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Archive for December, 2010

17, Dec

Representatives of governments and civil society organizations are gathered in Cancun to take action on the climate change that is threatening our beautiful but beleaguered planet. The changes, which are resulting in global warming, pose extremely dangerous threats to quality of life and even survival for people today and in the future. We must heed the warnings of scientists who are examining this phenomenon and change our habits with regard to fossil fuel consumption and carbon emissions. We must dramatically lower our fossil fuel consumption and our carbon imprint on the planet and this must be undertaken immediately and seriously by the over-industrialized nations that are the worst energy and resource abusers.

There is another way in which the term ‘climate change’ may be used. That is, to refer to ‘climate’ in the sense of ‘ambiance.’ There is a strong need to change the climate of our thinking, specifically the passive acceptance of the abuse of our planet and its myriad species, including our own. In this sense, humanity lives far too much in a ‘climate’ of ignorance and indifference. We have organized ourselves into consumer societies that demonstrate little concern for our responsibilities to the planet, to each other and to the future.

There are many ongoing problems in the world that deserve our awareness and engagement. The fact that these problems receive insufficient attention and action speak to the change of climate that is needed. Many of these problems were identified in the eight Millennium Development Goals: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality; reducing child mortality; reducing maternal mortality; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and establishing a global partnership for development.

While these major problems on our planet are not adequately addressed, the world is wasting more than $1.5 trillion annually on its military establishments. Many states are attempting to create military security at the expense of human security. The poor people on the planet are being marginalized while countries use their scientific resources and material wealth to produce ever more deadly and destructive armaments. In a climate of complacency, the military-industrial complexes of the world fulfill their gluttonous appetites while the poor and politically powerless of the Earth are left to suffer and die.

At the apex of the global order, the countries that emerged victorious in World War II anointed themselves as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. They continue to flaunt international law by their reliance upon nuclear weapons and by failing to engage in good-faith negotiations for the elimination of these weapons as required by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Because these countries behave as though their power and prestige are built upon these weapons of mass annihilation, other countries seek to emulate them. Nuclear proliferation is thus encouraged by the very states that seek to set themselves apart with these weapons.

Large corporations that stand to profit from a ‘renaissance’ of nuclear power are promoting large nuclear energy projects as an alternative to using fossil fuels. They are trying to make nuclear power appear to be green. But they have not solved the four major problems with nuclear power: the potential for nuclear weapons proliferation; the failure to find any reasonable solution to storing the nuclear wastes, which will threaten the environment and humanity for tens of thousands of years; vulnerability to terrorism; and propensity to dangerous accidents.

If the large global corporations have their way, the Earth will become home for thousands of nuclear power plants, nations will seek to protect themselves with nuclear weapons (an impossibility), the threat of nuclear annihilation and global warming will continue to hang over our collective heads, extreme poverty in its many manifestations will persist, and we will follow either a slow path to extinction or a rapid one.

This is why we must change the climate of indifference and complacency that currently prevails upon our planet. We humans have the gifts of consciousness and conscience, but these gifts must be used to be effective. We must become conscious of what threatens our common future and we must care enough to demand that these threats be eliminated. The only force powerful enough to challenge the corporate and military power that is leading us to catastrophe is the power of an engaged global citizenry. This remains the one truly great superpower on Earth, but it can only be activated by compassion and caring.

If we do not care enough about the future to engage in the fight to save our species from catastrophe and our planet from omnicide, we need only to continue our complacency and leave the important decisions about protecting the environment and human life to powerful corporations and the world’s militaries. They have a plan, one based upon dangerous technologies and plunder. Their plan is shortsighted, designed to further enrich the already overly rich. To be silent is a vote for their plan.

As Albert Camus, the great French writer and existentialist, wrote in the immediate aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing: ‘Our technical civilization has just reached its greatest level of savagery. We will have to choose, in the more or less near future, between collective suicide and the intelligent use of our scientific conquests. Before the terrifying prospects now available to humanity, we see even more clearly that peace is the only battle worth waging. This is no longer a prayer but a demand to be made by all peoples to their governments – a demand to choose definitively between hell and reason.’

Let us stand with Camus in waging peace. Let us stand with Camus in choosing reason. Let us raise our voices and choose peace and a human future. Let us fulfill the responsibility of each generation to pass the world on intact to the next generation. We may be the only generation that has faced the choice of silence and annihilation, or engagement and rebuilding the paradise of our exceedingly precious planet, the only one we know of in the universe that supports life.

David Krieger
CommonDreams.org December 3, 2010 

David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and the Chair of the Executive Committee of the International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global Responsibility. He is a Councilor on the World Future Council.

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2, Dec

They girded themselves with God’s strength.
The light they have kindled with never go out!!

Thirty years ago this month the world learned with shock and horror of the death of three sisters and a lay missionary in El Salvador. Sisters Ita and Maura, Maryknoll sisters, were returning from a meeting in Nicaragua on December 2 and were met by an Ursuline Sister Dorothy and a lay missionary, Jean Donovan. Their white van was intercepted by the Salvadoran National Guardsmen and left burning by the roadside later that night. At noon on December 4 the bodies of the four church women, having been raped and shot through the head, were unearthed from a common grave.

To honour their memory the Maryknoll Sisters devoted the first Sunday of Advent this year to remembering these brave women and invited us all to remember with them at their Motherhouse. It was both a solemn and joyful occasion shared by families, sisters and friends from many parts of the country and many NGOs from the UN.

The homily, given by the Maryknoll Congregational Leader, Sr Janice McLaughlin, set the tone for our advent reflection, “Stay awake, be aware and alive!” The martyrs, she said, were awake and aware to the dangers they faced and the possibility of death in the midst of the violence, suffering, persecuted and poor in a land ravished by conflict between the common people and the horrific “anti-terrorist” death squads! Archbishop Romero had met his death there earlier that year. They saw in this work and ministry to the poor “a channel for awakening real concern for the victims of injustice in today’s world”… they crossed borders on many levels. And just as they crossed borders over and over again we must stand poised today to cross borders of mind and heart that summon us in support of the fullness of life for all.

Today we are invited and inspired to transcend the borders of personal comfort to serve the homeless and oppressed; to sow the seeds of liberty; to work with poor and helpless people who suffer from the greed of large corporations and those seeking personal profit; to have profound respect for the diversity that is central to the flourishing of life; to be present to all who are forced to leave their homelands in search of hope and we pray during this time of Advent that God will guide all our journeys as we cross borders from darkness to light.

After Mass and a delicious lunch we were treated to a unique and thought-provoking presentation – “Leaps and Bounds” – a one woman show which explores the intersection of faith, ecology, and global economy. The presenter, Tevyn East, using a number of creative tools including storytelling, song, poetry, prayer, movement, and music, sheds light on the driving factors of our ecological crisis while awakening the imagination to a new way of living with and relating to Earth.

Grounded in theological reflection and scripture, this presentation urges the audience to look at the bigger picture and to see the connectedness of all life which by our greed in living today and our wastefulness we are slowly destroying.

So often during this presentation and indeed throughout the entire day I was reminded of our IPA directives in one way or another and very much in this last event of our growing development of a spirituality of interconnectedness. May we watch, pray, and be aware during this Advent so that we may bring life to the world God so lovingly comes to inhabit through our ministries.

Teresa Kennedy pbvm

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2, Dec

September 25 is the day set aside each year for remembering the progress made and the work still to be done in the area of elimination of violence against women. At the UN the celebrations were happy, hopeful and optimistic on this the 11th anniversary. A special session was organized at Headquarters on the theme “Leadership of the Corporate Sector in Ending Violence Against Women and Girls” which commenced in grand style with a vocal offering by the Empire City Men’s Chorus. Then followed the keynote address by Secretary General, Mr Ban Ki Moon whose special campaign is “UNITE to END VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN”. Mr Ban began by saying that the day was more than a commemoration … it was a call to action! reminding all “this is no longer the concern of women’s organizations. More and more people realize that gender-based violence is everybody’s problem and everybody is responsible for stopping it”.

He spoke of the real progress that had been made across the world where agencies were uniting to create awareness … and of the Corporate executives who care about the health and safety of the worlds women and girls and who are finding new ways to address the problem from the pages of fashion magazines to the interactions between cosmetic salespeople and their clients. He complimented people like Debi Nova (also a speaker) for using their celebrity status and star power to fight back.

Although the problems are complex Mr Ban reminded us that some solutions were within reach, namely counselling victims, raising awareness among men and boys of the crime of violence, punishing wrongdoing and protecting girls.

The UNiTE campaign also includes a specific target of raising $100 million annually for the UN Trust Fund and Mr Ban encouraged individuals who were sphere-heading initiatives to apply for grants from this Fund to support their initiatives. On an optimistic note he ended “Our challenge is to keep advancing after today. To make new plans. To start new projects. To gather our forces … so that we can meet again next year to discuss our successes.”

After a brief interlude and music from the World United Musician Association, the second keynote speaker, Michelle Bachelet, Under Secretary General and Executive director of the newly established UN Women, spoke not only of the significant progress made but also of the remaining gaps. More than a 100 countries had no specific laws against domestic violence and up to 70% of women worldwide had experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of men during their lifetime.

Violence, she added, by affecting women’s ability to succeed in schools, in the workplace and in public life, also undercut vital efforts to achieve gender equality on a wider level. In her view gains in combating violence could not be achieved without strong partnerships and sufficient funding.

Ms Bachelet concluded by saying that cultural changes were needed to stop women from being looked on as “second-class citizens”. “We need to create a culture of respect”, she said.

Proud of the progress Barbados had made, its Ambassador Joseph Goddard, spoke of their efforts to approach the problem of violence in a holistic way through: providing government-funded, NGO managed shelters; programmes in schools to sensitize the youth and break the cycle of violence and a Violence Data Collection Protocol. In conclusion he said: “Violence against women has been a negative feature of human society for much too long. Every woman has the right to a life free from violence.”

A lively round of questions to the distinguished panel and a very symbolic dance on the theme of freedom brought this very hopeful and inspiring session to a close.

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2, Dec

The following statement has been issued by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on the occasion of International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which is commemorated on 25 November 2010.

“Although precise statistics are not available, since violence against women – especially domestic violence – is a hidden crime, recent figures released by the United Nations suggest that in some countries close to 60 percent of women may be subjected to physical violence at least once in their lifetime. They also make clear that no country, whether rich or poor, dictatorship or democracy, has come close to eliminating violence against women.

“Such figures, important though they are as a reminder of the shocking prevalence of the problem, risk numbing us to the damage each and every act of violence does to a girl or a woman. Numbers mask the personal pain of the individual.

“Sixty percent of a population of ten million women means six million individual private tragedies, physical and psychological scars, dysfunctional families, traumatized children. Six million, sixty million, six hundred million. The numbers are of pandemic proportions – so large that, perversely, they distract us from the plight of the woman next door.

“In recent decades, thanks to the ceaseless and courageous struggles of many committed individuals and organizations, there has been significant progress in ensuring women’s enjoyment of their human rights in many countries, as well as progress in the international legal and policy response to violence against women. Nevertheless, physical, psychological and other forms of abuse of women continue on a huge scale, much of it hidden, ignored or silenced.

“Despite our surveys and our annual expressions of shock during the 16 Days Against Violence Against Women, have too many of us become inured to the problem? Are we unconsciously shrugging it off as ‘normal’– regrettable certainly, but a fact of life?

“Does it have to take a particularly graphic piece of news – a girl stoned to death, a mass rape, a string of honour killings – to get our attention? Briefly. For a day or two. If so, what can we do to shake ourselves out of this apathy, this acceptance, this assumption that other people are taking care of this issue, so we don’t need to act ourselves? Doesn’t that make us accomplices to what is, in fact, a human rights violation committed day after day on a massive scale with impunity?

“Well, for one thing, when we hear the woman next door screaming, we can intervene, instead of turning to the wall and saying “It’s their business, let them sort it out.” We can treat it like other crimes. Each and every one of us can make it clear it is not acceptable to leave it unpunished. When the perpetrator is a friend, or a neighbour or a family member, we can stop turning a blind eye and pretending we are not aware of what is going on. When a little boy hits his sister, we can make it unequivocally clear that violence against girls is not acceptable on any account, ever.

“Violence against women is being addressed by an increasing range of actors across various sectors of society – with, of course, huge differentials between nations. But even where the struggle has engaged a wide variety of people, it is not enough. Each and every one of us has it in us to become a human rights defender, acting to prevent or diminish discrimination. Continuing discrimination against women is most painfully revealed by acts of violence against them.

“The international legal and policy framework for eliminating discrimination against women is well-developed, but there is a wide gulf between the standards set, and actual practice at the national and local level. States have the primary responsibility to protect their women, and in most cases are clearly not doing enough.

“We need more recruits, men as well as women, to turn the internationally accepted standards into reality, to hammer away at social, cultural and state acceptance of violence and discrimination until those huge numbers drop, and violence against women is seen like, and treated like, a human rights violation with far-reaching consequences on both individuals and societies.”

UNITED NATIONS Press release

HREA – www.hrea.org

Human Rights Education Associates (HREA) is an international non-governmental organisation that supports human rights learning; the training of activists and professionals; the development of educational materials and programming; and community-building through on-line technologies.

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