Nonviolence, Peace, Women and Peacemaking

The metamorphosis of a female fighter into a peacebuilder

by Sawssan Abou-Zahr

The story you’re about to read is that of armed conflict and gender, ideologies and the business of war, self-criticism and healing, peacebuilding and education. It is that of a woman who went from being a fighter, to fighting for peace. It is a story that proves how easy it is to get caught at a young age in the labyrinth of war, and how hard it is to detox oneself.

“I practice nonviolence and believe in the power of peacebuilding. I want to live in peace and help young men and women do so. I tell my story hoping to be a catalyst for change.”

Salwa Saad is a retired Lebanese educator. Instead of resting, she takes every possible chance to promote the role of women in peace education and peacebuilding as well as convincing vulnerable youth not to fall for sectarian discourses that end in armed conflict.

“I hate killing”, she told me when I started the interview with a perhaps rude question. I asked whether she got involved in killings directly. She answered: “I didn’t kill. Something inside me prevented me from taking lives although I was as good as any man in shooting… Some female fighters were notorious like their male counterparts. They still don’t show any remorse… As for me, I cried for years.”

She added: “When we became combatants, we cancelled the others’ rights; we didn’t perceive them as humans… After the war (1975 – 1990), I met fighters from the other end. It wasn’t easy to reach out to people who used to be enemies. They had their cause and I had mine. I disagree with their thinking, but they have another version of the story of the war.”

A villager in the war

Salwa was a rebel child in a mountain village. At the age of ten she experienced gender inequality without knowing this discrimination had a name. Her conservative father sent her to a public school whereas her brother was enrolled in a private one despite the fact that she was a better pupil.

At the age of 14 or 15, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) that had headquarters in her village started military training for young women. She used to watch secretly and dreamt of being among them, out of her support for the Palestinian cause and admiration to the equality between male and female freedom fighters.

Salwa is Muslim Shiite by birth. When I told her that I have to mention this to help non-Lebanese readers understand the motives of a young woman in a sectarian and still divided country, she was reluctant out of her secularism and refusal to be defined by inherited traits she didn’t choose. She only agreed when I told her I would write she was “Muslim by birth” instead of “Muslim”.

Early in the morning of Sunday April 13th, 1975, the Kataeb (Phalanges) Christian militiamen opened fire on a bus carrying Palestinians passing in the suburb of Ain Al-Rummaneh, killing over 30 people. Retaliation happened shortly after on a nearby church. The war erupted.

Salwa was then enrolled at the public university studying to be an educator. Shortly after, some communist colleagues invited her and other female students to visit their party where she would later sleep over by herself in the ammunition room…

Read this entire article at this link.

Peace, Refugee Stories, Social Issues

People are not plants! Why do people move? Let “humanitas” speak!

By Rev. Paul Lansu

In recent months and years, boat people have arrived at different tourist beaches in Méditerranée countries.[1] In many cases, tourists have been helping these people coming bringing them on land. In other cases, tourists have been upset because of the landing of death bodies, Libyan migrants for instance, in the backyard or on the beach of their hotel. Tourists asked as soon as possible for another hotel where they were not confronted with the migrant problem and to continue their vacation free of worries. This is about human dramas and dilemmas and the world turns its back on evading confrontation. Let the others solve it!

There is at least a group of people who are indignant and want to help refugees in concrete terms as much as possible. Nowadays, people are being blamed for saving migrants’ lives and providing the humanitarian assistance, which EU Member States are unwilling or unable to provide according to international law and EU law.

These humanitarian activists are very often strongly opposed by, among others, different governments and political leaders of the European Union, such as Italy. It has gone so far and it has come so far that aid workers are being punished. The targets include volunteers, peace and human rights activists, NGO’s, lawyers, crewmembers of rescue ships, migrants’ family members, and journalists, mayors and priests. Solidarity has been and is criminalised by the EU countries. The number of facts of people who have criminalised for humanitarian activities has grown rapidly since 2015. Is this the new normal?

Fear of migrants sells. The anti-immigrant discourse in Europe and elsewhere as in the USA is very high today. Fear of immigrants earns politicians votes. Immigrants will keep coming.

Helping people both legally and morally turns out to be a crime. It seems anti-migration and criminalisation is becoming a normal practice. In this way, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights[2] is totally eroded and made unbelievable. However, that means that the standard reduction has increased dramatically in recent years and that care for other people is no longer important. It is a burden!

Are migrants no human beings? Are not all men created as equals? So human dignity is at stake. The European Economic and Social Committee stated that solidarity is not and will never be a crime.[3] In addition, Caritas Europe issued a statement against the criminalisation of solidarity as a threat to our democracies.[4]

It is not just about migrants

The World Day of Migrants and Refugees will be held on Sunday 29 September 2019 on the theme “It is not just about migrants.” In the message of his Holiness Pope Francis for the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees,[5] Pope Francis highlights his repeated and explicit calls of concern for migrants and refugees should be understood as being integral to his deep concern for all of humanity.

His message aims to convey to us how deeply involved  ‘’as Christian communities and societies we are and that we are all called to respond and to reflect how our faith and commitments are engaged in responding to vulnerable people on the move.”

In an increasingly globalised world, where migrants, refugees, displaced persons and victims of trafficking have become emblems of exclusion, Pope Francis reminds us that each encounter with the other, is an encounter with Christ and in extending the hand of love, friendship, assistance and support to the most vulnerable, we are extending our hands to Christ and open our hearts for the Other(s).

The heart should have no borders

On 26 June 2019, Pax Christi International awarded its annual peace prize to European Lawyers in Lesvos (ELIL),[6] Greece. ELIL is one of the few organizations that provide legal assistance to refugees and asylum seekers on the Greek island of Lesbos, where refugees flock en route to Europe. Since the founding of ELIL in 2016, around 150 lawyers from 17 countries have provided free legal aid to more than 9,000 asylum seekers, mainly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

ELIL is grateful that their work to uphold the rule of law, to protect human rights and to ensure substantial access to legal aid for refugees in Lesbos is recognized in this way. It is hoped it will help raise awareness of the elementary importance of ensuring that legal assistance for refugees throughout their asylum procedure.  The work of ELIL is very relevant and critical activism for peace and justice.

The Pax Christi International Peace Prize awarded to ELIL is a meaningful and political statement. Especially, because the political debate in Europe is deeply polarised and is in many ways demonizing migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. This completely conflicts with the vision of a Europe that should respect human dignity and fundamental rights.

In his speech at the award ceremony, the outgoing co-president of Pax Christi International, Bishop Kevin Dowling, stressed the importance of human dignity and of solidarity, which are common threads in Catholic Social Thinking. Refugees and migrants are primarily people and should be treated as people. A constant lowering of norms and values is breaking through in our democracies. Let “humanitas” speak!

People are not plants!

Why are people on the move? First, people are not plants! Migration is a constant in human history. Our planet has become a world in motion. Between 1960 and 2017, the overall numbers of migrants tripled. Today, 3 à 4 per cent of the world population, or one out of every twenty-nine humans, lives in a country different from the one they were born in. Mass migration has become the defining human phenomenon of the twenty-first century.

Today, according to UNHCR there are at least 70.4 million forcibly displaced people worldwide,[7] both within a country (IDPs) as well as abroad. Never before has there been so much human movement. In addition, never before has there been so much organised resistance to human movement. One effect of this is the withdrawal of countries from multilateral institutions and treaties.

Walls, fences or barriers will do nothing to stop people on the move. Not at the Mexican & USA border, not anywhere else. They will keep coming, on foot or in boats, by digging tunnels, on planes or on bicycles, whether you want them or not. Drive is a human element. Nevertheless, open borders is not an option in principle. However, at least people should keep their hearts open.

It is very important to listen with an open heart to the stories of refugees. What they have experienced and what difficulties they are in. In most cases, migrants have left a love behind, sometimes their whole family. Many of the refugees have taken big risks and travelled in dangerous situations. Their only option is to leave from a country of misery toward a better and promised country. Is it because our globe already has many inhabitants that we are denying migrants to look for a better life?

Consequences of colonialism

The many conflicts and wars of the last centuries have caused a lot of migration. People do not want to be involved in armed conflicts. They seek protection for themselves and their families, preferably in their own neighbourhood, or if necessary further away.

A deeper reason is to be find in colonialism, which began with a huge migration, when millions of Europeans moved overseas to invade, settle and rule other countries and even over other continents. That resulted in huge displacement of locals and in worldwide slavery. Slavery was abolished in the last century. However, in some countries slavery existed until a few decades ago.

Many of the issues that make people emigrate are home-grown: corruption, malfeasance and mismanagement by local rulers, and inherent societal issues that preceded colonialism, such as the treatment of women. Western values have been imposed on other civilisations, which contrasted with the individuality and the character of the local population.

All around the world, civil upheaval causes people to flee, and many conflicts have been ongoing for years or decades. There are the wars that everybody knows about, such as in Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria; then there are the little-known ones, such as the Moro Muslim conflict in the Philippines,[8] which has cost a cumulative 120.000 lives, and the Ituri conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo,[9] which has taken over 60.000. Many of these conflicts have their origin in colonialism or botched colonial population transfer or map making. One of the latest dramatic examples is the 2015 Rohingya crisis in Myanmar.[10] Almost a million of them have fled over the border to Bangladesh.

Small arms

War creates refugees. The purchase and sale of small arms is another cause of people on the run. Just as the sale of small arms fuels domestic strife and spurs migration, the sale of heavy weapons is instrumental in creating conflict between nations. To date, 130 countries have signed the 2014 United Nations Arms Trade Treaty,[11] the only serious effort to stem the trade in conventional arms around the world.

Climate change

Climate migration is not new. In the twenty-first century, the number one driver of migration might be climate change. According to the UN, a fifth of the world’s population will be affected by floods by 2050. Therefore, many of them will move to dry land. According to the International Organisation for Migration,[12] at least 200 million people will be displaced by climate change by 2050. The figure could be as high as one billion, which would be one out of every ten people. That means that in some parts of the world, national borders will become irrelevant.

You can set up a wall to try to contain 10.000, 20.000, and one million people, but not 10 million. Migration by climate change has been dramatically increasing in the recent past. Since 1992, droughts, floods and storms have affected 4.2 billion people. Today, 1.8 billion people are suffering the effects of drought, land degradation and desertification. According to the UN high commissioner for refugees, since 2008, 22.5 million people have had to flee their homes because of climate-related extreme weathers events, like hurricanes or droughts. Climate change affects everyday life.

In conclusion

This debate requires individual and common solidarity. Solidarity is one of our norms and values. Solidarity will first be structural, organized solidarity. It is painful to see that most governments remain stuck under the .7 % of the development cooperation budget. The same governments argue for the elimination of the causes of migration but do little or nothing specifically about it. You cannot maintain double and contradictory rhetoric.

Today, and since the 1980s, solidarity is not a buzzword. It remains in full completion. Trends within political groups push solidarity towards the private sphere. It is not always certain that the necessary involvement with other people will continue to exist. Charity is good and it is good for interpersonal relationships. It is also necessary, but rather temporary, fragmentary. If solidarity dies, it harms the citizen.

From a justice perspective, we know that you should always look at a social system from the point of view of the least-favoured, in this case the people on the move. So from the bottom up. Never from the top down. The ratio essendi, the ground of our being, the ground of existence of each of us is being human, unique and irreplaceable. Everyone must be given a fundamental equality. Why not?

____________

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KK-0DbOG3zk
[2] https://www.ohchr.org/EN/UDHR/Documents/UDHR_Translations/eng.pdf
[3] https://www.eesc.europa.eu/en/news-media/news/statement-criminalisation-solidarity
[4] https://www.caritasinternational.be/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/190617_Caritas_Europa_criminalisation_solidarity_FINAL.pdf?x67227
[5] https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2019-05/pope-francis-message-world-day-migrants-refugees-full-text.html
[6] https://www.paxchristi.net/news/pax-christi-international-recognises-european-lawyers-lesvos-recipient-2019-peace-prize/7296
[7] https://www.unhcr.org/figures-at-a-glance.html
[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moro_conflict
[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ituri_conflict
[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_Rohingya_refugee_crisis
[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arms_Trade_Treaty
[12] https://www.iom.int/migration-and-climate-change-0
Peace

Jerusalem keeps making headlines: Is it a city of peace?

by Rev. Paul Lansu

It is not apparent to everybody visiting the city of Jerusalem in the Holy Land. But next to the geographically, religious and historic reality of the city there is the spiritual dimension of Jerusalem as the Eternal and Holy City of Faith.

In the Gospel readings, Jesus wishes his followers a good trip to Jerusalem.[i] Jesus himself is also on his way, with Jerusalem as the final destination. For us, people from here and now, Jerusalem can be a travel destination. We do not even have to take the plane for that. It is a destination in the spiritual sense: Jerusalem is the city of ultimate and total peace, the city of security finding in God.

The city of stone Jerusalem as it is today is still far from that peace. It is now more a city of dissatisfaction and division. However, that reality also speaks for itself: peace is and remains a difficult task, both in the city of people and in one’s own heart. Jesus very much wishes us to find that peace. It must be our first word and our first task when we come to people: wishing for peace.

That peace must already be evident from the way we go. As a “lamb among the wolves,” Jesus calls this. You go on the road to people happens in all defencelessness. You do not have a thick wallet in your pocket to unpack with it, you do not wear trendy fashion clothing, and you have nothing with which you can force or enforce. You only have yourself, the only message being the vulnerable message of God’s love for people.

Jerusalem, this is where you can experience the confidence of God. That place cannot always be found. That destination is not included in a travel guide. It lies in yourself; it is in places where you meet people who radiate peace and where you can give peace yourself. However, a spiritual approach to the city of peace is not unconnected to reality of today.

Come and see

It might be extremely revealing if you as a believer could visit the city of Jerusalem “in persona”. Smell and feel the city. You need sufficient time to empathize with the extreme and many aspects of the city, both religious and cultural.

The Old City as a whole is particularly rich and hides a huge wealth of history and religious tradition. However, Jerusalem is also marked by a violent past. To date, there is deep division. The future is uncertain.

Three monotheistic religions together form a tripartite in terms of holy places and presence: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Two peoples are claiming Jerusalem as their capital city: Israel and Palestine.

Intertwining of holy places

Israel regards Jerusalem as its eternal and indivisible capital. According to Jewish belief, there is the rock where Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac, as well as the holy of holies of the temple of Salome (First Temple)[ii]. The Western or Wailing Wall[iii] symbolizes the Jewish presence.

Jerusalem has the same religious significance for the Palestinians as it does for the entire Islamic world. The city is considered the third most sacred place in Islam, because the prophet Mohammed would have ascended from that same rock to heaven. At that place is now the “farthest mosque”, the Al-Aqsa.[iv]

From a military, strategic and geographical point of view, Jerusalem is not very important – there is no industry, no river, and no airport – but the cultural and religious importance of the city is immense. Ideology here transcends the location. Concerning authority over and access to Jerusalem, it will be difficult to compromise.

In 2017, President Trump stated that the USA recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.[v] Congress had been in favour of this since 1995 and had made funds available to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. However, Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama had repeatedly signed for a six-month postponement of the placement. The official move took place in May 2018.

For the Palestinians, this is a provocation and blocks a two-state solution with Jerusalem as the capital for both nations. Despite the further Judaization of the city of Jerusalem, East Jerusalem should also become the capital of the Palestinians as recognised in international law.

In response to the USA move to Jerusalem, 128 countries voted in emergency session of UNGA on 21 December 2017,[vi] to null any decision or action that could alter character, status or demographic composition of Jerusalem. Call on states to refrain from establishing their diplomatic missions from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The role of the UN in the peace process should not be compromised.

Keeping the Status Quo of Jerusalem

Free access to the holy sites for all three religions is essential. The history of insisting on the free access goes back to the Caliph Omar Bin Al Khattab who visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in 637 AD with Patriarch Sophronios and declined to pray at the Church when the noon call to prayer was heard. This symbolic and practical measure by the Caliph ensured for generations to come the right of Christians to their own holy places unhindered.

In 1852 Ottoman Sultan Abdul Majid issued the Status Quo decree[vii] that sought to regulate freedom of access, possession and worship in the Holy Sepulcher and six other Christian sites. Later in history, the holy places remained under the existing religious custodianship arrangements.

The UNGA Resolutions 181 of 1947 and 194 of 1948 recommended respectively for Jerusalem to be placed under international trusteeship and the internationalisation and demilitarisation of the city in order to presence free access and protection of Jerusalem’s holy sites.

Also after the June 1967 war and the beginning of the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza, the freedom of access to the different religious sites have been ensured. The international community repeatedly stated not to accept any unilateral initiative designed to change the status quo of Jerusalem. Today, it is stated that Jerusalem is a final status issue that must be resolved through direct negotiations.

Judaism and Islam have both the same sacred sites

Some religious Jews argue that they should have the right to pray at Al Haram Al Sharif, the Temple Mount.[viii] They are right in principle. In an open society and climate of political and religious tolerance, Jews should visit holy sites of Muslims and vice versa. Muslims should be allowed to visit the Western Wall or the Rachel’s Tomb,[ix] both sacred to Jews and Muslims. In addition, the Abrahamic Mosque in Hebron is divided as well.

The policy should be no exclusivity over the holy sites. They should be open and reachable for all believers. All monotheistic believers of the three religions should guarantee the multi-cultural and multi-religious mosaic character of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem and Bethlehem are one identity

Since 2002, the Israeli government has built a separation wall and introduced a permit system.[x] These measures have virtually divided Bethlehem from its twin city Jerusalem. Historically and for pilgrimage and tourists purposes, the twin cities have never before been separated. Bethlehem sits practically at the southern border of Jerusalem.

The United Nations when it proposed a Corpus Separatum[xi] idea, Bethlehem and its surroundings, were also included together with Jerusalem. Jerusalem and Bethlehem cannot be separated from each other; their historic, religious and geographic complementarity must be considered in any future political settlement.

In conclusion

  1. The international community should develop the political will to unequivocally oppose unilateral plans to change the status of Jerusalem; to continue to respect Security Council Resolutions 478 and 2334 (stop annexation and further building of settlements in East-Jerusalem); as well as to take measures to ensure an end to the occupation, and its ongoing violations of international law and human rights such as house demolitions in especially East-Jerusalem.
  2. The international community needs to persist in monitoring infractions on the right to free access to holy places by Palestinians, Muslims and Christians alike. Maintaining the Status Quo, in spite of talk that circumstances and conditions have changed, should be the basis in regulating relationships to sacred holy places. This is important especially when there are holy sites sacred to more than one religion.
  3. Lastly, the need for a political solution remains paramount. Jerusalem remains a universal city and the international community should do whatever in its means to ensure this character of the city and to ensure access to the relevant holy sites for the different religious communities. Jerusalem will never be one, open city until the reality of two Jerusalems (East and West) is recognised and accepted by both sides. Sustainable peace in Palestine and Israel can only be achieved if Jerusalem remains the current home of Israelis and Palestinians alike and the future capital for their two nations. Jerusalem should be the city of the blessing of all peoples.

“Come and see” is the Biblical call to come to Jerusalem and the Holy Land in order to visit the holy places but at the same time to get in touch with local people. A pilgrimage becomes a quest for spirituality through encounters with other people, and a quest in search of God’s truth. It is recommended for pilgrims to seek people-to-people encounters, a path that leads to mutuality, solidarity and the real discovery of human community. By doing so, pilgrims and all people of good will can support and bless all Palestinian and Israeli peace builders.

___________ 

Faith in Action – 800 years of Francis and the Sultan[xii]

Francis of Assisi is commemorated on October 4, 2019. This day is dedicated to Francis’ meeting with the Sultan of Egypt, 800 years ago; a particularly inspiring peace initiative in the time of the Crusades to break through the enemy thinking. Francis and the Sultan is a story of inspiring meeting and peace building. However, if we want to make such moments of reconciliation possible 800 years later, then it will also be necessary to invest more in peace.

On Friday, October 4, 2019, around 2 p.m., simultaneously with Muslims’ afternoon prayers, worldwide church bells will sound as an invitation to pray in solidarity with each other for peace, dialogue and get-together.

____________

[i] See Luke 10, 1-20
[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solomon%27s_Temple
[iii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Wall
[iv] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Aqsa_Mosque
[v] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_recognition_of_Jerusalem_as_capital_of_Israel
[vi] https://www.un.org/press/en/2017/ga11995.doc.htm
[vii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Status_Quo_(Jerusalem_and_Bethlehem)
[viii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_Mount
[ix] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rachel%27s_Tomb
[x] https://www.btselem.org/freedom_of_movement
[xi] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corpus_separatum_(Jerusalem)
[xii] https://indianexpress.com/article/research/pope-francis-abu-dhabi-st-francis-sultan-of-egypt-5572722/
Nonviolence, Peace, Refugee Stories, Social Issues

A cross of human bodies

by Rose Berger, Sojourners

I spent five hours as a guest of the U.S. Capitol Police last week. It was hot, really hot. And those plastic handcuffs leave bruises.

I was one of 71 Catholics arrested by the U.S. Capitol Police in the rotunda of the Russell Senate building in Washington, D.C., for “crowding, obstructing, or incommoding” while praying the rosary. My prayer was — and is — to end the warehousing of immigrant children in cages — 63,624 of whom have been apprehended by border patrol at the southwestern border between October 2018 and June 2019 and seven of whom have died after being in federal custody since September. More than a dozen Catholic orders and organizations sponsored the event. Seven Catholic bishops sent letters of support.

I’ve been arrested more than 30 times for nonviolent civil disobedience, beginning when I was in high school. It is one way to say “no” to inhuman laws, to show how to build a “‘moral frontier’ in one’s own identity, by openly and publicly challenging authorities who [are] practicing inhuman orders,” as Mexican Gandhian strategist and Catholic Pietro Ameglio puts it.

When laws become so egregious that life and creation are at risk, then the moral imperative is clear: Disobedience in the face of what is inhuman is a personal, religious, and social virtue to increase the good.

We were in the Russell Senate building to pierce the veil of morally isolated political leaders who are caging immigrant children…

Read the full article here.

I am Pax Christi, Peace, Social Issues

Reflections from my work with torture victims in Sri Lanka

by Fr. Nandana Manatunga
Director of Human Rights Office in Kandy, Sri Lanka

“Having seen the tears of the mothers and family members of torture victims, I was compelled to go beyond the cultic role of the priest”

As a very young priest, I saw how the security forces killed thousands of young people in broad daylight. They were suddenly picked by the armed forces and detained. I went in search of them … it was the beginning of my human rights work.

In the very second year of my priesthood, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People’s Liberation Front or JVP) youth insurrection led to unfortunate incidents occurring during the 1988-89 period, and over 60,000 people, including those who did not have any connections with the JVP, were killed or made to disappear by security forces and paramilitary groups who operated with the blessings of the then-government.

Arrests, torture and killings

I saw so many young people being arrested, almost every day, being brutally tortured and killed and their bodies either burnt or thrown into the river. I had to visit several police stations and army camps in search of the arrested youth, to get them released. Security and protection had to be provided to the youth who were searched by the security forces. Once when I was traveling alone in my vehicle, a man suddenly stopped me and got into the van and asked me to speed. The stranger got off at a bus stop and told me that he had been taken to the cemetery to be shot, but that he had managed to escape.

Having seen the tears of the mothers and family members of torture victims, I was compelled to go beyond the cultic role of the priest to broaden my pastoral ministry to defend and protect the vulnerable that were subjected to torture and inhuman, degrading treatment and punishment.

Moral leaders

I was convinced that the priests and religious are also moral leaders and we believe that God created mankind in his own image and likeness and that we are equal and share the same dignity. Hence since year 2000 we have empowered more than 125 priests and religious to commit them to work against torture and to protect, promote and safeguard the rights of the poor, the discriminated, and the marginalized of the society. We have formed the network “Priests and Religious for Human Rights” (PRHR).

Inspired by the families of the disappeared and the victims of torture and rape, I journey with them in search of justice and redress. For the past 20 years I have provided them security, protection, legal, medical and psychological assistance to regain their lost dignity. To achieve this goal, the Human Rights Office was set up, with a support group of more than 35 members, both professionals and civil society activists. Several torture victims were provided security and protection, legal, medical and psychological assistance for more than 15 years, until the adjudication process was completed. So far, we have assisted around 128 victims of torture to receive justice and redress.

A historical day

July 28th, 2015 was, to me personally, an historic day, as one of our torture victims Rohitha Liyanage activated the Torture Act no 22 of 1994 after a long interval without use. No torture perpetrators from the police or armed forces were indicted nor sentenced during the previous regime from 2005-2015, as a reward for assisting the armed forces during the civil war.

The legal machinery was once again activated when the two accused police officers who severely tortured Rohitha on the 28th July 2005 were sentenced to 7 years rigorous imprisonment by the Kandy High Court Judge on the 3rd of December 2015.

Jesudasan Rita, a schoolgirl, also secured a historical judgment in 2015 when two perpetrators were sentenced to 23 years’ imprisonment for abduction and rape in 2001.

I have had to face threats from police and other rights violators and have had to navigate criticism and skepticism from some fellow priests and church leaders since I challenged them to be more active in fighting abuses.

I dedicated the award which I received in 2018, the Gwangiu Prize for Human Rights, by the May 18 Memorial Foundation in South Korea, to the victims and survivors of torture and rape.

Nuclear Disarmament, Peace

Marshall Islands – a tragic confluence of nuclear testing and climate change

by Claude Mostowik, msc
Pax Christi Australia

A chosen people

In 1946, after a Sunday church service, the people of Enewetak Atoll (also known as Bikini Atoll) were told they are a chosen people, like the Israelites, who would deliver humanity from future wars as the US perfected the atomic bomb. Within weeks after the people being relocated, the first tests began. The so-called ‘promised land’ was a destroyed land.

Background

The Marshall Islands (RMI), with its 29 coral atolls, lie between Hawaii and Australia. In 1914, they were captured by Japan. When Japan was defeated by the US in 1944, the Japanese bases became U.S. military bases. Its remote location, sparse population, and proximity to other U.S. military bases, made it seem ideal for testing of U.S. nuclear weapons. Between 1946 and 1958, the United States conducted 67 nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands, 23 at Bikini Atoll, and 44 near Enewetak Atoll, but the fallout was not contained to these atolls. It became the most contaminated place on Earth and the people are still dealing with the fallout more than 70 years later.

Since 1945, the U.S. expanded nuclear research and development programs as they conducted 67 tests in the RMI between 1946 to 1958. Their combined explosive power if parcelled evenly over that 12-year period would equal 1.6 Hiroshima-size explosions per day. The ‘Castle Bravo’ test in 1954 was detonated with 1,000 times the force of the Hiroshima explosion.

Nuclear issues are forever.

Once subjected to the ravages of nuclear testing and its effects, the people now face oblivion due to climate change. Both are connected. Having endured burns to the bone, forced relocation, nightmarish birth defects, and short and long term cancers, the people have inherited a world unmade, remade and then conveniently forgotten by the USA. Washington has tried to close the book on a history of destruction and sadness. Over the years following the testing, the Marshall Islanders living on the fallout-contaminated islands ended up breathing, absorbing, drinking and eating considerable amounts of radioactivity.

Most of the people live in Majuro, and the ocean or lagoon can be seen from every part of town. The people depend on the ocean but rising sea-levels due to global warming now threaten their homes and lives. The effects of contamination by nuclear testing and climate change have embraced. Assurances by the USA that the well-being of the islanders would secured have not eventuated. Though an independent nuclear claims tribunal awarded the RMI $2.3 billion in health and property damages, there was no mechanism to force the USA to pay it. Washington does not acknowledge ongoing liability apart from the tens of millions of dollars it grants annually to environmental, food and health-care programs. The claim is that the US acquitted itself reasonably. In 2014, lawsuits against the United States and the eight other nuclear-armed nations, alleging noncompliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty, were filed. The U.S. Justice Department labelled it a stunt. The suit was dismissed. For the international court, it was not an issue because the USA does not recognise its jurisdiction…

Click here to read the entire article in “Just Comment”.