Guest Post : Afghan Peace Volunteers
Two young Afghan boys herding cattle in the Uruzgan Province of Afghanistan were mistakenly killed by NATO forces yesterday.
They were seven and eight years old.
Our globe, approving of “necessary or just war,” expects “this to happen occasionally.”
Some say, “We’re sorry.”
Therefore today, with sorrow and rage, we the Afghan Peace Volunteers took our hearts to the streets.
We went with two cows, remembering that the two children were tending to their cattle on their last day.
We are those two children.
We want to be human again.
Don’t we see it? Don’t we hear it?
All of nature–the cows, the grass, the hills and the songs–crave for us to be human again.
We want to get out of our seats of pride and presumption and give a cry of resistance.
We want the world to hear us, the voice of the thundering masses.
“We’re so tired of war.”
“Children shouldn’t have to live or die this way.”
“This hurts like mad, like the mad hurt of seeing a child being caned while he’s crying from hunger.”
“We have woken up, and we detest the method of mutual killing in war that the leaders of the world have adopted.”
We say, with due respect to the leaders but with no respect for any act of violence, “We are very wrong. You are very wrong.”
“We cannot go on resolving conflicts this warring way.”
Unless we see the cattle’s submission upon being blown to pieces, understand the momentary surprise of the seven year old listening to music on his radio, empathize with the eight year old who had taken responsibility for the seven year old and weep torrentialy with the mother of the children, we are at risk of losing everything we value within ourselves.
Hearing the NATO commander General Joseph Dunford say that they’re sorry makes us angry–we don’t want to hear it.
We don’t want to hear apologies. We want an end to all killing. We want to live without war.
We want all warriors to run back anxiously to their own homes, and fling their arms around their sons and daughters, their grandsons and granddaughters, and say, “We love you and will never participate in the killing of any child or human being again.”
In the days to come, we’ll remember the distraught mother and family of two children.
We know they won’t eat or feel like breathing or living. They will remember, yet not want to remember.
Their mother will feel like giving away tens of thousands of cows just so she can touch her two children’s faces again. No, she’ll not only touch their faces, she will shower them with the hugs and kisses only mothers can give.
Do not insult her grief or her poverty by giving her monetary compensation for her children.
If they were alive they would say along with their mother, “We are not goods.”
We went out there with our hearts and two cows this morning. We stood in front of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, next to a trash-lined river no one wants to clean up, and we began to feel human again.
We had begun to cry for our world.
“We are those two Afghan children.”
This weekend is a “Weekend of Prayer” focused on Human Trafficking. This is an important issue that touches on issues of crumbling labor rights, gender, the environment, and poverty to name a few. A “Weekend of Prayer” is an invitation to spend time with this issue and hopefully become part of the solution.
To get us started I provided a link below to a site that can lead you through the prayer guide for the weekend and article from Truthout that presents a story of human trafficking. Happy journey!
Weekend of Prayer
America’s Shame: The US Government’s Human Trafficking Dilemma
For Vinnie Tuivaga, the offer was the answer to a prayer: A job in a luxury hotel in Dubai–the so-called Las Vegas of the Persian Gulf–making five times what she was earning as a hair stylist in her native Fiji.
She jumped at the chance, even if it meant paying an upfront commission to the recruiter.
You probably know how this story is going to end. There was no high-paying job, luxury location or easy work.
Tuivaga and other Fijians ended up in Iraq where they lived in shipping containers and existed in what amounted to indentured servitude.
Journalist Sarah Stillman told Tuivaga’s story and that of tens of thousands of other foreign workers in acute detail almost a year ago in her New Yorker piece, “The Invisible Army.”
In some cases, Stillman found more severe abuses and more squalid living conditions than what Tuivaga and her fellow Fijians experienced.
But like Tuivaga, thousands of foreign nationals in the U.S. government’s invisible army ended up in Iraq and Afghanistan war zones because they fell victim to human traffickers.
Let that sink in.
This human trafficking pipeline wasn’t benefitting some shadowy war lord or oppressive regime. No, these are workers who were feeding, cleaning up after, and providing logistical support for U.S. troops—the standard-bearers of the free and democratic world.
In its final report to Congress last year, the Commission on Wartime Contracting said it had uncovered evidence of human trafficking in Iraq and Afghanistan by labor brokers and subcontractors. Commissioner Dov Zakheim later told a Senate panel that the Commission had only scratched the surface of the problem. He called it the “tip of the iceberg.”
In essence, despite a 2002 presidential directive that set a “zero tolerance” on human trafficking, modern-day slavers have been operating with impunity under the aegis of the U.S. government.
Nick Schwellenbach, who until last month was the director of investigations at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), and author David Isenberg also wrote about the conditions some of these foreign workers endured in Iraq.
Nick and David uncovered documents that showed how one U.S. contractor—in this case KBR—was well aware that one of its subcontractors, Najlaa International Catering Services, was allegedly involved in trafficking abuses. From their story:
The freshly unearthed documents show that for several months, KBR employees expressed exasperation at Najlaa’s apparent abuse of the laborers and said the subcontractor was embarrassing KBR in front of its main client in Iraq: the U.S. military. But despite its own employees’ strongly worded communications to Najlaa, to this day, KBR continues to award subcontracts to the company.
Nick later testified before a House subcommittee, outlining reforms that Congress should pass to hold contractors and subcontractors accountable.
Well, it appears that some of the attention focused on human trafficking (including the movie The Whistleblower, the story of U.N. peacekeeper Kathryn Bolkovac, who blew the whistle on sex trafficking in post-war Bosnia) in the last year may finally be paying off.
Some Members of Congress have introduced measures aimed at preventing human trafficking by government contractors and subcontractors.
The bipartisan proposals (End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act of 2012, H.R. 4259 and S. 2234), which include some of the reforms that POGO has recommended, are sponsored by Rep. Lankford (R-OK) and Sen. Blumenthal (D-CT). Rep. Lankford will likely offer the legislation as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (FY13 NDAA) this month. The legislation would bolster the current laws and regulations governing trafficking by requiring contractors to create plans to prevent trafficking and requiring companies to closely monitor and report the activities of their subcontractors.
The measures also call for penalties, including suspending or debarring or criminally prosecuting violators.
Sen. Blumenthal said current law was insufficient and ineffective and failed to prevent abuses.
“Modern-day slavery by government contractors—unknowingly funded by American taxpayers—is unconscionable and intolerable,” Blumenthal said.
And, really, all of us should feel pangs of guilt for the human rights violations perpetrated by those profiting in the name of the American people. POGO launched a campaign this week urging people to tell their Members of Congress to support the anti-trafficking legislation.
It comes too late to help those workers who were abused during our decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But our presence in Iraq, Afghanistan and in military bases all over the world continues. And the invisible army we rely upon to keep those bases running needs this protection now as much as it ever has.
Below is a guest post from 8th Day Center for Justice
In the wake of the violent deaths in Newtown, Conn., 8th Day Center for Justice joins with the nation in grief and despair. We grieve the loss of these lives; we despair over the violent culture that allows such atrocities. Such expressions of violence do not exist in isolation; they exist in the context of a long, shameful history of perpetuating violence through our lifestyles, mentalities, actions, and wars.
We remember the children lost in Newtown. We remember all children who die through violence. We remember children who die from gunshot wounds in impoverished cities across the nation. We remember.
Afghan and Iraqi children who have died at the hands of the United States’ war machine. We remember children who have died because of poverty and hunger. We honor and mourn their lives.
We breathe in the memory of all who lose their lives to violence, and we breathe out hope for a new world. We envision a world that creates itself anew by changing this culture of violence. We envision a world where the tragedies of war and school shootings truly are unimaginable, a world where nonviolence surrounds us and is within us, a world where our lives are guided not by the works of war, but by the works of mercy.
In the darkness of tragedy and violence, 8th Day Center for Justice works and hopes for a spirit of peace to be born anew into our hearts and our world.
Guest Post: Esther Pineda, CSJ
The message of Our Lady of Guadalupe is for the restoration of justice. She highlights the need to be present to those who are poor, to those devastated by war, to those whose voices have been silenced by the pillage of conquest, to those who are rendered invisible by social and political structures. Through Juan Diego, now St. Juan Diego—he was canonized August 2002—she becomes the visible love of God. She is God’s action on behalf of those who are poor. Our Lady of Guadalupe gathers the people and restores their sense of dignity and self-worth, reveals to them that they are both loved and loving and reveals to them the unconditional love of the One God who has not abandoned them.
This is the fundamental imperative of the Gospel.
Her presence becomes a conversion—a call to see the world upside down. . . “The meek shall inherit the earth, the last shall be first,” and so on. She calls on Juan Diego, a poor, uneducated, indigenous peasant and makes him an ambassador with the message for the Bishop of Mexico. The bishop is to build a church on the outskirts of what is now Mexico City . . . among the people who live on the periphery of the city, on the outskirts. Prior to her apparition, the church was located in the heart of the city, in the heart of the commercial and political arena. It was difficult for those living on the outskirts to attend liturgy and avail themselves of God’s word and sacraments. The Church is to be in the midst of the poor. As is often being said, “Option for the poor is not an option, it is a mandate.” It is a mandate from our God, the God who sides with those who are poor, who sides with the anawim of society.
As we continue to contemplate Our Lady of Guadalupe, as we continue to prepare for the coming of her Son, let us be about justice-making.
Sr. Esther Pineda, CSJ, is a member of the Pax Christi USA National Council.
As a country we take a collective sigh, whether of joy or disappointment, the rigor and drama of an election season has passed. We have a re-elected a Democratic President, a slightly stronger Democratic Senate, and a Republican controlled House of Representatives.
We have committed as a country the peaceful transfer of power as a transparent expression of the people’s will. Tuesday night’s news was full of stories of the people’s will – people waiting for hours to vote, voting with a flashlight in districts hit by Hurricane Sandy and here in Chicago a woman experiencing contractions five minutes apart voting before going to the hospital!
Young and old, conservative and liberal, Democrat, Republican and Independent: we came together and gave ourselves and the world a snapshot of what we value and are concerned about at this time.
It seems there is a mandate to take seriously most of the platform offered by the Democratic Party: environmental concerns, reducing unemployment, taxing a wealthier income bracket, and taking seriously immigration reform. With the Republicans maintaining a strong majority in the House there is also a mandate for many of the traditional Republican concerns like debt and the support of the military.
However the biggest mandate seems to be that youth and communities of color, who parties may have grown comfortable ignoring, came out in strong numbers for an America that has room at the table for more than Super PAC wealth. An America that is conscious of climate change, redefining households, and ready to rebuild a domestic economy that cannot be outsourced.
The work comes now, and not just for those who now hold office, but for every one of us. As President Obama stated last night civic participation is not just about voting it is about a full embrace of working locally and nationally to create a country that reflects a diversity of dreams and hopes. And may it be so…