Author - Emilia Klepacka

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Learning from a great humanitarian…
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The Pope, the Patriarch and the People: recovering common aspirations
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Crimea: The human rights impact of Russian occupation
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In Solidarity with Ukraine
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Dare we hope? The fate of Egyptian rights defenders.

Learning from a great humanitarian…

Mother Teresa, canonized today, will always be remembered for her untiring service of the destitute, marginalized and abandoned. Becky Samuel Shah (in her article mentioned below) highlights Mother Teresa’s profound understanding of the spiritual and material aspects of human poverty and human need. In the words of Pope Francis, Mother Teresa “bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity”. In doing so, she taught us the essence of dignity, charity and justice and offered precious insights into the nature of integral human development.

The other aspect of Mother Teresa’s life that was celebrated today was her prophetic courage in speaking truth to power. As further noted today by Pope Francis, Mother Teresa “made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime – the crimes! – of poverty they created.” Her fight against poverty was coupled to her fight for peace. In an account shared this week via the Under Caesar’s Sword facebook page, a priest friend of Mother Teresa recalls her concern over the long term suffering and destabilizing impact of war:

“Working at her side as the West prepared for war with Saddam Hussein, I saw her dread as she glimpsed the future of Middle Eastern Christianity… She understood the immediate urgency of the present situation, but she also had a dreadful fear, and a premonition about how the Middle East was to unravel over the next 25 years and fall into chaos.”

Mother Teresa’s concern led her to undertake concrete actions and advocacy on behalf of the most vulnerable. Today is a good day to examine our consciences and ask ourselves what we have learned over the past quarter of a century. Have those who advocated for invading Iraq – ignoring the pleas of Mother Teresa on the eve of the Gulf War and those of John Paul II in 2003 – ever admitted and taken responsibility for the direct and indirect consequences of those decisions? What about their successors in positions of influence? Do we do enough to assist persecuted Christian and other minorities? In our own communities, have we considered seriously Mother Teresa’s message about the biggest threat to world peace? In the face of so much injustice, persecution and innocent suffering, what “small things with great love” would Mother Teresa be doing if she were still alive today?

The Pope, the Patriarch and the People: recovering common aspirations

Observations on the momentous Pope Francis-Patriarch Kirill meeting – including Daniel Philpott’s helpful posts here and here on ArcU- have offered us much food for thought this week.
To recap: many commentators have focused on the Kremlin’s apparent interests in securing such a meeting, on Patriarch Kirill’s problematic dependency on Putin, or on the Patriarch’s personal motives for agreeing to meet with Pope Francis at this particular time.
Andrea Gagliarducci, on the other hand, offers a cautiously skeptical account of the Vatican’s emerging “Ostpolitik”, contrasting it to the approach of previous Popes, and questioning whether it will be “successful” in theological terms.
Several commentators have honed in on controversial passages of the joint declaration signed by the two religious leaders, noting in particular paragraphs 25, 26 and 27, which refer to Ukraine. Some suspect that Metropolitan Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church played a leading role in their drafting, leading to claims that his office “exploited” the co-authors – the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, with Cardinal Kurt Koch at its helm.
It seems to me that all of these reflections – while highly relevant – fail to appreciate the essence of this recent encounter. As regards the meeting itself, it was Pope Francis’ insistence that he would go wherever necessary to meet the Patriarch that seems to have created the opening in the first place. And as regards the declaration, judging by my own experience of Russian diplomacy, and my personal encounter with Cardinal Koch, I do believe we have much to be grateful for. While negotiations on the declaration must have been tough – in some ways even disappointing – I believe that Koch’s graciousness and docility – paradoxically perhaps – made him the right man for the job (for more on the Catholic Church’s approach to achieving Christian unity, see 821-822 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church).
Furthermore, while Philpott rightly notes that, for all its apparent imperfections, “there is much in the declaration to appeal to”, there is one point that I believe has not yet resounded strongly enough: the declaration’s potential impact on ordinary members of the Russian Orthodox Church. Many of them are suspicious towards Catholics or members of other Churches independent of the Moscow Patriarchate. The meeting and joint declaration may encourage them to follow the example of their leader and seek out possibilities for encounter or dialogue with their brothers and sisters of other Churches or ecclesial communities. It is this kind of dynamic – this kind of renewed solidarity grounded in a reality that is greater than we are – that eventually led to the collapse of Communism following John Paul II’s visit to Poland in 1979. Just as ordinary people in Poland remember the transformative impact of John Paul II’s call on the Holy Spirit to “renew the face of the land” in 1979, the Orthodox faithful – particularly the youth – might rediscover in the joint declaration not only a common aspiration for peace and justice, but also a common language and deep common heritage so often betrayed during times of political propaganda, division and conflict. Sub Tuum…

Crimea: The human rights impact of Russian occupation

A year ago today, on the 75th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland during World War II, I shared reflections on the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Those interested in the human rights impact of the occupation and annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation in early 2014 will welcome a report that was released today by OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM). The report demonstrates that, following the Russian annexation, the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms has deteriorated radically for a large number of residents and displaced persons in Crimea – particularly for pro-Ukrainian activists, journalists and the Crimean Tatar community.

The 100-page Report of the Human Rights Assessment Mission on Crimea lists examples of discrimination and legal irregularities, and provides a comprehensive examination of the current human rights situation in Crimea, in light of developments since the release of a previous joint report by ODIHR and the HCNM, issued in May 2014.

“Fundamental freedoms of assembly, association, expression and movement have all been restricted by the de facto authorities in Crimea,” said Michael Georg Link, Director of ODIHR. “This has occurred through the application of restrictive Russian Federation laws and through the sporadic targeting of individuals, media or communities seeking to peacefully present opposing views.”

Based on interviews with more than 100 civil society actors, representatives of the Ukrainian authorities, Crimean residents and displaced persons, and people travelling between Crimea and mainland Ukraine, the ODIHR/HCNM report presents numerous credible, consistent and compelling accounts of serious human rights violations and legal irregularities in Crimea.

“We found in Crimea that those Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars who openly supported the territorial integrity of Ukraine, refused Russian citizenship or did not support the de facto authorities were in a particularly vulnerable position,” said Astrid Thors, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities. “Since the annexation of Crimea, the Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian communities have been subjected to increasing pressure on and control of the peaceful expression of both their culture and their political views.”

The allegations documented and trends established by the report demand urgently to be addressed by de facto authorities in Crimea, and underscore the need for systematic independent monitoring of the human rights situation in Crimea and access to the peninsula by impartial international bodies, ODIHR and HCNM say in the report.

In the meanwhile, 56-year-old Rafis Kashapov, the Head of the Tatar Public Center, was reportedly sentenced this week by a Russian court to three years imprisonment over social network posts criticizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine.

In Solidarity with Ukraine

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland, an event which took place – in collusion with Hitler – just 16 days after the German invasion of the western border that marked the outbreak of World War II. Executed on the basis of the Ribbentrop-Mołotow pact, the invasion of 700,000 members of Stalin’s Red Army represents one of the most tragic moments of Polish history. The Soviet advance, like the German advance, was characterised by war crimes and crimes against humanity, arguably also acts of genocide. Yet Poland was left to fight alone against totalitarian agressors on both fronts.

75 years on, war in Europe is a painful reality once again. Poles feel a particular solidarity toward their Ukrainian neighbours who have struggled to defend their territorial integrity after months of Russian-backed agression. Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, stressed during his recent fact-finding mission to Ukraine that the situation in the country must be recognized as “a direct invasion by Russia”.

While we long for peace, there is much evidence to suggest that the most recent ceasefire implemented by Ukrainian forces was engineered by Putin to further advance his own strategic interests. Linda Kinstler suggests that bills passed yesterday in the Ukrainian parliament that grant three years of self-rule to rebel-held territory in Donetsk and Luhansk, represent “huge concessions” to Putin and pro-Russian separatists. Perhaps it would be more accurate to describe the bills in part as a symbolic olive branch, in part as recognition of the fait accompli: Ukraine does not and will not control these parts of Donbas as Russia will not allow it to do so. Whichever way we look at it, such “concessions” on the part of President Poroshenko are understandable in light of the West’s own concessions towards Moscow, including the decision last Friday by EU leaders to withhold full implementation of a long awaited EU-Ukraine Association Agreement until 2016.

So what should we expect will happen next?

Several weeks ago, Anne Applebaum warned us about attempts by Russia to carve out a new state under the name of Novorossiya (“New Russia”):

In the past few days, Russian troops bearing the flag of a previously unknown country, Novorossiya, have marched across the border of southeastern Ukraine. The Russian Academy of Sciences recently announced it will publish a history of Novorossiya this autumn, presumably tracing its origins back to Catherine the Great. Various maps of Novorossiya are said to be circulating in Moscow. Some include Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk, cities that are still hundreds of miles away from the fighting. Some place Novorossiya along the coast, so that it connects Russia to Crimea and eventually to Transnistria, the Russian-occupied province of Moldova. Even if it starts out as an unrecognized rump state — Abkhazia and South Ossetia, “states” that Russia carved out of Georgia, are the models here — Novorossiya can grow larger over time.

Yesterday, Linda Kinstler noted the „New Russian” aspirations of the pro-Russian separatists who have maintained control of Donetsk and Luhansk, reporting that,

the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics announced they are merging their militias into a single force, the United Army of Novorossiya, which will liberate Ukraine from “Nazi scum.” These are the people who will be ruling the populations of Donegal and Luhansk for the next three years.

In other words, New Russia is there to stay: the only question is whether it will stay within its present borders or grow. Judging by current developments, the latter option seems more than plausible.

While Western states have been reluctant to provide direct assistance to the Ukrainian military, Polish citizens have found their own way to express solidarity with those who have spent weeks trying to defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Last week Poles sent their own humanitarian convoy to areas worst affected by ongoing conflict. The convoy delivered desperately needed supplies – winter clothing, socks and underwear for the military, toys for displaced children, medication and even off-road vehicles. But the situation of both Ukrainian combatants and civilians near the front line looks bleak. Many have been without energy or water for weeks; the Russians have effective control of the gas supply, and a harsh winter lies ahead. There are tens of thousands of IDPs across the country and tens of thousands of Russian troops just across the border.

President Poroshenko’s visit to DC this week is very timely. While many Ukrainians feel betrayed by the West, some look to the USA as its last hope. At this time of great uncertainty, we should pray that the USA will find a way to walk in solidarity with Ukraine on the precarious road toward a just and sustainable peace – at least within what is left of its borders.

A glimmer of hope seemed to emerge from Egypt this morning. According to various news reports, Alaa Abdel Fattah was released on bail following his conviction in absentia in June over charges of violating a 2013 law that seeks to curtail protests (Law 107 of 2013). A prominent blogger and political activist, Abdel Fattah was originally sentenced to 15 years. Following today’s retrial, he will be released from prison and have his case transferred to a new court in an apparent attempt to avoid potential “embarrasment”.

 

Sadly, my former classmate and friend, Yara Sallam (NDLS LL.M. Class of 2010) has not been so fortunate. As noted in a recent post here, Yara was detained by the Egyptian authorities on 21 June 2014 following her alleged participation in a peaceful march against the same 2013 protest law. This draconian law has been widely criticized by human rights organizations for breaching fundamental human rights standards. It allows security forces to use force in dispersing peaceful protests, practically bans protests unless pre-authorized by the Ministry of Interior and criminalizes activities that essentially constitute peaceful expression and assembly. Yara’s fellow inmates include Sanaa Seif, the sister of Alaa Abdel Fattah. It is no coincidence that such prominent human rights defenders were targeted and remain in detention.

 

This past Saturday, friends of Yara from across the world connected with eachother via internet. They waited with bated breath on news from her long-awaited trial, only to have the court hearing her case adjourn the trial to 11 October 2014. And once again, without any apparent justification, the court renewed and extended her detention.

 

We can only hope that international concern regarding the evident denial of justice in this case – and the potential “embarrasment” that it will cause – will prompt the Egyptian authorities and judiciary to rethink their approach in advance of next month’s trial. It would be better still if individual legislators, law enforcement officials and judges would commit to serving justice and respecting human rights – regardless of pressure to do otherwise. Perhaps we need to work toward the first scenario while praying for the second.

For further updates on Yara’s case, see http://freeyara-freesanaa.net.

© Daniel Philpott The views expressed in this forum are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent those of Daniel Philpott, CCHR, or the University of Notre Dame.