Tag Archives: Catholics

AFRICA/DR CONGO – Nearly 900 people killed in the West in clashes among communities

Kinshasa – Almost 900 people were massacred in four villages in community violence in the west of the Democratic Republic of Congo , between 16 and 18 December. This was reported by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The massacre took place near Yumbi, in the province of Mai-Ndombe, about 300 km north of the capital Kinshasa and it apparently it is not related to the tensions regarding the elections held on December 30th but to rivalry between the Banunu and Batendé communities.
In addition to the victims there are serious material damages: 465 private houses and public buildings were set on fire or looted. These include two schools, a health center, a clinic, a market and an office of the Independent National Electoral Commission . Over 16,000 people have taken refuge in the neighboring Republic of Congo .
Following the massacre, the authorities in Kinshasa decided to postpone the vote in the area scheduled for December 30th.

Human Rights Group—Politically Motivated Use of Death Penalty Widens in Saudi Arabia

Executions have soared in Saudi Arabia amid widening pursuit of politically motivated death sentences, mass death penalty trials, and use of the death penalty against female activists, according to a European-based Saudi human rights organization. In its 2018 Death Penalty Report: Saudi Arabia’s False Promise, issued January 16, 2019, the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) said Saudi Arabia conducted at least 149 executions in 2018, more than double the number conducted in 2013, continuing a four-year surge the group associates with the ascension of King Salman to the throne in January 2015. Half of those executed were foreign nationals, including 33 from Pakistan and women from Ethiopia and Indonesia. ESOHR reported that the Saudi government concealed at least one execution and failed to announce the execution of the Indonesian woman, and the human rights group expressed concern that the actual number of executions in the country may be higher. 

The Saudi royal family has sought to deflect international criticism of its escalated use of the death penalty by pointing to the use of capital punishment by the United States and other countries. In an April 2018 interview with TIME magazine, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman deflected a question on whether the Kingdom would reduce the number of public beheadings and executions in his country, saying: “I believe until today the United States of America and a lot of states, they have capital punishment. We’ve tried to minimize [its use],” he said, and suggested that the monarchy was working with the Saudi parliament on an initiative to change punishments for some offenses from execution to life in prison. The ESOHR report, however, said bin Salman’s statement “is not reflected in the death penalty statistics of 2018. Execution rates have sky rocketed [sic] in the last four years [and] do not indicate any attempts to ‘minimise’ or ‘reduce’” death penalty use. 

ESOHR’s report catalogues an intensified use of “politically motivated death sentences … against an increasing spectrum of government critics,” including human rights advocates, non-violent clerics, and other political opponents. It lists among the politically motivated death sentences the case of Israa al-Ghomgham, the first female activist to face execution in Saudi Arabia for non-violent human rights-related work. Al-Ghomgham was detained in December 2016 during a raid on her home. Her case is being prosecuted in Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court, which was established to address acts of terrorism. However, Oliver Windridge – an international human rights lawyer who has written briefs supporting al-Ghomgham – says that its “focus appears to have moved from terrorist suspects to human rights defenders and anti-government protesters.” The ESOHR report describes the terrorism charges against al-Ghomgham as “trumped up” and the trial proceedings as “grossly unfair.” UN human rights experts also have condemned the prosecution, saying that “[m]easures aimed at countering terrorism should never to be used to suppress or curtail human rights work.” 

ESOHR says that 59 Saudi prisoners are currently at risk of imminent execution, including eight who were minors at the time of their purported crimes and twelve men convicted of spreading the Shia faith and allegedly spying for Iran. 

(2018 Death Penalty Report: Saudi Arabia’s False Promise, European Saudi Organization for Human Rights, January 16, 2018; Haley Ott, U.S. lawyers “paying attention” as female Saudi activist Israa al-Ghomgham due in court, CBS News, January 14, 2019; TIME, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Talks to TIME About the Middle East, Saudi Arabia’s Plans and President Trump, TIME, April 5, 2018.) See International  and Women

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ASIA/LEBANON – Maronite Bishops say Syrian refugees must be repatriated without waiting for political solution to the conflict

Threatens to tear Lebanon apart to send refugees home to death – what God want that?

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Bkerké – Lebanon “can no longer carry the weight of Syrian refugees”, and therefore it is necessary to “dissociate the political solution of the conflict in Syria from the necessary return of the displaced to their homes “. This urgent matter was underlined once again by the Maronite Bishops on the occasion of their latest monthly assembly, hosted on 6 December by the Patriarchal See of Bkerké. The Maronite Bishops insist that the repatriation of Syrian refugees must be started without waiting for a complete political solution to the conflict which has tormented Syria since 2011.
On 30 November the Lebanese foreign minister Gebran Bassil had a meeting in the Vatican with Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, secretary for relations with states of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, for clarification and reassurance regarding the position of the Holy See on the question of the repatriation of Syrian refugees who have found shelter in Lebanon. During the meeting the Lebanese minster explained to Archbishop Gallagher the serious reasons for which Lebanon cannot continue to bear for much longer the economic and security weight of the emergency connected also with the presence on Lebanese territory of more than one million Syrian refugees.
“Lebanon asks simply that no obstacle will prevent the safe return of those refugees wishing to return” said Gebran Bassil in a statement issued following the meeting with Archbishop Gallagher.
Before the meeting between the Lebanese minister and the high ranking Vatican official, certain considerations attributed to Archbishop Gallagher had drawn comments from the Lebanese media according to which the present situation in Syria could render impracticable the albeit desired repatriation of Syrian refugees .

ASIA/PHILIPPINES – “In the name of God stop extrajudicial homicide”: bishop’s message for Advent

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Manila – “Extrajudicial homicide is always wrong even when it means killing a criminal. This is our desperate plea at this time of Advent and Christmas: for the love of God, stop these murders! Let healing begin|” this appeal to Fides comes from Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, head of the diocese of Kalookan and Vice president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines .
The bishop says that to tackle seriously the problems of drug trafficking and drug dependence the right path is not “eliminating drug addicts”, the way chosen by the anti-drug campaign launched by the President Rodrigo Duterte. It is necessary instead to consolidate rehabilitation progammes for those dependent on harmful substances. Bishop David told Fides that “people addicted to drugs need adequate rehabilitation to overcome this dependence, it is not possible to think that the way is to eliminate these people”.
This is why the Catholic Church in the Philippines offers support: the diocese of Kalookan, like 86 other dioceses in the country, runs rehabilitation programmes for persons addicted to drugs and support for the families in particular guaranteeing education programmes and scholarships.
The President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte launched a “war on drugs” following his election in 2016. According to official data, the police has killed some 5,000 suspects in raids aimed at capturing drug pushers, but human rights organizations say the number of those killed, including extrajudicial killing by squadrons of “vigilantes” , amount to four times as much. NGO say the “war on drugs” has killed some 20 thousand innocent victims, executed summarily in what is called “systematic extermination” of drug addicts in the poorest communities. The police rejects the accusations and says the killings regard drug pushers resisting arrest.
Once Bishop David described his diocese Kalookan an “extermination camp “, vigorously denouncing extrajudicial homicides. “The war on illegal drugs must be implacable but these killings must be stopped ” the Bishop said in a public plea.
Amidst an apparent “normalisation of violence”, the Bishop never tires of preaching the principle of non-violence: “We will never allow our actions be motivated by anger, hatred, revenge. We will not let evil have the last word. We will not allow the enemy to shape us in his image and likeness “, he repeats. “We cannot passively allow this senseless killing just because some of us think it is good for society “, he states. For these public stances the Bishop has incurred in the hostility of President Duterte.
The Bishop says “drug dependence is a serious sickness which must be treated with rehabilitation not bullets”. Even people who make mistakes deserve a second chance : “This is one of the most important principles of our Christian faith: we all live only thanks to the mercy of a God who forgives. Who are we to condemn if our God forgives? Which of us does not commit errors?” the Bishop asks
Bishop David addresses also the recent killing of Filipino priests, which shook the Church: “Those priests show us just how precious the priesthood is. They are martyrs who gave their lives to care for the flock entrusted to them “.

DPIC PODCAST: The New Catholic Teaching on the Death Penalty and Human Dignity

In August 2018, Pope Francis promulgated a new Catholic Catechism that deemed the death penalty “inadmissible” in all cases and committed the Church to working to abolish capital punishment worldwide. Cardinal Blase Cupich, the ninth Bishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago, joined DPIC Executive Director Robert Dunham on the latest episode of the podcast Discussions with DPIC, to explore the implications of the new teachings and how they fit into the Church’s broader message on social justice and the sanctity of life. Saying “human dignity is at center of all we say and do,” Cardinal Cupich stressed that church leaders working to end capital punishment “have to make the case for human dignity just as forcefully as we do in other areas,” for the poor, for refugees, for the marginalized, and for the unborn. “All of the advocacy that we do for all of these people has to have a social or civic or political dimension to it,” the Cardinal explained. The continued use of the death penalty is “a stain on our country,” he said. “Let’s be honest. No life that was taken away can ever be replaced by taking away another life. We cannot teach that killing is wrong by killing.”

(Discussions With DPIC, The New Catholic Teaching on the Death Penalty and Human Dignity: A Conversation with Cardinal Blase Cupich, December 1, 2018.) See Podcasts and Religion.

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Two Cases Pit Native American Sovereignty Against U.S. Death Penalty

As federal prosecutors dropped the death penalty against a Navajo man accused of killing a police officer on Navajo land, the U.S. Supreme Court heard argument in a separate case on the status of a treaty establishing the borders of the Creek Nation reservation that could determine whether Oklahoma has jurisdiction to carry out the death penalty against a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) tribe. The two cases highlight issues of Native American tribal sovereignty with potentially profound implications for the administration of capital punishment under state and federal death penalty laws.

On November 27, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Carpenter v. Murphy, Oklahoma’s appeal of a lower federal court decision that overturned the conviction and death sentence of Patrick Murphy, a citizen of the Creek Nation, for a murder the federal court ruled was committed in Indian Country, on lands within the boundaries of the Creek Nation reservation established by treaty in 1866. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled in August 2017 that because the homicide with which Murphy was charged “was committed in Indian country, the Oklahoma state courts lacked jurisdiction to try him.” Under the federal Major Crimes Act, the court said, Murphy could be prosecuted by federal authorities, but not by the state. Because of tribal opposition to the death penalty, Murphy would not face capital prosecution under the act. Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief James Floyd hailed the Circuit court’s decision as “affirm[ing] the right of the Nation and all other Indian Nations to make and enforce their own laws within their own boundaries.”

In 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that only Congress had authority to disestablish or diminish an Indian reservation. Congress has never explicitly disestablished the Creek reservation. However, Oklahoma appealed the court’s ruling, arguing that the admission of Oklahoma into the Union in 1907 superseded the treaty and disestablished the reservation. Arguing for Murphy, Ian Gershengorn told the Court that the tribe has never ceded authority over the lands and “for the last 40 years, … when the Creek Nation adopted a constitution in 1979, they asserted political jurisdiction to the extent of their 1900 boundaries.” The Court’s decision in the case could affect criminal prosecutions in an 11-county region of eastern Oklahoma.

In New Mexico, federal prosecutors on November 19 withdrew their notice of intent to seek the death penalty against Kirby Cleveland in the killing of a tribal police officer. In January 2018, U.S. attorneys announced they would capitally prosecute Cleveland, prompting opposition from the Navajo Nation, which holds the official position that “capital punishment is not an acceptable form of punishment.” Navajo Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch stated in a letter, “The death penalty is counter to the cultural beliefs and traditions of the Navajo People who value life and place a great emphasis on the restoration of harmony through restoration and individual attention.” The U.S. Attorney’s Office had argued that because the murder involved the death of a police officer, the tribe’s position was not binding on the federal government. The case was further complicated by the fact that the state of New Mexico abolished the death penalty in 2009, so a death-penalty prosecution was counter to the policy of the state in which the crime took place.

(Curtis Killman, Life, tribal sovereignty at forefront of Oklahoma case before U.S. Supreme Court, Tulsa World, November 27, 2018; Justin Wingerter, U.S. Supreme Court justices skeptical of state’s claims in Creek reservation case but concerned about outcomes, The Oklahoman, November 27, 2018; Ronald Mann, Argument preview: Justices to turn again to rules for disestablishing tribal reservations, SCOTUS Blog, November 20, 2018; Andrew Oxford, Navajo man no longer faces death penalty in officer’s slaying, Santa Fe New Mexican, November 19, 2018.) See Native Americans, U.S. Supreme Court, and Federal Death Penalty.

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AMERICA/UNITED STATES – It is not a crime to seek asylum: the caravan of migrants arrives at the border

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Austin – “It is not a crime to seek asylum: we urge the Administration to look for other solutions that reinforce the integrity of the immigration system existing in the United States”. This is what Mgr. Joe Vásquez, Bishop of Austin, Texas, President of the Commission for Migrations in the United States Episcopal Conference, Sr. Donna Markham, OP, President of the “Catholic Charities USA” , Jeanne Atkinson, Executive Director of the “Catholic Legal Immigration Network” and Sean Callahan, President of “Catholic Relief Services” say in a joint statement sent to Agenzia Fides.
On November 9, President Trump issued a provision prohibiting people arriving at the southern border with Mexico from receiving asylum in the United States. This represents a direct contradiction with the existing asylum law, underlines the text sent to Fides.
In the statement shared by Catholic bodies we read: “While we recognize the right of every nation to regulate its borders, we find this action deeply disturbing. It will limit and delay access regarding the protection for hundreds of children and families fleeing the violence in Central America, which could leave them in conditions of insecurity in Mexico or in situations of indefinite detention on the border between the United States and Mexico. We reiterate that it is not a crime to seek asylum and that this right to seek refuge is codified in our laws and values. We urge the Administration to look for other solutions that reinforce the integrity of the existing immigration system, while ensuring access to the protection for vulnerable children and families. The Catholic Church will continue to serve, accompany and assist all those fleeing persecution, regardless of where they seek that protection and where they come from”.
In the meantime 400 Hondurans arrived at the border and others will arrive, perhaps more than 3 thousand. The tension is registered on both sides of the border because the group of migrants wants to enter US territory with legal permission. The applicants must therefore wait to be received by the migration office, present at the same border, with undeclared times and, in the meantime, the place where to stop for the wait cannot manage the flow of the people that have arrived. “Tijuana is not ready to receive a caravan of that size”, said the mayor of the border town to the press, saying that the city is now saturated and today, Friday 16 November, another 2 thousand migrants are expected to arrive, with social difficulties and need for assistance.

Split Jury Spares Iraq-War Vet in High Profile Virginia Capital Case

A Virginia jury has spared the life of Iraqi war veteran Ronald Hamilton (pictured, right, with his father) in the 2016 killings of his wife and a rookie police officer. The jury split 6-6 on whether to impose the death penalty for Hamilton’s murder of his wife, Crystal Hamilton, but unanimously agreed to impose a life sentence for the death of Officer Ashley Guindon, who was killed while she responded to Crystal Hamilton’s 911 call. Under Virginia law, the court must impose a life sentence if any of the jurors vote for life. At the sentencing phase of the trial, Hamilton’s lawyers presented evidence of his possible posttraumatic stress disorder from two tours of duty in Iraq, emphasized his development into a model soldier who, as an Army sergeant, saved a colleague’s life while they were under mortar fire, and presented testimony from his father, Ronald W. Hamilton, and other family members. During his testimony, the elder Ronald Hamilton—a retired police officer whose career included service at the White House and who served as the second-in-command of the Charleston, South Carolina police force—expressed his sympathy to the family of Officer Guindon and to the two other officers who were wounded. “I see the prosecutor’s side and defense side, and I can sit on either side. I feel the pain. I understand the duty,” Hamilton testified. “If anyone in this courtroom had their relative sitting where my son was, they’d be asking for mercy,” he said. As is often the case in capital trials of war veterans, the prosecution had attempted to convert Hamilton’s military service into an aggravating factor, repeatedly referring to him as “depraved” and “dangerous.” Prosecutor Richard Conway told the jury that soldiers “deserve respect and deserve protection, but they don’t get a pass for capital murder,” while his co-counsel, Matthew Lowery urged the jury to “[p]ut him in the grave because that’s what he deserves.”

No Virginia jury has imposed a death sentence since 2011 and Hamilton had offered to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life without parole. However, Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Ebert – known for his frequent use of the death penalty – rejected the offer. The county is responsible for more executions since 1976 than any other county in the Commonwealth and is among the 2% of counties that account for a majority of all executions in the United States in that period.

(Ian Shapira, Va. jury deadlocks on death sentence for man who killed wife and police officer, The Washington Post, October 25, 2018; Emily Sides, Jury deadlocked on death penalty, Hamilton sentenced to life in double murder, InsideNoVA, October 25, 2018; Matthew Barakat, Jury spares life of soldier convicted of killing wife, rookie police officer, Associated Press, October 25, 2018; Matthew Barakat, Life-or-death decision faces jury in cop killer case, Associated Press, October 23, 2018; Ian Shapira, For Va. man who killed his wife and a police officer, a push for death and plea for mercy, The Washington Post, October 1, 2018; Ian Shapira, Retired police commander tries to save his son — a cop killer — from execution, The Washington Post, October 17, 2018.) See Sentencing.

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Study: Racial Disparities in Death Penalty Begin with Investigations and Arrests

A study of more than three decades of homicide arrests suggests that racial disparities in arrests and policing practices introduce an additional layer of bias in the application of the death penalty in the United States. While earlier research has documented that the race of victims affects prosecutors’ decisions to seek the death penalty, and juries’ and judges’ decisions to impose death sentences, a new study by Professors Jeffrey Fagan of Columbia University (pictured, left) and Amanda Geller of New York University (pictured, right) has found that those disparities appear even earlier in the process, at the arrest stage. “[H]omicides with white victims are significantly more likely to be ‘cleared’ by the arrest of a suspect than are homicides with minority victims,” the authors write. Since death-penalty prosecutions must begin with an arrest in a capital-eligible murder, these clearance rates create a disproportionately larger pipeline of white-victim cases. Fagan and Geller examined every homicide recorded in the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports from 1976 to 2009, uncovering county-level patterns in the “clearance rate” (the rate at which cases are closed by the arrest of a suspect). Counties with higher proportions of minority residents had lower clearance rates than counties with whiter populations, but the authors say that county characteristics alone do not completely account for the disparities. Rather, they say that broader policing practices also play a role. “Inequalities in policing, such as the underpolicing of the most serious crimes in the most disadvantaged communities, coupled with overpolicing of the least serious offenses in those same places, seem to extend to the initial stages of the production of death sentences and executions,” they write. They attribute the lower clearance rates of black-victim cases in part to distrust of police in communities of color, resulting in less willingness to cooperate in investigations. “Perceived injustices can disincentivize citizens from cooperating with the police,” they explain, “including both ‘petty indignities’ and egregious acts of police violence.” Thus, discriminatory policing practices contribute to disparate clearance rates, which in turn contribute to the discriminatory application of capital punishment.

(Jeffrey Fagan and Amanda Geller, Police, Race, and the Production of Capital Homicides, Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 14-593, July 12, 2018.) See Race and Studies.

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As Capital Retrial Begins, Former Judge Says Defendant Should Not Be Convicted

As Seminole County prosecutors seek the death penalty against Clemente Javier Aguirre-Jarquin a second time despite substantial evidence implicating another suspect, the Florida judge who initially sentenced Aguirre-Jarquin to death now says he should not be convicted. Retired Judge O.H. Eaton (pictured), who presided over Aguirre-Jarquin’s double-murder trial in 2006, said he now believes that the case is a “poster child” for the flaws in the death penalty system. “The evidence I heard during the trial [in 2006] substantiated the verdict,” Eaton told the Orlando Sentinel. “The evidence I’ve heard now does not. … If I knew then what I know now, I probably would have ordered the jury’s verdict overturned.” 

Aguirre-Jarquin, an undocumented Honduran immigrant, was convicted of murdering his next-door neighbors, Cheryl Williams and her mother Carol Bareis, who were stabbed more than 130 times. Eaton imposed death sentences for both murders, based on non-unanimous 7-5 and 9-3 jury recommendations for death. Aguirre-Jarquin’s post-conviction lawyers later discovered that the mentally ill daughter and granddaughter of the victims, Samantha Williams—who had provided eyewitness testimony against Aguirre-Jarquin—had confessed to at least five different people that she had killed her relatives. She told one person: “I’m crazy, I’m evil and I killed my grandmother and my mother.” DNA results from blood evidence at the crime scene also implicated Williams. The Innocence Project, which assisted in Aguirre-Jarquin’s post-conviction representation, found that “[n]one of the DNA found on the 84 items that were tested matched Aguirre,” but was a match to Williams and the two victims. Eight bloodstains from Williams were found in four different rooms, each, the Innocence Project said, ”inches away from the victims’ blood.” Based on this evidence, the Florida Supreme Court in 2016 unanimously overturned Aguirre-Jarquin’s conviction. Seminole County prosecutors nonetheless decided to retry Aguirre-Jarquin, simultaneously arguing that Williams’s mental health problems make her confessions unreliable, but relying upon her testimony against Aguirre-Jarquin in his 2006 trial. They also argue that Aguirre-Jarquin—who says he went to his neighbors’ home to get beer, found their bodies, and tried to revive them—attempted to hide clothing with the victims’ blood on it, and did not call police after discovering his neighbors had been killed. Aguirre-Jarquin said he did not call the police because he feared deportation because of his undocumented status.

Florida has more death-row exonerations than any other state, with 27. Ninety percent of those exonerations came in cases in which one or more jurors had recommended a life sentence.  

(Scott Maxwell, Commentary: Florida judge regrets sentencing man to die, says system is flawed, Orlando Sentinel, October 16, 2018; Michael Williams, Someone else’s confession got Clemente Aguirre-Jarquin off death row. Now, he faces trial for his life — again, Orlando Sentinel, October 12, 2018.) See Innocence.

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