23 December 2001
In this issue:
HIV/AIDS, Trends and Challenges in Asia
China - China pleads for poor at first official WTO meeting
Korea - Pakistan CCJP wins Tji Hak-soon Award
Hong Kong - CCA Urges President Megawati to Intervene in Poso
Burma - Exiles wonder where talks with opposition are headed
Nepal - Nepal's Problems Could Boost U.S.-India Ties
Pakistan - Plight of ivisible afghan refugees in Pakistan
Vatican - Pope Invites World Religions to Assisi
Sri Lanka - Extra Judicial Killings
|1. FEATURE - top|
HIV/AIDS Trends and Challenge in Asia
By Dr. Erlinda N. Senturias
I have been very concerned about the impact and consequence of the HIV epidemic in the social, cultural, religious, political, economic structures of society including the tremendous burden in the public health systems and in the personal lives of people living and/or affected with HIV/AIDS. In a meeting on AIDS in Romania in May 1997, I saw the effect of HIV/AIDS on children who were transfused blood to cure anemia under the Ceaucescu leadership. Many of the children have Molluscum contagiosum on their skin, particularly spread all over their faces. This is just one of the possible opportunistic infections that affects an individual with severely deficient immunity to infections. The children in the AIDS ward were asking the Orthodox priests on exposure visit to bless them so that they can enter heaven. Young as they were at that time, the longing for spiritual blessing was so strong that it touched the consciousness of all of us. For many of the Romanian Orthodox priests who attended the meeting, it was their first encounter with children who have AIDS and the natural reaction was fear as they laid their hands on the heads of children asking for God's blessing. The AIDS seminar in Romania had a big impact among the participants, most of whom were priests of the Romanian Orthodox Church. We agreed that everyone is vulnerable. However, the being non-judgmental was controversial. The Church usually asserts moral authority and often carries the line - "hating the sin, loving the sinner".
Problems Encountered in Getting the Christian Churches Involved
The phrase "hating the sin, loving the sinner" is controversial because of the connotation in carries. We need a safe space for sharing information about AIDS and our stories as human beings. Many people have been hurt by pronouncements of the churches especially on moral issues including the language we use. We observe that pastors hardly visit members of their congregation. There is also lack of skills in listening, in counseling, and in enabling people to make ethical decisions especially about the intimate issues of life, which are often taken for granted even in theological institutions.
Fear is a natural reaction for people who are not aware on how AIDS is transmitted. The religious communities definitely contribute to the production of knowledge on the illness because we often make pronouncements that may affect the strategies for prevention and control. I remember my colleague in the World Council of Churches, Ms. Jenny Roske reporting to me that in the meeting in Burma in 1996, somebody emphatically said that true Christians would not have AIDS and therefore condom use is not necessary. I also heard this among Christians who attended a Christian Conference of Asia workshop on AIDS held in the Philippines. But we all know that this is not true. How often we in the Christian church take for granted the range of experiences a human being is exposed. We think that just making pronouncements on do's and don't's on moral choices is enough. Discussions on human sexuality are often a taboo in many of our cultures. Our attitude towards women is even justified by what we read and interpret literally from the Bible. The subordination of women in our Asian society contributes to the increase of HIV epidemic as we begin to listen to stories on AIDS. There are attitudes towards gender that affect people's ability to decide on matters of sex, particularly among women. But when Asian women begin to talk about gender justice in religious gatherings, we begin to get some reactions that these views are just influenced by feminists from the west.
It is time for us to open our eyes on what makes human beings vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and to acknowledge that we are all vulnerable as we conduct our education strategies on HIV/AIDS. We must end the denial and move on to action that will stop the further spread of HIV. To be effective in our responses, we need to share experiences and increase our knowledge on HIV/AIDS as the epidemic is dynamic and diverse in epidemiological patterns. We need to develop people's knowledge and negotiating skills so that they are more confident to discuss safer sex and discuss barriers to such discussions. H.E. Anand Panyarachun in his keynote address talked about learning to "admit, accept and speak openly about the fact that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is driven by socio-cultural practices, and that these occur at a large scale in our country." UNAIDS refer to HIV-Risk Behaviour. These are heterosexuals with multiple sex partners (90%); Men who have Sex with Men (5-10%); and Intravenous Drug Users who share needles.
Responses Among Asian Churches
Allow me to begin by sharing my personal experience on HIV/AIDS and I want to begin with my home country, the Philippines where I served as National Coordinator of the health program of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines from April 1980 to February 1989. In 1985, the US medical research team of the Subic Naval Base reported of cases of AIDS among their naval personnel. We were quick to use this as a political issue to get the US bases out of the Philippine territory. We also gave another acronym for AIDS. Instead of Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome, the social activists called AIDS, Acute Income Deficiency Syndrome because poverty has become a breeding ground for infectious diseases like AIDS. For example, some women are driven into engaging in sex work because of insufficient income. When AIDS became a well-known problem in the world in the 90s, I began hearing another name of AIDS coming from Filipino friends who are fond of making jokes out of very terrible situations. They called AIDS, Acquired Income Derived from Seminars. Perhaps the reason for the acronym came about because there were many well-funded educational seminars on HIV/AIDS. These seminars were conducted by different organizations in the Philippines since the 90s. The consciousness on AIDS became more concrete with the brave testimony of Ms. Dolzura Cortez from Cotabato and later from Sarah Jane Salazar who also worked in Cotabato City and published in the national dailies. It was probably due to the AIDS seminars and proliferation of various AIDS initiatives from various groups and sectors that kept the incidence of HIV in the Philippines listed under the Low HIV Prevalence Countries. Credit should also be given to the gay organizations for actively organizing and mobilizing themselves to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Dr. Juan Flavier, health minister from 1992 to 1995 effectively used the media to heighten the consciousness of the public on the prevention of AIDS. The current health minister, Dr. Manuel Dayrit used to work specifically on AIDS during the time of Dr. Flavier. As a result of outreach interventions, the rate among freelance sex workers use of condom increased from 55% in 1997 to 67% in 2000. A recent study reported by WHO showed that 13% of men had two or more sex partners. The percentage of intravenous drug users who share needles decreased from 77% in 1997 to 52% in 2000. However for sexually transmitted illness, chlamydiosis is high among sexworkers ranging from 27% to 36% and gonorrhoea rate varied from 2.6% in 1997 to 52% in 2000. In 2005 the estimated annual number is expected to range from 500 - 1,000. As the Philippines continue to experience economic crisis and our population become even more mobile, we need to continue actively with educating our people on HIV/AIDS. This is a big challenge I now face as President of Southern Christian College in Midsayap, Cotabato - an area near Cotabato City which according to my friend from UNAIDS is "sitting on top of a social volcano" when it comes to HIV/AIDS epidemic. Unfortunately, it seems that our churches are relaxing on this issue. The health program in the NCCP has been cut during the reorganization. Most of the national churches have very limited budget and usually health is way below in the priority. It is time for a wake up call.
I owe much of my learning on HIV/AIDS in Asia from people living with HIV/AIDS and caregivers in Thailand particularly from the group of Rev. Sanan Wutti based here at Chiang mai. I want to give thanks to the woman who shared her story during the AIDS meeting sponsored by the World Council of Churches in Bangkok in 1991. She touched our collectively consciousness and moved us to action. The Church of Christ in Thailand immediately started to conduct the research in Bangkok and Chiang mai. There they found out that the group of Rev. Sanan Wutti was already actively engage in accompanying the people living with HIV/AIDS. I would like to give a special commendation for the work of this group because their ministry touched the lives of many people living with HIV/AIDS and those of us in the churches. The Buddhist monks also responded to the HIV/AIDS challenge by receiving people with HIV/AIDS in their temples. The religious sectors where perhaps even ahead of the medical doctors in making a response. I remember that people were even scared to be identified as having HIV/AIDS for fear of public stigma. Rev. Sanan Wutti, a pioneer in this work, visited a person with AIDS and gave the patient a bath. His work was greatly appreciated by the family members who were scared to touch the member of their family diagnosed with AIDS for fear that they may acquire the infection. They realized that there is no problem in touching people living with AIDS. Rev. Wutti did not proselytize the Buddhist patient but rather manifested love and care. If I remember correctly, this started the response of some pastors and concerned lay people to establish an AIDS program in Chiang mai. They also cooperated with the Buddhist monks and continued visiting other sick people in the community. The Church of Christ in Thailand is to be commended for their support to their pastors and for acting swiftly following the Asia-Pacific HIV/AIDS consultation that we conducted in Bangkok in 1991. I would like to especially give thanks to the active ministry and advocacy of Ms. Prakai Nontawasee on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS. It was through her accounts shared during the AIDS Consultative Group Meeting that we learned about the practice of some families of selling their daughters to earn extra income for the family. In the process their daughters have become commercial sex workers in border areas and in cities. There was also a belief that sons are guarantees to enter paradise when they become monks. Such forms of gender stereotyping and discrimination contributed to the spread of HIV in the Northeastern part of Thailand.
The response of the government authorities in the Kingdom of Thailand led to substantial success in the reduction of HIV epidemic. But still close to 30,000 new infections continue to occur each year and that in the year 2000 three-quarters of a million people live with HIV or AIDS requiring serious demands for care and social support. However for the Intravenous Drug Users, the increase in HIV continued to rise in 2000 with reports of increase to about 50%. The international aid agencies should continue to provide the needed support to increase the resources for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.
I was very happy that I waited until after the WCC assembly in Canberra before deciding on the final venue of the meeting. Holding the meeting in Sydney would have made many of us Asians think that HIV/AIDS is a disease confined to white persons and to the gay community. Evidence shows us that this is not true because the epidemiological pattern of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is variable and diverse as the societal patterns in every country and even within states. We later saw this phenomenon in India.
We were in India for the WCC HIV/AIDS meeting of women in September 1995 and the Consultative Group on AIDS meeting in February 1996. We discovered during separate visit to programs and places that the spread of HIV is heterogeneous and diverse in different regions, states and metropolitan areas. In Maharashtra state, particularly in Mumbai and in Madras, Tamilnadu, heterosexually transmitted infections predominate and in Manipur and Mizoram in Northeast India, the infection is concentrated among injecting drug users and their partners. In addition, CMC Vellore reported a high incidence of tuberculosis related to HIV infection in 1995. The World Health Organization reported the following:
With a population of one billion with half comprising the sexually active age group (15-49 years old), HIV epidemic in India will have a major impact on the overall spread in Asia and in other parts of the world. I hope that this continues as an agenda of the churches and the Christian Medical Association of India.
In 1994, when we held the Women, HIV/AIDS and Human Rights regional meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the organizing group in Cambodia composed of various women's organization was saying they were glad to play as host of the conference even if there is no problem on AIDS in their country. We found out that contrary to their claims, when the National AIDS Program Manager gave the report during the meeting, the incidence of HIV among female commercial sex workers and soldiers were high. It was a cause of great concern for our local organizing group. They became very active in AIDS education and prevention.
The first HIV behavioral sentinel surveillance round in 1995 reported by the World Health Organization revealed "a highly disseminated HIV epidemic, with prevalence of HIV up to 38% among FSW, 8% among police and the military, and about 2.5% among women attending antenatal clinics (ANC). From 1996 to 1999, the consistent condom use rate increased from 15.7% to 78% among sex workers and from 45% to 81% among the police. Studies have shown that partner exchange pattern is one of the highest in our region. Sexually Transmitted Infections are highly prevalent in Cambodia: 20% - 34% for gonorrhea, 17% to 26% for Chlamydial infection, and 4% to 19% for syphilis. The clinical case burden of HIV-related diseases and conditions estimated and projected for Cambodia will be the most severe in the Asia Pacific region.
It was therefore important that in August 2000, the Christian Conference of Asia with the assistance of the WCC Asia Desk sponsored a seminar on Gender and Human Sexuality and HIV. I found out that the common understanding of Christian religious leaders is that a real Christian will not get AIDS, similar to stories we heard from Myanmar and Philippine Christians. Let us hope that churches take this problem more seriously and consider taking time to give space for talking about human relationship that is gender just and to find a way to talk about the broad range and dimension of human sexuality.
In the 1994 Asian regional meeting on Women, AIDS, and Human Rights in Phnom Penh, the Thai participants were telling the Laotian women that in the border areas there is a lot of sex trading going on and among them are Laotian Female Sex Workers. In fact the first HIV infection in the Lao People's Democratic Republic was identified in 1990 in a returning Lao woman suspected of engaging in sex work. Based on the WHO report the first AIDS case was a person who travels often to Bokeo, a province adjacent to Chiang Rai, Thailand. To date the clinical case load of AIDS and other HIV-related illness is relatively small in Laos.
China is not spared from the spread of HIV. It is categorized under group II of the Low HIV Prevalence countries. Since the opening up of the market in 80s, commercial sex workers have been on the rise in many cities. The National HIV Surveillance System reported that around 90% of the cumulative numbers of HIV infections are related to Intravenous Drug Use and to faulty plasma collection procedures. More than 49% of female sex workers reported that they do not use condoms. More than 70% to even 100% share injection equipment in Hunan, Xiangxi, and Xinjiang areas. Amity Foundation has an active HIV/AIDS program in the rural areas. Many volunteers are assisting Dr. Li Enlin in addressing the challenge of HIV/AIDS in such a huge country as China. With over 1.2 billion people, even a limited HIV epidemic will result in millions of infections. In 1999 there were reported 836 thousand Sexually Transmitted Infections. This showed a big increase since 1985 that registered only 5.8 thousand. This suggests potential increase in the spread of HIV. The challenge of 100% condom use for all commercial and casual sex and harm reduction for intravenous drug users need to be undertaken as priority program in HIV/AIDS prevention.
I was in Indonesia last October 2000. I found out from Mr. Sigit Wijayanta's group that HIV/AIDS is increasing in Indonesia. We visited a beautiful place in Ujung Watu where women engaged in commercial sex work have constructed beautiful and colorful houses. Many of them however have HIV. Young people are alerted and would like to engage in AIDS education. But they have other problems to attend to as well especially the political crisis raging in their country. The projection on AIDS death is a big increase by 2005 to close to 18,000 from the findings of 3,000 in 2000. Most of these AIDS deaths will be occurring in or around Jakarta because this is where the majority of the HIV-infected intravenous drug users live according to the WHO. Indonesia is now classified by UNAIDS/WHO as a country with a concentrated HIV epidemic, primarily among its intravenous drug users.
HIV prevalence among direct Female Sex Workers is increasing (38%) but appeared to be stabilizing in 2000. HIV peaked in military recruits in Burma in 1999 (1.4%). There are 100% condom use program in 4 pilot townships in 2000 but it is too early to measure the effect on HIV prevalence. The annual number of adult AIDS cases was calculated by UNAIDS to be 46,000 in 2000 and is projected to reach 55,000 in 2005.
Australia is classified as Moderate HIV Prevalence country. The epidemiological patter nof HIV in Australia occurs with men who have sex with men. Over 85% of HIV transmission are estimated via this sexual contact. At the end of 1999 the cumulative number of HIV infections was estimated to be 18, 000 with 12, 000 living with HIV infection. In 1994, 950 cases of AIDS were diagnosed. This declined in 1996 more rapidly than what was predicted in the mid 90s. This is due to use of effective combination of anti-retroviral therapy for HIV infections. AIDS cases are predicted to by the UNAIDS/WHO to remain steady until 2003. Fifty percent of the people living with HIV infection received anti-retroviral treatment. Let us hope that the long-term effect of anti-retroviral treatment will be good.
Most HIV cases reported in Japan during the 80s and early 90s were due to HIV-infected blood products that were imported for the treatment of patients with hemophilia. In 2000 about 78% of new HIV infections appear to have been acquired through sexual contact especially among Japanese men who travel abroad. Anti-retroviral treatment is provided in Japan. This could lower the projected AIDS death of 600-700 in 2000-2005.
The treatment is costly and many poor countries cannot afford to sustain the therapy without any funding or support from pharmaceutical industries and governments. Countries that providing treatment are Japan, Australia, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong (China)
The Challenge of HIV/AIDS
The challenges continue to be in the area of prevention and care of people living with HIV/AIDS, among them children born to mother with HIV. The means of transmission remain the same as we learned it in the 80s and 90s. We need better ways of communicating and sharing information with a varied group of generation, particular those in the generation X (born from mid 60s to 70s) and generation Y (born from 80s to present) group of people exposed to new forms of technology. The impact on families especially the ability to care is enormous. The church is called to be a healing and caring community.
Sexual beliefs and practices need to be given space for discussion in our Christian group fellowships. We need to take time to listen and enable our people both old and young to make responsible choices in human sexuality and in facing the challenge of drugs that affects the minds and perception of things. It also places the greater responsibility on governments to give enough budget for the health and safety of the people especially in blood transfusion and access to treatment.
The challenge of gender justice and human relationships that value respect for each other is an important issue for Christians and other religious in Asia. We know that patriarchy continues to form part of our culture. Any form of domination is not good for human relationship.
I know that many of us are already involved in meeting the challenge of AIDS. Let us not stop our commitment to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS through education, information, communication. Let us not stop our commitment to care for people living with HIV/AIDS. Let us allow God's Spirit to give us the energy and compassion to engage in multi tasks required by the continuing spread of HIV/AIDS in Asia. Let us consider that all of us are vulnerable and have come short often in our response. May God grant us the grace and wisdom to comprehend our role in this important challenge of our time.
**[The above paper was presented at the CCA Consulatation on HIV/AIDS that was held in Chiang Mai, Thailand in 26-28 November 2001]
|2. NEWS in Brief - top|
CHINA PLEADS FOR THE POOR AT FIRST OFFICIAL WTO MEETING
China has used the first World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting it attended as a full member to plead for richer countries in the body to offer better trading terms to the poorest. In a speech to the WTO's ruling General Council, Chinese envoy Long Yongtu also pledged that his country would be a good partner to the other 142 states in the organisation and play a "positive and constructive role" in its work.
China expressed hope that the new Doha Round of trade liberalisation talks agreed at a WTO ministerial conference in the Qatari capital last month will fully take into account the interests and reasonable needs of developing countries.
China believed the new round should pay special attention to the needs of the world's 48 least-developed countries, or LDCs, which have an average income of less than US$1 a day. The LDCs, 29 of which are members of the WTO, should be given special terms on the degree to which they are expected to open their domestic markets to foreign goods and services, and on the speed with which this is implemented.
China was itself given the green light to join the WTO - mainly on developing country terms - at the Doha gathering. It became a full member on December 11.
Developing countries and in particular the LDCs were lacking in experience and knowledge in many areas that the Doha Round negotiations, due to be launched at the end of January and to last three years, would cover. The developed countries benefiting most from economic globalisation have the obligation to provide necessary support to developing members in technical assistance and capacity building.
PAKISTAN CATHOLIC COMMISSION FOR JUSTICE & PEACE WINS TJI HAK-SOON JP AWARD
The National Commission for Justice & Peace(NCJP-Catholic Bishops Conference of Pakistan) was selected as the recipient of the 5th Tji Hak-soon Justice & Peace Award. The selection committee of this award recognized the NCJP for its dedicated endeavours for the last sixteen years to improve the human rights situations in Pakistan working through difficult situations in the field of defending victims of unjust laws, in the defense of human rights by engaging in human rights education and activist training, and by involvement in advocacy activities.
The selection committee especially recognized
The Tji Hak-soon Justice & Peace Award has been awarded annually since 1997 to a person or an organization in recognition of their efforts towards promoting peace, racial equality, harmony and enlarging the scope of freedom and strengthening human rights. The award ceremony this year was held in Seoul, South Korea, on December 10th, International Human Rights Day.
CCA URGES PRESIDENT MEGAWATI TO INTERVENE IN POSO
The Christians of the Poso regency of Central Sulawesi have been under attack from Muslim jihad warriors (Laskar Jihad). After continuous assault by attackers equipped with heavy weapons, Laskar Jihad took over six villages near Poso, Central Sulawesi: Betalemba, Patibunga, Tangkura, Pantangolemba, Menjeng and Sangginora. "With no decisive action from the Indonesian security forces, both military and police, about 50,000 Christians in Poso are facing a serious threat of being attacked by extremist militia" Father Jimmy, told The Jakarta Post by telephone from Tentena.
In an Open Letter to President Megawati Sukarnoputri, Dr. Ahn Jae Woong, General Secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia urged the President to take immediate and decisive action to pull out all people who come from outside the conflict area and return them to their places of origin. The letter also asked that all civilian people be disarmed in order to minimize the violence and that the President ensure the human rights of the Indonesian people to live in peace and security regardless of their religion.
EXILES WONDER WHERE TALKS WITH OPPOSITION ARE HEADED
Exiled Burmese human rights activists are losing patience with the woefully slow progress made in the more than a years dialogue between the military government and the political opposition. Despite these talks, the release of nearly 200 political prisoners, and yet another visit to Burma by UN envoy Razali Ismail that ended this week, there is little sign that the countrys strongmen are in the mood for political change.
There are no clues to gauge the direction the talks are taking and everything is behind closed doors, and the rulers are tight-lipped. The talks have been shrouded in secrecy since they began 14 months ago between the government and oppositionists led by the detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Soe Aung of the Bangkok-based National Council of the Union of Burma (NCUB) feels that the on-going dialogue initiated by Razali Ismail, a former Malaysian diplomat is not progressing. The SPDC must show political will to speed up the talks.
Right after his visit to Rangoon, Razali was reticent about the substance of the talks he had with members of the junta in the Burmese capital and Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD). However, he told the media that he was hopeful about the eventual outcome of his mission to push for human rights and democracy.
But Aung Zaw, editor of Irrawaddy, an independent magazine that covers Burma from the Thai city of Chiang Mai, does not share this optimism. He is skeptical that an agreement will be reached. He believes that a lot of people inside Burma shares the same view.
Limits on freedom
While Rangoon claims that it has permitted the NLD to reopen its offices in the towns, the reality reveals the limits on the freedom of association - members of the governments intelligence wing have become a permanent fixture nearby, monitoring NLD activities, activists say.
There are also discrepancies in Rangoons assertion that it has freed close to 200 political prisoners, largely NLD activists, since January. Most of them were freed because their sentences had expired. But they have not been so keen to free the other political prisoners, about 1,500 or more, some of the strongest NLD voices.
A team from the ILO found that forced labour still exists in Burma. The ILO team, which spent four weeks in September and October criss-crossing Burma, said that forced labour is being used by the military and by the authorities for government infrastructure. Burmas border areas with a large military presence are particularly vulnerable, it added.
According to both regional and international human rights monitors, forced labour in Burma ranges from clearing forests, repairing roads and carrying goods for the military, to more dangerous work such as minesweeping.
In addition, there have been continued reports of widespread human rights abuses, including extra-judicial killings and rape, states the Alternative Asean Network on Burma (Altsean), a Bangkok-based rights lobby. There is no redress for such violations as there is widespread disrespect for the rule of law and no independent judiciary to punish such.
Human rights abuses are also the order of the day in the conflict-affected areas such as the states of Shan, Karen and Mon, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch. In the west, the SPDC continue to deprive the ethnic minority Muslim Rohingya of full citizenship rights.
The SPDC has to negotiate with all the ethnic minorities for democracy to prevail. The government has to recognise women and children, too, unlike now, where they are a low priority.
Still, some consider it an achievement that the dialogue in Burma has continued this long. The longer it keeps going, the harder it may be to end. Meantime, Burmese like Soe Aung are clinging on to hope that the talks will prompt change: "We need to make this process irreversible".
NEPAL'S PROBLEMS COULD BOOST US-INDIA TIES
The most recent Maoist insurgency in Nepal prompted King Gyanendra to declare a state of emergency and call on other nations for help in the fight. Both the United States and India have pledged military assistance, giving the two large powers a chance to cooperate and improve relations without threatening U.S. ties with anti-terror coalition partner Pakistan.
Nepal's Maoist rebels began launching new attacks throughout the country, leaving 430 people dead after one week of fighting. The resumption of violence ended peace talks between the rebel group and the government as well as a 4-month-old cease-fire. King Gyanendra has asked various countries for help; India and the United States both are offering military support.
New Delhi's offer was expected given Nepal's strategic and economic importance. And U.S. assistance can accomplish a number of Washington's goals. By helping Nepal fight the rebels, the United States will be able to support India indirectly, improving relations with the country without undermining U.S. ties with Pakistan. Washington will also secure a greater influence in South and East Asia.
Before it turned to Pakistan as a vital ally in the war against terrorism, Washington was taking steps to form a stronger strategic relationship with India, including possible military cooperation. Washington must now reassure India that the current U.S. reliance on Islamabad won't scuttle their budding partnership. But a goodwill gesture extended by the United States must also be balanced with the need to keep Pakistan happy.
PLIGHT OF "INVISIBLE" AFGHAN REFUGEES IN PAKISTAN
At least 150,000 refugees in Pakistan are invisible and abandoned, say aid agencies in the region. An estimated 80,000 refugees in Jalozai, a few miles south of Peshawar, are being ignored by the Pakistan government and are therefore ineligible for aid from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
Caritas Pakistan, which has been assisting these people since October even though they are not officially registered, said the refugees are dying of hardship.
Sources say that there are ethnic reasons for the Pakistan government's attitude. Most of the refugees in Jalozai are Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazara, that is non-Pashtun, and Jalozai is in North West Frontier Province (NWFP), a Pashtun area.
"Forced to wait for the government to act, UNHCR delayed its intervention. This led to the death of numerous refugees at Jalozai and in Chaman camp in Quetta (Baluchistan)," said a humanitarian worker who asked to remain anonymous. "The UNHCR is almost a puppet in the hands of Islamabad. These refugees are invisible because the government does not allow distribution of aid to them. In the meantime many die, but no one notices. This situation has existed for over a year. Without food and medical care at least 3,000 have died in Jalozai alone," said the worker.
UNHCR statutes say it can only work in collaboration with governments. Many NGOs and humanitarian agencies work under UNHCR coordination. After the September 11 attack, expecting a new flood of Afghan refugees, UNHCR set up two camps in the tribal belts in Baluchistan and NWFP. The camps, prepared to hold at least 150,000 Afghans, were hardly used because on September 17 Pakistan closed its borders, opening them only now and then to let more vulnerable groups pass.
In the meantime UNHCR says that 150,000 refugees did arrive, but illegally and they mixed among the local people. These refugees fear that the government will send them back to Afghanistan where there is war, hunger, and homelessness and they prefer to remain "invisible."
Many NGOs want UNHCR to pressure the Pakistan government to provide at least emergency aid. First, UNHCR informed humanitarian agencies in the area that on November 14 an indefinite interdiction on aid for Jalozai refugees was issued by the government. "But with an agreement reached on November 17 with Islamabad, UNHCR obtained two results: the refugees will be moved to camps at Kotkai, Basu, and Old Bagazzi; aid may be given also to non-registered refugees," said Laura Boldrini, UNHCR spokesperson in Italy. "Jalozai has never been a camp, it was a transit point. There are no structures for refugees, this is why the people must be moved to proper camps."
But the refugees are unwilling to move for two reasons. The new camps are in the same tribal Pashtun area and they are more isolated. The refugees prefer to stay near Peshawar where they can find some work. So far about 3,500 refugees have been transferred, most of them Pashtun.
Since mid-October, Catholic agencies Caritas Pakistan, Catholic Relief Services (USA) Caritas Germany, and Cord Aid (Holland) have been working in Jalozai. On November 14 and 16 alone, 2,500 families in Jalozai, considered the most vulnerable, received emergency aid, two blankets, and a food parcel. Doctors without Borders and Community Development Program are giving the refugees medical care and taking a head count.
Another member of Caritas Pakistan added: "Over the past 22 years the Afghan refugees reaching Pakistan have been categorized as those fleeing international war, civil war, and drought. Those who arrive in Pakistan and opted to remain illegal are acknowledged as 'invisible' refugees. The 'faceless' refugees of Jalozai have been visible but no one wants to see them. What will be their future?"
POPE INVITES WORLD RELIGIONS TO ASSISI
Pope John Paul II, concerned about the continued impact on humanity of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, invited representatives of the world's religions to come to Assisi, Italy on Jan. 24 for a day-long prayer for peace.
In his weekly appearance Sunday at St. Peter's Square, the pontiff invited leaders of all faiths, but particularly Christians and Muslims, to "proclaim before the world that religion should never become a motive for conflict, hatred and violence".
Assisi, a pilgrimage hill town in central Italy, is the birthplace of St. Francis, the founder of the Roman Catholic Franciscan order. The pope has twice before invited leaders of various faiths to gather in Assisi to pray for peace.
The pontiff also asked Catholics to fast on Dec. 14 and pray to God for justice and an end to the many conflicts in the world. He noted that the date coincides with the holy month of Ramadan, the month-long holiday of fasting and purification for Muslims.
The pope first proclaimed a day of peace on Oct. 27, 1986 and invited representatives of the world's religions to Assisi. He brought together Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders in Assisi on Jan. 9-10, 1993 to pray for an end to the Bosnian war.
|3. Urgent APPEAL - top|
SRI LANKA: EXTRA JUDICIAL KILLING
The International Secretariat of OMCT has been informed of the killing of ten supporters of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), in Sri Lankas Katugastota district, following recent parliamentary elections.
According to the information received, at around 5:30 pm on December 5th, 2001, ten SLMC supporters escorted election officials who were transporting a ballot box from the Madawala polls in the Katugastota district to the counting centre in Kandy. En route, a "thug squad" allegedly under control of Lohan Ratwatte, the son of the former Peoples Alliances (PA) Deputy Defence Minister Anurudda Ratwatte, ran the vehicle off the road, where it crashed into a lamppost. The perpetrators subsequently approached the vehicle, opened the doors, and shot the ten SLMC supporters at point blank range, before fleeing the scene. The names and ages of the ten supporters are:
1. T. M. Fisar (24)
According to the information received, high standing representatives within the SLMC, along with other civil society organizations, have also publicly alleged that Lohan Ratwatte is responsible for these killings. During the October 2000 General Election, Mr. Ratwatte was also accused of similar mass scale voter intimidation and ballot rigging.
According to the information received, following the December 7th confirmation of the United National Party as the new government, Lohan Ratwatte reportedly fled the Island with his wife and two children, as his father, Anuruddha Ratwatte, had lost his seat in the Kandy district.
The International Secretariat of OMCT is deeply concerned by these killings as they appear to have been conducted primarily for political reasons. More generally, OMCT is gravely concerned about the continuing trend of voter intimidation and murder during elections in Sri Lanka.
Please write to the authorities in Sri Lanka urging them to:
Her Excellency President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga,
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe,
Honourable Lakshman Jayakody,
Ministerof Justice and Constitutional Affairs
Inspector General of Police,
Please also write to the embassies of Sri Lanka in your respective country.
Geneva, December 17, 2001
|4. ANNOUNCEMENT - top|
BLESSED CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR
DAGA would like to wish all our friends and partners a Blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year. Our office will be closed from 22 December 2001 till 2 January 2002.
Documentation for Action Groups in Asia (DAGA):