax Christi Southern California.

REFLECTION: Christian genocide happening now

Tony Maglianoby Tony Magliano

For many of us who strive to seriously practice faith in Jesus Christ, and to extend that practice out into the marketplace, the political square and society at large, persecution rarely means more than being ridiculed, verbally harassed, and to a certain degree socially and politically marginalized.

But for so many other Christians throughout the world who courageously refuse to deny Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior – with all that that means – persecution means torture, rape, enslavement and death.

stop-genocideIn his well-researched book, “The Global War on Christians,” Catholic journalist John Allen, cites studies that indicate the number of Christians killed for the faith every year ranges from 7,300 to 100,000 worldwide.

Even the lower figure of 7,300 people murdered every year because of their faith in Christ is shocking, and sadly alarming.

While other non-Christian religious groups also suffer persecution, Allen notes that according to the German-based International Society for Human Rights, an estimated 80 percent of all religious acts of discrimination around the globe are aimed at Christians.

Allen cites the Me’eter concentration camp in the Eritrean desert as a horrific example of the numerous inhumane situations many Christians are trapped in around the world.

At Me’eter members of Christian churches not authorized by the state, are packed like sardines into metal shipping containers. The metal containers are bone-chilling cold at night, and like ovens in the desert daytime heat.

Because prisoners are given very little water, they are sometimes forced to drink their own sweat and urine to survive.

Why is there virtually no news about this anti-Christian atrocity and the many others like it?

Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel said, “We must take sides. … Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

It is incumbent on those of us who are safe and sound to tirelessly pray, advocate for, and work on behalf of hurting and vulnerable Christians.

While followers of Jesus have a strict obligation to help all people in need to the best of our ability people – regardless of their race, ethnicity, nationality or religion – we have a special responsibility to reach out to our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ.

For as St. Paul teaches, “So then, while we have the opportunity, let us do good to all, but especially to those who belong to the family of the faith” (Gal 6:10).

Allen writes, “Christians today indisputably are the most persecuted religious body on the planet, and too often their new martyrs suffer in silence.”

During his three-nation South American pastoral visit last year, Pope Francis lamented, “Today we are dismayed to see how in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world many of our brothers and sisters are persecuted, tortured and killed for their faith in Jesus.

“In this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide is taking place, and it must end.”

So, what should we do to help end the genocide?

Pray!

Every day let’s remember in our personal and liturgical prayers those who suffer in any way – especially for their faith in Jesus.

Parishes can sponsor a refugee family. Pope Francis has asked every parish in Europe to do just that. In the spirit of Francis, let’s open our parishes as well to our persecuted brothers and sisters. It’s not as difficult as it may sound.

And many of us can increase our individual contributions to help. An excellent international Catholic organization dedicated to helping persecuted Christians worldwide is Aid to the Church in Need. Please go to this link to make a donation http://bit.ly/25dsdoy.

Bill O’Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy for Catholic Relief Services shared with me that it is also essential for every believer to email and call (Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121) their congressional delegation urging them to provide significantly increased humanitarian funding and support for the immediate and long-term needs of refugees in the Middle East, full support for a negotiated peace in Syria, and a comprehensive plan to rebuild Syria once the fighting ends.

The U.S. Catholics bishops have urged the U.S. government to grant asylum to 200,000 refugees annually – with 100,000 coming from Syria.

But according to U.S. State Department figures, since March of 2011 — when the Syrian conflict started – approximately 1,550 Syrians have been admitted through the U.S. refugee resettlement program. The U.S. can certainly do far better than this, especially since it has just recently declared that the Islamic State is committing genocide against Christians and other minorities (see: http://bit.ly/1R2lt2A).

As I write, the solemness of Good Friday is close at hand. And many of the followers of the crucified Jesus are being crucified with him. Let us do everything we can to remove them from their crosses, and lighten the weight of our Lord’s cross who suffers with them.

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 San Clemente, CA to Baltimore. Tony can be reached at tmag@zoominternet.net.