Tag Archives: human rights

Trump orders construction of border wall and punishment for sanctuary cities

President Donald Trump on Jan. 25 ordered construction of a U.S.-Mexican border “wall” and punishment for cities shielding illegal immigrants while mulling restoring a CIA secret detention program.

Also, a draft executive order seen by Reuters that Trump is expected to sign in the coming days would block the entry of refugees from war-torn Syria and suspend the entry of any immigrants from Muslim-majority Middle Eastern and African countries Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Libya and Yemen while permanent rules are studied.

Trump’s executive orders on Wednesday signaled a tough action toward the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, whom he already has threatened to deport.

In a move critics called a slight to the integrity of American democracy, Trump also said he would seek a “major investigation” into what he believes was voter fraud in the November election, despite overwhelming consensus among state officials, election experts and politicians that it is rare in the United States.

“We are going to restore the rule of law in the United States,” Trump told an audience that included relatives of people killed by illegal immigrants at the Department of Homeland Security after signing two executive orders.

The directives ordered the construction of a multibillion-dollar “wall” along the roughly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, moved to strip federal funding from sanctuary states and cities that harbor illegal immigrants and expanded the force of U.S. anti-immigration agents.

His plans prompted an outcry from immigrant advocates and Democratic lawmakers who said Trump was jeopardizing the rights and freedoms of millions of people while treating Mexico as an enemy, not an ally, and soiling America’s historic reputation as a welcoming place for immigrants of all stripes.

“The border wall is about political theater at the expense of civil liberties,” said Christian Ramirez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition immigrant advocacy group.

“It is not national security policy. Border communities are among the safest in the nation, and patrolling them with tens of thousands of heavily armed, poorly trained, unaccountable agents puts lives at risks. This will turn these communities into de facto military zones,” Ramirez said.

The White House said the wall would stem the flow of drugs, crime and illegal immigration into the United States.

The immigration crackdown has sparked fear among  “dreamers,” whose parents brought them to the United States illegally and who received deportation relief and work permits from President Barack Obama’s administration.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said “dreamers” should not be worried. “We’re focused on physical security of the border, we’re focused on those who are coming to do us harm from terrorist states and things like that,” he told MSNBC.

TENSION WITH MEXICO

Trump’s actions could further test relations with Mexico.

Trump’s policies, including his demand that the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada be renegotiated or scrapped, have put Mexico’s government on the defensive. Trump and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto are due to meet next week.

Pena Nieto said he “regrets and disapproves” of the push by Trump to build a new wall along the border.

Officials in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Denver, Washington, San Francisco and Seattle offer some forms of protection to illegal immigrants. Billions of dollars in federal aid to those cities, often governed by Democrats, could be at risk under Trump’s move.

Trump said construction on the wall would start within months, with planning starting immediately and he said Mexico would pay back to the United States “100 percent” of the costs. Mexican officials repeatedly said that is not going to happen.

The cost, nature and extent of the wall remain unclear. Trump last year put the cost at “probably $8 billion,” although other estimates are higher, and he said the wall would span 1,000 miles because of the terrain of the border.

END OF ‘CATCH AND RELEASE’

Trump’s directives would end the practice known by critics as “catch and release” in which authorities apprehend illegal immigrants on U.S. territory but do not immediately detain or deport them.

The directives also include hiring 5,000 more U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.

They also create more detention space along the southern border to make it easier to detain and deport people.

Reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley; Additional reporting by Mica Rosenberg, Roberta Rampton, Jonathan Landay, Mark Hosenball, Doina Chiacu, Andy Sullivan, Mohammad Zargham, Eric Beech and Susan Heavey; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney.

Many motivations driving women to DC for inauguration protest

Call them rebels with a cause. Women from around the nation will converge on Washington for a march on the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration. They will arrive driven by a multitude of motivations.

Gay rights, gun control, immigrant rights, equal pay, reproductive freedom, racial justice, worker rights, climate change, support for vaccinations: They all make the list of progressive causes that are attracting people to the Women’s March on Washington and its sister marches across the country and the world this coming Saturday.

“We are not going to give the next president that much focus,” says Linda Sarsour, a national march organizer and executive director of the Arab American Association of New York. “What we want from him is to see us in focus.”

But while Trump’s name may not literally appear in the march’s “mission and vision” statement, the common denominator uniting the marchers appears to be a loathing for the president-elect and dismay that so much of the country voted for him.

“This march feels like a chance to be part of something that isn’t pity, isn’t powerlessness,” says Leslie Rutkowski, an American living in Norway who plans to fly back for the march. “I hope it is unifying. I hope it flies in the face of Trump’s platform of hate and divisiveness.”

Adds Kelsey Wadman, a new mom in California who’s helping to organize a parallel march in San Diego: “It’s not just about Donald Trump the person. It’s about what he evoked out of the country.”

The march in Washington is set to start with a program near the Capitol and then move toward the White House. It probably will be the largest of a number of inauguration-related protests.

Christopher Geldart, the District of Columbia’s homeland security director, said he expected the march to draw more than the 200,000 people organizers are planning for, based on bus registrations and train bookings.

The focus of the march has been a work in progress since the idea of a Washington mobilization first bubbled up from a number of women’s social media posts in the hours after Trump’s election.

The group’s November application for a march permit summed up its purpose as to “come together in solidarity to express to the new administration & Congress that women’s rights are human rights and our power cannot be ignored.”

That phrasing rankled some who thought it was tied too closely to Hillary Clinton, the defeated Democratic nominee, whose famous Beijing speech as first lady declared that “women’s rights are human rights.” The fact that the initial march organizers were mostly white women also generated grumbling, this time from minorities. Gradually, the march’s leadership and its mission statements have become more all-inclusive.

Recent releases from march organizers state the event “intends to send a bold message to the incoming presidential administration on their first day in office, to leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, and to the world, that we stand together in solidarity and expect elected leaders to act to protect the rights of women, their families and their communities.”

America Ferrera, leading the celebrity contingent for the march, rolled out a long list of concerns in a statement announcing her role.

“Immigrant rights, worker rights, reproductive rights, LGBTQIA rights, racial justice and environmental rights are not special interests, they affect us all and should be every American’s concerns,” she wrote.

Other prominent names involved with the march have put a spotlight on one concern — or another.

Actress Scarlett Johansson, who plans to participate, put her focus on the incoming administration’s intentions of “reducing the availability of women’s health care and attacking her reproductive rights.'”

Actress Debra Messing, listed as a supporter of the march, wrote of the need to protect Planned Parenthood.

Expect thousands of the marchers to turn up wearing hand-knitted pink “pussyhats” — sending a message of female empowerment and pushing back against Trump’s demeaning comments about women.

Scan #WhyIMarch posts on social media, and you’ll find a wide-ranging list of reasons. A sampling: equal pay for women veterans, fighting chauvinism, empowering daughters, renouncing racism, higher pay for women who are college presidents.

Wadman, the California mom, tweeted a (hash)WhyIMarch photo with her 4-month-old son and this note: “Because when my son asks me about this era of American history I don’t want to tell him that I did nothing.”

Rutkowski, the American living in Norway, emailed that she’s “not completely satisfied” with the mixed messages attached to the march.

“I also don’t like — from what I’ve seen in the news and on Facebook _ the proclivity for infighting,” she wrote. “But I believe that a quarter of a million female bodies — hopefully more, hopefully men, as well — will make the incoming administration and new Congress aware that we are watching, we are listening and we will resist.”

Carmen Perez, one of the march’s national organizers, sees beauty in the many messages attached to the march: “Women don’t live single-issue lives and we are thrilled to be joined by women who understand and reflect the intersecting issues for which we stand.”

Associated Press reporters Krysta Fauria and Ben Nuckols contributed to this report.

Working against human trafficking, from Moldova to Milwaukee

According to a report published by the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission in 2013 entitled “Estimating the Number of Sex Trafficked Youth Using Contacts with Milwaukee Police Department,” more than 77 youth below the age of 17 were trafficked in our city. This information is now more than 3 years old and does not account for adults.

There are many great organizations working to fight human trafficking in Milwaukee and abroad.

Please learn about, volunteer with and work alongside these groups.

Here are a few: Racine Coalition Against Human Trafficking, Human Trafficking Task Force of Greater Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Police Department, the Commission on Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence and the U.S. Attorney’s Eastern District Task Force on Human Trafficking, along with many nonprofits.

For a comprehensive list of organizations, please see the Human Trafficking Task Force of Greater Milwaukee’s May 2013 report entitled, “Survey Results: Services for People Who’ve Been Trafficked.”

Another organization is Diaconia Connections, an international aid and development organization affiliated with the Presbyterian Church USA, the Czech Brethren and the United Church of Christ. Diaconia Connections maintains an office in the Plymouth United Church of Christ on Milwaukee’s East Side.

The following is a personal reflection from their director, Jeremy Ault, about his trip to Moldova, documenting the anti-trafficking work being done there.

After nearly two hours of traveling, my Moldovan colleagues Adrian and Livia stopped the car in the middle of a gravel road at the top of a long, winding hill. They made their way to a rusted gate that demarcated the property line of a family that lived in a dilapidated house. Turquoise paint peeled away from warped, sun-bleached wooden planks, while the breeze sucked curtains out of broken windowpanes. The yard was bare and rusted hulks of farm equipment could be seen through the crushed walls of a collapsed barn. There was no electricity, no running water and the outhouse door was left ajar.

It was at times like these between Adrian, Livia and me where our language barrier was most noticeable. I had no idea of their plans, so I just followed.

Upon reaching the threshold of the gate, I caught a glimpse of an elderly women making her way to the door. She walked with a severe bend in her spine — most likely the consequence of years of farm labor and osteoporosis.

With her came three children. Their ages varied, from 10-16. There were two boys and a young girl. They didn’t speak to us. After some hushed conversation, Adrian turned to me and waved me inside.

I hesitated.

I made it to the steps leading to the entrance, glanced at the children, and then turned back around. I walked across the yard, back through the gate, and stood by the car. I didn’t leave that spot for an hour.

***

In the summer of 2015, I traveled with three representatives from the Presbyterian Foundation to the European nation of Moldova to document the work of Diaconia Connections (the nonprofit I work for), and our Moldovan partners CASMED and ProCoRe. Our goal was to produce a video about the work being done to fight human trafficking.

Human trafficking is a reprehensible crime. And Moldova, Europe’s poorest country, is ground zero.

Cornered between Romania, Ukraine and the Black Sea, the country has experienced years of economic dysfunction, political corruption and civil war. For working-age adults and young people, opportunity is often found by seeking employment in Russia or the European Union.

Moldova is rated as a Tier 2 Watch List by the U.S. State Department. It is a primary source of men, women, and children trafficked for sex and forced labor. Victims are sent to Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Russia and the European Union. Nearly 80 percent of those trafficked work in the sex industry.

The problem is most egregious in Moldova’s rural communities, where educational and economic opportunities are lacking. Individuals in the countryside are desperate for opportunities. And desperate people without the proper means to acquire work visas, are prime targets for human traffickers. In Moldova, there are plenty of potential victims.

***

We met up with our Moldovan colleagues, Livia and Adrian, early on in our trip and they stayed with us for a few days, driving us around Moldova, where we visited villages and farm communities. But instead of listening to stories of capture, abuse, escape and healing from individual survivors, we instead visited the damp, musty homes of elderly women suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure.

We came upon the cottage of a 75-year-old man uncontrollably shaking from a neurological disease that rendered him unable to speak or feed himself. The nurse from CASMED that cared for him walked over 7 miles a day to wash his soiled bed linens and slice his bread.

We had lunch with a single mother and her son who was physically disabled and unable to leave the house. We listened intently as she pleaded with local government officials to assist her in rebuilding the foundation of her home. In the middle of the conversation, the mayor of the town leaned over to me and said in English, “Her house is going to be condemned next month. We don’t know what to do. We have no money to help.”

At some point I couldn’t take it anymore. I felt like a voyeur. The overbearing sense of helplessness began to weigh on me, so I created an alternative reality.

I convinced myself that the people we were visiting were acting — perhaps for the camera. I decided to look away, to ignore the problems that were presented before me — which is why, at our last stop, I refused to enter the house.

I stood by the car indignant and upset that Adrian and Livia had taken me to the home of an elderly women, caring for children, who was clearly uncomfortable and in need of some kind of material aid. Once again, I brought nothing. I had no food and no money. And this time, I had little empathy. I don’t know, maybe I was ashamed of my own privilege?

My colleagues from the Presbyterian Foundation, along with Adrian and Livia, returned to the car. None of them asked me about my decision to stay outside.

Instead, they recounted another tragic story that had become all too familiar: Six years ago, the children’s mother was lured by work “recruiters” from Russia, promising a job in the hospitality industry in Moscow. Thinking that she would work in a hotel or café, the mother gave money to the recruiters to purchase a work visa. She left. And has never been back. It is now known that she was trafficked into prostitution by an organized crime syndicate. Her children have spoken with her only twice since she’s been gone, and they do not know when or if she will return. The task of caring for her children has fallen to her impoverished and elderly mother — a situation that only continues the cycle of poverty and vulnerability that enables traffickers to take advantage of desperation.

***

After some reflection, I thought more critically about my own decision to not enter the house. Livia and Adrian, in the face of problems, never looked away. They listened to the stories of people and actively found ways to help. The work of CASMED and ProCoRe are testaments to the power of the human spirit in the face of overwhelming challenges. The nurses from CASMED provide not only medical assistance, but offer company and conversation, reminding those they care for that they are loved and remembered. Social workers from CASMED and ProCoRe assist elderly caretakers with their expenses, providing educational materials, a living stipend and food throughout the year. Youth counselors and workers provide job training, therapy sessions and organize cultural outings to help young survivors of trafficking heal. I began to feel ashamed that I, in my privilege, did not allow the children or the grandmother to tell me their story.

Livia, Adrian and all the individuals we visited, forced me to realize an often forgotten fact: that a crime like human trafficking affects entire communities in addition to those trafficked. Men who have been sent away to Moscow to work on construction sites as bonded laborers are unable to remain home and attend to their ailing mothers. Women forced into prostitution in Turkey are unable to care for their aging fathers. Bright students desperate for work and educational opportunities drift away to cities and across borders, weakening their communities and impoverishing the life and future of their villages.

But the story doesn’t need to stop there.

No matter how insidious the crime trafficking can be, together, survivors and regular people like you and me can fight back.

It is why Adrian and Livia continue to care and provide healing for all of those affected — the survivors and those who are left behind.

It’s why survivors themselves are often their own best advocates. They are strong, resilient people who have a lot to teach us.

It’s why we should never ignore their stories.

It’s why we should actively search for those places in our communities where trafficking is happening and volunteer, donate to, or work alongside those organizations fighting this terrible crime.

***

We were about an hour and half north of the capital Chisinau when I saw my final glimpse of the Moldovan countryside. It was awash in an auburn, early-morning light that intensified the dour hues of plowed fields and barren hillsides. Thousands of dried sunflower stalks shuddered in the wind while elderly farmers dressed in loose-fitting cotton overalls lounged under spindly beech trees. Women’s Orthodox headscarves splashed radiant shades of red and blue across the landscape as they slowly herded untethered cows into the irrigation canals for water. It was a bucolic, peaceful scene. For while the land showed signs of serious erosion and the people working the fields conveyed a life bereft of material wealth, it was nevertheless enticing. It was one of the few moments where I really paid attention, when I chose not to look away.

While Moldova might be far away, the trauma of trafficking hits close to home. As citizens of Milwaukee and the United States, we should work to fight injustice and human trafficking here and in places like Moldova. It might be uncomfortable and we might have to learn where we can be of help, but much more is lost when we avert our eyes and stand listlessly by on the roadside.

***

Jeremy Ault is the director of Diaconia Connections and an Analyst for Spectrum Nonprofit Services. He lives in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood. For more information, please visit www.diaconiaconnections.org.

Read more

> Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, “A Crime Hidden in Plain Sight: Human Trafficking in Milwaukee,” Allison Dikanovic, Feb. 29, 2016,.

> Trafficking in Persons Report 2016, US Department of State.

> Homicide Review Commission Report, April 15, 2013, “Estimating the Number of Sex Trafficked Youth Using Contacts with the Milwaukee Police Department.”

 

Images provided by Jeremy Ault.
Images provided by Jeremy Ault.

Attorney General offers ‘national strategy’ to combat human trafficking

As part of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch announced the Justice Department’s National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking , as required by the 2015 Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act.

In addition to this new national strategy, every year, the attorney general also submits the Attorney General’s Annual Report to Congress and Assessment of U.S. Government Activities to Combat Trafficking in Persons, which details the programs and activities carried out by all federal agencies and sets forth recommended goals for the upcoming year.

The most recent report, for FY 2015, is available here.

The department also has launched www.justice.gov/humantrafficking as a central destination to learn more about the department’s efforts to combat the scourge of human trafficking.

“Human trafficking is one of the most devastating crimes that we confront,” said Lynch.  “The National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking summarizes the work that our many components and our U.S. Attorney’s Offices are doing to better help survivors and target traffickers. These efforts encourage increased collaboration within the department as well as between the department and our partners in order to build on our successes as we prepare to take on the work that remains.”

The National Strategy sets forth plans to enhance coordination within the department and to develop specific strategies within each federal district to stop human trafficking.

The National Strategy includes the following:

  • An assessment of the threat presented by human trafficking based on FBI case information.
  • An account of the work of the department’s components that are most extensively involved in anti-trafficking efforts, including the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit; the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section; the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices; the FBI; and various grant-making components within the Office of Justice Programs.
  • A description of the district-specific strategies developed by each U.S. Attorney’s Office.
  • A discussion of human trafficking and anti-trafficking efforts in Indian Country.
  • Information about annual spending dedicated to preventing and combating human trafficking.
  • A description of plans to encourage cooperation, coordination and mutual support between the private and non-profit sector and the department to combat human trafficking.

On the web

To learn more about the report and the department’s efforts to combat human trafficking visit www.justice.gov/humantrafficking.

Immigrant allies rallying in nationwide day of action

Continue reading Immigrant allies rallying in nationwide day of action

Silent victims of violence: 4 million children orphaned in Congo

More than 4 million children have lost at least one parent in Congo over the past two decades, the silent victims of continuous cycles of violence.

And more than 26 million orphans live in West and Central Africa, where Congo is located — the second highest number in the world behind South Asia, according to the United Nations.

These children have grown up amid conflict fueled by ethnic strife and the fight over Congo’s valuable minerals. The violence and displacement are eroding the tradition of families caring for their own.

The breakdown in family means some orphans are forced to look after themselves and their younger siblings. Some are vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups.

And many also face sexual exploitation, in a country where rape has become commonplace on the streets.

“They are the orphans with a story of violence since 1994 — it’s a generation of victims that continues,” says Francisca Ichimpaye, a senior monitor at the En Avant Les Enfants INUKA center.

And the children “lose their story in the violence.”

As Congo falls once again into violence in the face of a delayed election, here are profiles of some orphans in Goma.

ALPHA MELEKI, 6

Alpha Meleki was found in a pile of bodies after an attack by rebels on his village in Congo’s eastern Beni earlier this year. He had been shot and left for dead with his parents in the bush.

The bullet wounds and the vine-like surgery scar on the 6-year-old’s pudgy belly have only recently healed. He hobbles around, pulling his loose shorts up on his tiny body.

The emotional scars are still fresh. When held by someone new, Alpha sits limply. His large eyes glaze over, and sometimes glare with angry distrust. He saves his smiles for those he trusts, often seeking the hands of adults he knows.

He cannot stand to see others suffer. Whenever another child at the INUKA center needs medical attention, Alpha cries and screams.

In a quiet moment, he touches a short, wide scar on his head. He lets others touch it.

“They hit me with a machete,” he recalls.

The center says it could take years to find any family members, as attacks persist in the northeast.

JEANNETTE UMUTSI, 17

At 17, Jeannette Umutsi has become the caregiver for her little brother, whom she hopes to protect from the horrors she has seen.

At first she recounts her story stoically and with distance. She was born only a few years after Rwanda’s 1994 genocide spilled into Congo. Armed fighters stormed her home, hit her in the leg with a shovel and nearly killed her sister.

She and her family fled her hometown of Kirolarwe in 2008 to escape the violence. In the next village, she hid in a toilet enclosure with wooden plank floors for three days to save herself from another attack. Alone, she would sneak out to grab tomatoes that grew nearby.

For days, she heard gunshots and saw dead bodies, including that of her uncle. As she continues to talk of violence, she breaks down into tears and gasps.

“I have so many nightmares now. So many nightmares,” she says.

Her mother returned to save her. But she later died after giving birth to her brother Shukuru, now 5.

Her father used to be a fighter, she says. Once, he threatened to kill her with a machete. As she talks about him, she folds over herself, head in her skirt, and the fear is palpable in her eyes.

Finally she fled the family. She wrapped Shukuru up, put him on her back, and walked for days, struggling to breathe, on the way to Camp Mugunga in Goma. She is now an older sister to more than a dozen other children at the INUKA center, where she helps cook the fish and rice for lunch and rounds the kids up for naps.

MOISE, 7, AND AGATA MUNOKA, 5

Moise Munoka, 7, sits still, looks down and speaks in a near whisper when he recounts the loss of his mother.

She died in 2013 after health complications from rapes left her quite sick. Rape is a constant in Congo, where it has become a weapon of war. At the Children’s Voice Virunga Centre in Goma, where Moise and his sister Agata gather during the day, at least 30 children were born of rape.

Though Moise never knew his own father, he knows that he was probably a fighter who raped his mother. When asked if he wants to meet him one day, he scrunches his nose up and shakes his head in disgust, “No!”

He is happy to have left his war torn village of Massissi.

“It’s a bad place because there’s war, trouble, people don’t like each other, they like to kill,” he says. “There’s always dead people, and blood.”

He lights up as he explains that he and his sister are now being cared for by a widow, Arlette Kabuo Malimewa, 45. She has three children of her own and also cares for a third foster child.

Agata sleeps in the living room, which has several posters of Jesus Christ lining the walls. Moise has his own room, where his two book bags hang from nails on the wooden planks.

Malimewa sells bed covers in bright pinks and whites that hang over her black lava rock gate, and makes about $5 a week.

“I love them, but it is difficult,” she says. “I want to keep them until my death … because who would they go to?”

ANUARITA MAHORO, 12

Anuarita Mahoro, 12, has been ostracized because she was born with a right hand problem that leaves her too weak to do hard labor.

She lived with her father until he was asked to chop wood for armed men who then killed him in 2014. Her mother lived with “the men of the forests,” as she refers to the fighters. They eventually killed her mother, too, and left.

Anuarita fled to her grandparents in Kiwanja. When her grandfather died, she was forced to leave her grandmother to find work to eat. Starving and sick, she was eventually taken in by a center for orphans.

Here, her right hand tucked between her legs and leaning on her left elbow, she apologizes.

“I have suffered so much so I might sound confused,” she says.

She hopes to return to her village and reclaim her grandmother’s land, showing those in the community her worth.

“After the death of my parents, the community discussed who would take this child. And no one was prepared to take me on as a parent. So since no one wanted me, when I grow up they better not come and ask me for any help,” she said, grinning widely, and then covering her face and laughing.

She would like one day to set up a center for orphans. And if she ever got the conversation she wants with the men who killed her parents, she solemnly reveals the one thought that won’t leave her mind.

“I would ask why they killed my father and my mother and didn’t kill me?”

DAMIEN MATATA BIZI, 22

Damien Matata Bizi looks down, his shoulders heavy, when he hesitantly recounts his past as an orphan who became a child soldier.

Many of the thousands of other former child soldiers in Congo over years made a similar choice, or had none at all. Rwanda’s 1994 genocide pushed fighters into Congo, and multiple rebel groups now fight over the mineral-rich region.

Matata Bizi became a rebel after his father, also an armed fighter, died. He was only 10 years old.

“I was angry when I learned of my father’s death. So I wanted to avenge my father, so I entered into the rebellion to fight,” he said. “My mother could never pay for school, and we could never find money to pay for food so I thought this was best.”

Matata Bizi says he was treated well, but others weren’t.

“The life that vulnerable children have is hard,” he says. “They don’t have education, they don’t have clothes, so it may be better to be in an armed group with the ability to find food and clothes than to be at a loss.”

When asked about having to kill people, his eyes narrow and he impatiently takes a deep breath, visibly angry.

“There’s a difference between the militants and child soldiers,” he says. “The adults have the occasion to reflect on what they’ve done. But for a child, we can only execute an order we are given. We don’t think of things, we do what we are ordered to do. “

Matata Bizi was found, rehabilitated by the United Nations and integrated into the army in 2009. He signed papers that say he is no longer a child soldier. He carries the dirtied, crumbling pages around in his shirt pocket. They brand him now.

He came to Goma in 2013. He was trained as a mechanic at the Don Bosco center in Goma but has no work. He says it’s easier to make more money and move up in rebel groups than in the army.

“War I know isn’t good, and neither is violence. It’s not good or normal,” he says. “But the armed groups exist because the country is badly organized. There’s no work. There’s no occupation for the young.”

On the Web

Children’s Voice

 

Claim against Chiquita for funding Colombian death squads to go to trial in U.S.

After almost a decade of litigation, victims of Colombian paramilitary death squads funded by Chiquita are moving forward in a U.S. lawsuit against the banana giant.

This week, federal judge Kenneth Marra rejected Chiquita’s argument that the case should be heard in Colombia rather than the United States. This ruling could clear the way for the historic case to advance toward trial.

In 2007, EarthRights International and other co-counsel, filed a class action suit against Chiquita Brands International on behalf of the families of thousands of villagers, labor leaders and community organizers murdered by the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, a paramilitary terrorist organization.

The suit alleges that Chiquita made illegal, concealed payments to the AUC for years, totaling at least $1.6 million.

The lawsuit also alleges that the AUC shipped arms and drugs through Chiquita’s ports and on Chiquita boats.

In March 2007, Chiquita pleaded guilty to the federal crime of funding a designated terrorist organization and paid a fine.

“Chiquita profited from its relationship with the AUC and paid the Department of Justice $25 million, but the victims of their conduct have received nothing — it is past time Chiquita compensates the families in Colombia,” said Marco Simons, ERI’s general counsel.

“We are pleased that the court agreed that ‘the United States has a strong interest in monitoring and deterring unethical and illegal conduct of American corporations in supporting foreign terrorist organizations.’ The plaintiffs sued Chiquita here in its home court where Chiquita will get a fair hearing on the merits, something the company seems to have been trying to delay for a decade,” said co-counsel Agnieszka Fryszman of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll.

Chiquita has pulled out of Colombia and now has no operations or assets there. Still, Chiquita argued that it was more “convenient” to litigate in Colombia than the United States.

The court rejected this claim, finding Colombia to be an inadequate forum in light of serious security risks for plaintiffs and their lawyers.

“Our clients chose to litigate in the United States because it is the only forum where they can litigate safely and where they can be sure that Chiquita will pay,” said Simons.

The plaintiffs also sued several former Chiquita executives who were allegedly responsible for making, approving and concealing the payments to the AUC.

On June 1, Marra ruled the claims against those executives, including claims for torture and extrajudicial killing under the Torture Victim Protection Act, could continue. That case now moves into the discovery phase.

In addition to ERI, the plaintiffs are represented by Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC and Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris & Hoffman LLP and attorneys Judith Brown Chomsky, Arturo Carrillo and John DeLeon.

The case, Doe v. Chiquita Brands International, No. 08-MD-80421, is joined with several lawsuits against Chiquita proceeding before Marra.­

Limits lifted on bringing in Cuban rum, cigars

The Obama administration announced Friday that it is eliminating a $100 limit on the value of Cuban rum and cigars that American travelers can bring back from the island.

The administration is also lifting limits on cargo ship travel between the U.S. and Cuba and easing U.S. and Cuban researchers’ ability to conduct joint medical research. The measures are contained in a package of relatively small-scale regulatory changes meant to ease U.S. trade with Cuba.

The Obama administration has now made six sets of changes loosening the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba in the hopes that the normalization of relations with the island will not be reversed by a future administration. This round is expected to be the last before President Barack Obama leaves office.

Cuban rum and cigars will now be subject to the same duties as alcohol and tobacco from other countries, meaning most travelers will be able to bring back as many as 100 cigars and several bottles of rum. Because high-end Cuban cigars can sell for more than $100 apiece outside Cuba, every U.S. traveler can now legally bring back many thousands of dollars of Cuban products, potentially generating hundreds of millions of dollars in new annual revenue for the Cuban state.

The change does not mean that Cuban rum and cigars will be available for sale in the U.S. — the change is aimed at tobacco and alcohol brought home for personal use.

The previous limit restricted travelers to a combined value of $100 in rum and cigars, although enforcement of the limit notably declined after President Barack Obama declared detente with Cuba on Dec. 17, 2014.

The administration has described its policy goal as aimed at helping the Cuban people improve their lives by winning greater economic and political freedom from the single-party state.

“Challenges remain – and very real differences between our governments persist on issues of democracy and human rights – but I believe that engagement is the best way to address those differences and make progress on behalf of our interests and values,” Obama said in a statement announcing the changes.

Rum and cigar production is entirely government-run under Cuba’s centrally planned communist economy. While the first regulatory changes focused narrowly on helping Cuba’s growing private sector, Friday’s new rules are almost entirely aimed at similarly state-run industries including shipping and medical products.

The package of regulatory changes announced Friday also allows cargo ships to visit U.S. ports directly after docking in Cuba. They had been barred from U.S. ports for 180 days after visiting Cuba. Cuba blamed that measure for harming its ability to import and export and dampening hopes that a new military-run port in the city of Mariel could serve as a major link in the regional cargo shipping system.

A senior Obama administration official said the new regulations’ focus on Cuban state enterprise should not be interpreted as a shift away from helping ordinary Cubans.

“We have designed the policy very much to have the maximum benefit to the Cuban people, broadly, but in so doing we are not restricting engagement with the Cuban state. That has been clear since Dec. 17, 2014,” the official said in a conference call with reporters held on condition of anonymity. “The Cuban people continue to be at the center of everything we’re doing.”

More than 160,000 American travelers visited Cuba last year and that figure is expected to double this year. Hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans visit family on the island each year and will also be able to take advantage of the new measure, which comes a month and a half before the restart of commercial flights to Havana after more than 50 years.

Pro-Palestinian campaign divides Jewish community

As Jewish college students headed home to celebrate Passover with their families on April 21, there was one topic on many of their minds with the potential to disrupt the joyous mood around their Seder tables: the BDS movement.

BDS stands for boycott, divestment and sanctions — against Israel. It’s a growing movement on college campuses, where students are stepping up protests of Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinians, as well as the nation’s continued occupation of land that BDS supporters say belongs to Palestinians.

BDS as proxy

The BDS movement — although focused primarily on human rights — has become a proxy for disagreements over a much wider and longer-standing set of issues. As such, the movement has pitted Jews against Jews, pro-Israelis versus anti-Israelis, and pro-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supporters versus Netanyahu critics. It’s also created rifts in the progressive movement, which attracts Jewish followers because of the faith’s culture of tolerance and identification with the underdog.

Reform Judaism — the largest branch of Judaism — was the first major religious denomination to support same-sex marriage, and Israel is the only nation in the Middle East that recognizes same-sex marriages. It also is the most progressive nation in the region by far. Arab countries stone adulterers to death, throw gays off skyscrapers to their deaths and some do not allow women to drive or even show their faces.

Given the human rights abuses of other countries in the region, a lot of Jews believe Israel is singled out due to anti-Semitism, and they’re blaming the BDS movement for anti-Semitic incidents on campuses. While the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks and fights anti-Semitic hate crimes, said it hasn’t seen a dramatic rise in such crimes on campuses, a spokesman said, “The BDS movement does fuel anti-Semitism. We have some serious concerns about BDS.”

He noted that anti-Semitic hate crimes in the United States routinely exceed anti-Muslim hate crimes.

Elana Kahn, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council for the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, said part of the problem she has with BDS is that “when we talk about Israel being grounded on injustice, we’re applying different standards to Israel than every other nation.”

The University of California-Davis held a hearing last month to consider divesting university holdings from companies that do business with Israel. After the meeting, the school’s Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi had its house defaced with swastikas. Fraternity leaders said they believed they had been targeted over their support for Israel. However, the coalition of student groups that supported divestment condemned the vandalism.

Fighting anti-Semitism on campus

The Simon Wiesenthal Center issued a report last year titled “Anti-Semitism on Campus: A clear–and-present danger.” The report called the growing rate of anti-Semitism on campuses “alarming” and “getting worse.” It referenced “grim examples of Jewish students being blocked from participation in student government and being harassed.”

Last month, the University of California’s Board of Regents became the first to adopt a “Principles Against Intolerance” policy in response to a series of high-profile anti-Semitic incidents — including swastikas found on Jewish fraternities and the attempted exclusion of a student government candidate because of her Jewish faith.

The document, which took months to prepare due to the charged political environment, states, “Anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.”

But to many Jews, especially older ones, anti-Zionism is inherently anti-Semitic. “The well-being of Israel is really a critical part of what it means to be a Jew today,” said Rabbi Mendel Matusof, director of the Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center at UW-Madison.

The reality is that living in peace in the Middle East is impossible in these times, said Matusof. As WiG was preparing this story, the terrorist bombing of a bus in Jerusalem injured 21 people, two of them critically. And, the same day, an Israeli military court charged a soldier with manslaughter after he was caught on video by an Israeli human rights group fatally shooting a wounded Palestinian attacker.

“Israel doesn’t live in a friendly neighborhood,” Matusof said.

“What frustrates me now is the way we talk about Israel these days in America,” Kahn said. “We eliminate complexity. The problem is that real life is more complex than these really simple reductive narratives that people are drawing. They’re drawing cartoon characters. There’s good on one side and bad on the other. I would challenge people to find a place in their heart to care about Palestinians and Israeli Jews at the same time.”

While Kahn doesn’t believe the BDS movement is inherently anti-Semitic, she believes it’s “a magnet for people who hold Jews in great disdain.”

Jews against Israel

Most Jews, especially older ones, want a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. But many who support the BDS movement, including members of groups such as Jewish Voices for Peace, want Jews to abdicate their control of Israel. They reject the notion of Zionism, which guarantees a Jewish state in perpetuity.

“Anti-Zionism, non-Zionism is more common in Jewish history than Zionism,” said Rachel Ida Buff, faculty adviser to a recently formed JVP chapter on the UW-Milwaukee campus.

JVP is a pro-Palestinian campus group whose supporters believe the conditions that led to the creation of a Jewish state no longer exist and do not justify what JVP national media coordinator Naomi Dann called a situation that “privileges Jews at the expense of Palestinian lives.”

“The impact of Zionism … has been wide-scale displacement, dispossession of millions of Palestinians and nearly 50 years of a brutal military occupation,” Dann wrote to WiG in an email. She said her group values the fundamental equality of all people and cannot support Zionism because it devalues Palestinian lives.”

“This is a generational issue that I think is reaching the fever pitch that it is because the Zionists are beginning to be scared of it,” Buff said.

Buff said there’s a kind of McCarthyism in the Jewish community that stigmatizes and disavows Jews who speak out against Israeli military and social atrocities, as she does.

She said she’s stepped on the equivalent of a “third rail.” But she said she will not be silenced for her beliefs.

“It is up to me to decide what my government does with its tax dollars,” she said. “Stop arming the occupation. The Zionists are being played by Netanyahu. American Jews are a little bit mistaken if they think the State Department is supportive of Jews. Israel is on the brink of (becoming) a pariah state. American geopolitical involvement is not going to make the world safe for Jews.”

Progressive roots

The BDS movement in the United States is emerging “from the heart of the American left,” according to Cary Nelson, a retired English professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He’s co-editor of the book, The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel.

BDS is the current cause célèbre of the left, and its presence can be seen at rallies and protests for virtually every grievance on the progressive agenda. Advocates for Palestinians have linked divestment to social justice movements against racism, militarization, globalization and other issues that are important to many college students.

Campus divestment advocates often come to student government hearings with the backing of student associations for blacks, South Asians, Mexican-Americans, gays and others. Last year, anti-Israeli protesters unraveled a sign several yards long behind speakers at a Black Lives Matter rally in Milwaukee’s Red Arrow Park. The rally was intended to draw attention to the April 14, 2014, police shooting of Dontre Hamilton, an unarmed black man.

The BDS sign was by far the largest at the rally. Jody Hirsh, a world-renown Jewish educator and WiG contributor who attended the rally, left because of it.

“I went to the rally because I really feel (police shootings) are an American problem that needs to be dealt with and the first thing I saw was a sign that said, “Milwaukee, Ferguson, Palestine. Resistance to occupation is heroism,’” he said.

“I was so upset, because it’s not the same thing at all,” he continued. “I felt that this very important American issue was hijacked by something different and I felt that I couldn’t participate in the rally.”

Nevertheless, the BDS movement is growing on the backs of other issues.

“Drawing these connections cross-struggle has been huge for our movement,” said Tory Smith, a 2012 Earlham College graduate and member of National Students for Justice in Palestine.

UW students’ experience

While BDS activism is taking a toll on Jewish life on some campuses, that’s not happening on campuses in Wisconsin, multiple sources told WiG.

At UW-Madison, which reportedly has the nation’s eighth largest number of Jewish students — a statistic that Matusof questions — BDS is a very visible movement. Nonetheless, Jewish life on campus is thriving.

UW-Madison offers a major in Jewish Studies and it has a number of active Jewish organizations, including fraternities and sororities.

UW-Milwaukee has a small Jewish population of around 200, said Marc Cohen, interim executive director of Hillel Milwaukee. Hillel International supports Jewish life on campuses throughout the world. Cohen described Hillel in Milwaukee as a kind of “Switzerland,” where pro-Israelis and pro-Palestinians can talk freely and openly in a neutral, non-threatening environment.

Hilary Miller, a Milwaukeean enrolled in Jewish Studies at UW-Madison, contrasts the Wisconsin experience with that at other schools. She has attended conferences at UC-Berkeley and UC-Irvine, and she’s felt the tension on those campuses. There, she said, some people in the BDS movement are “absolutely using this as a wedge against Jews. … Sometimes it reminds me of what I’ve studied about anti-Jewish propaganda in Nazi Germany.”

Indeed, critics of Israel often complain that Jews have all the power, money and influence in the region. The re-emergence of what sounds similar to the myth of Jewish wealth and secret control of society frightens older Jews, because it echoes Nazi propaganda.

But Miller said she’s encountered nothing like that sort of extremism at UW-Madison, which she described as a very comfortable environment for Jews. In fact, she’s highly engaged in Jewish activities.

Miller founded the independent group Student Alliance for Israel, which she said is apolitical and promotes understanding of Israel’s traditions and culture. She attends pro-Palestinian events and rallies because she “wants to understand the other side,” she said.

Miller identifies politically with progressives, but she feels almost apologetic at times in progressive circles about her involvement in Jewish activities. She knows Jewish students who are afraid to put such involvements on their resumes out of fear it might affect their job prospects, she said.

And, based on what she witnessed in California, she’s afraid the situation on campus could deteriorate if BDS becomes a stronger force at UW–Madison.

Ongoing internal conflict

There will always be Jews who say that precisely because of their history of persecution, Israel should be more compassionate.

But Jews such as Matusof and Kahn are alarmed “that the Jewish community is not seen anymore as a minority deserving of the same sensitivities that the progressive community really holds strong,” Matusof said. “Jews in America,” he added, “are seen as a white privileged class, while we still are a minority and there still is discrimination.”

At any rate, analyzing and arguing are essential elements in Jewish theology and culture. There’s an old joke that goes, “If you ask 10 Jews for advice, you’ll get 11 opinions.”

The number is probably higher.

Greenpeace documents abuses in Taiwan’s tuna fisheries

An investigation into Taiwan’s distant water tuna fisheries has exposed illegal shark finning, labor and human rights abuses.

Greenpeace East Asia, which conducted the investigation, also reported on April 14 on what it called “Taiwan’s failure to adequately address issues such as murder and drug smuggling at sea.”

The Greenpeace report was released as a yellow card warning from the European Commission is about to expire. Issued on last October, the notice gave Taiwan six months to clean up its fisheries or face economic sanction by the European Union.

Greenpeace says the cleanup has not happened. “These investigations paint a comprehensive picture of an industry in crisis,” said Yen Ning, ocean campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia.

He added, “Taiwan’s Fisheries Agency appears incapable of monitoring the out-of-control tuna industry. Whether through lack of capacity or otherwise, our investigations reveal devastating impacts on marine life and people’s lives”

Taiwan owns the most tuna longline vessels in the world and Taiwan’s tuna take puts it in the top six Pacific fishing entities.

Taiwanese companies — like seafood giant Fong Chun Formosa Fishery Company Ltd. — export to markets and supply some of the world’s largest seafood companies. Large amounts of Taiwanese caught tuna are exported to Thailand for processing, where serious labor and human rights violations have been recently exposed by environmental groups, human rights organizations and media outlets such as The AP.

“The fishing industries of both Taiwan and Thailand have been shown to have human rights problems,” said Yen Ning. “The murky tuna supply chains of companies like Thai Union have little transparency, which means seafood lovers everywhere may be eating tuna tainted by human exploitation and environmental crime, and they’d never know.”

The Greenpeace report details abusive treatment of crew members, including delayed and withheld wage payments, horrendous working conditions, exploitation by recruiting agents, verbal and physical abuse and death at sea.

Greenpeace asserts that the human rights abuses go hand-in-hand with environmental abuses. Fins are not allowed to be separated from shark carcasses under legislation Taiwan passed in 2012, but in a single three-month investigation in just one port in Taiwan, Greenpeace East Asia uncovered 16 illegal cases of shark finning.

Taiwan’s Fisheries Agency has proposed a new distant waters fisheries act, which Greenpeace East Asia says would be meaningless without enforcement.

On the Web

Greenpeace East Asia.