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Posts Tagged ‘conflict’

Earthless Trees

Friday, October 16th, 2009

Nicholas Mutch

trees-teamEarthless Trees, a book with eleven diverse short stories exploring the experiences of refugees in New Zealand, gives a unique insight into a group of people whose stories deserve to be told. In reading this book, and in writing this article, I came to feel something of a strange, out of place emotion. Despite some of the horrible imagery and the enormous trials faced by some of these refugees, I almost felt a pang of envy. As all writers can attest to, I aspire to have a personal story worthy writing about, and I know that nothing I could write about my life, no matter how eloquent or well written could be anywhere near as interesting or moving as the story of someone who has been displaced from their homeland. I am sure I would think differently if I had experienced war, famine or persecution, and I don’t wish to diminish the refugee experience, but I found Earthless Trees a fascinating collection of stories worth telling.

Refugees in New Zealand
When talking about refugee experiences it is very important to know some background information. The term refugee is sometimes used a little loosely but the United Nations has a very specific definition: ‘A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.’ Basically, what all that means is someone is forced to seek refuge in a foreign country because their safety, human rights or lives are at risk in their home country owing to their ethnicity or beliefs. An immigrant on the other hand is someone who voluntarily moves from one country to another for any number of various reasons. Figures vary, but the UNHCR - The UN refugee agency - reports that there are over 11 million people who fit these criteria.

Although the exact number varies, New Zealand has a quota of 750 refugees it accepts per year. Once they have been accepted into the country, refugees can ‘sponsor’ family members (including children and spouses) to come and join them. There are also many other people who seek asylum on reaching New Zealand.

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Refugee Stories
The stories in Earthless Trees detail the experiences of young refugees before, during and after their journeys to New Zealand. Refugees generally come from countries that are burdened with anything from a dictatorial regime, such as the one Yugoslavia suffered in the 1990s, to the conflict, civil war and anarchy which has devastated Somalia since the 1970s. One of the best things the book does is give destructive conflicts, such as these, a very human face. Joseph Stalin once made the morbidly insightful comment that the death of one man is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic. Telling the stories of individuals who survive, despite losing their family, homes and sense of security in these conflicts, is far more powerful than a report that states something like ‘74 people were killed today in a bombing raid.’

The stories themselves are the experiences of young refugees from Ethiopia, Somalia and Afghanistan. With a few exceptions, the stories are honest and saddening depictions of life in war torn situations. Even though these stories are very personal descriptions of the situations refugees found themselves in, I would have found it helpful to have some background information about the specific conflicts. This would have given me a better understanding of the historical context of the stories. This does, however, offer interested readers a good opportunity to do some research of their own, something I would recommend to make to get the most out of the stories.

caligWhile all the stories are very interesting, the highlight for me was two stories written by Shamim Homayun, ‘Words of Honey and Sugar’ and ‘Elements of Good Calligraphy’. They are stories about Afghanistan’s cultural history, with one story describing the experiences of girl whose father ran an opium den, and the second about the art of ancient Arabic calligraphy. These stories were fascinating as they were beautifully written by Shamim, who has a great eye for suspense and drama, while at the same time introducing me to elements of Arabic culture and history that were completely new to me.

All of the stories in Earthless Trees deserve to be read, as they contain poignant and moving accounts of real life experiences and situations that you might otherwise never hear about. The only way to really understand these stories of course is to read the book, so why don’t you contact Refugees as Survivors and purchase a copy for yourself!

TAKE ACTION!

It is World Refugee Day on June 20, but it is always a good time to get involved in helping make the difficult lives of New Zealand refugees easier. Check out the ideas below.

•The easiest way to help out is simply to be a friend to refugees in your school or community.

•Find out more about refugees - this may not sound like much, but the more we understand about the struggles refugees face, the more likely we are to create worthwhile friendships and welcoming communities.

•Think about volunteering, check out www.refugeeservices.org.nz

LEARN MORE

earthless-trees-cover1Check out some articles by refugees at Just Focus: www.justfocus.org.nz

Watch videos from the YouTube Young Refugees Speak Up channel

Have a look at refugee focused sites like:

Refugees as Survivors: www.aucklandras.org.nz & www.wnras.org.nz

Changemakers: www.changemakers.org.uk

Refugee Services Aotearoa NZ: www.refugeeservices.org.nz

Voice It (a radio programme and publication from young refugees in Aotearoa NZ): www.voice-arts.org.nz

Mixit (Auckland based arts project): www.mixit.co.nz

INTERVIEW with Samson Sahele (Coordinator of the Earthless Trees Project)

What was the main purpose of Earthless Trees?

The main purposes were:

-to build capacity in young refugees,
-teach creative writing skills,
-creating a career path and to helping young refugees with their education
-spread the word about the situation of refugees in New Zealand.

How have the participants of the project contributed to their local communities?

The participants have become a voice of their community by telling their community issues to different main stream media sectors.

The participants have become roles model for the young refugee groups in Wellington. They also have now the confidence to participate in mainstream writing groups and other public events on behalf of their community.

What do you think is the best way for people to get involved if they want to lend helping hand to refugees in their local communities?

The best way for people from the host community to get involved is by visiting our office, by visiting different refugee service provider web sites, becoming volunteers and by participating in community events such as World Refugee day on ‘09 June 20th.

This article was originally published in Tearaway Magazine.

Stolen Innocence - Rescuing Joseph Kony’s Child Soldiers

Monday, October 5th, 2009

By Josephine Adams

The Rescue was an event organised by three young American film makers, Jason Russell, Bobby Bailey and Laren Poole, who founded Invisible Children, a non-profit organisation that aims to help put an end to the exploitation of children as soldiers.

The idea of The Rescue was that participants would “abduct themselves” by taking just a few survival items to camp at a designated site.

They were not allowed to leave the site until a celebrity or media mogul came and spoke out about the plight of the Ugandan child soldiers. When this happened, the city was “rescued”.

The activists spent their time “abducted” writing letters to the children concerned and also to influential people they hoped would help free the child soldiers.

rescue_campThis event received a mixed response. Some applauded it for bringing attention to the issue, while others said it didn’t highlight the seriousness of the situation clearly enough.

Juliane Okot Bitek, a Ugandan woman living in Canada, felt that “to ask thousands of young people to pretend that they can “abduct themselves” into creating a new reality for the children in the northern Uganda is more than appalling, it is manipulative and undermines the horror of the last two decades of suffering over there”.

The organisers, however, firmly believe that raising awareness, and more than US$23,000, is what’s most important. It also gained the attention of governments around the world, which have put resources towards helping negotiate peace in Uganda.

The reality facing child soldiers
Uganda is not alone in recruiting children to perform the horrific rites of war. Conflicts in Myanmar, Columbia, Liberia, Sierra Leone and several African nations affect young people in horrific ways. They miss out on education, are used as forced labour, as well as being used as soldiers in wars they may not understand.

Children can be forcibly recruited into armed forces, but also ‘volunteer’ because they see no other option; joining the army may be seen as the only way of surviving. Children may see these armies as a way to avenge murdered family members, earn status and power in their societies, or escape domestic abuse.

Unfortunately they are usually mistaken. We know from children who have escaped such situations that they are often required to prove their loyalty to armies by killing a friend or family member, they have no power over themselves or anyone else, and the violent abuse they are subjected to daily is worse than what they would suffer at home.

kony_photo

Photo by Joram Jojo

Uganda, Joseph Kony and the LRA
Uganda is a landlocked country in the east of Africa. Throughout its history, it has suffered various conflicts. The different ethnicities of Uganda have been pitted against each other, first as a method of control by the British colonisers, and after independence in 1962, by the Ugandan government itself.

This has led to the rise of many rebel groups including the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). LRA’s leader, Joseph Kony, is regarded as a holy man by his followers; none of them doubt his apparently ’supernatural’ powers.

The LRA was originally the Holy Spirit Movement, led by Alice Lakwena, whom Kony claims was his cousin. After her death, Kony took over and took the resistance group in a more violent direction, but with the continued aim of making Uganda a state based on the Christian Ten Commandments.                       

Invisible Children estimate that over 90% of the LRA’s forces were abducted as children.

Children all around northern Uganda live under constant threat of abduction and those who attend school often band together in groups to walk from their schools to safe sleeping areas in large cities.

It is because of these abductions that the current government placed thousands of its people in internal displacement camps (IDCs), originally meant to help protect the people from raids by the LRA. Unfortunately, these camps have just made the rebels’ jobs easier. With so many people packed together, LRA soldiers are able to attack many more people at one time, ruining homes, taking food, raping women and abducting children.

Abducted children can be used as soldiers, porters, sex slaves, or used to lay explosives. All are trained in combat and participate in violence. Many are made to kill friends or family.

A former child soldier, aged 13, describes what happened when he was made to join: “Early on, when my brothers and I were captured, the LRA explained to us that all five brothers couldn’t serve in the LRA because we would not perform well. So they tied up my younger brothers and invited us to watch. Then they beat them with sticks until two of them died. They told us it would give us strength to fight. My youngest brother was nine years old.”

The reality of The Rescue
The children fortunate enough to escape or be rescued then face another set of obstacles. The psychological, and often physical, scarring left after serving in the LRA means that many children are haunted by the abuse they suffered, the people they have killed and by guilt for what they have done. Funding for specialised rehabilitation centres is very limited.

Many will be stigmatised by their communities for what they were a part of, whether they volunteered or not, and post-traumatic stress is common.

Faced with the reality of the life of a child solider, it is easy to understand Juliane Okot Bitek’s criticism of The Rescue, but I believe both Bitek and The Rescue’s organisers have a point.

The Rescue successfully raised awareness of the issue, as well as more than US$23,000. However, it is unclear just how well the young people involved understood what’s actually happening in Uganda.

The biggest appeal of this kind of event for young people is often just the opportunity to get out and actively feel like we’re helping to make a difference. There is nothing wrong with this; it is, in fact, a very good thing. But does The Rescue undermine the suffering of children in Uganda over the last two decades?

Maybe, maybe not, but these young people are trying to recreate an ‘abduction’; a horror that they cannot possibly comprehend.

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TAKE ACTION

  • Visit www.invisiblechildren.com and donate money, or find out about new initiatives that Jason, Bobby and Laren are planning.
  • Donate to organisations such as Save the Children and War Child, which also strive to protect children living in conflicted areas.
  • There are several documentaries about child soldiers, such us those by Invisible Children; and Uganda Rising, by Act for Stolen Children. Plan a screening in your community to raise awareness, and encourage others to try to make a difference.
  • Organise your own demonstrations or events to help raise awareness and money.


LEARN MORE

www.invisiblechildren.comwww.child-soldiers.org/home
http://therescue.invisiblechildren.com/en/#/watch/
www.savethechildren.org
www.warchild.org

    Photo of The Rescue campaign by luos3r.

    This article was originally published in Tearaway Magazine.

    Global Countdown: Take action!

    Monday, August 24th, 2009

    protestequipment

    By William Zhang

    2008 has been a year of financial meltdowns, chaotic weather, a global food crisis and of course elections, both here and abroad. But we want to do something about the issues we are facing, so check out our ideas for taking action!

    10. Drugs

    Take Action:

    9. Human Rights

    Take Action:

    8. Global Food Crisis

    Take Action:

    7. Healthcare

    Take Action:

    • Don’t wait until you’re sick - be proactive and make healthy choices every day. Eat well, exercise and get plenty of sleep.
    • Support The Global Fund www.theglobalfund.org, which works for the prevention and treatment of AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, by buying (RED) products www.joinred.com.

    oilfree_photo6. The Oil Crisis

    Take Action

    • Leave the car at home whenever possible - walk, bike, catch the bus or take the train.
    • When buying a car, pay attention to its fuel economy rating www.fuelsaver.govt.nz. Not only will it save you money, it’ll also help conserve the world’s finite oil supplies.
    • Read Life after Oil (another Just Write article) about preparing for the peak oil crisis.

    5. Global Security

    Take Action

    • Stay informed on the latest issues in global security. There’s a lot of hype out there, so if you want to go straight to the source, www.globalsecurity.org is one of the most trusted on the net.
    • Find out more about what you can do from the Global Security Institute, www.gsinstitute.org an organisation promoting security through the elimination of nuclear weapons.

    4. Education

    Take Action

    • Volunteer as a peer support worker at your school and help a fellow student get more out of their education.
    • Don’t take your education for granted - millions in the developing world aren’t as lucky. Make the most out of your school’s resources like libraries and computer labs…and (the most valuable resource of all) teachers!
    • Find out more about the UN’s Education for All programme and how you can support their goal of meeting the learning needs of all children, youth and adults by 2015.

    3. Climate Change

    Take Action

    • Go to www.globalcool.org or www.4million.org.nz for loads of ideas on reducing your carbon footprint - from unplugging appliances to setting up community composting projects.
    • Support New Zealand businesses which have proper climate change policies, like Meridian Energy (or if you don’t pay the bills, ask your parents).
    • Put the pressure on businesses and the government to give climate change a higher priority - write letters, use parents’ networks and join lobby or environmental activist groups.

    peace_trees2. Violence and Conflict

    Take Action

    • Live by the principles of non-violence, followed by Te Whiti and Tohu, Ghandi and Martin Luther King. (Download this resource Parihaka and the gift of non violent resistance for more information.)
    • Help out the victims of violence and crime in New Zealand by donating to or volunteering for the Victim Support service.
    • Check out the Peace Foundation’s new youth website, www.enact.org.nz, to find out how you can be an advocate for peace in your community.

    1. The Economy

    Take Action

    • Take money out of the equation. Bartering was the original form of trade, dating back to the Ancient Egyptians. Independence from money means that bartering systems prosper in difficult economic conditions. Try it for yourself, set up a class bartering system, or register with www.justfortheloveofit.org and share your time and skills with your whole community.
    • If you, or your parents, are forced to cut down on donations to charity, consider replacing them with a contribution of your time with volunteer work. Try www.volunteer.org.nz or www.volunteernow.org.nz for current opportunities in your community.
    • Anchor down. Don’t spend beyond your means - maxed out credit cards are not the best idea in an economic downturn. But most importantly, think positive! The news may be full of gloomy stories about job cuts and lost savings, but don’t let that get to your head. Remember that “after the storm, the sun shines its brightest”.

    This article was originally published in Tearaway Magazine.


    Global countdown: Global meltdown?!

    Monday, August 24th, 2009

    By William Zhang

    The year of 2008 was one of financial meltdowns, chaotic weather, a global food crisis, and of course, elections both here and abroad. If you get depressed easily, you might want to stop here. If you want to keep up and get ahead with the issues that will affect us most through 2009 though, read on. This is my Top 10 countdown for the issues of 2008 and 2009.

    Just to show you I am not a complete pessimist the Top 10 list is followed by the actions you can take on each issue.

    10. Drugs

    Drugs continue to be a global problem. Annually the US alone spends $35 billion on its ‘War on Drugs’. 2009 will mark a century of international cooperation on drug control. In 1909 leaders from around the world met in Shanghai to discuss the drug problem of the time - the Chinese opium epidemic. In Aotearoa New Zealand, 2008 has been the Year of the Drug Bust. The aptly named Operation Viper saw the New Zealand Police make almost a hundred arrests, following numerous drug busts throughout September. The following month, a $28 million shipment of pseudoephedrine (a component of P), was intercepted by Customs - and that’s only the third largest drug bust in New Zealand history!

    9. Human Rights

    human_rights_chinaFor human rights campaigners around the world many milestones were made in 2008, such as the signing of an international treaty which bans the use of cluster bombs after years of campaigning by peace and disarmament groups. We also witnessed the spectacle (and sport) of the Beijing Olympics, which was accompanied by protests over China’s human rights record, raising some much needed awareness and generating media coverage around the world. 10 December 2008 marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a chance to celebrate achievements and focus on the upcoming challenges for 2009 and beyond.

    8. Global Food Crisis

    Millions of people in some of the world’s poorest nations face starvation in 2009 and beyond, due to skyrocketing crop prices and food shortages. Last year, over 25 000 farmers committed suicide in India alone, disillusioned by the debts they had been driven into by grain shortages and soaring costs. 2008 was the International Year of the Potato, but while the world celebrates the virtues of this staple food, the issue of hunger in developing countries remains as significant as ever.

    7. Healthcare

    global-healthcare1Globally over a billion people are still living without access to basic healthcare, with huge numbers dying from preventable diseases, such as tuberculosis and malaria. Locally too, the healthcare system was stretched to its limit in 2008, with red - and even purple - alerts flying everywhere, indicating shortages of hospital bed space. And let’s not forget the many overworked doctors and nurses around the country. 2009 may see further challenges, with many governments struggling to maintain expenditure on healthcare given the global economic slowdown and falls in GDP.

    6. The Oil Crisis

    In July, the price of petrol was thrust above $2 a litre, reaching new all time highs. While the price may have come down significantly since then, once economic growth takes off again when the world emerges from the economic slump, petrol prices are likely to soar once more - look out for new highs by 2010. In the long-term future, the peak oil crisis is coming. We’ll start to experience oilcost-photoa decline in the availability of cheap and easily accessible oil sources, with some predictions picking petrol prices to surpass $10 a litre within a decade. (And to think we were complaining when it hit $1 a litre back in April 2000!)

    5. Global Security

    Both Iran and North Korea are carefully nurturing their nuclear programmes going into 2009. In the case of Iran, retaliatory action from other countries, such as the US or Israel, threatens to throw the Middle East into further turmoil. The picture looks a little brighter for North Korea though, with agreements made to dismantle their central nuclear complex in return for financial aid from the US. Meanwhile, terrorism continues to remain a risk to global security as we head into 2009, with the prospect of biological weaponry being used against civilian targets a very real threat according to US National Intelligence Agency.

    4. Education

    Millions of children worldwide don’t even have access to the most basic forms of education. Over a billion people will enter 2009 unable to even read a book or sign their name. In 2009 progress will be made towards addressing this issue, with US$ 4.5billion pledged to support Education For All, a UN programme with the goal of meeting the learning needs of all children, youth and adults by 2015. In Aotearoa New Zealand, over 20% of students leave secondary school without any formal qualifications. While the solution to this is debated, the merits of NCEA continue to draw harsh criticism for not being challenging enough; with over 10% of New Zealand schools opting to offer Cambridge or IB instead - the list is growing steadily going into 2009.

    cyclonenargis3. Climate Change

    The Aotearoa New Zealand winter was full of extremes, with the coolest May since 1992, followed by higher than average temperatures in June and July, and of course the ‘weather bombs’ of August. Globally, Australia was hit by record droughts in early 2008, and South-East Asia was hit by record storms later in the year. This trend may turn out to be a title page for what’s to come in future years, with many scientists claiming climate change is responsible for this extreme weather and that things are likely to get worse. But its not just weather we have to worry about. A recent report found that the impact on ecosystems of climate change is already very severe, with falls in krill population caused by rising sea temperatures even being attributed to cannibalism among polar bears in the Arctic - nasty!

    2. Violence and Conflict

    According to the 2008 Global Peace Index, a system used to rank countries by their levels of conflict, Iraq is the least peaceful country, with the most internal conflict. Most of this can be attributed to US-led occupation of the region, with much of the violence being targeted at coalition forces. Meanwhile, Iceland took out the top spot as the most peaceful country. Aotearoa New Zealand was ranked fourth most peaceful, down two places from last year. 2008 saw violent crime in New Zealand rise, despite the overall crime rate going down. What seemed to be an endless string of senseless murders throughout the year left the country shaken and demanding action. Yet, this violence may be a dramatic symptom of deeper social issues, such as poverty, education and unemployment. If so, such issues will have to be addressed in 2009 before the issue of violent crime can be tackled successfully.

    1. The Economy

    tillCrises in the financial markets have dominated the news, election campaigns, and conversation since September. Aotearoa New Zealand is in a gloomy recession going into 2009, and many economists believe that the world’s going to join us soon. The underlying issues to the economic crisis are yet to be untangled though, so 2009 is looking to be a year which will be financially difficult for people throughout the world, including many New Zealanders. Sure, could have lower interest rates, but troublesome things may also be ahead - job cuts for example. This issue is also likely to have spill-over effects into several other areas. For instance, the climate change issue will likely take a back seat in the face of economic uncertainty. Likewise, those in poverty will be hit especially hard, as the willingness of governments and individuals to contribute financial aid and support may diminish.

    2009 is going to be a rollercoaster of a year
    The year of 2008 may have looked pretty gloomy, but there is still hope for the future. The United States has a new President and New Zealand has a new government. Will 2009 see Obama’s vision of “change we can believe in”, or the new government’s promise for a “brighter future” realised? Let’s hope so.


    TAKE ACTION

    William has lots of ideas for ways to take action Check them out here.

    This article was originally published in Tearaway Magazine.


    Take it Personally

    Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

    take_photo1Anita Roddick of The Body Shop fame has created a work of art with this book, putting images and phrases together, such as, fashion and victim which show us how we have lost perspective of the real world.

    Roddick has always tried to conduct business in a personal way, but has found that the business world is dominated by the faceless, and relentless advance of globalisation. This is a world of secret, impersonal committees, who do not take their social responsibilities seriously. The focus is on profit. Without more openness and democracy, she says, the world will be unable to deal with the serious crisis brought on us by globalisation.

    You can join our library and get books and DVDs out for Free!

    Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation

    Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

    By Jeff Chang - introduction by DJ Kool Herc
    hiphop_photo2This book charts the rise of hip-hop activism as well as the commercialisation of the music; and the clash between the two. It profiles the lives and influences of “the trinity of hip-hop music”–Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, and DJ Kool Herc–along with many other artists, label executives, DJs, writers, filmmakers, and promoters. Chang also traces 30 years of the history of the DJs, MCs, b-boys, graffiti art, Black Nationalism, groundbreaking singles and albums, and the street parties that gave rise to a genuine movement.

    You can join our library and get books and DVDs out for Free!

    Trigger Issues - Kalashnikov AK47

    Thursday, May 28th, 2009

    By Gideon Burrows


    ak_photo“Kalashnikov” explains the arms trade, politics and culture through the lens of the world’s deadliest weapon and shows how its direct social effects have swept across whole continents. Some 90 million of these guns exist - and they do not die when their owners do. They are now made in dozens of countries and have been fired in hundreds of conflicts since their introduction. In contrast, campaigns round the world are removing guns from gangs and communities. As they are recycled and made into sculptures might the Kalashnikov one day be seen as a symbol of peace?


    You can join our library and get books and DVDs out for Free!

    The war against women

    Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

    By Cassandra Tse

    “It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier, in an armed conflict.”
    Patrick Cammart, Former Division Commander of the UN Organisation Mission in the DRC

    “Violence against women has reached hideous and pandemic proportions in some societies attempting to recover from conflict.”
    Ban Ki-moon, Chief of UN

    “Women’s bodies [are] a battleground in times of war.”
    Rachel Maranja, UN adviser on Gender Issues

    drc-womenThe statistics are devastating. There were an estimated 500,000 rapes during the Rwandan genocide, 64,000 in Sierra Leone, 40,000 in Bosnia & Herzegovina. Gender-based violence causes more deaths and disability among women aged 15 to 44 than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war.

    Sexual violence is used shamelessly and appallingly as a military tactic in several conflicts areas around the world. It is used to humiliate and demoralise women and shatter communities. Horrifyingly, corrupt or inept legal systems often ignore, tolerate or even condone this atrocious practice. Rape may not even be viewed as a crime, meaning that there are no means to bring the perpetrators to justice. .

    The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) provides some of the most horrific examples of gender-based sexual violence as a common war tactic. Last year, in one province of the DRC alone there were almost 400 rapes a congo-truckmonth. Even during ceasefire, the war against women continued to rage on and it only worsened when the conflict reignited. And the blame cannot be laid on just one group– perpetrators can be government soldiers, rebels or deserters. To the victim, the identity of their abuser doesn’t matter as he will most likely never be punished.

    “Despite many warnings, nothing quite prepared me… a sexual violence so brutal it staggers the imagination and mocked my notions of human decency.”
    John Holmes, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, after visiting the Congo

    Even if a woman survives being raped and manages to receive medical attention, there is no guarantee she will be accepted back into her community. Victims of sexual violence are often ostracised and rape is stigmatised.-Even though it is now devastatingly commonplace, people deal with sexual violence by ignoring it and pretending it does not happen in their community. A common view taken by Congolese officials is that the woman “asked for it” and so she is to blame, rather than her attacker.

    “When we got to the hill, one of the soldiers pushed me to the ground. He put the blunt side of his machete on my neck and the handle of his rifle on my chest. Then he raped me. When he was finished, he called the other soldier and he raped me too… As I fled, they shot their rifles into the banana plantation. I fell to the ground, pretending I was dead. They then left and I ran back to my family.”
    Testimony of Marie , twenty-year-old Congolese woman

    Rape is a brutal crime against humanity that stays with the victim long after the physical pain has subsided. Victims, like Marie, may have to deal with the emotional trauma of their attack alone, without any support. In their home village, they no longer feel secure. After subjection to sexual violence, women like Marie may live the rest of their lives in dread. The stigma attached to rape can break community ties with the victim, and in towns like Shabunda, North Kivu where the majority of the town’s women have suffered sexual violence, this can lead to a breakdown of the entire community and a permanent state of fear.

    “Every woman in the village leaves at night to sleep in the bush because of the raping. They still loot but if they can’t find us they can’t rape us.”
    Woman in DRC

    As a battle tactic, rape can create more terror than terrorism, and is far more widespread. It’s a crime of the strong against the weak, the armed against civilians. Yet despite this, it was not officially seen as a war crime until mid 2008, when the United Nations Security Council put forward a resolution that called for the ‘immediate and complete halt to acts of sexual violence against civilians in conflict zones’. Though the UN hopes this resolution will be implemented by June 2009, it will not be that simple. For rape as a weapon to finally come to an end, and for its perpetrators to receive their deserved punishments, a complete turnaround in thinking is required. As Rachel Mayanja, UN advisor on Gender Issues, stated at the Security Council meeting, ‘Sexual violence in conflict, particularly rape, should be named for what it is: not a private act or the unfortunate misbehavior of a renegade soldier, but aggression, torture, war crime and genocide.’

    There is still a long road to travel before communities in countries like Congo feel the impact of international law. If we want rape to stop being used as a military tactic, in the Democratic Republic of Congo and beyond, not only laws but attitudes must change. Only when the victims of sexual violence are supported, not stigmatised, and when the culprits are condemned, not condoned, we will see sexual violence as a weapon finally come to an end.

    TAKE ACTION!

    • Find out more about this issue- try the links above.
    • Go to www.saynotoviolence.org and sign the petition calling for an end to violence against women.
    • Start a photo petition. Go to www.stoprapenow.org to find out about the cross-armed gesture, symbolising an end to rape as a weapon.stoprapenow
    • Mobilise your local media. Write letters to the editor or talk about this issue online- get people informed.

    LEARN MORE

    Sites about rape as a weapon:
    Stop Rape Now www.stoprapenow.org

    Sites about women’s rights and gender equality:
    UNICEF’s Gender Equality Division www.unicef.org/gender/index_3993.html
    Women Watch www.un.org/womenwatch
    Human Rights Watch www.hrw.org/en/category/topic/women’s-rights

    Enact

    Friday, March 27th, 2009

    enact

    www.enact.org.nz

    Who are they?

    ENACT is a new youth website dedicated to peace issues, in Aotearoa and in the world as a whole.

    It is aimed at young people as a forum for voicing your opinions and finding out about all things peace-related. The website is an initiative of the Peace Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation actively involved in creating a more peaceful society.

    How can I get involved?

    Join the Enact facebook page to connect with like-minded youth

    Check out the Events page to see whats going on in Aotearoa (exhibitions, workshops etc)

    Contribute a video, article, poem or artwork to the Enact website

    Take part in a competition posted on the site

    Unity in Diversity

    Thursday, March 26th, 2009

    By Sylvie Admore

    ak47It doesn’t take swords and armies, or AK47 Kalashnikovs and military vehicles, to discriminate against someone. All it takes is for one person to treat you unfairly on the basis of your religion.

    People of particular religions are often treated not on their own actions or merit, but on narrow stereotypes created by society and the media. Not every Muslim is a suicide bomber. Not every Jew is a banker. Not every Mormon rides a bicycle. Stereotyping is just one of the forms of discrimination many religious people face all over the world. Religious tolerance isn’t just having the freedom to choose what you believe in; it’s also having the freedom to practice your religion without fear of violence or discrimination.

    st-bartholomews-dayThe right to believe
    Thankfully, the global community as a whole is more accepting of religious diversity than ever before. In France 400 years ago, on St. Bartholomew’s Day, the massacres which took the lives of almost one hundred thousand people began. France’s streets ran red with the blood of Huguenots (French Calvinist Protestants) and Catholics alike. In the same country, two hundred years later on 26 August, 1789, the first ever document detailing the rights we have as human beings, The Declaration of the Rights of Man, was approved by the National Assembly. It states: No one shall be made to feel disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views. 150 years later, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights signed by most nations, included an article on religious tolerance (see ‘Article 18’ under Learn More).

    Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. (Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

    Walking the talk
    While achievements like this should be acknowledged, we must realise that the fight for religious freedom is not over yet. “When you go through an airport, you know they are going to hardcore check you. [It’s not fair] to say that because you’re wearing a burqa or abaya, that you’ll be hiding weapons.” (Ayeesha, a Muslim girl living in New Zealand). To achieve religious freedom we must go beyond simply talking about acceptance and respect, and begin to practise this locally, nationally and globally. But in order to do this we must have a greater understanding of each other.

    Interfaith Symbols

    Across the world interfaith groups are trying to focus their work and discussions not on differences, but on shared values. The need of the moment is not One Religion, but mutual respect and tolerance of the devotees of the different religions. We want to reach not the dead level, but unity in diversity. The Soul of religion is One but it is encased in a multitude of forms. Truth is the exclusive property of no single set of scriptures. (Mahatma Gandhi).

    Embracing difference
    diwali-festivalAll over the world people’s horizons are widening as they are exposed to different cultures and beliefs. In Aotearoa New Zealand, we have to come to terms with the growing presence of a range of religions that are quite new to our country. From 2001 to 2006, the number of Sikhs in New Zealand increased by eighty-three percent, whilst the number of Hindus and Muslims increased by fifty percent. In some cases we are embracing these changes. For example, the annual Diwali Festival (The Festival of Lights) on October 15 is traditionally celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Newar Buddhists. But now hundreds of people with different beliefs gather together to celebrate the religious significance of the festival and our country’s increasing diversity.

    Understanding is the key
    Today in Aotearoa, and across the world, young people from many cultures and backgrounds learn and play together. We do not all follow the same religion. We may not practice any religion. We do not all celebrate our beliefs in the same way. But we do share a responsibility to increase our knowledge and understanding of those we share our world with and continue the work started in 1789.

    We still have a way to go.

    religious-tolerance-9TAKE ACTION!

    • Join Just Focus and discuss these and other global issues with other young people in Aotearoa www.justfocus.org.nz
    • Check out interfaith activities taking place all over the country at www.interfaith.org.nz
    • Get involved with the Youth Interfaith Core, a movement of young people building international relationships based on mutual respect and co-operation www.ifyc.org
    • Talk to people! Welcome the opportunity to meet people with different beliefs to your own.

    LEARN MORE

    Take time to find out more about different religions and those who practise them. Check out www.adherents.com, http://pof.reonline.org.uk or www.religionfacts.com
    Learn about human rights on the website of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights www.ohchr.org
    Read The Statement on Religious Diversity on the NZ Human Rights Commission website www.hrc.co.nz

    declaration-of-human-rightsArticle 18
    Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

    This article was originally published in the Global Focus pages of Tearaway Magazine.