United Nations

Genocides and Holocausts: Never Again

Photo via REUTERS / Amir Cohen

An Armenian woman lights a candle in remembrance of the Armenian genocide. Photo via REUTERS / Amir Cohen

One hundred years ago — April 1915 — as World War I raged across Europe, the government of the Ottoman Empire attacked its Armenian citizens. Over the next several years, it is estimated that as many as 1.5 million Armenians died. Able-bodied men were murdered or enslaved as forced labor in the army, and hundreds of thousands of women, children, the infirm, and the elderly were marched into the Syrian desert to face death.

Supported by the Young Turks, an ultranationalist party that approved systematic deportation, abduction, torture, massacre, and the expropriation of Armenian wealth, the German-allied Ottoman government used the excuse of war to initiate the forcible removal of Armenians from Armenia and Anatolia where they had lived for centuries.

The targeting and mass murder of Armenians has been termed a genocide.

Although racial, ethnic, and religious wars have killed millions over the centuries, genocide is a unique byproduct of the 20th century. It requires both a rabid nationalism and the capacity of a central authority to organize and implement a sustained and systematic program of targeted mass destruction. Not until the 20th century had governments the necessary technologies, resources, and means to ally their historical ethnic, religious, or racist hatreds with radical nationalism to end the collective existence of a people.

The Armenian genocide was recognized and deplored around the world, even as modern Turkey resists the “genocide” label. American diplomats, Russians, Arabs, and German officers stationed in Ottoman lands witnessed the slaughter and alerted the wider world. In May 1915, Great Britain, France, and Russia vowed to hold the Turks personally responsible for their crimes. Relief efforts to save the “starving Armenians” were widespread.

Pope Francis Throws the Weight of His Office Behind Tackling Climate Change

Photo via REUTERS / Alessandro Bianchi / RNS

Pope Francis waves in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on April 15, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Alessandro Bianchi / RNS

The Vatican is set to host a major conference on climate change this month that will feature leading researchers on global warming and an opening address by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The meeting, which the Vatican detailed on its website late on April 14, is another sign of Pope Francis’ “green agenda” and another potential red flag for conservatives who are already alarmed over an expected papal teaching document on the environment that is scheduled for release this summer.

The one-day summit on April 28 will also include participants from major world religions and aims to “elevate the debate on the moral dimensions of protecting the environment in advance of the papal encyclical,” as the papal document is known.

Another goal, says a statement on a Vatican website, is to highlight “the intrinsic connection between respect for the environment and respect for people — especially the poor, the excluded, victims of human trafficking and modern slavery, children, and future generations.”

Vatican's UN Envoy Says Bishop's Defrocking Shows Church Takes Abuse Seriously

Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, permanent observer to the UN office in Geneva. Creative Commons image by Jean-Marc Ferré, UN.

The defrocking of a former Vatican ambassador is a “sign of the seriousness” with which Pope Francis and the Vatican are approaching the clergy sexual abuse scandal, according to the Holy See’s representative to United Nations agencies in Geneva.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi was tasked with defending the Catholic Church’s record when he presented reports to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child and the U.N. Committee Against Torture in Geneva earlier this year.

During questioning, Tomasi was asked whether the Vatican would agree to extradite Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, a Polish archbishop and papal envoy, to his native Poland after he was recalled from the Dominican Republic last September on claims of sexual abuse.

Vatican Defends Record on Sexual Abuse to UN Panel

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi at WIPO Treaty for the Blind conference in June 2013. Photo courtesy JRandomF, via Wikimedia Commons

The Vatican has effectively addressed the “worldwide scourge” of clerical sexual abuse over the past decade and promoted the reporting of allegations to both church and legal authorities, a United Nations panel heard on Tuesday.

The Vatican’s ambassador to U.N. agencies in Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, said the Catholic Church had “crossed the threshold” in its approach to the issue of abuse, saying the church’s internal culture had changed.

Tomasi faced intense questioning from members of the U.N. committee investigating whether the church upholds the U.N. convention against torture beyond the walls of the world’s smallest country, the Vatican City state.

Shakira, Jude Law, Goldie Hawn And Lang Lang Join Education Emergency Coalition

Other members of the Emergency Coalition include: • Raj Shah, Administrator, US Agency for International Development • Alice Albright, CEO, Global Partnership for Education • Strive Masiyiwa, CEO, Econet Wireless • Kailash Satyarthi, Chairperson, Global March Against Child Labour • Aliko Dangote, Chair, Dangote Group and Founding Member, Global Business Coalition for Education • Jim Wallis, Founder, Sojourner • Archbishop Desmond Tutu • Ricken Patel, Executive Director, Avaaz • Fred van Leeuwen, General-Secretary, Education International • Isha Isatu Sesay, Anchor, CNN International and HLN • Mabel van Oranje, Chair, Girls Not Brides

UN Panel Blasts Vatican for Sex Abuse policies

The United Nations headquarters in New York. Photo courtesy Steve Cadman, via Wikimedia Commons/ Via RNS

A United Nations panel on Wednesday blasted the Vatican for protecting itself rather than victims of sexual abuse, and it called on the Holy See to create what it called an “independent mechanism” to investigate new charges of abuse.

The 16-page report from the Committee on the Rights of the Child accused the Vatican of “systematically” adopting policies that allowed priests to rape and molest thousands of young people over a span of decades. It also calls on the church to remove known or suspected abusers from its ranks immediately.

“The Committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators,” the report said.

8 Countries on UN Human Rights Council Restrict Religious Freedom

Photo by Tom Page via Flickr

The United Nations Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo by Tom Page via Flickr

LONDON — Eight of the 47 countries that hold seats on the United Nations Human Rights Council imprisoned people in 2013 under laws that restrict religious freedom, according to a new report from Human Rights Without Frontiers International, a nonprofit advocacy organization based in Belgium.

The eight UNHRC member states on the group’s second annual World Freedom of Religion or Belief Prisoners List, released Monday, are Morocco, China, and Saudi Arabia (whose new three-year terms begin Wednesday), and current members India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Libya, and South Korea.

Hundreds of believers and atheists were imprisoned in these and 16 other countries for exercising religious freedom or freedom of expression rights related to religious issues, according to the report. These rights include the freedom to change religions, share beliefs, object to military service on conscientious grounds, worship, assemble, and associate freely. Violations related to religious defamation and blasphemy are also included in the report.

Religious Groups Rally Around U.N. Climate Talks in Warsaw

Yeb Sano, head delegate from the Philippines. Photo courtesy of Sean Hawkey/LWF

The latest United Nations climate summit got off to an unusually emotional start when Yeb Sano, the head delegate from the Philippines, issued a tearful plea at the opening plenary.

With his country ravaged by Typhoon Haiyan — the kind of extreme weather that experts say is becoming more common due to climate change — Sano choked back tears as he announced he would fast in solidarity for his countrymen left without food.

Sano said on Nov. 11 he would refrain from eating during the conference unless important progress was made. Sano’s gesture has so far failed to trigger much of a change in the entrenched negotiations, and with talks expected to stretch into the weekend, he is still on his hunger strike.

Concerned with Violence Against Muslims, Islamic Organization Visits Myanmar

Rohingya camps near the capital Sittwe in Arakan state, Bangladesh. Photo: RNS c

Rohingya camps near the capital Sittwe in Arakan state, Bangladesh. Photo: RNS courtesy Mathias Eick, EU/ECHO via Flickr

At the end of a three-day tour, the Saudi-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation told Buddhist-majority Myanmar to repeal “laws restricting fundamental freedoms” after more than 240 Muslims were killed by Buddhist mobs during the past year.

Before the OIC delegates left Myanmar on Saturday, they visited minority ethnic Rohingya Muslims who fled the violence and are now living in squalid camps along the border with Bangladesh in Myanmar’s Arakan state, also known as Rakhine.

Headed by Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the OIC delegation called on the government to continue legal reforms, The New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported.

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