At the official launch of our new graphic novel series AFRICA IN IMAGES, I had a chance to meet face to face with all the people who worked together to create the first book on the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Roza, or the Courage to Choose Life.
During the launch event I made notes in the empty space around the intense and powerful images on my very first copy of the graphic novel as I listened to our riveting guests. Sister Marie-Bernard Alima, from the Justice and Peace Episcopal Commission of the DRC and Most Rev. Nicolas Djomo, President of the Conference of Bishops of the DRC, spoke powerfully about their work bringing peace to their country.
One of the key moments that stimulated this whole comic project began with a meeting between Soeur Marie Bernard and young people at the College de l’Ascension, where the students wanted to develop something to mobilize people around what was going on. It all came from a desire to empower people, to encourage each other and collaborate on a project of solidarity, with a focus on respecting the initiatives of the people of the DRC and the work of the Commission. Hence the graphic novel-style education campaigns began, highlighting the impact of the violence, but more importantly, the initiatives and empowerment of the Congolese people.
With 60 million Catholics in the Congo, the Church is working full-time to restore human dignity – to renew a respect for the dignity of each person, and to live out this mutual respect. They shared with us their communitarian approach to reconciliation, touching on the physical, moral and spiritual needs of the people. Sister Marie Bernard told us about how the programs allow people who have suffered, and are so discouraged, to be able to stand up again and take up life and have courage.
The Justice and Peace Commission wants all of us to join them in their work of evangelization – to preach the gospel of human dignity. The Commission believes strongly that those who have suffered can and will reflect upon their situation and read their context: where we are, what happened, what can we do. This analysis and reflection work is critical to rebuilding confidence and bringing forth new leadership = confidence gives courage. The graphic novels speaks to the courage of women to rebuild, to lead their families when their men are knocked down. The Congolese women are saying “Get up, Come on, We can do this, Together we are strong”!
For Sister Marie Bernard the most inspiring thing she has experienced is this link between confidence and courage. How? Again and again Sister Marie Bernard has met a woman who doesn’t know how to read, and through learning this important skill she finds her voice and gains confidence. This woman then takes her new capacity to the next level and leads her community to humanize their society during and after the dehumanizing experiences of war. From hell and back – this is the power of believing in the dignity of the person.
Join us in supporting the Justice and Peace Commission of the Congo with Development and Peace. Stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who have the Courage to Choose Life!
by Genevieve Gallant
Read the comic: http://youth.devp.org/2011/10/urgent-action-the-congo/
Honduran State Continues to Criminalize Human Rights Defenders
BACKGROUND: Many Development and Peace members and supporters are familiar with our work with partner CEHPRODEC for responsible mining in Honduras.
Have you been at a speaking event with Pedro Landa? He speaks regularly and strongly about the Goldcorp-owned San Martin mine in the country’s Siria Valley and the struggle of the directly affected communities for respect to their right to live in a healthy environment and have access to a clean water supply.
The following action put out by another partner organization, COFADEH, a human rights committee, highlights the situation faced by Carlos Amador, Secretary of the Siria Valley Environmental Committee, a committee that has been active on mining and forestry issues facing their communities for several years now.
Carlos and other local activists are increasingly concerned about the ease with which the government is granting permits to slowly deforest the area, which has already been environmentally damaged by open-pit mining. In the face of mounting opposition by the local population to the destruction of the local forests, trees are now being chopped down by armed men, and tensions are escalating.
In this context, a local powerful family has filed charges against 18 local environmental activists, who are opposed to the destruction of the forests. This lawsuit illustrates the reduction of democratic space in Honduras for any opposition to the government, a space that has been reduced since the June 2009 coup d’etat which ousted democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya from Honduras. It also illustrates the trend of criminalization of social protest.
Development and Peace upholds the right of the Siria Valley Environmental Committee and local activists to protest against environmental degradation that is ultimately damaging the livelihoods of poor small-scale farmers. Please support this action suggested by COFADEH.
URGENT ACTION: Honduran State Continues to Criminalize Human Rights Defenders
THE SITUATION: The Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (Cofadeh) expresses its repudiation and concern for the Honduran State’s systemic practice of qualifying the most basic actions defending of nature and the rights accorded by the Constitution of the Republic as disturbing the peace, sabatoge and terrorism.
Various legal tools and policies are being used to inhibit the work of human rights defenders. In this particular case, defenders of the environment Carlos Danilo Amador and Marlon Hernández were detained by police, with warrants, between 6:30 and 7:00 AM on their way to work on charges of obstructing the excecution of an environmental management plan. Juan Ángel Reconco was detained in the early afternoon on the same charges. All are members of the Environmental Committee of the Siria Valley. Another 15 environmental defenders, also members of the committee, also have warrants out for their arrest on the same charge, and are at risk of arrest.
The charges are related to incidents that occured on April 7, 2010, when 600 residents of the Municipality of El Porvenir prevented logging of trees that protect the mini-watershed of the Guayabo Stream, known as el Tapalito, in the village of El Terrero.
This source supplies water for human consumption to 6 communities in the municipality, directly affecting 10,000 residents who have been protecting the area and forest for years. This protection was formalized on December 27, 2007 in an agreement with then AFE-COHDEFOR (State Forestry Administration – Honduran Corporation for Forestry Development), the Municipality of El Porvenir, and the residents.
The Environmental Committee and the affected communities consider that the management plan granted to Hayde Urrutia Mejía by the Honduran State is illegal because it deos not comply with the prerequisites established in the Forestry, Protected Areas and Wildlife Law, which requires an Environmental Impact Assessment including the participation of the population that could be affected by the project or activity under review. They also consider the management plan illegal due to irregularities regarding land tenancy.
The environmentalists in question are facing charges of Obstructing the Execution of a Management Plan, which carries a penaly of 4-6 years in prison according to article 186 of the above mentioned law. In the hearing that took place on July 5, 2011, Judge Ingrid Quiroz Banegas imposed precautionary measures on the defendants, including the requirements that they present themselves and sign-in at the courthouse every 15 days, do not leave the country, do not approach the mini-watershed of Tapalito, and do not approach the person, family, or dwelling of the beneficiary of the Management Plan, Hayde Urrutia Mejia.
In this particular case the justice system has not acted objectively and is instead favoring the executive branches of the state and criminalizing civil protest in the name of national (and international) interests, while the national (and international) interests in question are the precisely the reason for concern and protest on the part of the people and communities of the municipality of El Porvenir and leaders of the Environmental Committee of the Siria Valley.
THE ACTION:Cofadeh is requesting the national and international community to demand that:
1) the Honduran State take the necessary measures, including implementation the required mechanisms, to guarantee personal freedom, due process, and the right to defend human rights to Carlos Danilo Amador, Marlon Hernández, Juan Ángel Reconco and all other members of the Siria Valley Environmental Committee;
2) cease all acts of retaliation against them; and
3) guarantee in general the right to defend universally recognized human rights as established in the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, approved in 1998, and similar OAS Resolutions emitted in 1999 and 2000.
Please direct letters, calls and faxes to Honduran Justice officials and diplomatic representatives of your country of residence. (Fax and phone numbers are listed with calling codes from the US or Canada.)
On 5 May, I met with Canadian mining giant Goldcorp to talk about its San Martin mine in Honduras.
This was just one day after Goldcorp, in the lead up to its annual general meeting, published on its website that “reported net earnings from continuing operations in the first quarter of 2011 were $651 million compared to $232 million in the first quarter of 2010. Adjusted net earnings from continuing operations were $397 million, or $0.50 per share, compared to $159 million, or $0.22 per share, in the first quarter of 2010.”
Certainly such earnings seem to substantiate Goldcorp’s claim to being the “fastest growing, lowest-cost senior gold producer with operations and development projects in politically stable jurisdictions throughout the Americas”. In other words, great news for shareholders.
The thing is, I wasn’t there to discuss Goldcorp’s profits, instead I – together with CAFOD’s Honduran partner organisation CEHPRODEC and our Canadian sister agency Development and Peace – wanted to know how this claim to fastest growing and lowest cost (read highest profit margin) senior gold producer, sits alongside Goldcorp’s environmental and social responsibility record.
CAFOD has been looking at the environmental and social impact of mining for over 6 years now as CAFOD’s partner organisations from across the world have been telling us how in their experience mining can fuel conflict or pollute water sources in some of the poorest and most excluded communities.
In the case of Honduras, the people living near Goldcorp’s San Martin are small farmers whose long-term survival depends on raising animals and growing subsistence crops. When communities living downstream from the mine showed increasing concern about the water they use in the home and for farming, CAFOD commissioned international mine water management experts from Newcastle University who found evidence of pollution due to acid mine drainage.
Considering this, it was great to hear Goldcorp’s Vice President for corporate social responsibility finally say that the Newcastle University report with recommendations on how to better treat and prevent acid mine drainage (AMD) was “extremely well done” and that Goldcorp “responded to it internally”.
We were told that Goldcorp’s own environmental consultants “had the same comments and analysis” as experts Dr Jarvis and Dr Amezaga regarding the water quality. In other words, in 2008, water data for San Martin showed “typical characteristics of severe AMD” and “risks remain in relation to pollution due to AMD post-closure”.
We also welcomed Goldcorp’s openness to increase water sampling types and water monitoring frequency in order to get more certainty on the effectiveness of the AMD prevention system.
How disappointing then to hear that two weeks later at Goldcorp’s AGM, CEO Charles Jeannes – when talking about San Martin mine – did not openly acknowledge what was said to us in private: Goldcorp has to “continue monitoring to make sure [the pollution prevention system] works in the way we think it is working”.
We know that CEO Jeannes wasn’t asked explicitly about AMD in the AGM but if people in the vicinity of the mine are worried about the way in which the mine might be impacting on their health, surely it is in the company’s interest to publicly acknowledge what they are doing to prevent pollution.
Let’s start with a definition. Civil society is the people and groups that form the basis of a functioning society that are not part of the government (regardless of that state’s political system) or business institutions. Civil society tries to protect people against human rights abuses and try to protect freedom of speech and other individual rights. Organizations that are part of civil society include political parties, trade unions, human rights organizations, newspapers, community groups, faith-based and charititable organizations (definition from here).
How does one begin to articulate how incredibly important civil society is in a country like Lebanon? When a government is unable or unwilling to provide for the needs of its people, it is left to individuals and groups to advance their common interests.
This may take the form of a women’s group implementing a daycare program in a high-needs area, or a faith-based organization advocating for the rights of migrant workers and refugees, or a coalition which endeavours to build peace within a divided society.
The depth and breadth of issues addressed by civil society groups is awe-inspiring! It seems that when there is a need, people from diverse backgrounds quickly come together to work towards a solution.
It truly was a humbling and amazing opportunity to meet Development & Peace partners who work tirelessly within Lebanon, and the wider region, to bring about positive change.
It also reminded me that people are experts in their own experience, and that collaborating with and supporting our partners throughout the world is truly the most effective means of eradicating unjust social, economic, and political structures.
Yesterday, Caritas MONA took us to see a few of the local on-the-ground projects that are meeting the needs of local people in Beirut and Lebanon. Firstly, we met with “The Voice of Lebanese Women”, founded after the war by women volunteers who sought to rebuild their community and to support the many newly-widowed women.
The centre currently provides daycare for more than 55 children at just $50 per month, with free services for those without the means to pay. Women are able to get English lessons, vocational training, and can access start up materials for small enterprises. Teenagers have programs to teach them life skills and are able to explore personal themes through theatre. A recent initiative supported by the US embassy and Caritas U.S. (Catholic Relief Services) provides one month of training on citizenship, teamwork, tolerance, and conflict resolution. This is followed up by the creation of a mock cabinet through which youth simulate the political process in Lebanon.
In the afternoon, we were taken to the large industrial headquarters of “Arcenciel” (arc en ceil means rainbow in french), an organization that attends to the needs of people with disabilities. The facilities contain a number of large workshops, which produce many mobility tools (wheelchairs, walkers, canes, and more), to improve the lives of people with disabilities. Arcenciel employs people with disabilities in order to help them gain skills and become more independent – all the wheelchairs in Lebanon come from this workshop. The facilities also provide free dental care, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, and job placement services.
The final project that we witnessed on our tour of Beirut was a drop-in centre that provides support to people living with HIV/AIDS and/or drug addiction. The Centre trains Peer Outreach Workers to provide information and harm-reduction materials to at-risk people, for example gay men and sex workers. The Outreach Workers are also trained to be able to provide on-the-spot testing for HIV and Hepatitis. The increasing demand for drug rehabilitation led the Centre to provide a safe haven for drug-users 2 nights a week, and follow-up with patients on the other 3 nights a week while the Centre is open. Beyond medical assistance, the Centre also provides a social community, legal services, and counseling. New programs are using psychodrama and theatre to help clients deal with their addictions.
In one day we had a chance to see 3 very innovative centres that have developped locally to respond to the needs of the vulnerable and excluded in Lebanon. An excellent snapshot of what grassroots development looks like!
Today we met with Caritas MONA- Moyen Orient et Nord Afrique (Middle East and North Africa), and learned a tremendous amount about the Caritas network and what it means when we are talking about “capacity building”.
What is Caritas? Caritas Internationalis is the international association of 165 national Caritas networks. It is one of the world’s largest humanitarian organizations. Communication and coordination between national networks is made more effective by seven regional offices that serve Africa, Asia, Europa (Europe), Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa (MONA), North America, and Oceania.
The principle themes that Caritas tries to address on a global scale, are economic justice, peace and reconciliation, refugees and migrants, HIV-AIDS, climate change, and emergency relief.
16 member organizations in the MONA region work, often in situations of conflict, to meet the greatest needs of local communities. Local Caritas groups have emergency plans to respond to needs generated by conflict, but do not play a political role in war time.
The main projects of the Caritas organizations in the MONA region, given by order of frequency of project type, are:
Assistance to migrants
Empowerment of women
The mission of Caritas MONA is to: work on exchanges and assistance between member organizations and to facilitate their working together in harmony while ensuring that everyone in the region applies the objectives and values of the Caritas confederation.
This is capacity building: supporting the growth and health of organizations through:
training sessions and organizing seminars,
providing tools for campaigns and fundraising with the programs of Caritas Internationalis,
assisting with the foundation of new Caritas organizations,
helps the member organizations in achieving their goals,
connecting the work of members with the wider Catholic church
This is capactity building: trainings so that organizations, social movement and citizens are informed and equipped to take on the challenges they face in a way that is participative and peaceful.
This is capacity building: Partners are well linked into communities, are strong and credible, and can develop appropriate strategies to deal with the challenged that they face.
Caritas MONA opened our eyes to the depth and breadth of the humanitarian efforts being made by the Caritas networks in each country of the MONA region. The staff shared with us the global picture, with the challenges being faced in the region, as well as the inspiring efforts of single individuals, such the single nun who is Caritas Libya, and the 1,538 staff who run the many programs in Caritas Egypt.
Long may the good work of our Caritas family continue!
On June 21st, the Lebanon Solidarity trip team was fortunate to spend a second day with Caritas Lebanon Migrants Centre. The Centre was established in 1994, in response to the large number of refugees from Sudan arriving in Lebanon. CLCM aims to serve migrant workers, asylum seekers, and refugees by offering a variety of social services to migrants, regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity or political persuasion.
However, the issue of migrant workers within the country, and their need for protection, was not an issue that the group had imagined prior to traveling to Lebanon…
BUT according to statistics, there are more than 157,000 migrant workers legally entitled to work in Lebanon. Additionally, there are more than 100,000 Syrian workers in the country, with rules around travel and work in Lebanon are somewhat more lax. There are also a large number of illegal workers whose status in Lebanon is even more precarious.
In our meetings with CLCM staff members, we learned about the plight of migrant workers. Many women from countries including Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Madagascar and many others, arrive in Lebanon every year as domestic workers.
Agencies recruit the women, and connect them with households in Lebanon. We learned that there are over 600 recruitment agencies working in Lebanon. The agency holds the worker’s passport. Women have to sign on for 3 year minimum contracts, and collect around $150 – $250 dollars per month.
At times, these domestic workers are physically or sexually abused and/or harassed in the homes where they live and work.
Tragically, we learned that there has been an increase in the numbers of murders and suicides of migrant domestic workers, and it is believed that some deaths go unreported.
The Centre for Migrants offers support to domestic workers in need of assistance. The Solidarity Trip team was able to visit a shelter for vulnerable women and their children.
The women are from a variety of cultural backgrounds, and come from a range of very difficult experiences. Some are newly-arrived Iraqi women and children, with the father in prison for entering “illegally”, while others have had awful experiences of being mistreated by their employers. We spent the day with the women, sharing in each other’s cultures, dancing, playing soccer with the kids and eating traditional food that the women had made. We really enjoyed their company!
CLCM offers key services to migrant workers, refugees, and asylum seekers, including providing basic needs, social and psychological support, providing for medical needs, educational support and payment of school fees and supplies, and legal support.
And, importantly, the organization is also working with the government to develop a special law relating to domestic workers. This law would better protect the rights of both Lebanese and foreign-born domestic workers. With the frequent changes to governmental leadership in Lebanon, it has been difficult to get the law ratified.
It is positive to know that Caritas Lebanon Migrants Centre is doing everything they can to assist the large number of migrants and refugees, both by advocating for changes in law, and by providing vital services.
Caritas Lebanon Migrants Centre: an experience of displacement
On June 20th, 2011, the Lebanon Solidarity Trip team had the opportunity to meet with Caritas Lebanon Migrants Centre, and learn about the essential work that they do with refugees, asylum seekers, and migrant workers.
One of the important groups of people the organization works with is refugees from Iraq. Lebanon has been receiving a flood of Iraqi refugees for a number of years now. Previously, more Muslim refugees were fleeing to Lebanon, but lately, there has been an increase in Christian Iraqis arriving in the country.
Our presenter from Caritas Lebanon Migrants Centre shared with us that overall, Lebanon offers more individual freedom in comparison to other Middle Eastern nations, such as Syria and Jordan, and so that’s why many Iraqis have fled to Lebanon. She told us about the routes where one can enter Lebanon illegally from Syria. The CLCM staff members strive to work with the over 1,000 Iraqi families living in and around Beirut.
Caritas Lebanon Migrants Centre supplies immediate basic needs to newly arrived and desperate Iraqi refugees, as well as medical assistance in the form of helping to pay for medications, and paying for emergency medical bills.
Additionally, CLCM offers legal information and acts as an intermediary with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to help them access basic resources. Many of the Iraqi families are hoping to move on to receiving nations like Canada, the United States, Australia and Europe. A big source of stress that the families experience is waiting to move on to one of these nations/regions. I can imagine it would certainly be difficult to live with so much uncertainty!
The organization also helps to pay for school fees and supplies for young students. One challenge that the staff member we met with explained to us was that a number of youth are dropping out of school in order to work. Rental accommodations in Beirut are quite expensive, and so it is a struggle for many Iraqi families to live in the city.
We were also told that Iraqi refugees do face some discrimination in Lebanon, mostly due to their accent. These pressures weigh heavily on many people and so alcoholism and domestic violence does occur among the people. CLCM employs social workers to work with the Iraqi families, and conducts follow up visits with them over their time here.
In really bad situations, there is a shelter for women and children in need of protection. We learned that Caritas Lebanon Migrants Centre also runs a 24 hour hotline.
Another positive program for many youth is a summer camp for Iraqi, Palestinian and Lebanese youth ages 6 to 14. The youth are brought together and live at a summer camp for a month. Many activities take place, including peace-building and social and recreational opportunities. There are also post-camp sessions to reunite the youth who have become friends but live in divided worlds.
Our team also had the opportunity to visit a CLCM Community Centre, which opened in March 2011. The Centre assists the Iraqi population in various ways. There are daycare/drop-in times for children aged 6 to 16. Sessions for women take place as well, where they can share their experiences and concerns, and make some crafts to sell. Some of the sessions are conducted with a psychiatrist. There is also an equivalent men’s group. Once a week, families get together to share a hot meal, and this allows newly arrived refugees to meet and learn from Iraqis who have been in Lebanon for some time.
It was certainly an eye-opening experience for the Solidarity Trip team to learn about Iraqis in Lebanon, the issues they face, and the work being done by Caritas Lebanon Migrants Centre to serve them.
More than 250,000 Palestinians are currently living in 12 camps within Lebanon. The Palestinian people have been displaced, and have been living as refugees for over 60 years. Nevertheless, the Palestinians continue to live in the daily hope of returning to their homeland.
This was most evident in May, when 100,000 Palestinians returned to the Israeli border to demonstrate their right to return to their homeland. Six were killed. Today there is little evidence that displaced Palestinians will become citizens of their own land in the foreseeable future.
One Palestinian camp in Lebanon, named Shatila, is situated within Beirut. The 1km2 of land is home to over 17,000 people. 5,000 people are Palestinians, and the rest are a mix of Syrians, Lebanese, Sudanese, and Iraqi refugees. Non-Palestinians use the camp as a safe haven, the one place they can avoid prison terms for being an “illegal” person.
As refugees, Palestinians are denied the right to work or own property, despite their will and abilities – 50% are university graduates. Opinions over the Palestinians’ right to work are divided; there are fears that allowing them to work will encourage them to remain in Lebanon, though they will tell you clearly – they want to be in Palestine, not Lebanon.
During the Israeli war on Lebanon in the early 1980’s, Shatila was the scene of a catastrophic massacre in 1982, where 1,500 people were slaughtered at the hands of the militia of the Lebanese Forces, supported by the Israeli army. Immediately after, in Lebanon and internationally, news, information, or press about what happened were suppressed and the destroyed camp was declared a military zone. With the assistance of the UN, the Israeli’s withdrew, and control was handed over to the Syrian army. Conditions remained desperate within the camp. In 1984 the “war of the camps” broke out. Shatila remained under siege for 3 years, where the camp was denied food, resulting in starvation and deaths.
The Syrian army began to withdraw in 2003. With greater freedom, many people left the camp, while others began to improve conditions by bringing in materials and looking for informal work. Despite this, Shatila remains without a play area, a proper school, or adequate housing.
Community is strong within the camp, and it is not as dangerous a place as is commonly perceived. Palestinians have expressed their wish for their efforts to be recognized, respected, and supported. There is a hope that an awareness of the situation for Palestinians within the camp will generate sincere progress towards a peaceful, just resolution to their displacement.