Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Save Darfur: Take Action Now!

Click the image below to make a difference:

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Be a Voice for Darfur: Send an E-Card to Obama!

Click the image below and give a voice to the voiceless!

Monday, March 23, 2009

This Thursday!

We will leave Central at 3:30 pm from the quad!

March 26, 2009,
4:00-5:45 p.m.,
Duquesne Room

Duquesne University Invites You to the Conferences:

Refugee Rights and the Transnational Good

Global Challenges and Catholic Social Teaching

David Hollenbach, S.J.
University Chair in Human Rights and International Studies
Boston College

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Thomas Awiapo's Story

One of Millions
When Thomas Awiapo visits Catholic parishes and schools across the United States, his message moves people. One teacher at a school he was visiting in Wisconsin brought him a birthday cake, and it wasn't even his birthday. Thomas doesn't know when his birthday is.
Thomas Awiapo poses with his family
outside his home in northeastern Ghana.

Thomas' story alone is compelling enough. Born the second of four sons to a desperately poor family in rural northeastern Ghana, Thomas found himself orphaned and all but abandoned by the age of ten (though he isn't sure how old he was). His two younger brothers died of malnutrition, the youngest in his arms. His older brother ran off, never to be seen again.

Thomas was left to scrounge for food, doing odd jobs when he could and living alone in his family's mud hut, so hungry some nights that he couldn't sleep. Then, one day, he smelled lunch cooking at a CRS-supported school in his poor farming village of Wiago.

"I come from a family that knows nothing about education," says Thomas. "I started to go to school simply to have lunch," which Thomas says usually consisted of a wheat-soy blend mixed with oil. "At first, if I didn't see the smoke rising from the cooking pot, I stayed away."
Lunch lured Thomas, reluctantly at first, into school. But it was the dedication of the teachers and local Catholic priests that kept him coming back.
"They treated us like we were their own children," Thomas remembers of his teachers. "They helped me to like school so that I was never late, never wanted to miss a day. And if I didn't go to school one day, they tried to find out what was wrong. Teaching for them was more than a job. It was a vocation, a calling."

Now Thomas has a master's degree from California State University, a wife and three children, plus a career with CRS Ghana teaching communities the value of good governance, and, of course, education.
If Thomas' story isn't remarkable enough, his spirituality and passion for life against the backdrop of his early years certainly is. And so is his commitment to give back — to his village, his country and to CRS, which Thomas says "empowered me for life by offering me an education."

Tens of thousands of schoolchildren in Ghana
have received meals through CRS-supported programs.
Thomas returns to his village regularly to visit family and teachers and to tell the children of Wiago how important it is for them to go to school. Thomas says that the schools he went to are still there, but have been completely refurbished thanks to CRS support.

Every year, Thomas travels across the United States to tell his story, to thank CRS donors for the gift of education and to promote solidarity between Catholics in the United States and the poor overseas. But what many people in the United States may not realize about Thomas is perhaps the most remarkable part of his story.

Thomas is one of millions.
CRS is a household name in countries like Ghana, where since 1958, hundreds of thousands of children have received a hot meal, an opportunity to attend school and food to bring home to their families. Chances are, if you grew up and went to school in Ghana, you benefited from a CRS school program.

The same is true in another West African country, Sierra Leone.

More Food for Thought — Baika's Story

At about the same time Thomas was being lured into school in Ghana, Baika Sesay was noticing the CRS logo on the sides of food aid delivery trucks outside of his school in Bo, Sierra Leone.
Unlike Thomas, Baika's family life was relatively secure. But thinking back to his school days, Baika says that if it had not been for the meals, which usually consisted of bulgur wheat and corn-soy blend, many children may have opted not to attend.

"Food kept the children in school instead of going out to sell goods along the street to make enough money to buy lunch," says Baika, who worked for CRS in Sierra Leone for 10 years before relocating to the agency's Baltimore headquarters in 2003.

Often, children were sent to school without breakfast, but once they were at school, they were assured a solid midday meal. "There were many, many kids who depended on that lunch," Baika adds.

One of seven children born to Muslim parents who were traders, Baika went on to receive his undergraduate degree from Njala University and started his career in the humanitarian sector during the height of the civil war in Sierra Leone, which raged from 1991 to 2001.

"The goal for me at the time was what I could do to help my people," he says.

Remaining in Bo, Baika first worked with a German nongovernmental organization helping to resettle displaced families returning home after the war. A year later, he joined CRS to work as a food aid monitor and relocated to the capital, Freetown.

During his tenure there, Baika met his wife and had two children.

As the war progressed, Baika and his family were forced to relocate to various provinces within the small country, sometimes by boat and other times by foot in the night. Through the chaos, he always found his way to a safe haven, where he could communicate with CRS officials on what the next strategy would be.

Baika served as deputy country representative of CRS in Sierra Leone before coming to headquarters, where he develops aid proposals for CRS initiatives in West and East Africa.
From his small office on the fourth floor, Baika's satisfaction with his experience at the agency is clear.

"With CRS you actually see the results of what you're doing," he says.

Around the world, CRS food-assisted development programs encourage over a million children to attend school by serving hot meals and providing food rations to the families of girls with high attendance. Depending on needs, these programs provide teacher training, curriculum development and PTA support to foster quality education. Programs may also offer school health services and physical improvements, including latrines, wells and additional classrooms.
Millions more vulnerable women, children and men receive other forms of food assistance or support to produce the food they need to help their families survive. Nearly all of these programs are funded through U.S. government programming and are affected by fiscal decisions of the United States.

In 2004, the United Nations reported that the number of chronically hungry people climbed to more than 850 million — the first time in nearly a decade that this number had increased. At the same time, world governments are decreasing the amount of money they are allocating to feed the hungry, diverting it to meet emergency needs.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Darfur Needs Our Help! Take Action NOW!

The Sudanese government has left starvation as the only option in Darfur.

In a move that can only be described as retaliatory, the Sudanese government expelled or suspended the operations of 16 humanitarian aid organizations in Darfur and across Sudan just over one week ago. This action came soon after a decision by the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Darfur is the largest humanitarian aid operation in the world. Removing these essential groups from working in Darfur is like tearing life support from a critical patient.
If Sudan doesn't hear the truth from someone it trusts, then it will continue to travel down this very dangerous path.

We need to tap into Sudan's inner circle – fast.

There are a few key groups and individuals -- such as, the African Union, the League of Arab States, and Sudan's own Ambassador to the U.S. -- who have the influence to get the government of Sudan to reverse its course. Urge those who have Sudan's ear to act now by filling their inboxes with your emails calling for the return of aid groups working in Darfur and across Sudan.

Aid groups must be allowed to resume operations in Darfur

What's really happening here, according to Tawanda Hondora, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Africa Program, is that "the Sudanese government is holding the entire civilian population of Darfur hostage."

It's unthinkable that a government would harm its own people in this way.

Without these important groups working on the ground to provide medicine, food, and water, civilians who were forced to flee their homes once to avoid being killed, raped or tortured, may now be forced to become displaced again. If life-saving supplies can't get through to the people, then the people will have basically run out of options.

The neighboring country, Chad, is already bursting at the seams trying to support more than 250,000 refugees who fled Darfur to escape the violence. Ongoing insecurity and instability in Chad, as well as limited resources, will make accommodating a new exodus of refugees from Darfur next to impossible.

We've seen cruelty manifest itself in many different ways throughout the course of the conflict in Darfur. But this most recent act of retaliation by the Sudanese government is particularly callous.

The African Union, Arab League, and the Sudanese Ambassador to the U.S. need to hear from you today. Demand that members of Sudan's trusted circle use their influence to help reverse the government of Sudan's decision.

It's up to us to preserve the last life-saving option displaced Darfuris have left.

Denise Bell
Darfur Campaign
Amnesty International USA

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Join Catholics for Working Families

Several years ago I worked as a union organizer, helping health care employees in the Pacific Northwest obtain dignity and respect on the job. On one campaign nearly 70% of the workers signed a public petition asking hospital management to recognize their union. But instead of negotiating, the employer took revenge, by threatening, intimidating – and in some cases ever firing – union supporters.

Each year tens of thousands of U.S. workers face this kind of harassment and intimidation in the workplace. Although retaliation for union activity is illegal, our current labor laws provide little recourse for those whose rights have been violated.

Do you want to help end these abuses of workers' rights?Click here to join our Catholics for Working Families campaign

To remedy this situation, lawmakers will soon introduce a bill called the Employee Free Choice Act. The Act (called EFCA for short) will provide stiffer penalties for employers who violate workers' legal rights. It will also do away with the antiquated and undemocratic process by which Americans must presently form unions, and replace it with one that guarantees organizing workers a free and fair choice.

To rally Catholic support for this important legislation, Catholics United, Pax Christi USA, and Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice have launched a new campaign called Catholics for Working Families. On the campaign Web site – located at www.catholicsforworkingfamiles.org – you'll find facts about EFCA and the Catholic social tradition, a petition calling on Congress to support the legislation, and opportunities for grassroots EFCA supporters to engage elected officials and the general public.

With your financial help, we also plan to launch a radio and print advertising campaign in key states to rally Catholic support behind EFCA.

Help America's workers get a fair shakeJoin the Catholics for Working Families campaign today
Support for workers' rights is an essential and unambiguous part of the Catholic Church's social doctrine. In fact, the Catholic social tradition began with Pope Leo XIII's 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum, which affirmed each worker's right to collective bargaining, free from “force and injustice.” Addressing employer-sponsored anti-union campaigns in 1986, the U.S. Catholic Bishops wrote, “we firmly oppose organized efforts, such as those regrettably now seen in this country, to break existing unions and prevent workers from organizing.”

No one should have to suffer the kind indignities that I witnessed – especially as retribution for exercising a right they possess as Americans, and as human beings. Help pass the Employee Free Choice Act by joining our campaign today.

Chris Korzen
Executive Director

Tell Sen. Specter to Help Working Americans

Congress has already given billions of dollars to the banking industry. But it has not yet passed relief for the millions of Americans who are losing their homes. Experts predict that one in six homeowners with a mortgage will be foreclosed on over the next four years.

The way to help these Americans is to give bankruptcy judges the power to restructure mortgage loans. The banking industry has spent an exorbitant amount of money lobbying Congress to keep judges from getting that power.

Unfortunately, the bankers are well on their way to winning this fight. On March 5, the House passed a compromised bill to provide mortgage relief for Americans in trouble. While this bill did include provisions to allow judges to change the terms of mortgages in bankruptcies, it also added onerous conditions for homeowners at the behest of banking industry lobbyists.

Now the bill is in the Senate — and we don't know whether Sen. Specter will vote with Americans in need or with the banking industry.

In the Senate, even votes that would usually be considered safe are wavering on this issue. We cannot afford to let the Senate cave to special interests — not when millions of Americans are losing their homes. Sen. Specter could go either way, so we need you to weigh in — and to get your family, friends and neighbors involved if you can.

Click here to tell Sen. Specter not to cave to the banking industry. Americans in crisis are counting on you.

Thank you for working to build a better world.

Kate Stayman-London,
Campaign Manager CREDO Action
from Working Assets

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Article Assignments: March Issue of The Watch

Matt Kizior - Tibet update

Matt O'Donnell - The ICC and Bashir

Stephen Joyce - Report on Jerry Fowler's lecture concerning Darfur at Duquesne

Jack Devine - Opnion piece on the human rights violations stemming from Free Trade

Mike Noel - Drug war in Mexico

Bro. Rob Peach, FSC - An interview with Thomas Iawapo from the CRS

Articles due: Wednesday, March 18, 2009 for relase on Monday, March 23, 2009!!!

A President, a Boy and Genocide

March 5, 2009
Op-Ed Columnist
A President, a Boy and Genocide

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/05/opinion/05kristof.html?_r=1 (link leads to images and other items for more info)

When the International Criminal Court issued its arrest warrant for Sudan’s president on Wednesday, an 8-year-old boy named Bakit Musa would have clapped — if only he still had hands.

I met Bakit a couple of weeks ago in eastern Chad, near the border of Darfur. He and two friends had found a grenade left behind in fighting after Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, armed and dispatched a proxy force to wreak havoc in Chad. The boys played with the grenade, and it exploded, taking both of Bakit’s hands, one eye and the skin on half of his face.

So Bakit became, inadvertently, one more casualty of the havoc and brutality that President Bashir has unleashed in Sudan and surrounding countries. Other children laugh at him, so Bakit plays by himself in the dust on the outskirts of a huge camp for people displaced by Mr. Bashir.

One of Mr. Bashir’s first actions after the arrest warrant was to undertake yet another crime against humanity: He expelled major international aid groups, including the International Rescue Committee and the Dutch section of Doctors Without Borders. In effect, he is now preparing to massacre the Darfuri people in still another way, for Darfuris are living in camps and depend on aid workers for food, water and health care — even as deadly meningitis has broken out in one of the camps.

“The consequences are going to be dire,” notes George Rupp, the president of the International Rescue Committee, on which 1.75 million Sudanese depend for water, sanitation, education and health care. “If Sudan persists in this decision, it’s difficult to see how the outcome will be anything other than serious suffering and death for hundreds of thousands of people.”

Mr. Bashir is now testing the international community, and President Obama and other world leaders must respond immediately and decisively, in conjunction with as many non-Western nations as possible.

The first step is to insist that aid groups be reinstated immediately to prevent this genocide in slow motion. A second step could be to destroy one of Mr. Bashir’s military planes with a warning that if he takes his genocide to a new level by depriving Darfuris of food and medical care, he will lose the rest of his air force.

Yet it’s also important to understand that Mr. Bashir engages in a consistent pattern of destruction and slaughter, not because he is a sadistic monster, but because he is a calculating pragmatist.

Mr. Bashir saw early in his career that atrocities can constitute an effective policy — shooting villagers and gang-raping women is quite useful to depopulate rural areas, thereby denying support to rebel militias. Best of all from Mr. Bashir’s perspective, there’s no downside as long as the international community averts its eyes or backs down. His aim in expelling aid groups is apparently to divide the international community and to try to force the United Nations Security Council to delay International Criminal Court proceedings.

Mr. Bashir assumes, not unreasonably, that he can get away with it. That culture of impunity is what the I.C.C. arrest warrant may begin to change. It is one way of attaching costs to systematic brutality, and thus to change the calculations of pragmatists like Mr. Bashir in Sudan and elsewhere.

So now President Obama and other leaders — hello, Gordon Brown, you there? — need to back up the I.C.C. arrest warrant and push to reverse the expulsion of aid workers, while working with Arab countries like Qatar that want to help.

Intriguingly, Khartoum is full of rumors that the handful of leaders just below Mr. Bashir are thinking of throwing him overboard to save themselves. We can encourage that by making it clear that Sudan will pay a price if the killings continue.

We also must call on China to stop training the military pilots used by Mr. Bashir to strafe villages, and to stop supplying weapons and spare parts to Sudan as long as Mr. Bashir is in office. There are precedents: China was a strong supporter of the Khmer Rouge and of Slobodan Milosevic, but distanced itself from both when they came under the spotlight for genocide.

President Obama could also announce that from now on, when Sudan violates the U.N. ban on offensive military flights in Darfur by bombing villagers, we will afterward destroy a Sudanese military aircraft on the ground in Darfur (we can do this from our base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa).

I won’t pretend that we can end all genocides. But we can attach enough costs so that it is no longer in a leader’s interests to dispatch militias to throw babies into bonfires. The I.C.C. arrest warrant marks a wobbly step toward accountability and deterrence.

So let’s applaud the I.C.C.’s arrest warrant, on behalf of children like Bakit who can’t.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

CMEP Urges U.S. Action on Settlements; 32 Senators Support Peacemaking Efforts

CMEP Letter to Sec. Clinton Urges Action on Settlements to Preserve Two-State Peace

32 Senators Send Strong Message of Support for U.S Peacemaking Efforts

1. CMEP Letter to Sec. Clinton Urges Action on Settlements to Preserve Two-State Peace
Churches for Middle East Peace sent a letter earlier today urging the Obama Administration to address promptly the problem of ongoing Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem if it is going to be successful in preserving hope for a negotiated two-state peace. Click here to view the letter.

Secretary of State Clinton as well as Special Envoy Sen. George Mitchell are currently in the Middle East, in meetings today in Cairo on Gaza reconstruction, and then on to Israel and the West Bank Tuesday and Wednesday. It is important that Secretary Clinton hear from Americans that U.S. action on settlement activity is a necessary component of the Obama Administration's peace initiative.


Send Secretary of State Clinton an email, using the State Department webform, by clicking here.

On this page, enter your email address in the box labeled "user ID or email address."

Where it asks for “additional information” scroll through the menu and select “U.S. Foreign Policy.”

You can use the sample text included below, based on CMEP’s letters, to send your own personal letter.

Send an email to Secretary of State Clinton based on the CMEP letter included below.

Background Reading:

"CMEP Letter to Sec. Clinton", March 2, 2009 (PDF)
"Settlement expansion plans", B'Tselem, February 27, 2009
"Israel's Settlement Expansion Plans Seriously Threaten All Hopes for Peace", American Taskforce on Palestine, February 27, 2009
"Zero Tolerance Now", Lara Friedman and Hagit Ofran, Haaretz, February 27, 2009
"Reps. Ackerman and Wexler Criticize Settlements", CMEP Bulletin, February 19, 2009
"West Bank Land Seized As Israel Looks to Build", Karin Laub, Associated Press, February 17, 2009

Letter in PDF format

Dear Madam Secretary,

Thank you for traveling to Cairo, Israel and the West Bank at this critical time for peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Your visit and that of Special Envoy Senator Mitchell, together with recent statements by you and President Barack Obama, are encouraging signs of a serious commitment by this Administration to achieve a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace.

We represent 22 national U.S. churches and church organizations -- Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant. We believe that urgent U.S. action must be taken now to preserve hope for a negotiated two-state solution. Any alternative raises serious problems or constitutes an invitation to ongoing conflict that would threaten both Israeli and U.S. national interests.
As you know, there are immediate concerns related to the Gaza situation, including the need to solidify the cease-fire, reopen the border crossings and end weapons smuggling. However, we write to you today with special concern about the impact of ongoing Israeli settlement activity. The government of Israel recently cleared the way for expansion of the Efrat settlement south of Bethlehem. These and hundreds of other plans are part of a broader pattern of unchecked settlement expansion throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem that is detrimental to the creation of a viable Palestinian state - a core U.S. objective, as you reiterated this past Friday, and a key element to Israel's long-term security.

We urge you to make clear during your current Mideast trip that the Obama Administration will not tolerate ongoing Israeli settlement activity. In recent trips of our own, we have witnessed the success of Palestinian Authority efforts to increase law and order and prevent violence against Israelis. However, these security initiatives are undermined, U.S. diplomatic credibility is called into question, and extremists on all sides are strengthened, so long as Israel does not freeze all settlement activity. The U.S. has a critical role to play in holding both Israel and the Palestinians accountable for their obligations and creating a climate where a return to negotiations is feasible.

During this season of Lent, as Christians focus on the need for God's grace and renewal, our prayers are with you, with Special Envoy Senator Mitchell and with President Obama that you will work for peace with boldness and not grow weary in the quest for a better future for all the peoples of the Holy Land.


2. 32 Senators Send Strong Message of Support for U.S Peacemaking Efforts
CMEP issued an action alert last Wednesday when Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) began circulating a letter to Secretary of State Clinton commending the Obama Administration's efforts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace and encouraging Sec. Clinton to use her Mideast trip to help further this important goal. Click here to view the text of the Feinstein letter to Sec. Clinton.
In just two days, 32 Senators, representing nearly one-third of the Senate, signed on to this important letter, sending a strong message of Congressional support for robust U.S. efforts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace.

In an interview on Friday with Voice of America, Secretary Clinton said she will "help make progress toward a negotiated agreement to end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians; to create an independent, viable Palestinian state in both the West Bank and Gaza; and to provide Israel with the peace and security that it has long sought and which the people deserve to have."


The list of Senators who signed is below. If your Senator(s) are among them, please click here to send a thank-you.

Diane Feinstein (D-CA); Daniel Akaka (D-HI); Mark Begich (D-AK); Kit Bond (R-MO); Sherrod Brown (D-OH); Richard Burr (R-NC); Maria Cantwell (D-WA); Benjamin Cardin (D-MD); Thomas Carper (D-DE); Robert Casey (D-PA); Thad Cochran (R-MS); Susan Collins (R-ME); Christopher Dodd (D-CT); Byron Dorgan (D-ND); Richard Durbin (D-IL); Russell Feingold (D-WI); Tom Harkin (D-IA); Amy Klobuchar (D-MN); Mary Landrieu (D-LA); Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ); Carl Levin (D-MI); Jeff Merkley (D-OR); Patty Murray (D-WA); Ben Nelson (D-NE); John Rockefeller (D-WV); Olympia Snowe (R-ME); Arlen Specter (R-PA); Jon Tester (D-MT); David Vitter (R-LA); George Voinovich (R-OH); Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI); Ron Wyden (D-OR).