United Nations

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Jakarta's Christian governor has been sentenced to two years in jail for blasphemy, a harsher-than-expected ruling critics fear will embolden hardline Islamist forces to challenge secularism in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim-majority nation. The April 9 guilty verdict for Basuki Tjahaja Purnama comes amid concern about the growing influence of Islamist groups, who organized mass rallies during a tumultuous election campaign that ended with Purnama losing his bid for another term as governor.

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During our nearly 40 years of friendship, I led several interreligious missions with Keeler, including meetings with then-Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. We co-led trips to Israel, including a visit to a civilian bomb shelter, and a poignant painful pilgrimage to the infamous death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Sometimes public figures can seem distant and impersonal, but that was never the case with the always gracious and welcoming Keeler.

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The drought in the Sahel — a region that forms a dry belt across northern Africa — has left millions without any water to drink, and is being linked to three deaths in recent days in Kenya, due to consumption of unsafe water.

“There are no drops to reduce, recycle, or reuse,” said professor Jesse Mugambi, of the University of Nairobi, who added that many in the region are spending World Water Day “praying for drops of rain to quench their thirst and that of their livestock.”

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A decade ago, a critic accused me of writing a book about a “nonexistent” threat from the religious right. One reviewer called my work a “paranoid rant,” while another detractor wrote my “alarmist” views were “exaggerated and implausible.”

In The Baptizing of America: The Religious Right’s Plans For The Rest Of Us, published in 2006, I had warned that a well-financed and highly organized group of religious and political leaders was seeking to impose their narrow extremist beliefs and harsh public policies on the United States, even as our nation’s population was increasingly multireligious, multiethnic, and multiracial.

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Republican South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley will be a rare woman on Donald Trump’s Cabinet-level team, and one of the few persons of color.

Knowing little about her foreign policy positions, given that she has little to no international experience, what should we expect from Haley once she is confirmed to be ambassador to the United Nations?

the Web Editors 1-11-2017

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On Jan. 11 the Senate confirmation hearing for former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, for the office of Secretary of State, began, reports NPR. In his hearing Tillerson admitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he has yet to discuss with President-Elect Trump U.S. foreign policy as it regards to Russia.

He also made a statement that seemed in partial opposition to the use of sanctions against Russia and other countries, stating that they “are going to harm American businesses.” However, he relented to the idea that sanctions have the ability to be a “powerful and important tool.”

the Web Editors 12-19-2016

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On Dec. 19 the United Nations Security Council unanimously voted to send UN observers to Aleppo to oversee the evacuation of civilians, reports Al Jazeera. UN observers will travel soon to Aleppo as will personnel who can administer aid.

“For the first time in numerous attempts to get unanimity on the situation on Aleppo, all of the 15 UN Security Council members have supported this resolution to send UN monitors in Aleppo,” said journalist Mike Hanna.

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Brazilian Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, one of the most important figures in modern Brazil, died on Dec. 14 in Sao Paulo. He was 95.

Known as Dom Paulo, he was appointed bishop in 1966 and served as archbishop of the Sao Paulo Archdiocese from 1970 to 1998. But he was better known as the “people’s bishop,” and embodied the progressive church movement in South America.

the Web Editors 12-14-2016

On Dec. 14 buses that were meant to evacuate citizens and rebel fighters out of Aleppo, Syria, after a raid and massacre by the Syrian government, left — empty, reports the New York Times. Gunfire has been heard by people who are still in the city, and it is believed that a ceasefire established on Dec. 13 — between the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and rebel fighters — has dissolved.

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Religion reporting doesn’t usually put a journalist in harm’s way. We spend much of our time in church pews and at interfaith singalongs. But a few days earlier, Religion News Service had been offered a chance to go with Samaritan’s Purse relief workers as they distributed aid in Haiti to victims of Hurricane Matthew.

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The United Nations human rights office has called on French beach resorts to lift their bans on the burkini, calling them a “stupid reaction” that did not improve security but fueled religious intolerance.

France’s highest administrative court last Friday suspended one seaside town’s ban on the full-body swimsuit sometimes worn by Muslim women, on the grounds it violated fundamental liberties.

the Web Editors 4-21-2016

According to the United Nations’ refugee agency, up to 500 refugees may have drowned last week when an overcrowded ship sank, reports CNN. The 41 survivors of “one of the worst tragedies involving refugees and migrants in the last 12 months” are currently being housed at a stadium in Kalamata, Greece.

the Web Editors 9-30-2015

Screenshot via The New York Times / Youtube

On the first day the Palestinian flag was raised at the United Nations, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority declared his intent to break agreements with Israel, including the 1995 Oslo Peace Accords, which proposed a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, The New York Times reports.

“We cannot continue to be bound by these signed agreements with Israel and Israel must assume fully all its responsibility as an occupying power,” said Abbas.

Despite Abbas’ strong words, it is unclear what practical consequences will follow.

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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.

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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.”

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.

Bill McKibben 5-12-2014

We need to show that the zeitgeist is changing, and that there's a steep price for fooling us.

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.

4-16-2014
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
Eric J. Lyman 2-05-2014

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.

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