Pope Frances Condemns Violence Carried Out ‘In The Name of God’

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor

THE VATICAN, VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis, leader of the 1.2 billion members of the Catholic Church, condemned murder and violence carried out by religious extremists in the name of god. During his annual Christmas message the pope condemned the “brutal persecution” of minorities carried out by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and said the joy of Christmas was blemished by the suffering of children in the Middle East and around the world. “I ask him, the savior of the world, to look upon our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria, who for too long now have suffered the effects of ongoing conflict, and who, together with those belonging to other ethnic and religious groups, are suffering a brutal persecution,” Pope Francis said during his Christmas message on Thursday. The Pope spoke emotionally of “children displaced due to war and persecution, abused and taken advantage of before our very eyes and our complicit silence.”

In his Christmas message Pope Francis spoke emotionally of “children displaced due to war and persecution.” (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)

He alluded to the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Syria as well as the recent war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza in the Palestinian Authority, he said “I think also of those infants massacred in bomb attacks, also those where the Son of God was born,” Christians believe Jesus Christ was born in a manger in the town of Bethlehem in modern day Palestine.

Not far from the small town where Christians believe Jesus was born, Christmas has been a difficult time for Gaza’s Christian community, like all Gazans. The community is struggling to provide for their families after the summer’s devastating war with Israel “This Christmas is not like last year,” said, 24-year-old Hussam Abu Shaban, “Most Christians just take a small tree for the kids. They’ve lost a lot of family members, some from the war, some not.” More than 2,100 Palestinians were killed during Israel’s ground offensive against Hamas this summer. Several months after the violence buildings remain demolished and rubble remains where homes once stood. “There were a lot of Christians killed in this war. Christian homes were destroyed,” Nabeel al-Salfiti, 62, said, “Every year it’s been tougher.”

“Christmas is inevitably coming with its decoration, its finery and its celebrations, but our inner souls are still affected, in all respects, by the devastating effects of war,” Nahed al-Dabbagh, 25 said after attending Christmas Eve ceremonies at the Latin Church in central Gaza City. “We hope that the next Christmas will be a feast of goodness and peace on the Palestinian people.”

The Pope condemned violence and murder, especially violence that targets children. Without elaborating, the Holy Pontiff Spoke of the horrific murders of children committed during biblical times, possibly referring to the recent brutal and horrific attack carried out by the Pakistani Taliban at a school in Peshawar which took the lives of more than 100 children. He spoke of “contemporary Herods,” with blood on their hands, referring to the Biblical king who ordered children to be murdered because he saw the birth of Jesus as a threat to his power.

Speaking of world’s refugees who have been displaced by conflict and tragedy he asked that “indifference be changed into closeness and rejection into hospitality, so that all who now are suffering may receive the necessary humanitarian help to overcome the rigorous of winter, return to their countries and live with dignity”.

The Holy Pontiff also appealed for an end to conflicts in African countries, called for dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, condemned the attack by Taliban fighters that killed more than 130 students in Pakistan last week, and thanked those helping to fight the Ebola epidemic and help the victims of the historic outbreak.

For more information please see:

Al Jazeera – A Muted Christmas in Gaza – 25 December 2014

Al Jazeera – Pope Decries Violence in God’s Name – 25 December 2014

CNN – Pope’s Christmas Message: Iraq and Syria Have Suffered Too Long – 25 December 2014

The New York Times – Francis, In Christmas Day Message, Focuses On Children in Peril – 25 December 2014


Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff Nominates a Controversial Candidate

By Delisa Morris,

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BRASILIA, Brazil–Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff has stirred up the wrath of environmentalists by appointing a controversial advocate of agribusiness and weaker forest conservation as her new agriculture minister.

Katia Abreu / photo courtesy of opotiguar.com

Kátia Abreu, nicknamed the “Chainsaw Queen”, by her enemies, is included in a new cabinet that rewards political allies who supported Rousseff in her recent narrow re-election victory.

Abreu, is a leading figure in the “ruralista” party.  The ruralista party prompted the Brazilian government to weaken Brazil’s forrest code.  In both congressional debates and her newspaper column Abreu has called for more roads through the Amazon.  Abreu has also advocated for congressional control over demarcation of indigenous reserves, more efficient monocultures, and the approval of genetically modified ‘terminator seeds’.

The cabinet post is the first step towards further political gains for Abreu.  Abreu is known as a formidable political operator. In a previous interview the cabinet member expressed a desire to run for president and emulate former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.  Abreu has also said that she wanted to make Brazil the leading agricultural producer in the world.

Abreu says she is an advocate of sustainable development and insists that Brazilian agriculture can overtake the US without any further deforestation.

But her promotion has horrified and outraged many environmental campaigners. In a statement titled “Miss Deforestation is the new agricultural minister,” Greenpeace warned that the Rousseff administration was now set on an alarming course.

“By choosing Katiá Abreu, the president has confirmed that the path the government will take in the coming years will put agribusiness above the environment”, it said, claiming the senator was a leading figure in forest destruction and suppression of the rights of rural workers and indigenous people.

Reinforcing such concerns, the new science and technology minister will be Aldo Rebelo – a man with a reputation as a climate change sceptic. In a tweet posted several years ago, Rebelo used a cold spell in São Paulo to mock claims of global warming and support the Belo Monte hydro electric dam.

“Hello, Sao Paulo, cold in here, huh? Where are the advocates of global warming now? In the shops, buying the last heater … Electric! Long live Belo Monte!”, he said.

For more information, please see:

malaymail – From housewife to senator: Katia Abreu is Brazil’s ‘ranching queen’ – 25 Dec. 2014

the guardian – Brazil’s ‘chainsaw queen’ appointed new agriculture minister – 24 Dec. 2014

Yahoo News – Rise of Brazil’s ranching queen sparks green protests – 24 Dec. 2014

Merco Press – Katia Abreu to become Brazil’s new Minister of Agriculture – 24 Dec. 2014

Pope Frances Phones Iraqi Refugees, Using Christmas Message to Draw World’s Attention to Iraq and Syria’s Crisis

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Managing Editor, Impunity Watch

THE VATICAN, VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic Church, made a phone call to several Iraqis forced to flee their homes as a result of the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) in their region telling the refugees that they are in his thoughts this Christmas and using the holiday to bring the attention of the Catholic community, with more than one billion members worldwide, to the plight of refugees who have suffered as a result of the ISIS advance as well as Syria’s ongoing civil war. Frances told the refugees now living in a camp in Ankawa, a suburb of Erbil in northern Iraq, that they were like Jesus, were forced to flee because there was no place for them.

Pope Francis addresses the crowd after a mass at the San Giuseppe all’Aurelio parish on December 14, 2014 in Rome, The leader of the Catholic faith ushered in the Christmas season by calling refugees in Iraq who have fled the advance of ISIS in the region. (Photo courtesy of Time Magazine)

For Christians, Christmas is a holiday that calls for peace and celebrates the birth of Jesus in barn manger in the Palestine in the town of Bethlehem in modern day Palestine, chosen because there was no room for his parents at an inn. “You are like Jesus on Christmas night. There was no room for him either” Pope Francis told the Iraqis in the call arranged via satellite phone by the Italian Catholic television station TV2000.”I embrace you all and wish for you a holy Christmas,” he said.

On Monday Pope Francis denounced ISIS as a “terrorist organization of a size that was unimaginable before, committing all types of abuses… [And] striking some among you who have been brutally chased from your lands, where Christians have been present since apostolic times.” In recent months the Holy Pontiff has denounced all forms of religious extremism and murder in the name of religion.  During a visit to Turkey last month Pope Francis called for an end to all forms of religious fundamentalism and called on the world to focus on achieving the important goals of the world’s great faiths, fighting hunger and poverty. During a visit to Turkey the pope called for solidarity in opposing the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Syria, “It is essential that all citizens – Muslim, Jewish and Christian – both in the provision and practice of the law, enjoy the same rights and respect the same duties,” Francis said.

The pope used the phone call to address the crimes committed by ISIS, forcing tens of thousands of civilians to flee their homes in Iraq and Syria.  “Innocent children, children who have died, exploited children… I am thinking, too, about grandparents, about the older people who have lived their lives, and who must now bear this cross.” “Dear brothers, I am close to you, very close to you in my heart,” he told Iraq’s refugees.

For more information please see:

BBC News – Pope Francis makes Christmas call to Iraqi refugees – 24 December 2014

Newsweek – Pope Urges Solidarity to Stop Militants in Syria and Iraq – 24 December 2014

New York Magazine – 11 Touching Christmas Photographs of Christian Refugees in Iraq’s Kurdish Capital

Time Magazine – Pope Francis Ushers in Christmas with Phone Call to Iraqi Refugees – 24 December 2014

Argentina Town Cancels ‘Sexist’ Beauty Pageants

By Delisa Morris

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina– A small town in Argentina has banned beauty pageants, because they are considered to be sexist.  The Chivilcoy council, in the Buenos Aires region, said that the pageants encourage violence against women.  The Chivilcoy council further criticized the pageants for emphasizing and focusing on physical beauty.  The council also claimed that the beauty pageants concentration on physical image, encourages illnesses like bulimia and anorexia among the pageant contestants.

Miss Argentina/image courtesy of the Independent

The Chivilcoy council said the pageants are “a discriminatory and sexist practice”, that “reinforce the idea that women must be valued and rewarded exclusively by their physical appearance, based on stereotypes”.

Beauty pageants were also condemned for being “acts of symbolic and institutional violence against women and children.”

The competitions will instead be replaced with an event recognising “people of between 15 and 30 years who, in an individual or collective way, have stood out in volunteering activities aimed at improving the quality of life in neighbourhoods within the city or the district,” the council said.

Latin American beauty pageant winners often use their pageant experience to build careers in entertainment or television.

Beauty pageant competitions are getting a closer look after Julia Morley, the chairwoman of the Miss World pageant announced that the competition would no longer include a swimsuit round.  The swimsuit round was introduced to the competition 63 years ago.

“Miss World should be a spokesperson who can help a community,” said Ms. Wilmer, “She’s more of an ambassador, not a beauty queen.  It’s more about the outreach and what a woman could do with a title like Miss World.”

However, everyone does not agree with banning the pageants.

“If the only value is beauty, that’s bad, I don’t identify with that,” said Nadia Cerri, 41, director of Miss World Argentina and a former pageant contestant.  But she added that an all-out ban goes too far.  “We don’t oblige anybody to take part in the contests,” she said.

Ms. Cerri said that in recent years the Miss World Argentina competition had tried to place greater emphasis on factors besides physical appearance.  A winner must perform well in categories such as social responsibility, for which she may be required to show awareness of social issues like sex trafficking in her home province. Contestants must also demonstrate knowledge of general culture, including current events, and exhibit a talent, which can be a skill like acting, singing or painting.

For more information, please see:

The Independent – Town in Argentina bans ‘sexist’ beauty pageants for reinforcing idea ‘women must be valued on physical opinion’ – 25 Dec. 2014

The New York Times – Argentine City Takes Beauty Off Its Pedestal – 22 Dec. 2014

BBC News – Argentina town bans ‘sexist’ beauty competitions – 21 Dec. 2014

Jezebel – Town in Argentina Bans Beauty Pageants; Miss World Bans Bikinis – 21 Dec. 2014

As Lithuania Seeks Further European Union Alignment, Russian Aggression Remains High

By Kyle Herda

Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

VILNIUS, Lithuania – In what may be a move of defiance against Russia, Lithuania is moving to the Euro. This comes in light of recent events over the past several months involving Russian aggression directed towards a number of NATO countries, particularly Lithuania and other Eastern European nations.

Major Linas Pakutka stands before two of his units within Lithuania’s new task force. (Photo courtesy of The New York Times)

Lithuania has only 6% of its population who are Russian speakers, despite the much higher percentages in many bordering countries and also its proximity to Russia. Even so, Russia continues to show aggression that has found some landing in Lithuania. The waters off Lithuania have seen recent Russian military exercises just off Kaliningrad that have involved up to 9,000 troops and 55 ships.

In addition, NATO has had to scramble jets to intercept Russian aircraft over 400 times this year, already more than three times the amount as last year. The number of instances involving Russian jets flying with their radars off and coming close to commercial airlines continues to increase as well and has many worried that a mid-air collision is imminent. This is all in addition to the Russian incursion in Eastern Ukraine and the questionable Russian annexation of Crimea in Southern Ukraine earlier this year.

While not obligated to defend Ukraine from a military invasion due to the lack of protection for Ukraine under Article 5 membership, NATO has answered Eastern Europe’s worries about Russia by creating a rapid response task force should Russia invade a country near Ukraine with Article 5 membership that requires military aid. For Lithuania, however, this new task force is taking too long to take effect, and so Lithuania has created its own fast response task force. While Lithuania’s active military of roughly 8,000 does not size up well to Russia’s military of over one million, Lithuania would like to be prepared to respond within a day of any Russian invasion of the Baltics, Poland, or Romania. “We would go into action in the initial, self-defense phase to buy some time until NATO can get here,” says General Tamosaitis.

Even a Lithuanian archbishop has spoken out about the Russian threat to Lithuania, fearing that “the front could move forward if the international community fails to stand firm.” Archbishop Gintaras Grusas further went on to say that “the information and propaganda war which preceded the military action against Ukraine is very much underway here, too.”

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Russia growls across the border as Lithuania readies for euro – 21 December 2014

The New York Times – Ukraine Crisis in Mind, Lithuania Establishes a Rapid Reaction Force – 19 December 2014

Catholic Herald – Lithuanian archbishop fears Russia attack on Baltic states – 16 December 2014

Business Insider – Lithuania’s Military Is On Alert After Russian Activities In A Baltic Sea Exclave – 10 December 2014

Reuters – Lithuania may supply weapons as part of military aid to Ukraine: minister – 26 November 2014