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Image: No Welcome For the Humanitarian

13/07/2018

Justice and Peace Commissioner for the Diocese of Aberdeen, Jill Kent, reflects on President Donald Trump’s visit to the UK.


Sixteen months ago I wrote a blog declaring that it isn’t easy being an American under the leadership of President Trump. The ensuing months have made my position even more difficult. As President Trump visits Scotland this week I have been reflecting on his immigration policies and what they have meant for my family.
 
Over the past year and a half, my husband has used his experience as a doctor to spend time working in Mosul helping with the humanitarian crisis that existed when ISIS was finally “cleared” from the city. Temporary field hospitals were set up on the outskirts of Mosul and casualties from the fighting were transferred in for emergency treatment. He spent more than two months on the edge of this warzone with a UN appointed international medical team.
 
They worked long hours in austere conditions to treat and save many people. The security was tight while they lived in a small compound surrounded by guards and barbed wire fencing. He endured long days and hot dusty living conditions. He was there because of his expertise on treating gun shot wounds.
 
One day he had to treat a baby whose bullet narrowly missed her heart. He operated on men, women and children. He listened to heartbreaking stories of people who lost family members and their homes. Almost everyone was malnourished and starving. These patients had to make terrible choices while living in Mosul about whether to leave or stay - both dangerous options. Many of these casualties were injured from landmines or snipers as they chose to flee. At least they were offered medical treatment to save lives and limbs.
 
After his six weeks he arrived home exhausted but satisfied he was able to make a difference and save innocent lives. And that was that. He returned to his day job with the idea that one day he may do something like that again.
 
Then we went to book our summer holiday to America. We have a big family reunion planned for my mother’s 80th birthday this summer. My children and I are American citizens so we were straightforward. But as my husband is a British citizen, he had to apply for a temporary visa, know as an ESTA. We have done this many times in the past and it is usually a ten-minute process.
 
Not this time. They have added a line which now reads, “Have you been in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan…“
 
He applied for this ESTA in January and was given the response, “PENDING DECiSION. We will get back to you soon.” That was January. No decision has been made and there is no way to contact the department of Homeland Security to explain why he was in Mosul for six weeks on two occasions.
 
We are just another separated family, which seems to be of little consequence to the Trump administration. But we know we are the lucky ones. We have choices. When we feel it isn’t fair, it just brings us a bit closer to those who really are caught in unfair systems.


Image: Repression in Nicaragua: Never in my wildest nightmares

06/07/2018

This week, in our blog, a Scottish development worker reflects on the violent repression unleashed by the Nicaraguan government on its own people in recent months.


When I first went to Nicaragua in 1986 I witnessed first-hand the atrocities of the US backed Contra forces that tortured and assassinated civilians, including children.  When the war ended in 1990, I never in my wildest nightmares imagined I would see the same happen again. How wrong I was.
 
In the last three months, riot police and irregular paramilitary forces armed by the Nicaraguan government have assassinated nearly 300 unarmed protesters and injured an estimated 2,500. Dozens more have been illegally detained, tortured or disappeared.
 
The level of cruelty unleashed by the Nicaraguan authorities against its own people is inhuman.  At the end of May, during the Mothers’ Day march, 15 people were brutally gunned down and killed, with dozens more wounded.  An arson attack left a 6-month-old baby and a 3-year-old girl among the dead.
 
The anti-government protests in Nicaragua began in April this year in response to social security reforms.  Within a short time, however, a broad-based civil alliance, spearheaded by students, had emerged, bringing together diverse social movements and civil society organisations who accuse Ortega of being a dictator and an assassin.  
 
After eleven years of increasingly authoritarian rule that has dismantled Nicaragua’s constitutional democracy and eroded Nicaraguans’ political, social and economic rights, their demands are clear: Ortega’s demission from power, the immediate disarming of all paramilitary forces, free and fair elections and justice and reparation for those who have been assassinated or injured. 
 
The Nicaraguan Catholic Conference of Bishops has prophetically sided with their people’s clamour for justice and democracy.  As well as convening a National Dialogue, many bishops and parish priests have opened their cathedrals and churches to offer refuge and emergency medical care for protesters attacked by paramilitary forces. Others have courageously led processions calling for an end to the violence and have successfully negotiated the release of students detained and tortured by the riot police.  In June, Pope Francis expressed his support for the Nicaraguan Bishops: “I join my brother bishops of Nicaragua in expressing sorrow for the serious violence, with dead and wounded, carried out by armed groups to repress social protests.”
 
On June 30, tens of thousands of Nicaraguans took to the streets in simultaneous “Marches of the Flowers" to honour the 20 children and adolescents slain in unforgiveable acts of violence.  In Managua, the march to lay flowers at a makeshift memorial to the dead children was fired at by the paramilitary, killing a young street vender and wounding 10 others, including an 8-year-old girl. 
 
While the “Marches of the Flowers” were taking place inside Nicaragua, vigils of support were held in more than 80 cities all over the world, as international solidarity gathers momentum.  Both SCIAF and the Scottish Government have joined their voices to those of the United Nations, the Organisation of American States, the European Parliament, the Inter American Commission for Human Rights and Amnesty international in unequivocally condemning all state sponsored violence by the Ortega regime and calling for the immediate cessation of the repression. 
 
Nicaraguans are a courageous and resilient people.  They brought down the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 through an armed revolution.  And I know that sooner rather than later, they will bring down the Ortega dictatorship through the united, nonviolent, civil insurrection they have undertaken. 
 
As I write, the words of a popular Nicaraguan song Dale una Luz resound in my head: “Shine a light for those who have pursued their freedom, struggling against the sky and against humans; shine a light for those who are so in love with living - in Nicaragua”.
 
The Nicaragua people deserve our utmost respect and unwavering solidarity.
 
:- the picture depicts a young woman in traditional Nicaraguan dress looking at a banner with the names of those who have been assassinated.


Image: Faslane Pentecost Witness for Peace

29/06/2018

On May 26, a Pentecostal ‘Witness for Peace’ was held at Faslane, organised by Scottish Christians Against Nuclear Arms (SCANA). Marian Pallister, Justice & Peace Scotland vice chair, was at the event. Here she reflects on the day.


Faith leaders were the first to sign, and the rest of us queued to add our names to a letter that would travel from the gates of the nuclear installation at Faslane to No 10 Downing Street. The letter to Theresa May couldn’t have been clearer – as Christians, we were joined in solidarity by friends of other faiths and none to ask the Prime Minister to ‘develop and publish a transition plan so that the UK is ready to sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons at the earliest opportunity’.
 
The letter added the pledge that we would continue to do our part to realise a world without nuclear weapons. I’m ready to play dirty.
 
Bishop William Nolan, Justice and Peace Scotland’s Bishop President, signed the letter and said ‘The young people of today have not lived through the cold war, the Cuban missile crisis and the real threat of nuclear war. They are very passionate, though, about climate change. We need to tell them that the nuclear weapons housed here will cause a climate change catastrophe, well beyond what our co2 emissions can achieve. For the sake of our climate we want a low carbon economy, but we also need a nuclear free world.’
 
What would convince that young generation?
 
My mind went back to the week of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. I was at school, and as the US President John Kennedy and the then Soviet Union’s leader Nikita Khrushchev postured over a situation that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war, we teenagers discussed how we would spend our last four minutes.
 
Our world seemed to be hurtling towards a violent end. The very best we could hope for was a nuclear winter in which, the public service adverts on our black and white TV sets told us, we should shelter in a cupboard under the stairs with our windows whitewashed against the nuclear heat. We were to buy in stores of canned food. The advice was unbelievably naïve in itself – but the adverts were a comforting (?) piece of propaganda that suggested survival was possible. It wasn’t.
 
Nuclear submarines were installed at Faslane 50 years ago as an insurance policy against the Soviet threat. I wasn’t alone in thinking that at least if someone pressed the legendary red button, we’d now be the first to cop it with nuclear subs on our doorstep. We knew the truth about Hiroshima and Nagasaki and we didn’t want to be around. Nuclear weapons had increased in devastating power in the years following the obscene destruction of two Japanese cities and with the best will in the world, we could only pray for a quick end.
 
By 2008, the journal New Scientist told us that ‘Even taking global warming into account, the models predict that the cooling of the planet for a decade following [a nuclear] exchange would be nearly twice as great as the global warming of the past century, causing colder temperatures than Europe’s “Little Ice Age” of the 16th to 18th centuries.’
 
Ten years on and we have a president in the United States who doesn’t believe in climate change and is happy to play nuclear chicken with the leader of North Korea.
Bishop Nolan voiced what so many of us believe – that the money spent on these are weapons of war should instead be used to build peace and to eliminate the causes of war - poverty, insecurity, and the injustices afflicting so many.
 
I don’t want our young people to feel the fear we felt during the Cuban missile crisis – a heart-squeezing terror that turned into a cold calculation of how to use our final 240 seconds. 
 
But if it helps to bring a generation on side, I don’t think it is an unfair tactic to fill them in on every last detail of what ‘nuclear holocaust’ really means.



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