Just World. The Blog.
October 24, 2013
by Sally O'Neill, Head of Region, Latin America writing about President Michael D Higgins recent visit to El Salvador in the Irish Independent
Michael D Higgins's first visit to El Salvador didn't last long. He had barely set foot inside the country when the army put him on a plane and deported him to Nicaragua.
This was early 1982 and myself and the future President of Ireland were attempting to investigate reports of more than 1,000 people being massacred in the village of El Mozote.
The head of the army was determined not to let in the visiting Irish delegation but he eventually caved to diplomatic pressure and we were allowed access, albeit under heavy surveillance.
That trip was the start of Michael D Higgins's association with El Salvador. Today, few Irish people are aware of how significant a role he had in bringing to an end one of the bloodiest chapters in recent Latin American history. In El Salvador, however, he is remembered.
It began with a phone call on St Stephen's Day 1981. Mr Higgins had been a TD for only six months when he was told of reports of a massacre in El Salvador. Trócaire had been working for almost a decade with communities affected by the war and so a few weeks later we accompanied Galway's newest TD to Central America.
The year 1981 was the bloodiest year in El Salvador's civil war, which was to run from 1979 to 1992. An estimated 16,000 people were killed during those 12 months alone as government death squads roamed the country, killing activists, journalists and ordinary civilians.
The people of El Mozote were amongst those included in the gruesome death toll that year. We found a survivor of the massacre – a young woman who to this day is the only known survivor of what happened there on the night of December 11, 1981.
She told us that the army had separated the men from the women and children. They shot dead all the men and then gang-raped the women before also killing them. By the time it was the children's turn to die, the army had run out of bullets, so they beat them to death.
Mr Higgins made contact with journalists from 'The New York Times' and 'Washington Post'. They covered the story extensively, resulting in a huge international outcry. Here, finally, was proof that US-trained soldiers were massacring civilians at will.
The publicity cast the Galway East TD into the centre of an international diplomatic storm. Led by people such as Tipp O'Neill, the US Senate held hearings into allegations of American collusion.
Trócaire came under huge pressure to stop highlighting the massacres in El Salvador.
American officials were particularly critical, claiming that we were grossly exaggerating the number of people being killed.
The row between Trócaire and the US government culminated in Bishop Eamon Casey, then chairman of Trócaire, boycotting a state function to welcome US President Reagan to Ireland in 1984.
For a leading church figure to take such a stance was hugely brave, but Bishop Casey knew the truth about El Salvador – he had worked closely with Archbishop Oscar Romero and had come under gunfire attack himself while attending the funeral of the murdered archbishop in 1980.
Left: Bishop Eamon Casey being interviewed following a gun attack on funeral of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Right: Trócaire's Sally O'Neill with Digna, the face of the 2011 Lent campaign, in Honduras
Mr Higgins, too, continued to highlight the slaughter of the people of El Salvador. Ireland was one of just three countries – France and Mexico being the other two – to recognise the opposition FMLN, then considered purely a guerrilla army, as a legitimate political force. By recognising the FMLN, Ireland helped to allow its political wing to emerge and, eventually, to negotiate peace.
Thirty years later, Mr Higgins is still thought of with great affection in this small Latin American country.
Today, he will receive a state welcome by El Salvador's President Mauricio Funes before receiving an award at the University in San Salvador.
Far from the hostile welcome he received as a newly elected TD in 1982, he will arrive into El Salvador this week as President of Ireland and will be embraced as a dear friend.
October 21, 2013
by John Smith, Campaigns Coordinator
The challenges of environmental degradation, dwindling resources and climate change can often seem insurmountable – leaving us feeling helpless to make any impact upon them.
But if we lead by example in how we choose to act, live, treat others and our natural world – we can bring about real and sustainable change, and inspire others to do the same.
Please join the team at Trócaire in making small but crucial lifestyle changes that can have a positive impact on the environment we live in, as well as setting a strong example for our friends, families, and communities.
To this end, we’ve created a great new online resource, with useful information on how we can all live more sustainably.
On our new Up to Us page you’ll find tips on recycling, reducing food waste, cutting your travel carbon footprint, sustainable fashion, conserving energy and water and much more.
You can also help us to hold our governments and the EU to account on critical environmental issues.
Trócaire has been campaigning tirelessly to get the Irish government to deliver a strong Climate Bill, to ensure that the country plays its part in addressing global warming. These effects hit the poorest hardest, and this is why Trócaire is committed to seeing this issue through.
Also, the EU parliament has recently voted to put a cap on the use of farmland to grow biofuels, which have not proved to be the environmental solution many hoped for.
Trócaire has seen firsthand the devastating effects that the demand for biofuels is causing in developing countries, where farmland is being use to grow fuel instead of food. Small farmers are often forced off their land and food prices driven up due to the decrease in supply, causing hunger and increasing poverty.
By a vote of 356 to 327 the European Parliament approved a 6% cap on the original target of 10% on food-based biofuels for use in transport.
Resolving this issue still has a long way to go, but the cap is a signal that the Parliament recognises that the social and environmental concerns around biofuels cannot be ignored.
- Visit our Up to Us page to see what actions you can take to live more sustainably.
- Read our guest blog by actor Aidan Gillen on the devastating effect of the biofuels on communities in Guatemala
- Find out more about Trócaire's climate change work
Please join our campaign. It’s up to us to make a difference.
October 16, 2013
Peace in Colombia is far from perfect but after decades of war farmers in the Caquetá region are speaking up for their rights and demanding a better life.
We finally reach the house, gasping for breath and surveying the tops of the hills we have climbed.
Dalia and Rafael giggle at our expense as they split open a pineapple and pour the juice into cups for their visitors. Under the Colombian sun, high up in the hills that lead to Ecuador, nothing has ever tasted so sweet.
If Dalia and Rafael can negotiate the climb better than their Irish visitors, it is no surprise. To them, the hills, valleys and fields that surround their home are more than just a link to the local village: they are their source of life.
The fields sustain their animals and grow their crops, the rivers offer fish, and the rough pathway that snakes through it all provides them with a route to the closest market. They know every dip, every bump and every climb as though they were extensions of their own bodies.
And if Dalia and Rafael are much quicker at climbing these hills than their visitors, that is also no surprise because these days they have an extra spring in their steps.
Like much of Colombia, this area in the south of the country was left devastated by over 50 years of armed conflict between left-wing guerrilla, right-wing paramilitaries and the army. With various armed groups fighting for control of the land, people like Dalia and Rafael were caught in the middle.
“The area was controlled by [rebel group] FARC,” says Rafael. “They killed my brother because they got the wrong information. Somebody said he was informing and so they killed him.
“They would often come to our house and ask us for money or cows and we had to give them what they wanted. They used to arrive at anytime – midnight, three in the morning – and they would say ‘you have to take us to this place’ and I had no choice. I felt powerless and humiliated.”
Today, peace in Colombia is far from perfect, but it is a greatly improved situation.
Having been at the mercy of armed gangs for decades, ordinary people like Dalia and Rafael are becoming braver, speaking up about their rights and demanding a fairer and better future.
Farmers in southern Colombia are organising themselves, forming groups and establishing markets. Gone are the days of passive acceptance; these days the farmers of this region are asking questions, offering solutions and demanding answers.
They don’t have to live in fear any more. They don’t have to dread knocks on the door in the middle of the night, or the sound of men approaching from behind the trees.
Today, Dalia and Rafael make sure that politicians work for them, and not the other way around.
“People who run business and have economic power usually see farmers as people who don’t have any ability to run things so they want to keep control of us,” says Rafael. “The candidates [for local election] all said ‘why are you farmers presenting proposals?’ So we said, ‘so you think we’re only good to give you votes? Now you will know what we’re good for’. Now the current Mayor is from our group. Those politicians now give us respect. Now they have to call us for meetings. I feel very proud.”
Their journey has not been an easy one, but after years of living in the shadows Dalia and Rafael can finally step into the light.
High in the sun-soaked hills of southern Colombia, life suddenly tastes sweet.
This blog is published to mark Blog Action Day, a day when blogs around the world discuss issues relating to human rights.
For more information, visit http://blogactionday.org/
Or you can find other human rights blogs via Twitter today by following the hashtag #BAD13
Watch our short film telling Dalia and Rafael's story
October 11, 2013
by Tamiru Legesse, Communications Officer, Ethiopia
Tamiru Legesse from our Ethiopia office visited Ireland recently. Here, he shares his thoughts about meeting volunteers and campaigners that are making a difference to the lives of people in his country.
Let me start with the words of Gemo Muni, a pastoralist farmer who last month said to me: “My back is now relieved from carrying jerry cans for hours. My children are not thirsty anymore. My calves and goat kids are not dying anymore. Our animals drink clean water everyday unlike before when they had to wait five days to drink unclean water from the well.”
A few weeks before I met Gemo in Southern Ethiopia, I had the opportunity to meet Trócaire staff, volunteers and campaigners in Ireland.
It didn’t take me much time to realise the success that Gemo was telling me about was because of these dedicated people so far away in Ireland.
The amazing work of the volunteers I met is so inspiring. Their solidarity is so strong that I felt a huge sense of togetherness when I met them.
The work of the school children who are speaking up and raising money takes my thoughts back to Tume , (8), who is now able to go to school because she doesn’t have to walk a long distance to fetch water in the small village of Bullee Dheela in Southern Ethiopia where a clean water supply has been developed near her village.
I was impressed by the advocacy work on issues such as the impacts of climate change and the strong campaigns to address the root causes of poverty.
The Cork Trócaire Office, which collects donations, sells fair trade products, distributes educational resources, and works with the local Church to raise funds for development work in poor countries, inspires us all in the developing world to work hard and effectively put the resources we receive to the best use.
The people we work with can now proudly speak of how the solidarity with people in Ireland has been crucial for their improved lives.
Captions: Top Left: Gemo Muni, a pastoralist farmer in Ethiopia. Top Right: Tume, (8), Bulle Dheelaa village in Southern Ethiopia. Photos by Tamiru Legesse.
Bottom: Thomas, James, Adam and Setanta from Deerpark CBS, Cork with Trócaire's Janet Twomey.
September 27, 2013
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were established at a UN Summit in 2000. The goals which aimed to tackle global poverty and deprivation were to be achieved by 2015.
Several of the goals will now not be delivered.
This week we launched our new research report, 'My Rights Beyond 2015: Making the Post 2015 Framework Accountable to the World's Poor'. The report, based on research carried out in communities in six of the countries Trócaire works in, assesses what issues people living in poverty wanted the world to focus on. Income, food and shelter were the three main issues identified by participants. Remarkably, nearly half of the issues identified by participants are not addressed in the development goals.
From Trócaire’s perspective, the voices, views and experiences of people experiencing poverty need to be the starting point and the measure of success of any new framework.
We believe that whatever framework replaces the MDGs needs to adopt a human rights approach acknowledging existing legal obligations to fulfil the rights to food, health and education of all people. It needs to put equality, participation and accountability at the centre of implementation.
Earlier this year, we asked the following development experts what they think needs to happen...Beyond 2015.
Kevin Dowling, Bishop of Rustenberg
Frank La Rue, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
Professor Mohan Munashinghe, Vice Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Dr. Vincent O’Neill, Irish Aid.
Dr. Jan Vandermoortele, Co-architect of the Millennium Development Goals.
Here’s what they said: