1400 children exploited in UK town – report (3)

August 27th, 2014


About 1400 children were sexually exploited in a northern England town where “collective failures” by authorities saw victims as young as 11 being beaten, raped and trafficked over a 16-year period, a report says.
Report author Alexis Jay cited appalling acts of violence between 1997 and 2013 in Rotherham, a town of some 250,000. The independent report came after a series of convictions of sexual predators in the region and ground-breaking reports in the Times of London.
Reading descriptions of the abuse make it hard to imagine that nothing was done for so long. The report described rapes by multiple perpetrators, mainly from Britain’s Pakistani community, and how children were trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten, and intimidated.
“There were examples of children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone,” Jay said. “Girls as young as 11 were raped by large numbers of male perpetrators.”
Attention first fell on Rotherham in 2010 when five men received lengthy jail terms after convictions of grooming teens for sex. A series of other high-profile cases featuring Pakistani rings also emerged in Rochdale, Derby and Oxford- and communities began to look more closely at their child sex exploitation cases.
Rotherham decided to conduct a formal inquiry and Jay, a former chief social work adviser to the Scottish government, was appointed to investigate. But she told the BBC that she was “very shocked” by what she found. Police “regarded many child victims with contempt,” Jay said, adding that many of the children were known to child protection agencies.
Even though earlier reports described the situation in Rotherham, the first of these reports was “effectively suppressed” because senior officers did not believe the data. “The collective failures of political and officer leadership were blatant,” Jay said. “From the beginning, there was growing evidence that child sexual exploitation was a serious problem in Rotherham.”
Complicating the reporting was the fact that victims described the perpetrators as “Asian” and yet the council failed to engage with the town’s Pakistani community. “Some councillors seemed to think it was a one-off problem, which they hoped would go away” Jay said. “Several staff described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist; others remembered clear direction from their managers not to do so.”
Rotherham has had its problems even before this report. It has seen the loss of traditional industries from the 19th and 20th centuries and, though the local economy has grown recently, it is also marked by deprivation and high unemployment. The report said the take-up of “welfare benefits is higher than the English average, as are the levels of free school meals and limiting long-term illness.”
But news of the sheer scale of the abuse and the lack of official concern about the problem until it was exposed shocked the country. Charities that deal with abused children were taken aback by the number of victims and by the apparent reluctance of authorities to accuse members of one ethnic group for the violence.
“Cultural sensitivities should never stand in the way of protecting children,” said John Cameron, head of the helpline for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. “It is hard to imagine the damage caused to victims who were preyed upon with almost impunity over many years, because of a reluctance to comprehend or address what was widely happening.”
The local council leader, Roger Stone, resigned immediately. Prime Minister David Cameron’s Downing Street office said that the lessons of past failures must be learned and those who exploited the children brought to justice. “This damning report shows the full extent of how the children of Rotherham were let down,” said Keith Vaz, the chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee. “They will never get their childhoods back.”


Sex abuse royal commission: Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart defends role of celibacy in Catholic Church

August 27th, 2014

Jean Edwards 27/8/14

The Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, has defended the place of celibacy in the church, even though he says it is a burden for some priests. Archbishop Hart took the stand for a second day at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Melbourne on Tuesday, where he was questioned about the causes of abuse by the clergy. He told the commission celibacy was fulfilling for many priests.
“I believe that celibacy, supported by prayer… is a wonderful vocation and a wonderful engagement with people,” Archbishop Hart said. “Once it becomes limited, or once it becomes turned in upon itself, then there is a danger, but celibacy rightly lived and prepared for with proper formation, I do believe has a valid function.
“I’ve had sufficient experience with people who’ve found celibacy a burden and have asked the Pope to dispense them from priesthood. “But on the other hand, I have a much wider experience of people living a celibate life as priests and finding it fulfilling.”
Archbishop Hart said people who trained in the church had high ideals. “I’m a celibate, I’m not married, I need to have a link to God in prayer,” he said. “I need to have a balance in my life of proper friendships with other people.” He said a priest could develop “wrong attitudes” if any of those things fell aside.
“[If] keeping himself focused on who he is and what he does is being neglected, or relationships with people, there’s not a balanced relationship with a group of people and a person becomes isolated,” he said. “So that they seek out situations which are plain wrong, and they minimise the consequences of that.”
Abuse victims received almost identical letters
The royal commission heard letters of apology signed by the Archbishop and sent to survivors of child sexual abuse were almost identical. Archbishop Hart said the reason for the identical letters was that the compensation panel for the Melbourne Response was independent and constrained by confidentiality.
“That has the undesirable effect upon me when I write a letter of apology, that I can only refer to the suffering that they’ve undertaken for the burden, that it may be in fairly general terms,” he said. “I do read all those letters and my apology is sincere. I always read them carefully, and for me it’s an important way of my saying how I am shocked by what has happened, how I share in their pain, but there are limitations about what I can do.”
Archbishop Hart said the church tried to change that in the past year. “We’ve sought to try and get some minimal information, which wouldn’t be a violation of confidence, that might try and take away the pain that a person who’s suffered might feel if they feel they’re just being fobbed off,” he said. “That was never my intention, and if that happened, I certainly would apologise for it. It was never indicated to me that this was unhelpful, had it been, I would certainly have acted sooner.”
Confession should be excluded from mandatory reporting: Church
aThe royal commission heard the church believes mandatory reporting of abuse should exclude the confessional. “If that were to be swept away, and I don’t believe that it can be, the possibility of offenders confessing is completely gone. They just wouldn’t go,” Archbishop Hart said.
“In the present situation, it may be the last opportunity that an offender has to face the reality of his or her offences, to be led by the priest, either to give themselves up or to report and confront the enormity of their crimes.”
He said he saw it as an opportunity for a priest to try to persuade an abuser to report themselves to the police. “I would see that as a valuable opportunity, because if the person in going to confession has at least shown that amount of good to admit that they’ve done wrong, well then, if the priest can lead them to the consequences of that, well that would be of benefit,” he said.
But Archbishop Hart told the royal commission he did not know if that was happening in reality, because of the secrecy of the confessional. “I don’t know that it’s happened, I don’t know that it hasn’t happened either,” he said. He told the inquiry he did not subscribe to the view held by some in the past that the abuse of a child was considered a moral failing, not a crime.
“People sometimes had a greater deal of sympathy for a church person than they should have, and they didn’t sufficiently identify the crime that that person had committed for what it was,” he said. “I would have to admit that, with what we’ve been doing now shows there was too much of a tendency to minimise the seriousness of the matter, and I repudiate that totally,” he said. “I would say that these crimes occurred to some degree, and that direct and serious enough action was not taken.”
https://au.news.yahoo.com/a/24818817/sex-abuse-royal-commission-melbourne-archbishop-denis-hart-defends-role-of-celibacy-in-catholic-church/; https://au.news.yahoo.com/a/24807597/church-took-20-years-to-defrock-paedophile-priest-inquiry-hears/; https://au.news.yahoo.com/a/24807667/former-catholic-brother-accused-of-child-sexual-abuse-fights-nz-extradition-order/; https://au.news.yahoo.com/a/24808576/child-sex-abuse-royal-commission-needs-funding-certainty-to-continue-labor-tells-tony-abbott/

Alice Springs debates flying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags at Anzac monument

August 27th, 2014

James Purtill; 27/8/14

The decision to seek input on whether the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags should fly at an Anzac monument has sparked fierce debate in Alice Springs. The council narrowly voted in favour of investigating the proposal, with the councillor behind the motion, Jade Kudrenko, saying the topic would be divisive but ultimately help unify the town.
“I didn’t want to be paralysed by fear of divisive debate to not moving forward,” she said. Constitutional recognition is coming up in the future.
“Now is the time for a community like Alice Springs to start this discussion, and be on the front foot and lead the nation in the changes we need to make. “I would love to see returned servicemen and women and their families on Anzac Hill united – that’s what the end goal for our town should be.
“We all come from different backgrounds and we can’t be ever be united until we recognise that.” Alice Springs is a town sensitive to racial tensions. Anzac Hill, at the centre of town, is also known as Untyeyewetwelye and is a registered sacred site of the Aranda people. The cenotaph currently flies the national and Northern Territory flags.
“This is a complex issue with many layers,” Ms Kudrenko said. “Because it is a war memorial, it is a registered sacred site, and it is a very well-visited tourist point for Alice Springs.
“For a long time I’ve never even noticed that the Aboriginal flag was missing. It wasn’t until recently a number of people approached me, and not just one section of the community, all different sections were making comment. They felt the flag had a rightful place on the hill.
“They had various different reasons. Some were new to town or tourists. They recognised that Alice Springs had a large Aboriginal population. “They were really surprised Aboriginal people were not recognised at the centre point of our town.”
‘How many flags will we put up there?’
Alice Springs council on Monday night voted four to three in favour of investigating the proposal and consulting with stakeholder groups, including the Returned and Services League and the Lhere Artepe Aboriginal Corporation.
Councillor Brendan Heenan, who voted against the motion, said the decision should be up to the RSL, and he was not interested in the response of other stakeholders. “I spoke against it,” he said. “When they fought, they fought under the Australian flag. “If the RSL’s comments are negative, I will vote against it. How many flags will we put up there?”
Council CEO Rex Mooney told 1057 ABC Darwin the proposal would attract “healthy points of view”. “The motion that was placed before council was passed,” he said. “That will then mean all the differing views will be provided back to council, so council can make a final decision.”
He said a report summarising the views of stakeholders would go to council in several months. The Australian War Memorial in Canberra flew the ATSI flags only on special occasions, such as NAIDOC week, a spokeswoman said. A strict flag protocol drawn up by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet governed when Commonwealth buildings could fly the ATSI flags.
Recognition of Aboriginal and European heritage has been a touchstone issue in Alice Springs. Last month saw the installation of a statue of European explorer John McDouall Stuart in a park in the centre of town where Aboriginal people often slept. Opponents argued the statue of a white man holding a rifle was not appropriate.


Abusing priests got too much sympathy (4)

August 27th, 2014

Angus Livingston and Melissa Iaria 26/8/14

The Catholic Church gave pedophile priests too much sympathy and victims’ suffering was often minimised, the Melbourne archbishop says.
Archbishop Denis Hart said the church “absolutely” had a problem with priests and church workers abusing children. “I would say that these crimes occurred to some degree and that direct and serious enough action was not taken,” Archbishop Hart told the child abuse royal commission on Tuesday.
Archbishop Hart said some within the church tended to view clergy sex abuse as a moral failing, not a criminal one. “I would see that people sometimes have a greater deal of sympathy for a church person than they should have, and they didn’t sufficiently identify the crime that that person had committed for what it was,” he said. “I think these times have made us see quite clearly, both in what we think and know, but also in our action, what we must do.”
Archbishop Hart said the evidence collected by the archdiocese’s Melbourne Response, set up in 1996 to handle clergy sex abuse allegations, showed the harm done to victims was not taken seriously enough. “I would have to admit that with what we have been doing now shows that there was too much of a tendency to minimise the seriousness of the matter, and I repudiate that totally,” he said.
He said the church was much better at determining who would not be suitable for the priesthood, but it was a process that needed continual work.
Archbishop Hart has announced a review of the Melbourne Response capped compensation payments, made to more than 300 victims, to be completed by the end of November. Anthony Foster, whose two daughters were raped by notorious abuser Father Kevin O’Donnell, said the commission heard an “awful lot of words” from Archbishop Hart, but no promises for action.
“I would have liked to have seen the archbishop actually respond to his own conscience and his own morality and actually do the right thing and just move forward with what could have been done, instead of calling another so called independent review of his system,” Mr Foster told reporters.
Mr Foster said the church already knew what it needed to do, including increasing or abolishing the capped compensation payments and reviewing past payouts. The Melbourne archdiocese has identified 81 known offenders across its parishes, with another 15 unidentified. Of the 24 offenders still alive, only seven have been convicted. Eight were never reported to police, the commission has been told.
+ 81 total, 57 dead
+ 24 still alive
+ 16 of those reported to police
+ Of those, seven convicted, one had charges withdrawn, eight not prosecuted
+ Another eight not reported to police, none in active ministry
Factbox Source: Melbourne Response independent commissioner Peter O’Callaghan QC.

Letter calls upon Pope Francis to investigate Kansas City bishop (3)

August 27th, 2014

Brian Roewe 25/8/14

A judge’s recent affirmation that the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese pay $1.1 million for breaching abuse settlement terms has led a retired Milwaukee priest to again request that the pope initiate a penal process investigating Bishop Robert Finn for violations of church law.
In a letter dated Aug. 21, Fr. James Connell, a canon lawyer, wrote to Pope Francis to inform him of recent developments that “solidify the need for a penal process in this matter. It just struck me that it would be wise to get it documented that further court actions confirmed Finn being wrong with the way he handled things and the church really ought to be doing something about that,” Connell told NCR.
On Aug. 14, Jackson County Circuit Judge Bryan E. Round upheld an arbitrator’s March decision that the diocese violated five of 19 nonmonetary terms included as part of a 2008 settlement with 47 clergy abuse survivors. Both Round and arbitrator Hollis Hanover ordered the diocese to pay $1.1 million in damages. Spokesman Jack Smith confirmed to NCR the diocese would not appeal the decision.
The plaintiffs who brought the case to arbitration specifically pointed to Finn’s and the diocese’s failure to report former priest Shawn Ratigan when it first learned he possessed child pornography. In September 2012, Finn was convicted of a misdemeanor for failing to report suspected child abuse. Ratigan, who is serving a 50-year prison sentence, was laicized in January.
“The Arbitrator’s Order, now confirmed by Judge Round,” Connell wrote in the letter, “establishes that not only did Bishop Finn not report an allegation of sexual abuse of minors by one of his priests to civil authorities as required by Missouri law and for which Bishop Finn was found guilty of a crime … in so doing Bishop Finn also violated the 2008 settlement agreement and has demonstrated that Bishop Finn and the Diocesan leadership have placed the importance of protecting clergy from criminal prosecution over that of protecting children from sexual abuse.”
In early February, Connell sent a first letter and additional documents to Rome on behalf of a group of Kansas City Catholics asking for a canonical review of Finn. He based the request on two canons — 1389 and 1399 — and said “this lack of action by the Catholic Church to do justice and repair scandal contributes to the ongoing scandal among the faithful that is a result of the Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis.”
Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, apostolic nuncio to the U.S., confirmed Feb. 15 he received the letter and passed it on to Rome. Connell also mailed copies to Finn and St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson. Connell said he wrote Viganò a few months later asking for an update but received no reply.
In the latest four-page letter, the Milwaukee priest reiterated that while secular courts have found Finn in violation of civil law and breach of a settlement, the church has yet to act on possible violations of church law. He contends that by not reporting Ratigan to civil authorities, Finn in fact violated ecclesiastical law in addition to Missouri law.
“Obviously, all priests who have sexually abused a minor or a vulnerable adult should face the consequences for their action that is provided in law. Equally important, however, is recognizing that for many victims/survivors of clergy sexual abuse the conduct of the bishops regarding this crisis has been more traumatic than was the trauma of the sexual abuse itself,” Connell wrote.
“Hence, holding accountable those bishops who have contributed to the clergy sexual abuse scandal stands as the key to resolving this crisis and to rebuilding the trust among the people,” he said.
A day after Connell sent the letter, a local prosecutor filed a probation status report on Finn. The Kansas City Star reported Friday that Jackson County Circuit Judge John Torrence, who convicted Finn and sentenced him to two years’ probation, has until Sept. 5 to review the report and rule whether to dismiss the bishop’s probation. If Finn completed his probation without incident and satisfied the nine conditions of his sentence, his case would be closed to the public, according to The Star.


UN asks Vatican to account for every abuse allegation it has received (2)

August 27th, 2014

12/8/14; Zemanta

A United Nations committee concerned with children’s rights is requesting that the Vatican provide complete details about every accusation it has ever received of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child, which monitors implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, published “a list of issues” it found lacking in the Vatican’s latest report on its compliance with international obligations.
The Vatican is being asked to provide “detailed information on all cases of child sexual abuse committed by members of the clergy, brothers and nuns”, as well as how it has responded to victims and perpetrators of abuse, whether it ever investigated “complaints of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” of girls in the Magdalene laundries in Ireland and how it dealt with allegations that young boys, who were part of the Legion of Christ, were being separated from their families.
The committee also requested information on what the Vatican has done to address discrimination between boys and girls in Catholic schools, including removing sexual stereotypes in school textbooks, whether it has “clearly condemned” corporal punishment of children, if it still labels children born out of wedlock as “illegitimate”; and how it is working to prevent child abandonment and trace infants’ identities when Church-run facilities receive unwanted children, including through so-called “baby boxes”.
The committee also asked the Vatican to explain what measures it took to “avoid retaliation against child victims of pornography” and whistleblowers, and whether the Vatican ever investigated recently discovered allegations of thousands of babies being “sold for adoption over the past decades in Spain by a network of doctors, nun and priests”.
The committee had also requested that the Vatican clarify whether it had explicitly defined and criminalised the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
In an on-going effort to bring its legal system and laws up to date, the Vatican issued a number of new measures this week to comply with provisions required by a number of UN conventions the Vatican is party to, including explicitly outlawing the crime of torture and providing a broader definition of the category of crimes against minors.
Giuseppe Dalla Torre, president of the Vatican City State court, told reporters that such offences were always crimes in the Vatican, but a new law makes the criminal activities and penalties more explicit. That’s because the penal code used by the Vatican is based on Italian laws from the 19th to early 20th centuries, which meant there were no provisions against some things, such as child pornography.
The UN committee requires governments of signatory countries of the convention and its two optional protocols on child trafficking and on armed conflict to submit a comprehensive review of how convention regulations are being implemented, as well as progress reports every five years.
The Vatican has been party to the 1989 convention since 1990, but had been lagging behind in turning in its mandatory reports.
After reviewing the Vatican’s most recent periodic report, the UN committee published in response a four-page outline of concerns and requests for additional information and clarifications. It asked the Vatican to respond by November, before the committee meets for further review in January 2014. The Holy See was just one of six countries, including Germany, Russia and Yemen, whose reviews by the UN committee were published in early July on the committee’s website.
Almost all of the reviews requested more information about how countries were dealing with the problems of sexual abuse, violence and corporal punishment against minors, though without the kind of detail requested of the Vatican.
Each review was also tailored to specific situations of concern in each country, such as female genital mutilation and child marriages in Yemen, criteria used to remove children from their parents in Russia, and mental health guidelines in Germany for diagnosing Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.


For Nuncio Accused of Abuse, Dominicans Want Justice at Home, Not Abroad (1)

August 27th, 2014

Laurie Goodsteinaug 23/8/14

He was a familiar figure to the skinny shoeshine boys who work along the oceanfront promenade here. Wearing black track pants and a baseball cap pulled low over his balding head, they say, he would stroll along in the late afternoon and bring one of them down to the rocky shoreline or to a deserted monument for a local Catholic hero. The boys say he gave them money to perform sexual acts. They called him “the Italian” because he spoke Spanish with an Italian accent.
It was only after he was spirited out of the country, the boys say, his picture splashed all over the local news media, that they learned his real identity: Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, the Vatican’s ambassador to the Dominican Republic. “He definitely seduced me with money,” said Francis Aquino Aneury, who says he was 14 when the man he met shining shoes began offering him increasingly larger sums for sexual acts. “I felt very bad. I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do, but I needed the money.”
The case is the first time that a top Vatican ambassador, or nuncio — who serves as a personal envoy of the pope — has been accused of sexual abuse of minors. It has sent shock waves through the Vatican and two predominantly Catholic countries that have only begun to grapple with clergy sexual abuse: the Dominican Republic and Poland, where Mr. Wesolowski was ordained by the Polish prelate who later became Pope John Paul II.
It has also created a test for Pope Francis, who has called child sexual abuse “such an ugly crime” and pledged to move the Roman Catholic Church into an era of “zero tolerance.” For priests and bishops who have violated children, he told reporters in May, “There are no privileges.”
Mr. Wesolowski has already faced the harshest penalty possible under the church’s canon law, short of excommunication: on June 27, he was defrocked by the Vatican, reducing him to the status of a layman. The Vatican, which as a city-state has its own judicial system, has also said it intends to try Mr. Wesolowski on criminal charges — the first time the Vatican has held a criminal trial for sexual abuse.
But far from settling the matter, the Vatican has stirred an outcry because it helped Mr. Wesolowski avoid criminal prosecution and a possible jail sentence in the Dominican Republic. Acting against its own guidelines for handling abuse cases, the church failed to inform the local authorities of the evidence against him, secretly recalled him to Rome last year before he could be investigated, and then invoked diplomatic immunity for Mr. Wesolowski so that he could not face trial in the Dominican Republic.
The Vatican’s handling of the case shows both the changes the church has made in dealing with sexual abuse, and what many critics call its failures. When it comes to removing pedophiles from the priesthood, the Vatican is moving more assertively and swiftly than before. But as Mr. Wesolowski’s case suggests, the church continues to be reluctant to report people suspected of abuse to the local authorities and allow them to face justice in secular courts.
The Vatican says that because Mr. Wesolowski was a member of its diplomatic corps and a citizen of the Holy See, the case would be handled in Rome. But even many faithful Catholics in this nation, home to the oldest Catholic cathedral in the Americas, say they are unsettled that a Vatican official could have been using children for sex, yet was not arrested and tried in their own country.
“From the pure standpoint of justice, he should be tried in the country where the acts took place because the conditions for trying him will not be the same elsewhere,” said Antonio Medina Calcaño, dean of the faculty of law and political science of the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo. “But all we can do is hope that the courts in the Vatican will treat this with the severity that it really deserves.”
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, did not say when the Wesolowski trial will start, who is representing the former nuncio, or whether he is at liberty while he awaits trial. Under Vatican law, sexual abuse charges can bring a maximum of 12 years in prison and a fine of nearly $200,000.
A Dominican bishop, Victor Masalles, visiting Rome in late June, said in a Twitter message that he was surprised to see Mr. Wesolowski “strolling the Via della Scrofa,” in the city’s picturesque ancient center. He added, “The silence of the Church has hurt the people of God.”
A Man Known as ‘The Italian’
The waterfront promenade in the Dominican capital is dominated by a 50-foot monument to the 16th-century Spanish friar Antonio de Montesinos, dressed in robes and preaching the fiery sermon that made him famous: denouncing the slavery and abuse of the indigenous people by their Spanish colonists.
It was at the heel of this colossus, on the deserted upper plaza in the shadow of the friar’s robes, Mr. Aquino said, that he was often molested by the man he knew as “the Italian.” The man always chose a bench that would allow him to see the rare visitor coming up the staircase, and would watch the boy masturbate, would touch him or would touch himself, said Mr. Aquino, now 17. Other times, they went to the rocky beach below the statue.
Mr. Aquino, whose family is originally from Haiti, left school in the eighth grade, earning $1.50 on a typical weekday by shining shoes. But he said that the man gave him more than $10 the first time they met, in 2010, to shine his shoes and to swim naked in the ocean while Mr. Wesolowski watched.
The man returned often over the next six weeks, Mr. Aquino said. But gradually the man wanted more, giving him from about $25 to as much as $135, as well as sneakers and a watch, for sexual acts. They met on and off over three years, Mr. Aquino said, but the man revealed little more than his first name, which he gave as “Josie.”
There is a mix of shame and anger among the shoeshine boys who say they knew the man. Darwin Quervedo, who is 14, said haltingly, with eyes downcast, that when he was 11, the man gave him more than $25 to watch him masturbate down by the beach. He said he felt scared, and never did it again. When he learned much later of the man’s identity, Darwin said he thought to himself, “What kind of a man who is a priest does things like this?”
The promenade is a popular stretch for tourists and joggers. But it is also frequented by those seeking children and young men for sex. With all this activity, Mr. Wesolowski, in his track suit and running shoes, did not at first attract inordinate attention. He also chose his victims carefully, the shoe shiners said.
“He wasn’t interested in me,” said Robin Quello Cintrón, 23. “He said I was too old, that he liked the younger ones.” “I warned the younger kids, ‘Don’t go with him,’ ” said Mr. Cintrón, adding, “But the money tempted them.”
Curbing child sexual exploitation is a pressing issue in the Dominican Republic and many countries, and the Catholic Church is among the many religious institutions that have taken up the cause. In March, Pope Francis signed onto a campaign with other global religious leaders to fight all forms of human slavery, including child prostitution. This month, he sent a message for the opening of a refuge in Argentina for young victims of sexual exploitation.
Still, two United Nations panels in Geneva examining the church’s record on child sexual abuse questioned the Vatican this year about its handling of the Wesolowski case.
Mr. Wesolowski, 66, was ordained at 23 in Krakow by Archbishop Karol Józef Wojtyla, who later became Pope John Paul II. In 1999, he was appointed papal nuncio to Bolivia, and in 2002, he was reassigned to Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. In 2008, he was sent to the Dominican Republic. Mr. Wesolowski served as a ceremonial dean of the international diplomatic corps here, convening an annual party in honor of the country’s president. The posting came with a stately residence and access to a beach house.
On the waterfront, Mr. Wesolowski attempted to disguise his rank, the boys say. He drove a small gray-green Suzuki sport utility vehicle with rosary beads hanging from the rearview mirror, they recalled, and parked it near the monument in the colonial zone, where several streets are named for archbishops.
One day last year, Nuria Piera, a prominent television journalist, received a tip that the papal nuncio drank beer many afternoons at a waterfront restaurant, then went off with young boys. Ms. Piera sent a video crew to surreptitiously film the nuncio, she said in an interview at CDN, where she is general director. The crew shot some video of Mr. Wesolowski drinking alone and walking the promenade, Ms. Piera said, but he noticed their presence (though not the camera), walked over, smacked his hand against their car and asked why they were following him.
After that, Ms. Piera said, he disappeared from the waterfront. Her tipster never saw him there again. “I suspected that there may have been a leak from our own office,” Ms. Piera said. Mr. Wesolowski began sending a young Dominican church deacon to procure children for him, law enforcement authorities in the Dominican Republic say.
The deacon, Francisco Javier Occi Reyes, was arrested by the police on June 24, 2013, accused of solicitation of minors and taken to jail. But no one came to bail him out, and the deacon sent an anguished letter dated July 2 to Mr. Wesolowski, to be delivered to him by hand at his office. “We have offended God” and the church, the letter said, by sexually abusing children and adolescents “for crumbs of money.” The deacon wrote that he had agreed to find child victims for the nuncio so that “your sexual appetite can be satiated,” but that he was now asking God for forgiveness.
“Hopefully you will consider asking for God to help you to walk away from this evil disease of continuing to sexually abuse innocent children,” the letter said, according to a copy obtained by The New York Times from a Dominican Justice Ministry official.
The deacon sent copies of the letter to Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus López Rodriguez, the head of the church in the Dominican Republic, and to a Dominican bishop, Gregorio Nicanor Peña Rodríguez. The cardinal then carried the evidence to the Vatican, where he met directly with Pope Francis, according to interviews with the Dominican authorities. On Aug. 21 last year, Mr. Wesolowski was secretly recalled to Rome.
Six days later, the cardinal called the papal nuncio “a great friend and promoter of peace.” Neither the cardinal, nor other church officials, reported the allegations to the local authorities, Dominican officials say. Vatican guidelines say that criminal sexual abuse accusations should be reported in countries where reporting is required.
The country’s attorney general, Francisco Domínguez Brito, and the district attorney of Santo Domingo, Yeni Berenice Reynoso Gómez, both said in interviews that they first learned about the allegations against Mr. Wesolowski from Ms. Piera’s television reports, which were broadcast in early September and included a child asserting that he had been abused.
Soon after, church officials here told local news media that Mr. Wesolowski had been recalled because of the allegations against him, prompting Cardinal Rodriguez to confirm that he had gone to the Vatican to address the matter. He and other church officials denied requests for an interview.
‘The Most Terrible Case’
The district attorney, Ms. Reynoso, said her investigators had identified four children aged 12 to 17 with whom the nuncio had sexual contact, but that there were likely others.
The 17-year-old had epilepsy, and the nuncio gave him medicine for his condition in exchange for sexual acts, starting from when the boy was 13, the district attorney said. She said she had “no doubt” about the credibility of the youths’ testimony, because it was corroborated by other evidence. “This is the most terrible case that I have ever seen,” said Ms. Reynoso. “He was abusing kids who were living in extreme poverty, in exchange for pills for a boy’s illness. It’s very perverse.”
The Vatican sent someone to the Dominican Republic last October to look into the case, but they made no contact with the district attorney or anyone in her office, Ms. Reynoso said. She forwarded her report to the country’s attorney general, who forwarded it to the Vatican. Ms. Reynoso said the case should have been prosecuted in the Dominican Republic. “These children who were abused, and their families, and the Dominican society, have a legitimate right to see Jozef Wesolowski judged by a jury — not as a diplomat, but for what he really is,” she said. “A child abuser.”
Mr. Brito, the attorney general, said he trusted that the Vatican would apply the “appropriate discipline.” He said he did not seek to have Mr. Wesolowski extradited because he has diplomatic immunity, and “the law would not allow it.” According to experts in international law, the Vatican could have waived diplomatic immunity. In Santo Domingo, there have been small protests and petitions signed by more than a thousand people calling on the Vatican to extradite Mr. Wesolowski to the Dominican Republic. Advocates have accused the government of acquiescing to the church. “We think there has been a lot of impunity in this case, and no transparency,” said Sergia Galván, executive director of the Women and Health Collective, which represents abuse victims. “If he’s no longer a diplomat, if he was stripped of that title, he no longer has immunity.”
The case has reverberated in Poland, where prosecutors have sought to extradite Mr. Wesolowski, who holds both Vatican and Polish citizenship. Poland has indicted another Polish priest, the Rev. Wojciech Gil, who fled the Dominican Republic last year amid allegations that he abused altar boys in his rural parish. Prosecutors in the Dominican Republic say that Father Gil and Mr. Wesolowski spent time with young boys at the nuncio’s beach house.
There are indications from Rome that the pope himself is concerned about the Wesolowski case. A Dominican bishop, Fausto Ramón Mejía, said in an interview that when he was part of a delegation visiting the Vatican late last year, Pope Francis’ smile vanished on hearing what country he was from. “He became very serious,” said Bishop Mejía. “He stopped and he said to me, very sincerely, ‘I feel as though my heart was crossed by a dagger from what took place in the Dominican Republic.’ ”
The case has shaken this stalwart Catholic nation, but the church has said little. In one group photograph released by the Dominican bishops, Mr. Wesolowski’s face appeared to have been removed from the picture. “The people used to say, ‘I want my child to go to a Catholic church,’ ” said the Rev. Rogelio Cruz, a Catholic priest here. “Now they say, ‘No child of mine is ever going to a Catholic church.’ ”

Ezra Fieser and Meridith Kohut contributed reporting from Santo Domingo, and Gaia Pianigiani from Rome.


Christmas Island class action: Maurice Blackburn Lawyers to sue Immigration Dept over treatment of asylum seekers (6)

August 27th, 2014


A Melbourne law firm has launched class action against Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and his department on behalf of a six-year-old girl held in detention on Christmas Island. The case would accuse the Commonwealth of breaching its duty of care by failing to provide adequate health care for asylum seekers and not enrolling children in school.
Maurice Blackburn lawyer Jacob Varghese said the class action would also cover any asylum seeker injured or pregnant on Christmas Island in the past three years.
“At the end of last month, there were 334 people on Christmas Island and 148 children, the class action covers people who have been on Christmas Island for the last three years, so that number would be in the thousands of potential claimants,” Mr Varghese said.
Lawyer Ka tie Robertson said the lead plaintiff, who could not be identified, was a six-year-old girl known as “AS” who has been detention for over a year.
“She’s suffering from both physical and mental health issues. She’s experienced an ongoing dental infection that was ongoing for three months,” Ms Robertson said. “She also suffers from separation anxiety that arose as a result of her mother being transferred to the mainland shortly after she arrived in Australia with her parents. “They were separated in that time, and in that time she has developed bed-wetting and stammering.” Ms Robertson said the girl has been on the waiting list to see a specialist for her stammer for over a year now.
She said the six-year-old has been diagnosed with post-traumatic disorder, and an alternative diagnosis of major depression and anxiety. “When I met with her about a month ago, she struck me as an extremely sad and disturbed child,” she said.
A spokesperson for the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection said Mr Morrison would not comment on the case. “The Minister notes a claim was filed today by Maurice Blackburn. As this matter is before the court, it would not be appropriate to comment further,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
Suing to have people taken off Christmas Island, compensation
Mr Varghese said the firm was suing for compensation and an order that people be taken off Christmas Island and placed in community detention.
“We say that the Minister and the Department [of Immigration] owe a duty of care to people who are detained on Christmas island,” he said. “By failing to provide adequate health care and a variety of other circumstances including not enrolling children in school and detaining children other than as a last resort, the Commonwealth is breaching that duty of care.”
Mr Varghese said it was too early to say what level of compensation would be sought. “I think there’s going to need to be a serious process of assessing how deep the damage runs really,” he said. “We know that there are lots of people with serious health issues on Christmas Island and part of the process of the class action will be taking a view on how many people are affected, and what kind of compensation can help put things back again.”
Greens support class action
The Greens said the class action showed why asylum seekers should be released into the community. The Greens’ immigration spokeswoman, Sarah Hanson-Young, said children were being damaged every day in detention. “This compensation case before the court is unnecessary if the Government was to treat people properly,” Ms Hanson-Young said. “To look after the children in the way they deserve to be looked after. To treat children with care, with dignity.”
https://au.news.yahoo.com/a/24815965/christmas-island-class-action-maurice-blackburn-lawyers-to-sue-immigration-dept-over-treatment-of-asylum-seekers/; https://au.news.yahoo.com/a/24816318/federal-backbencher-andrew-broad-supports-work-rights-for-asylum-seekers/

Lib MP takes aim at human rights chief (5)

August 27th, 2014


The head of the human rights watchdog is one of the least favourite people with coalition MPs following a run-in with Immigration Minister Scott Morrison.
Professor Gillian Triggs clashed repeatedly with Mr Morrison last week during a hearing of the Human Right Commission’s inquiry into asylum-seeker children being held in detention. Their meeting produced tense and sometimes heated exchanges. Prof Triggs accused the minister of accepting as collateral damage the mental and physical impact that long-term detention was having on children.
For his part, Mr Morrison accused her of putting words in his mouth, saying the government would not weaken policies that prevented Australian border protection officers having to retrieve the bodies of children who died at sea. One Liberal MP, during a meeting of the government parties on Tuesday, suggested Prof Triggs had exceeded her appropriate role. He was especially critical of her attacks on public servants.
The MP’s comments prompted audible “murmurings” of support from coalition colleagues. Labor said the attack was extraordinary, as was the lack of response from Attorney-General George Brandis, to whom Prof Triggs answers.
The stoush comes as asylum seekers who were injured or became ill while in detention on Christmas Island are suing the federal government for not providing proper medical care. They are seeking compensation for any of them who was injured, pregnant or had an existing condition made worse while being detained on the remote Indian Ocean island during the past three years. They are also seeking an order that asylum seekers be removed from there so they can receive appropriate medical care.


Pop-up ‘refugee embassy’ appears outside Immigration Department building in Canberra (4)

August 27th, 2014

Tegan Osborne 26/8/14

A pop-up “refugee embassy” appeared outside a Department of Immigration office building Canberra on Tuesday amid a protest over the Australian Government’s treatment of asylum seekers. About 60 people gathered in peak hour traffic on a median strip along Benjamin Way at Belconnen, the first action in a “long campaign” against Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and his policies, they say.
Refugee Action Committee convenor John Minns said the idea of a refugee embassy was to highlight the absence of a diplomatic representation for asylum seekers and their right to protection. This right, he said, was recognised by the international community in 1951, in the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees established after World War II.
Attendees at the peaceful rally waved signs demanding an end to offshore processing of asylum seekers and accusing Mr Morrison of having the blood on his hands. “Its clear when both the Coalition and Labor agree on what’s happening that the policy is not going to change in the short term,” Mr Minns said. “It’s a question of building a movement in the long term, so this embassy is going to be popping up all over the place in Canberra.”
Mr Minns said there were plans afoot to bring the pop-up embassy to The Lodge, Parliament House and a number of other locations in the not-too-distant future. “You’ll see a lot more of us; we’ve got a lot of places on our radar,” he said. Comment was being sought from Mr Morrison and the department.
Mr Minns stressed that Tuesday’s protest was not against department employees, but against the policies they were implementing. “We’ve had people from immigration approach us and say they feel ashamed of the policies that they’re implementing, but there’s nothing really that they can do about it,” he said. “We’d love them to come out and say what they think but realistically… their minister, Scott Morrison, has made it very clear that any slightest public dissent from his view will be severely punished.”
Class action launched for Christmas Island asylum seekers
The protest came as a Melbourne law firm launched class action against Mr Morrison and the Immigration Department on behalf of a six-year-old girl held in detention on Christmas Island. The case will accuse the Commonwealth of breaching its duty of care by failing to provide adequate health care for asylum seekers and not enrolling children in school.
Earlier on Tuesday, a spokesperson for Mr Morrison said he would not comment on the case. “The Minister notes a claim was filed today by Maurice Blackburn. As this matter is before the court, it would not be appropriate to comment further,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
Refugee Action Committee member Anna Molan said the case had not come as shock to those familiar with the cases of asylum seekers held in detention. “I’m not surprised that there are starting to be cases for the redress of the abuses going on against children on our watch,” she said. “We’re responsible for what’s being done and they are suffering extreme and long lasting damage.”


Arrests of the faithful at asylum protests (3)

August 27th, 2014

25/8/14 Mark Brolly

A Josephite sister was arrested at one of several sit-ins by Christians and members of other faiths at MPs’ offices. The protesters were demanding changes to Australia’s asylum seeker detention policies.
Sr Jan Barnett, Justice Coordinator for the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, was arrested with eight members of Love Makes A Way – which describes itself as “a movement of Christians seeking an end to Australia’s inhumane asylum seeker policies through prayer and nonviolent love in action” – after participating in a prayer vigil at the North Sydney constituency office of Federal Treasurer (Chancellor of the Exchequer) Joe Hockey. The aim was to highlight the plight of children held in detention in Australia as well as off-shore on Nauru and Manus Island. Those held were released without charge.
“It is after great contemplation that I risk arrest here today,” Sr Jan said on the group’s Facebook page on 12 August. “I feel I can’t leave without a commitment from the Government to release all children from detention and to resettle them in a safe and nurturing environment.”
Catholic schools in Sydney have pledged to provide free education to all refugees in archdiocesan schools.
At Mt Barker near Adelaide, a rabbi joined a prayer vigil at the electoral office of Liberal Party MP Jamie Briggs. Trespassing charges against seven protesters were dismissed by magistrate Brett Dixon, who reportedly told the group: “You are a credit to your faith and an inspiration … I’ve no hesitation about letting you go without conviction or penalty.”
On 19 August, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Scott Morrison, said there were 876 children in detention, including on Nauru, compared with 1,392 held in detention when the former Labor government lost office last September.


Scott Morrison says asylum seeker children can’t be released from detention without temporary visas (2)

August 27th, 2014


The claims for more 30,000 asylum seekers including children will not be processed until a controversial temporary visa is allowed through the Senate, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has told an inquiry.
During a sometimes fiery hearing of the Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry into children in detention, Mr Morrison said the asylum seekers would not have their asylum claims processed until he could offer a “visa product” that only offered temporary residency. The group includes more than 712 children and who arrived to Australia after July 19 last year.
Mr Morrison acknowledged the extended time children were spending in detention, but blamed the Labor Party and the Greens for not allowing the temporary protection visas (TVPs) into the Senate.
“The absence of such a visa product at present also removes the possibility of considering alternative options for those currently on Christmas Island or elsewhere in Australia, who arrived post July 19,” he said.
The minister also confirmed he was engaging with crossbenchers to agree to a TPV, which would restrict permanent residency for asylum seekers found to be refugees, but allow work rights.
The average length of time that a child spent in an Immigration Department detention facility as of July 31, was 349 days, the inquiry heard. At the same time last year, it was 115 days.
In a heated exchange with the President of the Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, Mr Morrison was forced to defend claims that the conditions on Christmas Island were akin to a prison.
“I have been a practising lawyer since I was 22 years old and I have been to many prisons. I know a prison when I see it,” Professor Triggs said. “Are you suggesting that Long Bay jail is the same as a full-fenced alternative place of detention on Phosphate Hill on Christmas Island?,” Mr Morrison replied.
“I’m not saying they are equivalent,” Professor Triggs responded.
Earlier, Mr Morrison had taken the rare opportunity to talk about his own two children and the tough decisions he had to make in the Immigration portfolio.
“As a parent of two young children, the emotional challenges of working in this policy portfolio are just as real and just as great as they would be for any other parent in my position,” Mr Morrison said.
“But sentiment cannot be indulged at the expense of effective policy that is saving lives and ending the chaos and tragedy that was occurring that many thought could never be turned around and that is my duty.”
Church groups and The Greens have described Minister Morrison’s TPV strategy as “holding the federal crossbenchers hostage” until the visas are allowed.
“We must remember these are families who have been separated by war and civil strife amongst other things,” Reverend Peter Catt said.
Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young agreed saying: “In the hearing today, the Immigration Minister explained that he is willing for children to be harmed for his own political gain.”
When asked about the detention of children, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten responded saying: “Labor does believe in releasing children from detention but we also recognise it’s important that children have the opportunity to be with their parents.”
The President of the Commission, Gillian Triggs will present the findings of the inquiry later this year.
On Monday, Minister Morrison announced that children under the age of 10, and who arrived before July 19 would be placed on bridging visas by the end of the year. The policy change will affect about 150 children.


Injured asylum seekers sue Scott Morrison, government over Christmas Island treatment

August 27th, 2014


A six-year-old girl who claims to have developed a dental infection, stammer and separation anxiety and has begun wetting her bed while on Christmas Island will sue the Immigration Minister and the Commonwealth in a class action. Law firm Maurice Blackburn filed the action in the Victorian Supreme Court on Tuesday on behalf of the girl and potentially hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees who claim to have been injured while housed on Christmas Island over the past three years.
The minister, Scott Morrison, his department secretary Martin Bowles and the Commonwealth have been negligent in providing health care for Christmas Island detainees, the action will claim. It will seek an order that detainees are moved to a place where they can receive health care, including specialist mental health treatment.
Jacob Varghese, Maurice Blackburn principal leading the case, said there were 334 asylum seekers on Christmas Island, including 148 children. He said Christmas Island had a mental health crisis. He said children, adults, pregnant women and people no longer on Christmas Island could join the claim.
The girl, known in the court as A.S., has lived on Christmas Island for just over a year. She arrived with her parents but was separated from her mother soon after arrival when her pregnant mother was transferred to the mainland to have her baby. The girl and her father remained and she developed serious separation anxiety, including stammering, bed wetting and waking up to three times a night in distress, to make sure her mother is still in the room. She is also refusing food.
Katie Robertson, social justice lawyer with Maurice Blackburn has twice visited Christmas Island where she met A.S. She said A.S’s ongoing dental infection remained untreated for three months. She has been on a waiting list for her stammering for about a year. Ms Robertson said she had been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. “When I met with her about a month ago she struck me as an extremely sad and disturbed child,” Ms Robertson said.
Mr Varghese said he was aware of 11 detainees who had attempted suicide due to depression, but had received “nothing but suicide watch”, often a male guard watching a woman detainee for 24 hours a day. “That stops the suicide but does nothing to treat the underlying problem, in fact, it makes it far worse. What people need is sympathetic and compassionate intervention,” he said.
Mr Varghese said compensation could only offer a “small measure of justice” but would help them rebuild their lives once they were free. “We can’t, through compensation, give people back the years they have lost while in detention and we certainly can’t give children back their childhoods which have been robbed from them,” he said.
He said the class action was designed to bring the government to account and allow injured asylum seekers an opportunity to tell their story. “That’s important for them but that is also important for Australia. At some point our country needs to understand exactly what our government has been doing on Christmas Island,” Mr Varghese said.
Sister Brigid Arthur, of Albert Park, will act as the litigation guardian for the injured detainees. She said she had not been to Christmas Island but had visited detention centres for 13 years. Mr Varghese said her role would be to ensure the lawyers acted in the interest of the litigants and to provide instructions on the litigants’ behalf.
“I think we know – and that we can never claim we don’t know – that this has had an extremely bad effect in all sorts of ways on individual people,” she said. “I have watched kids just deteriorate in terms of their obvious wellbeing. Looking at them as ordinary little kids skipping around, to kids who can’t look at you. Who look sad and often won’t come out of their rooms to actually see you,” she said.
The court proceedings come as Mr Morrison told the Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry into children in detention that more than 30,0000 asylum seekers, including those on Christmas Island, would not be offered a visa until the Senate passes controversial temporary protection visa laws. While the visa does offer work rights, it does not allow asylum seekers to stay permanently in Australia.
The temporary protection visas have been widely criticised by human rights advocates as being cruel and degrading to asylum seekers. Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young, called for the government to release all children in detention immediately.
http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/injured-asylum-seekers-sue-scott-morrison-government-over-christmas-island-treatment-20140826-108epm.html; Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/injured-asylum-seekers-sue-scott-morrison-government-over-christmas-island-treatment-20140826-108epm.html#ixzz3BTFC0R7i

Oklahoma sued over secrecy of botched execution

August 27th, 2014

25/8/14: Peter Moskowitz

A decision by state authorities in Oklahoma to keep the botched execution hidden behind a curtain from press and public observers is being legally challenged, with a leading legal rights group joining media outlets in charging that prison officials acted unconstitutionally.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced the lawsuit Monday in a bid to prevent the state from concealing future executions from reporters and the public. The suit — in which the Guardian newspaper and the Oklahoma Observer also feature as plaintiffs — comes at a time of increased scrutiny over the administration of lethal injections.
Amid a growing scarcity of ingredients for the lethal drug cocktail, death penalty states are increasingly attempting to hide information pertaining to executions, including the types of drugs used and where they were brought. That secrecy, experts say, can lead to executions going horribly wrong.
“Both death penalty supporters and opponents should be able to agree that the most extreme use of state power should absolutely not occur in the shadows,” ACLU attorney Lee Rowland said in a statement. “It isn’t transparency when the government shines a light only on the things it wants us to see.”
The ACLU suit relates to the April 29 execution of Clayton Lockett, who was sentenced to death for shooting a teenager in 1999. Lockett’s execution was surrounded with controversy from the beginning, as the state scrambled to find a pharmacy with the drugs needed for an execution. The state would not reveal where it ultimately got its drugs.
Lockett’s execution took 40 minutes, and witnesses said that he could be seen grimacing in pain, clenching his teeth, and twitching. Right after Lockett began writhing on his gurney, the ACLU contends that prison officials closed the curtain on the window separating the media from the execution room. The length of the execution led to a six-month moratorium on executions in the state.
The White House said that the procedure “fell short” of humane standards.
“We now know that Lockett died … long after the media’s access was shut down by the state,” Rowland said. “As to what happened in those fateful 25 minutes, we have only the words of state officials.” The First Amendment-based lawsuit was filed with the U.S. District Court in Western Oklahoma.
The ACLU and the news organizations’ suit against the state’s Department of Corrections comes just months after The Associated Press and The Guardian sued the state of Missouri for hiding the names of the drugs used in its executions.
Over the years, as major drug makers refuse to allow their drugs to be used for lethal injections, citing ethical standards, states have increasingly turned to small compound pharmacies that are often free from public scrutiny and shareholder pressure.
Several states, including Ohio, Missouri and Oklahoma, have refused to divulge where the drugs come from, saying it is a matter of state security. Experts say that has a chilling effect on press freedom and the public debate surrounding executions.
“The public has a right to know what the government is doing,” said Richard Dieter, the director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based nonprofit. “We can’t really have a debate about what’s going on if there’s no information about it.”
Dieter and others also say the increased secrecy of executions prevents states from carrying out lethal injections in a humane manner.
“Historically, states were using the same three drug process, so even if they didn’t spell everything out there was some commonality in executions,” said Deborah Denno a professor who has focused on executions at Fordham University School of Law. “But now we know less, and it’s a big deal because with these new kinds of drugs, every execution is an experiment.”
If executions and the drugs used were made public, some say states could learn from their mistakes and prevent what happened to Clayton Lockett in the future. “Each state is operating in a silo,” Dieter said. “In any other area of science, there would have been meetings, discussion and improvement. … The secrecy allows these executions to go badly.”


Ferguson reports raise questions on media criminalization of blacks

August 27th, 2014

Renee Lewis; 14/8/14

Recent debate over the types of photos used to portray black shooting victims exposes a widely held bias that assumes they are criminals, rights advocates said this week as many in the African-American community called attention to what they say is mainstream media misrepresentation in the wake of yet another police shooting of an unarmed black man.
A Twitter campaign has drawn nearly 200,000 users to repost the hashtag #iftheygunnedmedown, which poses the question “If they gunned me down, what photo would you use?”
Police shot and killed unarmed Missouri teenager Michael Brown, 18, on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, sparking protests in the mostly black community against the mostly white police force.
Though some initial media reports showed Brown smiling at his high school graduation in cap and gown, most chose a photo of a stoic-looking Brown wearing a red jersey and throwing what some could interpret as a gang sign, which friends said was simply a peace sign.
Some experts said such media portrayals reveal a pattern of criminalizing black bodies in the U.S. media.
“It’s playing into the bias exposed after Trayvon Martin was killed. Even though young white people wear hoodies too, [George] Zimmerman saw someone who was … ‘up to no good,’” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, a group aimed at strengthening black Americans’ political voice. “These young people have their bodies criminalized even after death.”
Criminalization occurs when images chosen by media consciously or unconsciously create a justification for why people of color are killed, he said. After African-American teen Renisha McBride was shot and killed by a resident in a mostly white neighborhood while reportedly asking for help after a car accident, the media focused on whether McBride was drunk or high on marijuana at the time — a debate that Robinson said glosses over the fact that she probably posed no threat to her shooter.
Many African-Americans feel as if they have to prove they are “one of the good ones” in order to gain sympathy in mainstream America, he said, noting that Brown’s mother told reporters after his death that her son had graduated and was headed for college. “They have to earn the right for the benefit of the doubt or to be humanized or to gain empathy for their family,” Robinson said. “This is how the media views the humanity of black people, their dignity in life and in death.”
Others agreed and said the United States has a long history of negative media representations of African-Americans. “This is nothing new. That’s what’s so sad,” said Robin Kelley, a professor of history at UCLA. “The portrayal of black men hasn’t really changed except that there’s a lot more indifference now.”
He said that in February 2000, thousands of protesters marched in New York City after police were acquitted in the killing of Amadou Diallo — an African immigrant shot by police with 19 of 41 bullets fired at him as he stood in the entrance of his apartment building.
Diallo had reportedly taken out his wallet, which police thought was a gun. After his death, protesters held their wallets in the air and chanted, ‘It’s a wallet, not a gun!’ Images of protesters in Ferguson with their hands raised, shouting “Hands up, don’t shoot,” are hauntingly similar.
“Well, it’s the same as it ever was — with black men shown as minstrels or clowns or dangerous criminals,” said Gregory Lewis, a political activist and the host of the weekly Seattle podcast All Power to the Positive. “The traditional narrative is that black people are no good — they’re out there selling dope and shooting each other. And Trayvon, they said he was a little thug … but it doesn’t matter. The Constitution said you can’t go shoot someone on suspicion.”
Threat, or threatened?
Kelley said such stereotypes have persisted decades after the civil rights movement because many Americans believe they live in a postracial society — which he said contributes to indifference.
“The fact of the matter is that whiteness presumes innocence and blackness presumes guilt, and you have to prove yourself otherwise,” he said. “This has become routine. We have studies from the Malcolm X Foundation that say every 28 hours a black man dies with his hands up. That’s not a small statistic. That’s incredible.”
Exacerbating the problem, Robinson said, are media portrayals of African-American men in narrow roles. “A recent Pew Research Poll said most Americans get their news from local news coverage, and local news coverage of black men was relegated overwhelmingly — around 80 percent — to crime and sports,” he said. “The media has a responsibility to delve into stereotypes and debunk them.”
He said such coverage leaves an impression in many Americans’ minds of where different groups fit into the larger culture, and that affects the treatment they receive. “It impacts how black boys are perceived as valuable or threatening in school. It determines treatment in courtrooms, treatment by police,” he said. “The media has to paint a true picture of society.”
The situation spotlights an underlying fear of black men in the U.S., Robinson said. But after so many incidents of unarmed black men being killed because the shooter felt threatened, he said it is people of color who should be afraid.
“I remember vividly a conversation I had with my father before I went off to college about the ongoing test that each of us would have to face because of who we are. Blacks in America should feel threatened by the state that we’re in,” he said.
Kelley echoed that, saying he was raised to constantly demonstrate his innocence when out in public because he is African-American — for example, by keeping his hands out of his pockets in stores and addressing police officers respectfully.
On Aug. 5, police shot dead another unarmed black man, 22-year-old John Crawford, in an Oregon Walmart because he was holding an air rifle being sold in the toy section. Crawford reportedly said, “It’s not real,” before police yelled, “Get on the ground,” and shots were fired.
The same day, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a gun-control advocacy group, shared photos of men — none of whom were African-American — carrying semiautomatic rifles in the baby section of a Target store. The men, some from gun rights group Open Carry Texas, said they were asserting their constitutional right to carry guns in public. Some wonder if they would have survived such an action if they were black.
“Any white person can walk around with a shotgun, and no one looks twice,” Kelley said. “Put a whole bunch of black men with guns walking on the streets — that won’t happen.”
He said African-Americans are largely aware that many people perceive them as threatening and have adapted to that reality.
“One of the saddest things about Brown’s murder was the extent to which these young people are so articulate about the language of police activity,” he said. “They understood what was appropriate behavior, saying ‘He had his hands up.’ They didn’t learn that from watching television. It’s because they have to deal with the police and save their own lives every day. They know they are a potential body count,” Kelley said.


Jewish Holocaust survivors from around the world call for justice in Gaza (5)

August 27th, 2014

24/8/14; International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network; San Francisco, CA

40 Jewish survivors of the Nazi Holocaust and 287 descendants of survivors and victims issued a letter this weekend condemning Israel’s actions in Gaza.
“As Jewish survivors and descendants of survivors and victims of the Nazi genocide we unequivocally condemn the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza and the ongoing occupation and colonization of historic Palestine.”
The letter, with signatories from 26 countries representing four generations of survivors and descendants, ran on page A13 of the Saturday, August 23rd edition of the New York Times.
The letter has been reported by Ha’aretz and the BBC among others. As of 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday the Ha’aretz article had received more than 15,000 facebook likes and had been shared on twitter nearly 5,000 times. Signatories to the letter will be hosting a press conference on Monday, August 25th, 2014 at 11:00 am Eastern Time.
The Holocaust survivors expressed gratitude for the opportunity to express their dismay over Israel’s assault and misrepresentation of their shared history. Liliana Kaczerginski, daughter of a Vilna ghetto resistance fighter, said “What Israel is doing goes against everything that my father fought for; it is a violation of my family’s memory and I am proud to honor them with my signature.”
Hajo Meyer, a survivor of Auschwitz and the initial signatory to the letter expressed outrage at the racism coming out of Israel. “The dehumanization of Jews is what made possible the Nazi genocide. In the same way, we are witnessing the escalating dehumanization of Palestinians in Israeli society,” he said. [Meyer passed away on 8/22/2014, the day before the letter ran in the New York Times.]
The letter was penned in response to an inflammatory ad campaign in which Elie Wiesel compares the murder of children during the Holocaust to Hamas’ actions in Gaza. Wiesel’s ad — which ran in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and the Guardian among others — was so distasteful that the Times of London declined to run it and the Guardian published this response for free.
In the letter, the survivors write, “we are disgusted and outraged by Elie Wiesel’s abuse of our history to justify the unjustifiable: Israel’s wholesale effort to destroy Gaza and the murder of more than 2,000 Palestinians, including many hundreds of children.”
Dr. Hani Jamah, a Palestinian living in California who lost 30 family members in an Israeli bombing said, “When Israel started it’s bombardment of Gaza, I turned on the news and discovered that 30 of my aunts and cousins had died in a single bomb blast. Joining my voice with 40 survivors of the Nazi genocide adds power to our call that we must work together to bring justice to Gaza.”
“With the growing number of people around the world holding Israel accountable for its genocidal crimes, I applaud the courageous statements by holocaust survivors and their families being on the right side of justice,” said Monadel Herzallah, who is part of the US Palestinian Community Network and has family in Gaza. “Our children and grandchildren inside of Gaza deserve a life of believing that Never Again means Never Again for Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime.”
Raphael Cohen, grandson of survivors who lives in the United States, called on people to take action to demand justice for Palestinians. “It is my own government paying for this violence. When governments won’t do what’s right, individuals and communities must speak out. That’s why I support the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions.”
The signatories hope that their letter will strengthen the claim that the legacy of Jewish suffering must mean never again for anyone, least of all, to be used in defense of Israeli violence.