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May 20, 2014

Dialogue, development and HIV in Zimbabwe

By Michelle Moore, HIV and Gender Team
 
To mark World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development (21 May), we look at the work of activists in Zimbabwe, who are speaking out on the rights of people living with and affected by HIV. 
 
Under-provision of anti-retroviral therapy (ART), coupled with high levels of stigma and discrimination remain a significant barrier to people accessing vital treatment for HIV in Zimbabwe, especially in rural areas.  
 
Trócaire and our partners Batanai HIV and AIDS Service Organisation (BHASO), Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) and the Zimbabwe Network of PLHIV (ZNNP+) are working with activists to organise district and provincial advocacy teams to negotiate improved access to treatment care and give support on the many other issues that affect their lives with HIV. 
 
One advocacy team who meet regularly at Magombedzi clinic in Masvingo province have experienced discrimination. Some of the members used to provide entertainment at weddings, but because of their HIV status were hired less and less. 
 
This has not stopped them though. Florence Ganye leads the advocacy team who continue to compose songs that help audiences and communities to realise the issues they are facing. 
 
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Magombedzi advocacy team, March 2014. Photo: Michelle Moore
 
“Our messages are of great importance so that issues can be deep-rooted at grassroots level. We hope that come 2015 maybe no children will be born with HIV because the information will be shared. The future is very bright because we are there in the communities acting as role models and there are more people going to the health centres because of this situation,” says Florence. 
 
In another part of Masvingo province, Nobert Madzinire and Janet Zinyongo work as Community HIV and AIDS Support Agents (CHASAs) at Chinkiya Rural Health Centre. They assist people living with HIV at the clinic and visit communities to share their knowledge about treatment. 
 
“The work... gives us the opportunity to go deeper at support group level and gives us the advantage of meeting more people and also for us to become known as support agents” says Nobert.  
 
These ordinary people are providing the voice and dialogue of reason and advocacy in community health care and development issues, working for the betterment of their welfare and the health concerns of the district in which they live.
 

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May 16, 2014

Celebrating life in Guatemala one year on from the historic genocide trial

By Sally O'Neill, Head of Region, Latin America
 
“We truly believe that in order for peace to exist in Guatemala, justice must come first.” With these words on the 10 May 2013 Judge Yasmin Barrios closed the historic case against former president Jose Efrain Ríos Montt who was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity committed against the Ixil indigenous people. 
 
It was the first time the Guatemalan state had recognised that genocide was committed in Guatemala.
 
Trócaire has been supporting and accompanying indigenous communities and human rights defenders since the darkest days of the conflict in the early 1980s, when a ‘scorched earth’ strategy was implemented by the army in hundreds of Ixil communities. 
 
An estimated 200,000 were murdered or disappeared during the conflict, 83% of whom were indigenous people. 
 
The genocide of the Ixil community was the most extreme expression of an ideology of racism that had festered at the core of the state; they were deemed an ‘internal enemy’ that must be ‘annihilated.’  
 
Our partners, the Centre for Legal Action on Human Rights (CALDH) and the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR), have worked tirelessly over the last 14 years to protect the rights of those affected by the conflict and to seek justice for victims and survivors. 
 
They continue to denounce crimes of the past and present and have brought a number of cases against former army personnel and agents of the state for crimes committed during the conflict, most significantly the case against Ríos Montt. 
 
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Top: Attendees at the trial of Ríos Montt. Bottom: Ríos Montt testifies in court. Photos: Elena Hermosa.
 
Survivors of the genocide, witnesses from the trial, human rights defenders, members of the international community, civil society organisations, students, academics and ordinary citizens gathered together to celebrate the first anniversary of the trial. 
 
On Friday afternoon a number of European solidarity networks presented AJR with a plaque in recognition of their courageous contribution to the struggle for justice in Guatemala. 
 
These groups included the International NGO Forum in Guatemala (FONGI), the international alliance of Catholic development agencies (CIDSE), the Copenhagen Initiative for Central America and Mexico (CIFCA), the Association of World Council of Churches related Development Organisations in Europe (APRODEV), ACT Alliance and the International Platform Against Impunity.
 
Hundreds of people gathered in the main square of Guatemala’s capital for the ‘Festival of Life’ to celebrate this historical victory for victims and survivors of the conflict. Young musicians and performers entertained the crowds and were accompanied by live broadcasts of key excerpts from Yasmin Barrios’ judgment. 
 
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Delegation from AJR accepts plaque for contribution to peace and justice. Photo: Aisling Walsh.
 
These acts of local and international solidarity are particularly important given recent attempts by powerful sectors of Guatemalan society to block, and even reverse recent progress towards justice and reconciliation. 
 
Only 10 days after the original judgment was handed down the Constitutional Court overturned the guilty verdict on the pretext of procedural irregularities during the trial, and set a date for retrial for January 2015. 
 
Since then there have been further moves to disrupt the course of justice: in January 2014 the Court of Appeal decided to revert to the original case presented in November 2011, at which time Ríos Montt had not been formally accused. 
 
Our partners, CALDH and ARJ are extremely concerned that this decision would effectively annul the trial held in 2013 and could lead to Ríos Montt being exempt from a retrial in the genocide case. 
 
In February 2014 the Guatemalan Constitutional Court took the unanimous decision to dismiss the current Attorney General and Chief State Prosecutor six months before the completion of her full term in office. She presided over the Ríos Montt trial and has been active in pursuing cases of femicide, violence against women and corruption. 
 
Furthermore, in April 2014 only one month following her receipt of Michelle Obama's Women of Courage Award, Judge Yasmin Barrios was suspended from practice for one year by the College of Lawyers in Guatemala. Fortunately, Judge Barrios successfully challenged her suspension and has resumed her duties.  
 
Despite these attempts to reverse the progress towards justice in Guatemala, the words of Yasmin Barrios from 10 May last year will not be easily forgotten and the search for peace and justice will not be abandoned:
 
“We firmly believe that acknowledging the truth helps to heal the wounds of the past and [that] the pursuit of justice is a right of the victims, which also contributes to the strengthening of the rule of law in our country. [We] must raise aware¬ness [so] that these kinds of events are never repeated, because the people of Guatemala want to live in peace, acknowledging our identity, our rich multicultural, multilingual [heritage] and the respect for the freedom of expression of our ideas.” 
 

May 08, 2014

Six Months After Typhoon Haiyan

Six months after the devastion of  Typhoon Haiyan, we look at the emergency and reconstruction work that has been undertaken by Trócaire partners on the ground. Your support has reached over 300,000 survivors of Typhoon Haiyan over the past 6 months.

Building new Homes

Caption:  Top: A child in his new home on Leyte Island constructed by Trócaire partner CRS . "Salamat Po" means "thank you very much."  Bottom: Construction on a CRS-designed home.

New Home

Caption: Leslie Montanejos and her husband's home on Leyte Island was destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan. The family have just moved into their new  shelter, built by Trócaire partner, CRS. She's pictured here with her children Sofia Anne Marie, 4, and Anthony Jr., 2. Her third child is due in 3 weeks, and she's relieved to have a safe and clean home for her new baby.

Food packs

Caption: Trócaire partner, Sisters of Mercy, prepared and distributed emergency food packs of dried food and rice in the aftermath of the Typhoon.

Emergency shelter after Typhoon Haiyan

Caption:  Emergency tent shelters and sleeping mats were distributed by Trócaire partner, Sisters of Mercy,  in the aftermath of the Typhoon.

May 07, 2014

Who could order attacks on sick patients?

Last week a Trócaire-supported hospital in the Nuba Mountains region of Sudan came under attack. The hospital, which provides life-saving care to 150,000 people, came under sustained aerial attack, with damage caused to the building and injuries sustained by staff and patients. Trócaire's Filip Degrieck recently visited the Mother of Mercy hospital.

by Filip Degrieck, Trócaire

Last Thursday I learnt that the hospital Trócaire supports in the Nuba Mountains had been bombed. Having recently visited the hospital, it all felt very real, or actually very unreal. The first thing that came to mind was the little boy in the wheelchair who had just lost his right leg and right arm. I spent some time with him in the mornings and the evenings when I was in Nuba. I kept asking myself how he would have been able to scramble to safety when the bombs started falling. What about all the other kids and young babies and their mothers?

People in the Nuba Mountains have to hide in foxholes when the aerial attacks start. How is a mother with a new born supposed to dive into one of those fox holes? I tried jumping in one of those pits and it nearly felt like breaking a leg. Who could order or execute such a vicious attack on sick patients, young kids and their mothers and fathers?

Before traveling to the Nuba Mountains in February, I did not know much about the tragedy of the Nuba people. When I browsed the web for some info on the hospital in Gidel, I found a gripping documentary Terror in Sudan by Aidan Hartley. What caught me immediately were the words of Sister Angelina, the hospital matron, when she said: “where is the international community? Where is the UN to say stop?” When I arrived, I understood what she meant. In Nuba, there is no international presence.

Where was the UN? Where were the international agencies? Bombs are being dropped on innocent people. Yet, the people of the Nuba Mountains suffer in silence.

The Mother of Mercy hospital, which Trócaire funds, is the only medical facility. It serves the needs of approximately 150,000 people in the region. Without support from Trócaire and other Caritas agencies, these people would have no medical care. I remember one morning during breakfast in Gidel asking Tom, the surgeon who is running the hospital, why the Sudanese Government had never targeted the hospital before. He believed that this was probably because of the international exposure such a cowardly attack would most likely give to this forgotten conflict. How wrong were we all in thinking that.

We must demand that this most terrible of humanitarian crimes gets the reaction it deserves and brings attention to the suffering of the people in the Nuba Mountains.

Please watch this video from Nubareports and see the impact of the bombing on hospital patients, staff, and local residents.

April 22, 2014

By the People, For the People

Supporting South Sudanese in peace-building and reconciliation

by Faith Kasina

“My house is just behind this compound but I’m too afraid to go back. I’ll only leave when it’s safe.”

This is 25 year old Salome Amira’s reality, forced to leave behind a stable life and thriving business for an IDP camp outside South Sudan’s capital, Juba. 

A million more South Sudanese like her now live in similar camps within the country and beyond, resulting from political feuds which quickly begot tribal violence and war, mid last December.

However, Salome remembers a different South Sudan not too long ago.

“We all lived peacefully, coming from different tribes and parts of South Sudan and supporting different leaders,” Salome reminisces. “It seems we have forgotten that. Now, my own neighbours can’t accept my family and me because of the language we speak.”

Captions: Top: Head of International Division Caoimhe de Barra talks with Salome Amira, internally displaced with her family in Juba, South Sudan. Salome was forced to leave her home and a thriving perfume business in the city after fighting broke out in mid December 2013. Salome is among the one million South Sudanese people currently displaced due to the conflict that started off as a political feud and quickly turned tribal. Bottom: A section of the UN House Juba 3 IDP camp that Salome currently lives in, with her husband and their one year old son.  The IDP camp is home to over 12,000 families, seeking refuge from conflict-stricken areas, mainly north of the country.  Approximately 803,000 South Sudanese live in 174 displacement sites across the country.  Photos: Faith Kasina.

For many South Sudanese, gaining independence from Sudan in 2011 was a symbol of renewed hope of a fresh start after years of conflict and war.

The present crisis has, conversely, opened up old wounds.

 “Sadness, distress and pain is the exact feeling of every South Sudanese today,” reiterates Isaac Kenyi from the Justice and Peace Commission that Trócaire supports in the country’s peace and reconciliation process. “We never expected brothers- who have stood together all this time and through the many struggles- to turn the gun against each other. It has taken us back to where we were many years ago.”

The Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) is the technical wing of the South Sudanese Catholic Church, representing the church in the country’s ongoing peace talks in Ethiopia. 

With a core advisory mandate to the talks, the JPC ensures that the position of the church-as that of the voice of South Sudanese- advocates for an end to the crisis through inclusive discussion and reconciliation is adapted in the process.

Through local parishes, theatre performances and radio programmes, the JPC communicates with local communities on the progress of the peace talks, whilst advocating for peaceful co-existence at local level.

“Our core mandate is to be the voice of that man, woman and child, displaced from their home because of the fighting, because conflict has affected all of us,”says Jim Long John, also with the JPC delegation to the talks. “But we all have an obligation to bring peace; it’s not enough to have only the warring parties searching for a solution. All South Sudanese have to be involved in their own way.”

Trōcaire partners with the commission with a view to linking local communities to the ongoing peace talks, thereby fostering a sense of ownership and participation in the process.

“It is important to remember that the peace agreement will be for all South Sudanese people regardless of their tribe, tongue or geographical location. Community dialogue within the peace talks will provide a good roadmap from which the long journey of peace building and national reconciliation will begin,” reiterates Edward Santiago, Trōcaire’s Country Representative in South Sudan.

It may seem like a long walk to freedom but Salome remains hopeful.

“It will take a long time for things to go back to normal but I’m sure the peace we are all praying for will be found.”

Trōcaire works with community-based and national partners to implement governance, peace building and reconciliation and livelihood programmes in South Sudan.

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