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”.

Peace, Social Issues

Lessons for Earth 50 years after the first Moon landing

by Tony Magliano

If you were at least 10-years-old on July 20, 1969, you will surely remember that your eyes were glued to a black and white television set watching what no eyes had ever seen before.

You will remember, as I do, the excitement of seeing on screen animation of a lunar module steadily descending toward a first ever human moon landing, together with voices from Mission Control in Houston communicating with the lunar module crew, and all topped off with narration from the legendary American newscaster Walter Cronkite .

But what viewers around the world didn’t know was that lunar module astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were in trouble. As they approached the moon’s surfaced they discovered that they were off course from their preprogrammed landing site and headed toward a field of boulders and craters. Commander Armstrong took over the controls and flew the lunar module – named “Eagle” – manually in search for an open level spot.

With fuel diminishing quickly Armstrong sited his spot. The descent engine was then fired up, but it kicked up so much lunar dust that visibility became extremely poor. Armstrong had to use a few boulders piercing through the dust cloud to estimate the distance from the moon’s surface.

Shortly after Mission Control’s warning that they had just 30 seconds of fuel remaining, Neil Armstrong calmly uttered these famous words: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

Wow!

But the excitement didn’t stop there. Read on at Space.com.

Space and space exploration is fascinating; especially since it easily helps us to see our awesome God reflected in his awesome creation!

And so, while I am hopeful that humankind will seriously pursue travel out into the cosmos, I am hoping far more importantly that all of us will urgently commit ourselves first to cleaning up and protecting our common home – planet Earth!…

Click here to read the entire article.

Nonviolence, Peace

In Afghanistan, we have three dreams

By Dr. Hakim Young and the Afghan Peace Volunteers

Dear fellow human beings,

Some of us have wondered, “Are people today too disconnected and frantic to calm down, in order to solve global challenges together? Are we so polarized and self-absorbed that we cannot stop judging one another or insisting on our partisan ways?”

In Kabul, our thoughts and feelings are diverse, complicated and flawed, so we centre our three dreams on relationships.

We have felt much joy in creating this video-letter. We dedicate it to planet earth and to everyone in the human family.

We hope that each of us can take tiny actions to free ourselves from the ravages of money and power.

____________

We’re the Afghan Peace Volunteers in Kabul, and we have three dreams.

Our three dreams are about reuniting with nature and 7.7 billion other human beings!

Our dreams aren’t prescriptions. They’re music and movements, distilled from today’s nightmares.

What we hope to gain is love, not money or political power, because love will be good for all of us!

We will re-boot the operating systems that have programmed us to chase after fake money and power.

After years of rote exams, we have hardly learned anything about becoming finer human beings. So, we have resolved to educate ourselves to question everything, and to love everyone!

We’re like children whose instinct is to become friends. More than being dreamers, we’re do-ers. So, we’re building three earth GENeration dreams, GEN for Green, Equal and Nonviolent…

Read the entire article here.

Peace, Social Issues

Synod for the Amazon: What to expect

by Chloe Noel,
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

The Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian Region is scheduled to take place in Rome from October 6-27 on the theme, “Amazonia: new paths for the Church and for an integral ecology.”  The following article was published in the July-August 2019 issues of NewsNotes.

In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis refers to the Amazon and Congo Basins as the “lungs of our planet.” According to the working document for the Synod for the Amazon, available on the Synod’s website at http://www.sinodoamazonico.va, the Amazon rainforest, covering much of northwestern Brazil and extending into Colombia, Peru and six other South American countries, provides 15 percent of freshwater globally and contributes to global wind currents.

Concerns for the environment in the world’s largest tropical rainforest, unmatched in its biodiversity and influence on the health of the entire planet, and concerns for the human dignity of vulnerable indigenous communities there – communities with deep cultural traditions and spiritual wisdom on living in peace and balance with all of creation – led Pope Francis to announce in 2017 that a Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region would work “to identify new paths for the evangelization of God’s people in that region.”

The working document indicates that key discussion points for the three-week meeting in Rome in October will be the threats to life in the Amazon region by environmental destruction and exploitation, by the systematic violation of the fundamental human rights of the Amazon population, in particular, by the violation of the rights and traditions of indigenous peoples, such as the right to land, to self-determination, to consultation and prior consent, and possible suggestions for greater access to the Eucharist in a region with few priests…

Read the entire article by clicking here.