Pope Francis Apologizes for ‘Grave Errors’ Made in Chile Sex Abuse Case

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

VATICAN CITY – After admitting “grave errors” in judgment concerning Chile’s sex abuse scandal, Pope Francis has invited three survivors to meet with him at the end of April.

Pope Francis Arrives in St. Peter’s Square on April 11th. Photo courtesy of Andrew Medichini.

The invitation comes after public outcry following the Pope’s visit to Chile in January and his defense of Bishop Juan Barros following accusations that Barros ignored sexual abuses committed by Rev. Fernando Karadima.

Sixty-four victims testified that Bishop Juan Barros had witnessed and ignored abuses suffered at the hands of Karadima.

During his visit to Chile in January, Francis accused Karadima’s victims of trying to assassinate Barros’ character.

After public outcry, Francis ordered Archbishop Charles Scicluna to investigate the scandal.

For decades, the Catholic church has been rocked by scandals involving thousands of priests accused of abusing countless more children.

In a letter to the public, Pope Francis apologized for his “grave errors in judgment” and blamed a lack of “truthful and balanced information” for his initial misgivings. He thanked the sixty-four individuals who testified against Barros and praised their courage to come forward and bare the “wounds of their souls.”

Juan Carlos Cruz, one of the survivors invited to the Vatican to meet with the Pope, hopes that the meetings will bring attention to survivors of sex abuse in the church worldwide.

Barros’ three main accusers plan to continue their fight “until zero tolerance about abuse and cover-up in the church becomes a reality,” they said in a statement.

“It’s about the thousands of survivors who have gone through horrible things, who have been disrespected, discredited. That culture has to change,” said Cruz. “It has to be about every survivor. I hope that this is a sign that this will not be the norm.”

A research organization called BishopAccountability, which tracks clergy abuses around the world, called Francis’ actions “long overdue but welcome.” Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the organization, says that the decades-long pattern of abuses can only be thwarted by major systemic reform.

In his letter, Francis called for an emergency meeting with Chile’s bishops to discuss the scandal.

“From now on I ask forgiveness of all those I offended and I hope to be able to do it personally in the coming weeks,”Francis said.

For more information, please see:

CNN – Three Church sex Abuse Survivors to Meet With Pope – 13 April 2018

Huffington Post – Abuse Survivors Demand Concrete Action After Pope Admits his ‘Serious Errors’ – 13 April 2018

U.S. News and World Report – Chile Victims Meet Pope April 28-29 at Vatican – 13 April 2018

The Washington Post – Pope Admits he Made ‘Grave Errors’ in Chile sex Abuse Case – 11 April 2018

Viktor Orban: ‘Significant Changes’ can be Expected in Hungary

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BUDAPEST, Hungary – Viktor Orban has just won re-election in Hungary, and wants the nation to know that “significant changes and modifications can be expected.”

Viktor Orban addressing a crowd in Budapest. Photo courtesy of Tamas Kovacs.

Orban’s party now has a supermajority of seats in Hungary’s parliament, having won 134 of the 199 seats in the national assembly.

Orban led his campaign on an anti-immigration platform. As the incumbent Prime Minister, Orban has employed various tactics in order to gain public support.

His influence has even found its way into school textbooks. One book espouses Orban’s belief that refugees pose a threat to Hungary, stating that “it can be problematic for different cultures to coexist.”

Orban’s tactics have been a point of contention in the European Union. As part of his campaign for re-election, he pledged to tighten Hungary’s borders and prevent migrants from getting into the country.

Orban believes that the European Union, the United Nations, and philanthropist George Soros intend to turn Hungary into an “immigrant country.”

As part of his efforts to prevent migrants from coming into the country, Orban supports the “Stop Soros” bill that would prevent civic workers in their efforts to assist and support asylum seekers. If the bill is passed, civic groups would be forced to obtain government permits. In addition, they would not be able to operate within five miles of Hungary’s borders, which is typically where migrants file claims seeking admission into the country.

Orban is outspoken in his belief that Hungary’s borders should not be opened to migrants. He once said to a Hungarian television station: “We will never allow Hungary to become a target country for immigrants. We do not want to see significantly sized minorities with different cultural characteristics and backgrounds among us. We want to keep Hungary as Hungary.”

Between 2015 and 2016, a wave of over one million migrants arrived in Europe. During that time, the European Commission proposed compulsory quotas be enacted to distribute the asylum-seekers to European Union member nations. Orban vehemently opposed the proposal, and in June of 2015 erected a barrier fence along the southern border of Hungary.

During his campaign, Orban refused to speak to opponents or the media, instead choosing to limit his appearances to rallies for is supporters.

Opponents of Orban believe that he is weakening the democratic system and attempting to concentrate too much power in too few hands. He has responded to these observations with assurances that “Hungary continues to stand on constitutional foundations. Within those, we will do everything that serves the interests of the Hungarian people.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – The man who Thinks Europe has Been Invaded –  6 April 2018

BBC News – Viktor Orban Victory in Hungary: German Minister Warns EU – 9 April 2018

The New York Times – How Viktor Orban Bends Hungarian Society to His Will – 27 March 2018

Time – Hungary’s Far Right Leader Is Going Nowhere—and Europe Should Be Worried – 11 April 2018

The Washington Post – Hungary’s Viktor Orban to Make ‘Significant Changes’ in Govt – 10 April 2018

Thousands Again Protest ‘Stop Abortion’ Bill in Poland

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

WARSAW, Poland – On March 23rd, thousands of protesters across the Poland marched in response to plans to fortify country’s already strict abortion laws.

Demonstrators in Warsaw Protest New ‘Stop Abortion’ Legislation. Photo courtesy of Marcin Obara.

A new bill in parliament intends to ban abortions that are performed as a result of fetal abnormalities, one of the few instances in which an abortion is currently allowed in the country.

The “Black Friday” protests were conducted across the country as a result of the proposal.

Abortion is currently banned for the most part in Poland. Currently, abortions are allowed in cases of rape, incest, when there is serious threat to the mother’s health or if the fetus has been found to have severe, irreversible damage.

However, illegal abortions are rampant in Poland. For every 1,000 to 2,000 legal abortions there are an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 illegal ones.

A letter from over 200 groups stressed that “This bill would further hinder women, particularly those from low-income and rural communities, from accessing safe abortion care….and place women’s health and lives at risk and violate Poland’s international human rights obligations.”

Europe’s human rights watchdog, The Council of Europe, is urging lawmakers to reject the bill, stressing that violates Poland’s human rights commitments.

Proponents of the bill say that 96% of abortions performed in 2016 were on fetuses diagnosed with Down Syndrome.

Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, supports the bill and has promised to sign it if it is approved by parliament.

A bill drafted in 2016 proposed to ban all abortions, even those where it was essentially guaranteed that the fetus would die.  The bill also would have limited access to prenatal care as well as contraception. This proposal was rejected after it initiated nationwide demonstrations, with more than 150,000 Polish citizens mobilizing across the country to oppose it.

The same women’s groups that protested in 2016 came back out in force to oppose the latest legislation which is entitled “Stop Abortion.”

Droves of people took to the streets with signs reading “Girl Power” and “My body, my choice.”

Critics of the bill fear that if already strict abortion laws are made even more stringent, women will travel to other countries to obtain abortions or resort to unsafe methods, putting their lives at risk.

Draginja Nadazdin, director or Amnesty International, spoke on the matter, saying “Women in Poland are strong and determined and we will defeat this threat. But we should not have to fight our own members of parliament to get our basic rights.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Poland Abortion: Protests Against Bill Imposing new Limits – 26 March 2018

CNN – Poles March Against Abortion ban, Again. – 23 March 2018

Newsweek – Black Friday Protests Against ‘Stop Abortion’ Bill Planned in Poland – 23 March 2018

New York Times – Polish Women Protest Proposed Abortion Ban (Again) – 23 March 2018

Following Public Outcry, France Sets Legal Age of Consent

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

PARIS, France – Lawmakers in France are in the process of formalizing the age of sexual consent after public outcry over two cases involving preteens.

Demonstrators Gather to Protect Sexual Abuse and Harassment in France. Photo Courtesy of Claude Paris.

France’s government has proposed new laws, one of which makes the age of sexual consent fifteen years. The legislation will be one of several measures taken by the government to combat sexual harassment and violence in the country.

The current law in France criminalizes sex with children under fifteen. However, prosecutors in those cases must prove that the sex was by force.

New measures also include increased prison sentences for perpetrators. There will  be on-the-spot street fines issued for sexual harassment. Repeat offenders will face increasing fines.

The bill will also present sanctions for online harassment.

Additionally, underage rape victims will be able to report sexual violence until they are 48 years old, ten years longer than the current limit.

Prison sentences for rape involving penetration will  increase from the current sentence of five years to ten years.

The push for new laws has gained momentum recently in France due to two high-profile cases involving eleven-year-old girls. The perpetrators in those cases, who were 28 and 30, were acquitted, causing an uproar in France and prompted the government to discuss tightening laws aimed toward combating sexual violence.

Marlene Schiappa, French Equality Minister, said that “we want to fix an age in the law below which it’s always forbidden to have sex with children, with young girls. Below which it’s always considered as a rape.”

President Macron supports the bills and hopes that the new laws ensure that “women are not afraid to be outside.”

In polls conducted in the country, ninety-two percent surveyed support extension of the statute of limitations, ninety percent support on-the-spot street fines and sixty-nine percent support setting the age of consent at fifteen years of age.

It is crucial that the laws of the republic make it clear that it is not allowed to harass or intimidate women…whether in the public space, on public transport or online” Schiappa said. “There can be no lawless zones.”

Age of consent laws vary internationally. Neighboring European countries such as the United Kingdom, Spain and Russia set the age of consent at 16, whereas in Germany, Italy and Hungary it is 14.

Fore more information, please see:

BBC News – France to set Legal age of Sexual Consent at 15 – 6 March 2018

CNN – France to set age of Sexual Consent at 15 After Rape Outcry – 6 March 2018

Newsweek – France to set age of Sexual Consent at 15, Paving way for Rape Charges – 6 March 2018

NPR – France Moves to Make 15 Legal age of Consent for sex – 6 March 2018

USA Today – French Bull Puts 15 as age of Consent for sex, Includes on-the-spot Fines for Harassment – 21 March 2018

Russian Media Boycotts Parliament Following Sexual Harassment Decision

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Several Russian media outlets have boycotted Parliament in Russia after sexual misconduct charges were dropped against Leonid Slutsky, head of its international affairs committee.

Darya Zhuk, left, and Farida Rustamova, both reporters in Russia, accused Leonid Slutsky of sexual misconduct. Photo courtesy of Vasily Maximov.

On Thursday, March 22nd, Slutsky was cleared of sexual misconduct charges by the ethics commission in Russia. Since then, nearly all of Russia’s independent news agencies have decided to boycott coverage of the Duma, the lower chamber of Russian Parliament.

Accusations against Slutsky began in February 2018, when several female journalists accused Slutsky of making unwelcome sexual advances towards them.

Farida Rustamova of BBC Russia, said that Slutsky told her to leave her fiancé and “ran his hand, the flat of his palm, up against my nether region.”

Another accuser, Yekaterina Kotrikadze, deputy editor-in-chief at a Russian television station, said that in 2011 Slutsky pushed her against a wall and attempted to kiss her.

“He asked me to come without a camera,” said Kotrikadze. “He brought me into his office, locked the door and tried to pin me against the wall and somehow kiss and touch me. I got away and ran.”

Slutsky denied the allegations and mocked his accusers. In a Facebook post dated February 23rd, Slutsky stated that “attempts to make Slutsky into a Russian Harvey Weinstein look like a cheap and crude provocation … and are bound to fail.”

The ethics commission investigating the accusations released a verdict on March 22nd sating that it had “not found any violations of behavioral norms.”

The commission also took aim at the timing of the women’s allegations, suggesting that they were an attempt to undermine the presidential election in Russia that week.

One member of Parliament, Oksana Pushkina, did side with the journalists and pledged to seek adoption of a legal framework for the prosecution of sexual harassment.

Despite the committee’s decision, the accusations against Slutsky have ushered in the #MeToo movement in Russia. The boycott that has ensued in response to the allegations against Slutsky is the first of its kind in Russia.

Kotrikadze is not surprised by the ethics commission’s decision, but is optimistic about the media’s response to the accusations.

“I really think that the reaction of my colleagues, and lots of Russian media outlets, is the best thing I could imagine. This is the first time in Russian history that the journalists have not obeyed the decision of the state.”

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Russian Media Boycott Country’s Parliament Over Sexual Harassment Claims – 22 March 2018

CNN – Media Outlets Boycott Russian Parliament Over Sexual Harassment Scandal – 23 March 2018

The New Yorker – Russia Finally Gets its #MeToo Movement – 23 March 2018

The New York Times – Russian News Outlets Boycott Parliament After Harassment Decision – 22 March 2018

U.S. News and World Report – Russian Lawmaker Cleared of Sexual Harassment Accusations – 21 March 2018