Human Rights

Matt Manry 11-02-2012
RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images

Indian children shout slogans during a protest in New Delhi. RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images

The Disease: Modern Day Slavery

Human trafficking is a worldwide enterprise in the 21st century. In the United States, USAID has reported that between 12 and 27 million people are victims of human trafficking worldwide. 

Even in our American society, men and women are being sold and traded for labor or sexual purposes every day. According to the Freedom Center, three out of every four victims are female and nearly half of modern-day slaves are children. It is hard to imagine that this problem could go unnoticed for very long. The good news is that on Sept. 25, the president took notice of the disease that affects 17,500 American people each day. 

President Barack Obama stated that slavery, “is barbaric and is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world.” 

Dawn Cherie Araujo 10-25-2012
Ami Vitale/Getty Images

Woman whose house burned in Hindu-Muslim violence in Pakistan.Ami Vitale/Getty Images

When the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the world was ushered into a period of weapons paranoia. The Cold War, of course, was hallmarked by the obsessive weapons one-upmanship of the United States and the Soviet Union.

Who, then, would have thought that in the 21st century, the seeming weapon of choice would not be some sort of super-nuclear missile or an ultra-deadly biological toxin, but that it would, instead, be women?

“Women are being used as weapons of terror,” Dr. Rubina Greenwood told an audience last week at a congressional briefing on the rights of minority women in Pakistan organized by the Hindu American Foundation. 

John McCullough 10-22-2012
Scott Clarkson / Wikimedia Commons

Scott Clarkson / Wikimedia Commons

NEW YORK — Former Sen. George McGovern was a friend to anyone who is concerned about the issue of hunger and malnutrition in the world.

As the one-time United Nations Ambassador to the Hungry, McGovern had always made battling hunger a top concern, even when the political winds did not favor that fight as a topical concern. But, unfortunately, as he knew better than anyone, hunger and malnutrition still must command our attention.

McGovern's death on Sunday at age 90 is indeed a sad moment for our nation, regardless of political persuasions. McGovern was someone who cared very deeply about people, cared about issues of injustice, cared about brokenness. He was committed to using the strength of his public service to bring healing and reconciliation.

I recall being with him in 2002, when he delivered a keynote address to some of our staff from Church World Service who were meeting in Daytona Beach, Fla. He was a huge supporter of our nationwide CROP Hunger Walks, which raise funds and awareness for food programs here in the U.S. and around the globe. 

His talk anticipated our organization's plans for a multi-year Campaign to End Child Malnutrition in Africa.

"I hope someday we will be able to proclaim that we have banished hunger in the United States," he said, "and that we’ve been able to bring nutrition and health to the whole world."

Lisa Sharon Harper 10-19-2012

Twenty-five cents was all it took. It was like magic. The punches stopped and for the first time in a long time I felt what it feels like to be normal — to be safe, to be lovable, to live without a target on my back.

But even the transaction was not a guarantee of love.

Though I continued to bring quarters that fed the monster’s craving every day, after a while even their magic stopped working. 

The torture started again on the playground after school. 

I walked across the schoolyard and headed home, which was only a half-block away from the school. Suddenly I was surrounded by Alice and her goons. She taunted me and pushed me, then punched me. It didn’t stop. It became a ritual. 

Soon, every day, armed with only my book bag, I would duck my head and make a beeline for my house and Miss Burton (the babysitter). And every day Alice and her bulldogs would hunt me down and taunt me and push me and punch me as I walked the looooong half-block home. 

Mom asked one day what I was doing with all those quarters. When I told her, she marched up to the school and had it out with Miss Williams and then my principal. I was only in that school for one year.

Alice wasn’t the last bully I had to survive. There were others. There was Tracy in the fifth grade and two white girls whose names I’ve blocked out in eighth grade. For a long time I thought I must have an invisible target attached to my back.

Alessandro Speciale 09-27-2012
RNS photo by Jimmy Harris via Flickr

View down Via della Conciliazione to St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, Italy. RNS photo by Jimmy Harris via Flickr

Just one week after Pope Benedict XVI ended his successful visit to Lebanon, the country's most senior Catholic leader called for a United Nations resolution “that will ban denigrating religions.”

Meanwhile in Pakistan, the country's only Catholic cabinet member, Minister of Harmony Paul Bhatti, this week told an interfaith gathering in Lahore that he will press U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to pass a UN resolution that condemns "defamation and contempt against religions." Bhatti said "we must not allow anyone to break our harmony" between Christians and Muslims.

Both moves are understandable in light of increasingly popular efforts in predominantly Muslim countries to outlaw blasphemy or defaming religion. But they could prove problematic for the Vatican as it fights to protect the rights of Christian minorities around the world.

The debate suggests a widening gap between the Vatican's official position, which opposes such measures, and the day-to-day reality of Catholic leaders on the ground, who often feel compelled to support Muslim efforts to protect religious tenets and religious figures from defamation.

Amanda Greene 09-27-2012
RNS photo by Amanda Greene/Wilmington FAVS

MaLisa Johnson, the founder of the Centre of Redemption. RNS photo by Amanda Greene/Wilmington FAVS

The difference between sex trafficking and freelance prostitution is who has the control and who is keeping the money, said prosecutor Lindsey Roberson, an assistant district attorney in New Hanover County. If a girl or a woman is being forced or coerced by a pimp to perform sex acts without monetary gain, that’s trafficking.

The North Carolina Coalition to Combat Human Trafficking ranks the state among the top 10 states for the problem. North Carolina’s three major highways connect much of the East Coast, and the state has a large transient military and farmworker population, and international seaports in the Cape Fear region.

In May, Roberson helped start a deferred prosecution pilot program for first-time offenders with prostitution charges, partnering with a local rape crisis center.

As a Christian, Roberson is also on the board of a new faith-based effort called the Centre of Redemption, which is scheduled to open in December to help pregnant teens and teen moms who are also trafficking victims.

Bruce Nolan 09-24-2012
Bourbon Street photo: gary yim / Shutterstock.com

Bourbon Street photo: gary yim / Shutterstock.com

A federal judge has temporarily blocked enforcement of a city law that was recently used to arrest Christian evangelists who were preaching on Bourbon Street during Southern Decadence, the annual celebration of gay culture in the French Quarter.

Part of the city's recently enacted "aggressive solicitation" ordinance orders people not to "loiter or congregate on Bourbon Street for the purpose of disseminating any social, political or religious message between the hours of sunset and sunrise."

"That's no longer in effect," American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Justin Harrison said.

U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon granted a temporary restraining order on Sept. 21 and set a hearing for a preliminary injunction for Oct. 1.

Nine Christian preachers and activists were arrested in one well-publicized incident during the gay-themed celebration. One reportedly held a sign reading "God Hates Homos," and others shouted what witnesses characterized as slurs.

James F. McCarty 09-24-2012
RNS photo by Marvin Fong/The Plain Dealer

Amish women enter the federal courthouse in Cleveland. RNS photo by Marvin Fong/The Plain Dealer

Amish bishop Samuel Mullet was convicted Sept. 20 of federal hate crimes and conspiracy for exhorting followers to forcibly shear the hair and beards of those who opposed his breakaway Ohio sect.

Mullet’s three sons, his daughter, and 11 other family members and followers from his ultra-strict Amish order 100 miles southeast of Cleveland also were convicted of conspiracy and hate crimes after a trial that attracted international attention.

The 66-year-old bishop could face life in prison for his crimes. U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster scheduled sentencing hearings for Jan. 24.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bridget Brennan said federal sentencing guidelines recommend a minimum of 17 1/2 years for the other 15 defendants given that their crimes involved violence and kidnapping.

But defense attorneys said the judge has the discretion to sentence some of Mullet’s followers to as little as time already served in jail.

Jeanie Groh 09-21-2012

U.S. Sikhs are taking heart in a widely publicized Senate hearing on hate crimes and a pledge by the Justice Department to consider tracking hate crimes directed at their community.  

The hearing, on Sept. 19, featured Harpreet Singh Saini,18, whose mother was one of six Sikh worshippers killed Aug. 5 when a gunman opened fire in their Wisconsin gurudwara (house of worship or, literally, "house of the guru").

“Senators, I came here today to ask the government to give my mother the dignity of being a statistic,” he told a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “My mother and those shot that day will not even count on a federal form. We cannot solve a problem we refuse to recognize.”

Sikhism, a monotheistic faith founded in South Asia, is the world’s fifth largest religion with an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 adherents in the U.S. Male Sikhs often keep their uncut hair bound up in a turban.

The Senate hearing, spurred by the Wisconsin shooting, brought more than 400 people to Capitol Hill, most of them Sikhs.

James Colten 09-10-2012
Emmanuel Jal

Image via Wikimedia Commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/ File:Emmanuel_Jal_by_David_Shankbone.jpg

Emmanuel Jal—South Sudanese pop musician, rapper, and peace activist—was beaten and robbed this past weekend by Police in Juba, South Sudan (Rolling Stone). Jal, a former child soldier, was in his homeland promoting an upcoming concert on International Peace Day in two weeks.

AllAfrica reports:

“At approximately 9:30pm, Emmanuel was en route to the Gatwich guesthouse in the outskirts of Juba when he was stopped by police and robbed of his mobile phone. Imminent not to use violence, he was repeatedly beaten by 5 police and national security officers until he eventually lost consciousness."

the Web Editors 09-08-2012
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani

According to a report late Friday from Christian Solidarity Worldwide, an international organization devoted to issues of religious freedom, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, a Muslim convert to Christianity who has been imprisoned by the Iranian government since 2009 on apostasy charges, has been acquitted and released from prison.

Nadarkhani, 35, previously had faced a possible death sentence for the charges against him, a result of his prostelytizing Muslims to convert to Christianity. He also refused to deny his Christian faith to save himself from execution.

Since his detainment three years ago, the U.S. State Department, the British government, the Vatican, Amnesty International, and a host of Christian organizations and leaders — including South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu — have called on the Iranian government to release the young pastor.

Rachel Marie Stone 09-04-2012

Every so often I hear the insinuation that women (like me) who advocate for "normal" childbirth are inordinately self-focused (even selfish) and that women who are dissatisfied with the treatment they’ve received in hospitals during labor are “uncheerful” and, possibly — according to the women in controversial pastor Douglas Wilson’s life — confused theologically.

Don’t get me wrong: Ricki Lake’s memoir, at least as it concerns childbirth, definitely looks at the birth experience as if it is all about her. But while there’s no question that medical advances (and, yes, c-sections!) save lives, it’s also hard to contest the fact that medical interventions occur at rates that are simply unjustified.

September 3 (Labor Day) launched “Empowered Birth Awareness Week,” which, sponsored by ImprovingBirth.org, aims to raise people’s consciousness concerning the notion of “evidence-based maternity care,” the less than radical notion that what happens during birth (ie, continuous fetal monitoring, mandatory IVs, NPO rules that prohibit eating and drinking) should be medically indicated, not routine, and supported by sound medical research.

Dan Ivers, Daniel Burke 08-28-2012
Joseph and Jane Clementi, parents of Tyler Clementi and their son, James

Joseph and Jane Clementi, parents of Tyler Clementi; (right); and their son, James; are seen during a press conference

RIDGEWOOD, N.J.  — The parents of Tyler Clementi have left their longtime evangelical church due to its views on homosexuality.

Jane and Joe Clementi told The New York Times that they had grown increasingly out of step with the Grace Church, a nondenominational evangelical church in Ridgewood, N.J., due to its casting of homsexuality as sinful.

Tyler Clementi committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge in 2010. His death came just days after his roommate, Dharun Ravi, had spied on him during a tryst with another man in their freshman dormitory at Rutgers University.

Ravi was convicted of 15 charges, including invasion of privacy and bias intimidation, in March. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail, of which he served 20.

The case garnered national attention from the media, as well as gay rights and anti-bullying activists. Clementi had come out to his parents just days before he left for college, and numerous news outlets reported that he had left feeling rejected. According to the Times, Tyler told his mother that he did not believe he could be Christian and gay.

Jayme Cloninger 08-24-2012
Tin miners at Nyabibwe, North Kivu. (Sasha Lezhnev/Enough Project)

Tin miners at Nyabibwe, North Kivu. (Sasha Lezhnev/Enough Project)

Overall, the conflict minerals provision will have a positive effect on promoting peace and stability in Congo — but a slow one. The rule gives major companies a two-year window to implement the regulations,despite the fact that the slow release of the rule has already caused aninherent one-year delay.

Given today’s intense political climate, particularly regarding corporate responsibility and regulation standards, the release of this rule took over a year, making Wednesday’s vote a truly long-awaited and important day. The rule is a win for both American consumers and those seeking peace in Congo. However, it also  appears to have been weakened to placate the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, who have both threatened lawsuits on behalf of big-business lobbies.

According to the SEC, both provisions drew in some of the most intense public pressure, accumulating hundreds of phone calls to their offices and thousands of petition signatures for the release of strong rules. Many of activists who understand their unique connection to the conflict in eastern Congo through consumer electronics products, have joined organizations like the Enough Project and faith communities, in raising their concern as consumers to pressure electronic companies and governments to clean up the supply chain of conflict minerals. It’s been a journey of advocating with Congolese civil society for a clean supply chain that benefits rather than destroys communities in eastern Congo. 

Rose Marie Berger 08-22-2012

Agencia Fides, the Vatican news outlet for Catholic missioners, is the only news source for reports about Mussalaha, the popular faith-led peace movement in Syria. With violence fracturing along religious/ethnic lines, this inter-religious movement seeks to maintain safe havens for all Syrians who will lay down their weapons. Mussalaha is also smuggling food, medicine, and hope into blockaded cities, such as Rableh where more than 12,000 Christians have been under siege for more than 10 days.

Agencia Fides reports: Over 12 thousand faithful Greek-Catholics are trapped in the village of Rableh, west of Qusayr, in the area of Homs. Food is scarce, the faithful are living on "bread and water", medicine is lacking to treat the sick and wounded. This is the alarm raised by local sources of Fides that invoke respect for humanitarian law, that confirm what the international press is reporting on the situation in Rableh. For more than ten days the village of Rableh is subject to a strict blockade by armed opposition groups, which surround it on all sides....

 ...representatives of the popular initiative for reconciliation "Mussalaha" were able to carry a small load of humanitarian aid to the village. A representative of "Mussalaha" assured the faithful by claiming that "everything will be done to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid." An appeal was launched by His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorios III Laham, visibly moved, to all men of good will so that "Rableh is saved and all other villages affected in Syria, and finally for peace to be reached in our beloved country." Even the Apostolic Nuncio in Syria, His Exc. Mgr. Mario Zenari, called on all parties involved "to the strict observance of the international humanitarian law", pointing out that the resolution of the crisis in Syria depends first of all on its citizens.

Read the whole article.

the Web Editors 08-17-2012
Denise Siwatula

Denise Siwatula

“It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” –Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States from 1933-45

“If we just sat with crossed arms, what would happen then?” is the question Denise, a Congolese civil rights attorney, asks us.

She has seen the destruction of her home through natural disaster and the pain of thousands of Congolese women who are raped every year. Still, she is faithful with the calling that she has been given—working to prosecute the cases she can to help rape survivors seek justice and find the hope to continue on.

Denise knows that to make peace, it is necessary to restrain and often punish the evil that humans do to one another.

“The Bible takes evil seriously and clearly says that evildoers should be held accountable for their deeds, and that the state has the legitimate role of bringing to justice those who perpetrate terrible crimes,” writes Jim Wallis in a July 2011 Sojourners’ column, “The Things That Make For Peace.”

But Denise’s work does not focus just on the punishment of those who commit rape but on the restoration of the survivors.

J. Daryl Byler 08-16-2012
 Syrian boy in rented flat in Mafraq, Jordan. MCC Photo/Nada Zabeneh

Syrian boy in rented flat in Mafraq, Jordan. MCC Photo/Nada Zabeneh

At the corner grocery in our Jabal al-Webdah neighborhood of Amman, a Syrian man in his early 20s now runs the meat and cheese counter. Ahmed (not his real name) is one of more than 150,000 Syrians who have fled to Jordan since his country’s violence began in March 2011.  

Young males seeking to avoid mandatory military service are one of the largest groups leaving Syria.

Ahmed wires his wages to his family in Syria and calls them each evening to be sure they are still safe. “The situation inside Syria is even worse than reported in the news,” he laments.

A recent UNHCR report notes that, increasingly, Syrians are arriving in Jordan with only the clothes they are wearing and with few economic resources after months of unemployment.

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GettyImages

Hillary Clinton delivers remarks on the 'State of International Religious Freedom.' PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GettyImages

Religious minorities continue to suffer loss of their rights across the globe, the State Department reported on Monday, with a rise in blasphemy laws and restrictions on faith practices.

Almost half of the world's governments "either abuse religious minorities or did not intervene in cases of societal abuse," said Ambassador-at-Large Suzan Johnson Cook at a State Department briefing on the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report.

"It takes all of us — governments, faith communities, civil society working together to ensure that all people have the right to believe or not to believe," she said.

Christians in Egypt, Tibetan Buddhists in China and Baha'is in Iran are among those without religious rights, the report states.

In Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, people have been killed, imprisoned or detained because they violated or criticized blasphemy laws. In Indonesia, a Christian was sentenced to prison for five years for distributing books that were considered “offensive to Islam.”

These statutes, the U.S. government says, silence people in countries that claim to be “protecting religion.”

Jim Wallis 07-26-2012

The disciplinary actions announced this week by the NCAA against the Penn State University football program were severe.

They included a $60 million fine (equivalent to their football proceeds of one year), a four-year ban on playing in post-season bowl games, a four-year reduction in the school’s number of football scholarships from 25 to 15, vacating all of the wins of Penn State’s football wins from 1998-2011 from official records (including vitiating the numbers that made their famous coach Joe Paterno the “winningest” big-school college football coach in history), giving all returning football players the right to transfer to another school, a five-year probationary period for the football program, and reserving the right to do further investigations and impose additional sanctions on individuals for their behavior.

That will end Penn State’s dominant national football program for the foreseeable future and is a much more serious punishment than simply banning the university from playing football for a year  — aka a “death sentence”—  might have been.

I agree with the NCAA’s disciplinary decisions and would have supported even harsher penalties against Penn State.

Jim Wallis 07-25-2012

This week, I and many U.S. Christian leaders signed on to a letter, concerning a re-introduced version of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, a bill which perpetuates some alarming and hateful language about the LGBT community in Uganda, and indeed, around the world. When it was originally introduced in 2009, it made homosexuality an act punishable by death. While the most draconian measures have been removed, the bill still calls for life imprisonment for people who are homosexual, and makes even discussions about sexual orientation illegal, stifling any opportunity to build a civil and constructive dialogue. How can we expect to come together to bridge the divides if we cannot even bring ourselves to sit down together and talk? What is even more heartbreaking, so surprising, is that Christian leaders in Uganda continue to support it.

What are we calling for in this letter? It is a simple message, and one that all who profess a Christian faith should be able to agree with:

All human beings have been created in the image and likeness of God, and Christ teaches that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. All acts of bigotry and hatred betray these foundational truths.

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