In India – Free speech vs. women’s safety [reblog]

Source Saudi Gazette (Editorial)
India is no stranger to violence against women, including domestic and sexual violence. In the capital city of New Delhi, sexual assaults against women take place every day and very often ends in rape.

Full article Free speech vs. women’s safety.

Task Force Detainees awards honor rights defenders, Franciscan nun founder

Sr Mariani Dimaranan Award poster TFD Facebook

Sr Mariani Dimaranan, SFIC Award poster – TFD Facebook photo

Quezon City, Philippines -Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFD), a mission partner of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP) capped its 40th anniversary celebration with the First Sister Mariani Dimaranan, SFIC Human Rights Defenders Awards at University of the Philippines, Quezon City, on Tuesday (Feb. 24).

“Through the years, TFDP has worked with numerous persons and institutions that helped the organization in advancing the cause of human rights in the Philippines. As TFDP celebrates its 40th year, it wants to pay tribute to some of the individuals and organizations who have been part of TFDP in its beginning years,” Order of Carmelites Father Christian Buenafe, TFDP co-chairperson, said during the awards ceremony.

OCarm, Pauline, NJ Viehland Photos

Fr. Christian Buenafe, OCarm with Pauline nuns – NJ Viehland Photos

TFD cited: 

Religious of the Good Shepherd Sister Rosario Battung

* Lor Abrazado of Task Force Detainees 

* Retired Bishop Julio Xavier Labayen of Infanta, former chairman of Office of Human Development of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences

* AMRSP

* Free Legal Assistance Group (Flag)

* National Secretariat for Social Action of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP NASSA)

* Amnesty International 

These people and institutions have dedicated “a substantial part” of their lives to human rights promotion, protection and defense, organizers explained in their announcement sent to Catholic in Asia. Awardees have shown selflessness, outstanding leadership and unfaltering commitment in furthering the cause of human rights. 

Their efforts have provided significant contribution to the promotion and defense of  human rights and their pioneering endeavors have helped in the progressive realization of human rights, the TFD awards announcement added.

The event – rescheduled from December – also opened the organization’s 17th National Convention.

See posters of human rights defenders on TFD’s Facebook account.

 

New Year’s letter: Peace And Fraternity—The Road Map For A New Myanmar

By Charles Bo, SDB, Archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar

Happy New Year to all of you!

Today is the Day of Peace. For the citizens of Myanmar this is a day of a common dream, a common hope. I wish each one of you a blessed and peace-filled new year.

As we prepare for the dawn of a New Year, so too in Myanmar we are preparing for the dawn of a new era. A new era of freedom, democracy, justice, peace and hope. A new era of fraternity among the diverse peoples of our beautiful nation. There is much to be grateful for.  There is much to be hoped for.  We stand at that blessed and challenging juncture in history. We are just at the very beginning of a new chapter in Myanmar’s story. Over the past two years, the doors of our nation have opened to the world. There are many reasons for hope. In the past two years, restrictions on freedom of expression have been relaxed, there is more space for civil society, the media and political actors, there have been preliminary steps towards peace in the ethnic states, and many political prisoners have been released. After many years under house arrest, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been elected to Parliament, along with her colleagues in the National League for Democracy. These steps encourage us to see the prospect of a new dawn.

For the first time in more than fifty years, there are reasons to be hopeful for Myanmar. And all these came because some of our brothers and sisters, from 1988 onwards refused to accept the powers of darkness. Some of them were willing to lay down their lives on the altar of supreme sacrifice. They gave their yesterday so that our today may be free and the tomorrow of Myanmar may be justice oriented. Yet we must remember that this is just the very beginning of the beginning. As some political prisoners have been released, others have been arrested. As talks about peace take place, military attacks against civilians in Kachin State continue. And as we begin to enjoy more freedom of speech, some have used this to preach hatred and incite violence against our Muslim brothers and sisters. So there is a very long way still to go, there are many grave challenges to be addressed, and on the horizon alongside the sunshine of hope and a new dawn sit storm clouds of suffering and strife. Myanmar will never be truly free and at peace until all the peoples of Myanmar can live in freedom and peace. Democratic reforms in the cities will not, by themselves, end decades of conflict. It is often said that genuine peace will only be achieved through a peace process, not simply ceasefires, and that such a peace process must involve a political dialogue leading to a political settlement for Myanmar’s ethnic nationalities.

This is true. However, real, true peace can only be achieved through a revolution in our hearts, a renewal of our minds and a rediscovery of the value of fraternity. Peace, Pope Paul VI warned, is not the absence of War.  Once again he guided the nations:  If you want Peace, work for Justice.  No Justice No Peace. Catholic Social tradition struggles for this noble concept: Peace that is born of Justice. As Pope Francis says in his New Year’s message for this World Day of Peace, “in the heart of every man and woman is the desire for a full life, including that irrepressible longing for fraternity which draws us to fellowship with others and enables us to see them not as enemies or rivals, but as brothers and sisters to be accepted and embraced.”

For six decades the country was suffocated by an inhuman dictatorship. You and I and every human being were suffering in our long night of silent tears.  And after all those tears and brokenness, after darkness of merciless persecutions, dawn arrives and we seek light.  But suddenly there seems to be darkness at the midday.  I refer to the interreligious conflicts that has brought sorrow, stigma to the young nation. Do we deserve this. Over the past eighteen months, a wave of hatred and violence  that included violence towards our Muslim brothers and sisters has been unleashed, wreaking destruction and death across Rakhine State, Meikhtila, Oakkan, Lashio and some other parts of our country. This hatred and violence led not only to the deaths of many people and the destruction of homes and shops, but to the death of fraternity and the destruction of brotherhood. Our country’s good name was tarnished world over.  The senseless acts of few brought grief to many.  All communities suffered.

Our task is to rebuild not only the destroyed buildings, but destroyed relationships. Our task, individually and in community, is to rebuild our hearts. The Holy Father says that “without fraternity, it is impossible to build a just society and a solid and lasting peace”. Whatever our religion, we need to refocus our minds on our common humanity and our fraternity as peoples of Myanmar. The Pope says “in the dynamics of history, and in the diversity of ethnic groups, societies and cultures, we see the seeds of a vocation to form a community composed of brothers and sisters who accept and care for one another.” We need to rediscover the value of “unity in diversity”. Myanmar is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, rich in ethnic and religious diversity. This diversity is something to celebrate. After the storms, when the sun comes out, we should be able to see that we are a nation of many colours.  

A rainbow nation. We must build a nation in which every person born on Myanmar’s soil feels at home, has a stake in the country’s future, is treated with equal respect and equal rights, and is accepted and cared for by their neighbours. A nation where the histories, languages, customs and religions of all are respected and celebrated. There must be no second-class people. As Pope Francis says, “in many parts of the world, there seems to be no end to grave offences against fundamental human rights, especially the right to life and the right to religious freedom.” This is true in our corner of the world. Even as talks continue in Kachin State, we hear reports of attacks on villages, looting of churches, and the rape of women and girls. In other parts of our country, we hear of mosques destroyed. We hear of the tragedy of an entire people, known as ‘Rohingyas’, treated as if they were not human, consigned to dire conditions in displacement camps or forced to flee the country in boats, embarking on a precarious escape across the seas.

The cause of Rohingya is highly contested. Every human being, Christianity believes, is created in the image of God.  All of us belong to God’s immeasurable embrace of dignity reaches all. The Myanmar government and the International community need to settle citizenship issues. But as a people, as a nation that has taken Karuna and Metta  as the guiding principles, we should not allow a fringe to stain a nation known for its forbearance through random violence. Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere, says Martin Luther King Jr.. We know that many of the Rohingya people have lived in Myanmar for generations, yet they are not accepted as citizens and are rendered stateless. This misery cannot be allowed to continue. Every person born in Myanmar should be recognized as a citizen of Myanmar. While wars and interreligious conflicts go on, a much under reported human agony unfolds elsewhere which affect all communities. Those agonies are much more deeply wounding the nation.  But sadly attention is wanting in these day to day issues that affect millions in our country.

We hear of human trafficking of women and children, as well as more subtle abuses, such as land confiscation or discrimination against religious minorities in business and government employment. The Pope notes: “The tragic phenomenon of human trafficking, in which the unscrupulous prey on the lives and the desperation of others, is but one unsettling example … Alongside overt armed conflicts are less visible but no less cruel wars fought in the economic and financial sectors with means which are equally destructive of lives, families and businesses.” Those words speak to our situation in Myanmar today and remind us of the challenges we must face. A nation that successfully conducted the SEA games deserves a great praise.  When needed, the Myanmar as a nation and people can rise up to any challenge. The same spirit is needed to fight chronic wars  that bleed the nation. We refer to the absolute poverty of 40 percent of our people. We refer to the millions, languishing in the hell of Malaysia, Thailand, victims of human trafficking, the modern day slaves. The multiple faces of poverty is a pestering wound in the soul of the nation. The great challenge is poverty.

The Holy Father says that fraternity is “a prerequisite for fighting poverty”. We must put richness of heart first, if we are to end material poverty. In Pope Francis’ words, “This means not being guided by a ‘desire for profit’ or a ‘thirst for power’. What is needed is the willingness to ‘lose ourselves’ for the sake of others rather than exploiting them, and to ‘serve them’ instead of oppressing them. The ‘other’ – whether a person, a people or a nation – is to be seen … as our ‘neighbour’.” He continues: “Christian solidarity presumes that our neighbour is loved not only as ‘a human being with his or her own rights and a fundamental equality with everyone else, but as the living image of God’.” And so as we begin a New Year and move towards a new era, I echo Pope Francis’ words on behalf of the Church, to all who are suffering the consequences of hatred and war: “To all those who live in lands where weapons impose terror and destruction, I assure you of my personal closeness and that of the whole Church, whose mission is to bring Christ’s love to the defenseless victims of forgotten wars through her prayers for peace, her service to the wounded, the starving, refugees, the displaced and all who live in fear.

The Church also speaks out in order to make leaders hear the cry of pain of the suffering and to put an end to every form of hostility, abuse and the violation of fundamental human rights. For this reason, I appeal forcefully to all those who sow violence and death by force of arms: in the person you today see simply as an enemy to be beaten, discover rather your brother or sister, and hold back your hand! Give up the way of arms and go out to meet the other in dialogue, pardon and reconciliation, in order to rebuild justice, trust, and hope around you!”

I wish all my brothers and sisters, of all religions and ethnicities, throughout our nation a truly happy and blessed New Year. Let’s join hands together to build a new rainbow nation in Myanmar. Let 2014 mark a new era not only of greater freedom, but of fraternity, throughout Myanmar, and in growing in fraternity, we can secure lasting peace and prosperity. A new Myanmar is possible My brothers and Sisters.  That Myanmar will be born   through Peace that comes through Justice. That Myanmar that will make poverty history That Myanmar that will celebrate unity in diversity A free Myanmar freed from hatred is possible. Let us echo with Tagore the great Poet and Nobel Laureate :  Into that land of freedom and prosperity,  My Father, Let my Country Awake.

*Archbishop Charles Maung Bo, of Yangon, Myanmar was among 15 cardinal electors Pope Francis is to create in February.

From Radio Veritas Asia, Quezon City, Philippines

 

Resource: Database on killing of Filipino Journalists

Published by Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility

CMFR Database on the Killing of Filipino Journalists/Media Workers Since 1986

updated November 2014

See database

 Paco, NJ Viehland

Paco, NJ Viehland

 

Philippines called to lead campaign against the death penalty in Asia

Cities for Life rally "No justice without life", Oct. 28, 2014, Greenfields Square, Mandaluyong City, Philippines / NJ Viehland Photos

Cities for Life rally “No justice without life”, Oct. 28, 2014, Greenfields Square, Mandaluyong City, Philippines / NJ Viehland Photos

Egidio anti death penalty rally singers NJ Viehland

Hundreds of people who gathered at a public square here for a rally against the death penalty lit candles and joined in singing “Heal the World” to close a historic dialogue on human rights and respect for the dignity of life.

It may have ended months of work for the first Asia Pacific dialogue on the theme “No Justice without Life.” But Mayor Benjamin Abalos Jr. and other speakers pointed out that much work remains for Filipinos to foster dialogue on the death penalty and ensure that the country’s laws do not again allow executions.

"No justice without life" Oct. 27, 2014, Shangri-La Plaza Hotel, Mandaluyong City, Philippines / NJ Viehland Photos

“No justice without life” Oct. 27, 2014, Shangri-La Plaza Hotel, Mandaluyong City, Philippines / NJ Viehland Photos

Mayor Benjamin "Benhur" Abalos, Jr of Mandaluyong on the Global Campaign Cities for Life where his city is member at the anti death penalty rally Oct. 28, 2014 in Greenfields Square / NJ Viehland Photos

Mayor Benjamin “Benhur” Abalos, Jr of Mandaluyong on the Global Campaign Cities for Life where his city is member at the anti death penalty rally Oct. 28, 2014 in Greenfields Square / NJ Viehland Photos

Religions and the value of life symposium [l-r] Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila, CBCP Committee on Public Affairs Chair, Grace Candol of Sant'Egidio Philippines, Abdulhusin Kashim, Former Dean and lecturer of Islam, Oct. 27, 2014 / NJ Viehland Photos

Religions and the value of life symposium [l-r] Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila, CBCP Committee on Public Affairs Chair, Grace Candol of Sant’Egidio Philippines, Abdulhusin Kashim, Former Dean and lecturer of Islam, Oct. 27, 2014 / NJ Viehland Photos

Read full report  / Scroll down for photos

Aux. Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila, Chairman, CBCP Permanent Committee on Public Affairs, Oct. 27, 2014, Shangri-La Plaza Hotel, Mandaluyong City, Philippines / NJ Viehland Photos

Aux. Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila, Chairman, CBCP Permanent Committee on Public Affairs, Oct. 27, 2014, Shangri-La Plaza Hotel, Mandaluyong City, Philippines / NJ Viehland Photos

Religions and the value of life symposium [l-r] Buddhist Monk Ryuji Furukawa of Japan Schweitzer Temple, Chair Sudheendra Kulkarni of observer Research Foundation in Mumbai, India, Oct. 27, 2014, Mandaluyong City, Philippines / NJ Viehland Photos

Religions and the value of life symposium [l-r] Buddhist Monk Ryuji Furukawa of Japan Schweitzer Temple, Chair Sudheendra Kulkarni of observer Research Foundation in Mumbai, India, Oct. 27, 2014, Mandaluyong City, Philippines / NJ Viehland Photos

Global Campaign for Abolition of the Death Penalty, Mario Marazziti, President of Commission for Human Rights of the Italian Parliament and co-founder World Coalition Against Death Penalty, Italy, Oct. 27, 2014, Mandaluyong City, Philippines / NJ Viehland Photos

Global Campaign for Abolition of the Death Penalty, Mario Marazziti, President of Commission for Human Rights of the Italian Parliament and co-founder World Coalition Against Death Penalty, Italy, Oct. 27, 2014, Mandaluyong City, Philippines / NJ Viehland Photos

A Culture for Life in the Philippines, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Oct. 27, 2014, Shangri-La Plaza Hotel, Mandaluyong, Philippines / NJ Viehland Photos

A Culture for Life in the Philippines, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Oct. 27, 2014, Shangri-La Plaza Hotel, Mandaluyong, Philippines / NJ Viehland Photos

Cambodia Justice Secretary Sotheavy Chan, Oct. 27, 2014, Shangri-La Plaza Hotel, Mandaluyong City, Philippines / NJ Viehland Photos

Cambodia Justice Secretary Sotheavy Chan, Oct. 27, 2014, Shangri-La Plaza Hotel, Mandaluyong City, Philippines / NJ Viehland Photos

Lorenzo "Erin" Tanada III, Former Deputy Speaker, Phil. House of Representatives, Oct. 28, 2014, Shangri-La Plaza Hotel, Mandaluyong City, Philippines / NJ Viehland Photos

Lorenzo “Erin” Tanada III, Former Deputy Speaker, Phil. House of Representatives, Oct. 28, 2014, Shangri-La Plaza Hotel, Mandaluyong City, Philippines / NJ Viehland Photos

Arthur Laffin, founder of Murder Victims' Family for Reconciliation, USA talked about moving on after his brother's murder, Oct. 27, 2014, Shangri-La Plaza Hotel, Mandaluyong City, Philippines / NJ Viehland Photos

Arthur Laffin, founder of Murder Victims’ Family for Reconciliation, USA talked about moving on after his brother’s murder, Oct. 27, 2014, Shangri-La Plaza Hotel, Mandaluyong City, Philippines / NJ Viehland Photos

Alberto Quattrucci [rigtmost] with Sant'Egidio team, 1st Asia Pacific Dialogue on Human Rights and Respect for the Dignity of Life, Oct. 28, 2014, Shangri-La Plaza Hotel, Mandaluyong City, Philippines / NJ Viehland Photos

Alberto Quattrucci [rigtmost] with Sant’Egidio team, 1st Asia Pacific Dialogue on Human Rights and Respect for the Dignity of Life, Oct. 28, 2014, Shangri-La Plaza Hotel, Mandaluyong City, Philippines / NJ Viehland Photos

JC Mangmang [rightmost] and fellow freshmen of Don Bosco electronic communication / NJ Viehland Photos

JC Mangmang [rightmost] and fellow freshmen of Don Bosco electronic communication / NJ Viehland Photos

Cities for Life rally vs death penalty, Greenfields Square, Mandaluyong City, Philippines, Oct. 28, 2014 / NJ Viehland Photos

Cities for Life rally vs death penalty, Greenfields Square, Mandaluyong City, Philippines, Oct. 28, 2014 / NJ Viehland Photos

Justice Secretary Leila De Lima, Cities of Life rally "no justice without life" Oct. 28, 2014, Greenfields Square, Mandaluyong City, Philippines / NJ Viehland Photos

Justice Secretary Leila De Lima, Cities of Life rally “no justice without life” Oct. 28, 2014, Greenfields Square, Mandaluyong City, Philippines / NJ Viehland Photos

USA Ridgefield Town Police Commissioner George Kain, Professor, Division of Justice and law Administration at Greenfields Square, Mandaluyong City, Philippines Cities of Life rally vs death penalty, Oct. 28, 2014 / NJ Viehland Photos

USA Ridgefield Town Police Commissioner George Kain, Professor, Division of Justice and law Administration at Greenfields Square, Mandaluyong City, Philippines Cities of Life rally vs death penalty, Oct. 28, 2014 / NJ Viehland Photos

 

Pope Francis, visit war-torn areas and survivors – Tamil Civil Society Groups

Tamil Civil Society Forum (TCSF) has called upon Pope Francis to visit war-torn areas in the North and East and visit the survivors of the “war  against Tamils”, as part of his visit to Sri Lanka in 2015.

TCSF – a network of Tamil civil society social activists from the North and East including Bishop Rayappu Joseph of Mannar, aired their appeal in a letter to the Pope on Sunday. It requested him to openly call upon the Government of Sri Lanka to genuinely address grievances of Tamils during his meeting with President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The text of the letter is published on Eye Sri Lanka

Address grievances of all factions – human rights, justice and peace advocate

In her presentation to last month’s International Conference on Politics and International Affairs in Athens, Salma Yusuf, pointed out that while the defeat of the militant Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) in May 2009 ended the three decades-long conflict, its root causes remain.

Yusuf, university lecturer and adviser to programs on human rights law, transitional justice, comparative social justice and peace-guilding, stressed that grievances of all factions in the conflict have to be addressed. 

“When advocating reconciliation and unity, the fears and anxieties of all communities must be acknowledged, understood and addressed,” Yusuf said.

She warned, “An over-emphasis on the grievances of the Tamil community alone which is the natural tendency can lead to new waves of conflict and at must be avoided at all costs.” 

Read full text of her presentation  titled Sri Lanka: Reconciliation is Both a Process and a Goal 

Related posts

Sri Lanka’s Buddhist-Muslim Clashes Reveal the Evil of Politicising Religion

Ruki Fernando Out of Detention, Is He Free?

What Can Asia Expect from Upcoming Papal Visits?

 

Conference of European Bishops Condemns Crucifixions in Syria

Eight rebel fighters were crucified in Syria by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) because they were considered too moderate, Rome-based Zenit news agency reported on Monday, citing reports of a monitoring group Syrian Observatory for human Rights.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on contacts on the ground in Syria, said the men were crucified on Saturday and that their corpses were still on view. The crucifixions took place in the town square of Deir Hafer in eastern Aleppo and will be left there for three days, it said.

Read full report

 

CBCP Document: THE CBCP and the Proposed Restoration of the Death Penalty

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines addresses a press conference at the end of the 2012 CBCP plenary assembly at Pope Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila. NJ Viehland Photo

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines addresses a press conference at the end of the 2012 CBCP plenary assembly at Pope Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila. NJ Viehland Photo

Although appalled by the spate of killings and other heinous crimes in the country, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) yesterday rejected calls to revive the death penalty.

Following is the full text of the bishops’ statement issued yesterday by Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, CBCP President…

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippine has been informed of attempts by advocacy groups to lobby the Legislature for the restoration of the death penalty.

The CBCP must, with full voice, express its position FOR LIFE and AGAINST DEATH. “I came that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Our posture cannot be otherwise. The Gospel we preach is a Gospel of Life, but the position we take is defensible even on non-religious grounds.

AIM OF JUSTICE

Justice DOES NOT DEMAND the death penalty. A mature sense of justice steers as far as possible from retribution in the realization that visiting on an offender the same injury he inflicted on his victim makes matters no better at all for anyone! The aim of justice is the restoration of broken relations and the ruptured social coherence that follow from crime. Executing a human person does not contribute to any of these goals of justice. Neither can it be argued that the supreme penalty is necessary to vindicate a legal order. In fact, it is a weak and retrogressive legal order that calls for the execution of offenders for its vindication!

There is something terribly self-contradictory about the death penalty, for it is inflicted precisely in social retaliation to the violence unlawfully wielded by offenders. But in carrying out the death penalty, the State assumes the very posture of violence that it condemns!

CRUEL AND INHUMANE

Death penalty is cruel and inhumane in two senses.

 First, the terrible anxiety and psychological distress that come on one who awaits the moment of execution constitute the cruel and inhuman punishment that most legal systems today proscribe, including the Constitution of our country. It has been rightly said that the anticipation of impending death is more terrible a torture than suffering death itself!

Second, the members of the family of the condemned persons, many times including children, are, for their life-times, stigmatized as members of the family of an executed person, bearing with them the price of a crime they never committed.

 IMPERFECT JUSTICE SYSTEM

A most important consideration is the imperfection of our judicial system. While the CBCP has every respect for respectable judges, the fact is that the judicial system — including the process of evaluating and weighing evidence — is, like all human systems, liable to error. But the death penalty, once executed, is irreversible and no repentance or regret can ever make up for the horrible injustice of a person wrongfully executed. There is furthermore the sadder fact that some judges, betraying the dignity and nobility of their calling, allow extra-legal considerations to taint their judgments, rendering judicial disposition of cases less reliable still. Once more, we must make clear that the CBCP does not by any means intend to cast aspersions on the judiciary of our country and in fact calls on all our people to turn to the courts for the redress of grievances.

INTERNATIONAL COMMITMENT

Finally, the Philippines is a State-Party of the Second Optional Protocol of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the principal obligation we assumed under this international agreement is to abolish the death penalty. We cannot and should not renege on our international obligations, especially when these are not only lawful but moral. Pacta sunt servanda is not only a legal principle. It is key ethical imperative as well!

 From Betania Retreat House, Tagaytay City, July 2, 2014

+ SOCRATES VILLEGAS, D.D.

Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan
President, CBCP

 

Interview: Franciscan Sister Crecensia Lucero, human rights defender

[updated June 21, 4:21 a.m.]

Sister Crecensia Lucero SFIC (left) marched to campaign for protection of human rights to avoid repetition of abuses during and around the martial law period 1972-1981. Photo Courtesy of Philippine Center for Human Rights/Task Force Detainees https://www.facebook.com/TaskForceDetaineesofthePhilippines

Sister Crecensia Lucero SFIC (left) marched to campaign for protection of human rights to avoid repetition of abuses during and around the martial law period 1972-1981. Photo Courtesy of Philippine Center for Human Rights/Task Force Detainees https://www.facebook.com/TaskForceDetaineesofthePhilippines

Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception Sister Crecensia Lucero reflected on her ministry with victims of human rights violations spanning more than 40 years. The journey she traced is marked by work she and young sisters and lay partners did to serve needs of political prisoners and their families during years when the country was placed under military rule (1972-1981) and years of “restored democracy” that followed. The road has brought her to an expanded ministry thriving in  partnerships with farmers struggling to transform exploitative systems, indigenous peoples and members of other sectors collaborating to end people’s suffering due to various forms of “injustice ” around Asia.

In an interview with Global Sisters Report (GSR), Sister Lucero explained challenges, successes and “heartaches” in the history of Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFD). As co-chair, she describes how evolving challenges are impacting perspectives and strategies of her social justice ministry and the charism and mission of her congregation. Beyond words and ideas, however, she demonstrated these concepts and strategies in various dialogues and training seminars GSR covered earlier in the year.

A fact-finding mission representing Christian groups visited the site of an attack on the convent of Father Jose Francisco Talaban of Infanta Prelature in June 2010 presented to the Commission on Human Rights and human rights advocates, including Sr. Cresencia Lucero initial information they gained from probing groups and individuals in Casiguran town, Aurora province where some indigenous people and other groups are opposing the development of an economic zone. NJ Viehland Photos

A fact-finding mission representing Christian groups visited the site of an attack on the convent of Father Jose Francisco Talaban of Infanta Prelature in June 2010 presented to the Commission on Human Rights and human rights advocates, including Sr. Cresencia Lucero initial information they gained from probing groups and individuals in Casiguran town, Aurora province where some indigenous people and other groups are opposing the development of an economic zone. NJ Viehland Photos

Sister Crecensia Lucero SFIC (right, in habit) witnessed the presentation last year of report of an ecumenical fact finding mission on residents' opposition to the planned APECO export processing zone development project in Casiguran, Quezon to the Commission on Human Rights in Quezon City, northeast of Manila. By NJ Viehland

Sister Crecensia Lucero SFIC (right, in habit) witnessed the presentation last year of report of an ecumenical fact finding mission on residents’ opposition to the planned APECO export processing zone development project in Casiguran, Quezon to the Commission on Human Rights in Quezon City, northeast of Manila. By NJ Viehland

Read full interview published by GSR. GSR is a project of National Catholic Reporter that reports how consecrated women participate in the mission of the Church.

The Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP) established TFD in 1974 to assist political prisoners when the “dictatorship” of the late President Ferdinand Marcos banned organizations. TFD provided moral spiritual, legal and material support to prisoners and their families. Franciscan Sister Mariani Dimaranan, an ex-political detainee, directed the organization until 1989, when Lucero took over as director. Sister  Dimaranan continued as chair until her death in 2005 at the age of 81 years.

In 2012, Sister Lucero was again nominated co-chair of the Task Force’s Board of Trustees with Order of Carmelites Philippines Father Christian “Toots” Buenafe up to this year.

 

Ruki Fernando out of detention – is he free?

Ruki Fernando photo on Facebook page of FORUM-ASIA which signed the Joint Statement with Amnesty International, International Commission of Jurists, International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch calling Sri Lanka government to "Free Prominent Rights Defenders" and asserting that " Arrests of Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen are Attempts to Silence Critics" http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/03/17/sri-lanka-free-prominent-rights-defenders

Ruki Fernando photo on Facebook page of FORUM-ASIA which signed the Joint Statement with Amnesty International, International Commission of Jurists, International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch calling Sri Lanka government to “Free Prominent Rights Defenders” and asserting that ” Arrests of Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen are Attempts to Silence Critics” http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/03/17/sri-lanka-free-prominent-rights-defenders

Human rights defenders Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen Mahesan are out of detention in Sri Lanka’s Terrorist Investigation Department (TID), but Fernando, in conversation over the phone from his home in Colombo told me hours after their release, he does not feel completely free.

Two days after their release, a Sri Lanka journalist reported  that authorities continued to “harass” Fernando and Mahesan

Police arrested Mahesan and Fernando on March 16 evening from Kilinochchi in northern Sri Lanka while the two were on a fact-finding mission in the area. They were taken in Tharmapuram near the home of Jeyakumari Belndra  who was arrested a week earlier for allegedly harboring an absconding Tiger. After being interrogated “harshly” in Kilinochchi and nearby Vavuniya, the two were finally detained at the TID headquarters in Colombo.

A few hours after Fernando’s release, he shared his sadness over continued “unjust” incarceration and maltreatment of other detainees mostly from north and northeast Sri Lanka. Rebels based there fought the government for a separate state until they were violently defeated in 2009.

The U.N. Human Rights Council in session in Geneva prepared to tackle a draft resolution sponsored by the United States and other countries calling for an international investigation into “past abuses and to examine more recent attacks on journalists, human rights defenders and religious minorities.”

Fernando expressed his and Fr. Mahesan’s gratitude to local and international NGOs, religious groupings, human rights bodies and governments around the world for throwing their support behind them and for demanding their release. The detainees freed last March 19 give credit to the pressure exerted by this movement for their release and safety in the hands of the police and interrogators.

Soon after this interview, the Sri Lanka government barred Fernando from giving interviews to foreign media.

Following is the full text of my conversation with Fernando:

” We left behind the many people who have been detained in the very place we were detained…unjustly…”

N.J. Viehland : Exactly when were you released?

Ruki Fernando : It was about 1:30 this morning in Sri Lanka.

What happened?

We were trying to do some fact finding about the human rights situation from war affected areas of the Kilinochchi district. When we were there on Sunday it was very very tense. During the whole Saturday and Sunday we were there. We encountered many many checkpoints which was not very usual because we had traveled in that area before.

We were stopped in several places. We were detained for 15 minutes, 20 minutes in certain places, our identity card numbers were taken.

When we went to visit someone in a house the army came and questioned us. That’s quite unusual that when we visit a person the army would come into the house and question you – a person in uniform and someone in civilian clothes.

When we went on to visit another lady, that lady was already being questioned by intelligence officials so we could not enter in her house. So throughout the one-and-a-half days we were intimidated. We faced restrictions and surveillance, and it was a very very tense situation. Then finally, it was around 10 pm on Sunday that were arrested.

Initially we were told that it was in relation to a shooting incident. Then we were told later that we were arrested in relation to supporting terrorism. We were questioned very very intensely. It was very harsh. We were not given access to our lawyers while on detention, although I made several requests.

When we were first arrested I made a request. Later I requested to get a senior official of the terrorist investigation department … that I want to talk with my lawyers. But throughout detention I was not given the opportunity. Many lawyers came to meet me, but the police did not allow any of them to meet me.

I learned I got lots of attention to this in Sri Lanka and also internationally and because of the many requests for the Sri Lanka government to release us from Sri Lankan organizations, individuals and also organizations and people around the world, and I believe because of that our safety while in detention was ensured. We were not physically harmed and eventually our release is also due to the work and the pressure exerted by so many people in Sri Lanka and all over the world.

Any faith-based group that demanded your release? 

Yes, one of the northern dioceses, the Jaffna diocese issued a statement from Catholics calling for our release. There are many individual priests who were also lobbying for us. But I don’t know if the archbishop of my diocese, (Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith) Colombo, has done something that I don’t know about. I know that it was brought to his attention and that there were requests from some people that he would make some intervention because he is very influential with the government.

Fact finding mission – who were you with and what were you investigating, exactly?

We were investigating the very tense situation. We wanted to know why it was so tense. We were looking into allegations of arbitrary arrests of several women in the north and the east during the week. That time we had heard of the allegations so wanted to do a fact-finding and also to get a sense of what the situation was on the ground.

Kilinochchi was the center of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), but we were not only in Kilinochchi town but also in the interior areas because we wanted to check them out. People in that area and also from outside had been telling me there was this situation of tension and arrests and so we wanted to go and look.

Apparently two women who were connected in some way to this person annexed to the key leader for the revival of the LTTE, one was his wife and another was also known to him were under surveillance or arrested. Then the third person is also a woman. We got reports of their arrest.

The government is very edgy – the police and the army. I don’t know if it is justified or not because I don’t have information, but according to what the police and army told me they are treating it as a very serious threat.

You think this reported revival of LTTE has something to do with your arrest? 

No. I think the government does not want the true situation in the northern part to be known to the rest of Sri Lanka and the rest of the world. The government does not want any different story than their own version to get out, and the government is particularly clear that no information should be provided to the UN Human Rights Council currently in session in Geneva.

During questioning they were even asking me who are you sending this information to. In fact one of the three leaders who came to arrest me, he was saying I am sending information to earn money. That was one of their acusation. Another is that I am causing discomfort to the government. This is in writing. So I told them I don’t understand how these can be a crime.

What were conditions in detention?

We were kept in an office the whole day. We were separate. There were few occasions that Father and I could talk to each other but they kept us separate. When we would start to talk about something, we would be separated again. We were kept in the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID).

Why and how were you released? 

They arrested and brought us to the station. Then the police finally decided that they had nothing to show to the court. So they wrote the court that they had nothing against us and they requested for our release. So the magistrate released us accordingly. They signed the request from the police.

Where are you now and how are you and your family feeling about all this?

I’m with my parents now in Colombo. It’s nice to be back. My parents and my sister were very very worried. Starting now they are already relieved, but still quite worried about my safety in the future.

What are next moves for you and Father Mahesan? 

It’s too early to say. Father and I have to still discuss with our lawyers and the people who worked very hard to get us released. We will discuss together and decide on next steps. But one thing that is clear for me and for Father is that we remain very committed to the work we are doing. We were doing what we believe in, that we are doing the right thing. Both of us are Catholic, he as a priest and I a lay person, both of us essentially living our Christian faith so I think we will take these as part of our Lenten pilgrimage, these two days, and we will not be deterred by what has passed, and we will continue to work for human rights.

Any message to people who lobbied for your release?

First, my very great appreciation on behalf of me and on behalf of Father Praveen as well. I’m very very sure that our safety while in detention and our release is because of the work that all of our friends in Sri Lanka did, as well as the media, human rights organizations and even some foreign governments speaking on our behalf.

It shows that if ordinary people, organizations and governments want to, they can actually make a difference in terms of providing safety to people who are in danger, ensuring that people who are detained unjustly are released. It is a very good example of what can be achieved if people are committed.

Very sadly, when I and Father Praaveen walked out to be free men, we left behind the many people who have been detained in the very place we were detained, and those men and women have been detained for much longer than us. Those people do not get even one percent of the attention that Fr. Praveen and I got. So I wish there will be more people who will join Father Praveen and I to ensure the safety and freedom of many other people who are unjustly detained.

END