Trócaire Blogs

 

March 11, 2016

Call on the new Irish Government to take #ClimateActionNow

Demand #ClimateActionNow! Sign up to the thunderclap today:

https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/38869-climateactionnow?locale=en

Climate Action Now

A new Dáil has just been elected and a new Irish Government is being formed. 

There is no time to lose: we need to call on them to take urgent action on climate change!

Join our social media campaign doing just that.

Targeting newly elected politicians, we’re asking students in post-primary schools, teachers and other Trócaire supporters and campaigners to get involved in our #ClimateActionNow action on Thunderclap.

Thunderclap is a social media platform that helps people be heard by saying something together. 

It allows a single message to be mass-shared, flashmob-style, so it rises above the noise of your social networks. 

Check it out: www.thunderclap.it

Thunderclap will share the #ClimateActionNow message with social media networks on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr for everyone who signs up. 

We are louder together so let’s make some noise!

The message that will go out across Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr is: 

“Now is the time for the Irish Government to move towards a low carbon economy and renewable energy #ClimateActionNow”

The link to our Thunderclap is now live and you can sign up here:

https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/38869-climateactionnow?locale=en

To allow people time to share this link and to get as many people as possible to sign up, the Thunderclap will go out on social media on Wednesday the 20th of April.

Once the #ClimateActionNow message goes out, Trócaire will directly tweet newly elected politicians to let them know what 100s of young people and Trócaire supporters across Ireland are saying!

Our aim is to get #ClimateActionNow to trend across social media and to make action for climate justice a priority for Government. 

This is a unique opportunity to be part of a campaign for climate justice with Trócaire and to be heard by those in decision-making positions by coming together with a loud clear voice for change! 

March 07, 2016

Historic victory for women’s rights and justice in Guatemala

By Aisling Walsh , Trócaire Guatemala

Last week history was made in Guatemala as former Lieutenant Esteelmer Reyes Girón and military commissioner Heriberto Valdez Asij, were found guilty of crimes against humanity committed during Guatemala's 36 year internal armed conflict.  

The crimes include sexual violence and sexual slavery committed against 15 Maya Q'eqchi women from the communities surrounding Sepur Zarco for periods of six months to six years. 

Other crimes included the forced disappearances and murders of the women's husbands and the murder of Dominga Choc and her two little girls. 

The plaintiffs at the trial

The plaintiffs at the trial. Photo: Mujeres Transformando el Mundo

The three judge court, presided over by Jazmín Barrios, Patricia Bustamante and Gervin Sical, sentenced Reyes and Asij to 120 and 240 years in prison respectively.

In its judgment the court stated:

“The court is in no doubt that the women of Sepur Zarco were raped. In the Q’eqchi culture women are the bearers of life.  They were raped in order to destroy life, they were denied their humanity. They were raped as a means of sowing terror into their communities and destroy their production. They were raped so as to morally and physically destroy their community because women’s bodies represent the social body… Rape was used as a weapon of war to dominate and terrorize the community. The violence they experienced transcended the minds and bodies of the women and caused a complete rupture of the social fabric.”  -  Guatemalan Supreme Court of Justice, 26 February 2016

The accused and their lawyers at the Supreme Court of Justice

The accused and their lawyers at the Supreme Court of Justice. Photo: Mujeres Transformando el Mundo​

This victory follows six years of struggle by the 15 women at the centre of this case to achieve justice for the murder and disappearances of their husbands and for the sexual violence and domestic enslavement they suffered at the hands of the Guatemalan military. 

They have been accompanied throughout this process by Trócaire partners Women Transforming the World (MTM), The Centre for Community Studies and Participation (ECAP) and National Union of Guatemalan Women (UNAMG), who provided psychological, social and legal support, carried out forensic investigations, gathered witness testimonies and expert reports and mounted the legal case against the former military officials.   

Heriberto Asij makes final plea to the court.

Heriberto Asij makes final plea to the court. Photo: Mujeres Transformando el Mundo

The crimes addressed during the trial occurred between 1982 and 1983, one of the most violent and repressive periods of Guatemala’s internal armed conflict. 

In early 1982 the husbands of all 15 women at the centre of this case were in the process of obtaining legal title over their lands through the National Institute for Agricultural Transformation. 

They were identified by local authorities and land owners and branded ‘agitators’. 

When the military soon came looking for them they were accused of aiding the guerrilla forces. 

Their wives were beaten and raped, some by up to five soldiers, and the men were beaten and taken to the military bases at Sepur Zarco and Tinajas for interrogation. 

These military bases had been recently established at the request of local land owners, for the specific purpose of halting the growing number of indigenous and campesino farmers who had begun to make legal claims for their land rights. 

The women never saw their husbands alive again, seven were murdered and eight more remain disappeared. 

The 15 women were removed from their communities and brought to the Sepur Zarco army barracks where they were told that as widows they now ‘belonged to the soldiers.’ 

Eleven of the women were held there against their will for six months to cook and clean for the 400 or so soldiers that were housed at the barracks. 

They were raped by multiple soldiers on a daily basis. 

After the initial six months they joined the other women in makeshift dwellings made of nylon sheets and pieces of corrugated iron. 

Over six years they were obliged to ‘take turns’ in cooking for the soldiers and washing their clothes. They were never paid for these services and had to use what little resources they had to buy corn and soap in order to perform these duties. 

As a result they and their children often went hungry. 

They were subjected to continued sexual abuse when they brought food to the barracks and when they washed the soldiers’ clothes at the river. 

The women recounted how many of them had been pregnant at the time the aggressions first started and had suffered miscarriages. 

They also were routinely administered contraceptive injections so as to prevent further pregnancies. 

In the 30 years since the crimes were committed the women have had to bear their suffering in a profound silence, unable to share what they had lived through even with their closest friends or families. 

They have suffered years of physical and mental ill-health including chronic pain, gynaecological disorders, anxiety and depression. 

They have lived in extreme poverty and deprivation and for many years were unable to access the necessary health care and emotional and psychological support they needed. The hardest part, they told the court, was living with the shame and fear. 

They were outcasts from their communities who labelled them as the ‘bad women’.  

When they finally began to speak to each other about the crimes committed against them and to tell their stories to the psychologists and lawyers of MTM, ECAP and UNAMG, they realised that justice was not only necessary but possible. 

In 2010 they decided to break their silence and initiate legal proceedings against the two military officials who were in command of the military base of Sepur Zarco when the crimes occurred. 

Throughout the reading of the sentence on Friday, 26 February, Judge Barrios made reference to the fact that the women were targeted because of their husbands’ attempts to obtain legal titles for their land. 

That they had no involvement with Guatemala’s left wing guerrilla forces and had never heard the word ‘guerrilla’ before until the soldiers showed up. 

They were, in effect, punished for their husbands’ attempts to exert their land rights. 

The disappearances of their husbands and the violence they experienced were used to deter other indigenous famers and campesinos from pursuing land claims. 

“The army took advantage of their vulnerability as women, the fact that they were widows...  We find the treatment these women were subjected to completely denigrating; they were treated worse than animals.”

The court emphasized that crimes like this must never be repeated in Guatemala and ended by saying “Knowing the truth can help to heal the wounds of the past.” 

As Judge Barrios made the final declaration of a guilty verdict the usually somber Guatemala Supreme Court of Justice erupted with applause and cheering.

The women who gave testimony at the trial waved their hands in the air in jubilation and gratitude to the court and the hundreds of people gathered in solidarity. 

Indigenous women attending one of the audiences in solidarity with the women of Sepur Zarco

Indigenous women attend in solidarity with the women of Sepur Zarco. Photo: Mujeres Transformando el Mundo

The same court ordered on Wednesday, 2 March, that the accused pay damages to each of the women who lost their husbands and to those who experienced sexual violence, the sentence must be taught in schools and must be translated into the 24 officially recognised indigenous languages in Guatemala. 

The State must ensure the women finally obtain titles to their land and that the armed forces receive training in human rights. 

The Sepur Zarco case marks the first time in history that sexual crimes related to armed conflict have been tried in a national court. 

It sets a strong precedent for the other 1500 Guatemalan women who are survivors of sexual violence committed during the armed conflict that they too might see justice done. 

Trócaire staff accompanied the 15 women throughout the three weeks of the trial and will continue to support them over the next months and years to ensure that the sentence is carried out and that they receive their due reparations. 

Learn more about Trócaire’s work in Guatemala.

March 01, 2016

Making a lasting difference in Uganda

by Colm Hogan, Trócaire Church Officer

I remember seeing Daniel’s face on the front of Trócaire's Lenten Box in 2012 and wondering about what life must be like in his village in northern Uganda - imagine my amazement just a few weeks ago when I found myself standing with Daniel in that very village!

Daniel's life in 2016

It was a great privilege to meet the young boy whose face already seemed so familiar to me. Since his story featured on the Lenten box four years ago, Daniel has continued his schooling and now attends a primary boarding school in nearby Lira.

He still wants to be a doctor, just as he said in the video from four years ago.

We sat with Daniel and his family, and heard his mother Betty say how proud she is of her son. Emmanuel, who is Daniel’s older brother, is also studying and wants to become a nurse.

He entertained us with a song, played with a musical instrument similar to a ukulele, which spoke of Trócaire’s help to his family. It was a very touching moment.

In nearby Barlonyo, we visited the site where approximately 400 people were massacred by the Lord’s Resistance Army in 2004.

It was very emotional and heart-rending to be standing in an area where such murder and torture had taken place just 12 years previously, and a reminder of the horrors experienced by people like Daniel and his family in the past.

Impressions on visiting Uganda

Meeting Daniel’s family was just one part of a week-long trip to Uganda to show Trócaire’s work to eleven priests from the Archdiocese of Dublin who have greatly supported our fundraising efforts over the years.

It was my first adventure into the African continent. My first impressions of Uganda, as we descended into Entebbe, was of green fields and dirt roads.

I was struck by the thousands of people on the sides of the road trying to make a living, mannequins mostly with women's dresses on display on grass side banks, the crazy traffic which included motorbikes and minivan taxis, and lots of women carrying baskets on their heads.

The red soil of the road, leading into many shanty-style villages, was a stark contrast to landing in Dublin Airport and driving into the city centre.

We met some incredible people on our short visit to the country. In Mbikko we met 60 community activists who are undergoing community based health programmes and volunteering in their own village communities.

I was really touched by the story of another Daniel, a married man with nine children. He stated that the training he received on the programme changed his behaviour towards the care he gave his wife and children and his life is much better now.

At a women’s group we heard the personal stories of the women and their challenges with domestic violence and their efforts now to address the imbalance of power within their own community.

Interestingly, their group included four men, which emphasises the work of the community activists to change attitudes and behaviours.

These projects, and the many others we visited during our stay in Uganda, left a huge impression on everybody in our group.

The sense of humanity from everybody we met as they recalled the challenges they have faced was insightful, inspiring and life-changing. 

Find out more about this year's Lent campaign or Donate now

Daniel in 2012 and in 2016

February 26, 2016

The generation after genocide: Graduating in Rwanda


You first met Josienne Mumarasharu 12 years ago. She was 12 years old and living in a village in southern Rwanda.


During Lent in 2004, Josienne appeared in homes and schools all over Ireland when her photograph adorned the front of the Trócaire box.


Josienne’s father, sister and two of her brothers were killed during the genocide. Josienne’s mother and two other brothers survived but in 2004 they were struggling to make ends meet, living off a small piece of land and constantly facing the threat of hunger.

Josienne on 2004 Trocaire box

Caption: Josienne on the 2004 Trocaire box, the 10 year anniversary of the 1994 Genocide.

 

Now fast forward to the university graduate


Eleven years after appearing on the Trócaire box, Josienne graduated from university in Kigali, Rwanda, in 2015.

Last summer, Josienne sent Trócaire's Executive Director, Éamonn Meehan, this excited email, and attached her graduation photos below:

"I really appreciate what Trócaire has done for me. I finished my bachelor degree in business management, specialized in accounting. Now I'm a graduate!"

 

Josienne Graduation Photos 2015

Caption: (l) Josienne and her mother with her Certificate of Graduation, (r) Josienne's official Graduation Photograph.

 

Last time we met in Rwanda

We last met Josienne in Rwanda two years ago, and she described for us how the 2004 Trócaire Lent campaign changed her life forever.


“I still have a copy of the photograph and the Trócaire box in my home,” she said. “It makes me very happy to look at it and to think that people in Ireland saw my photo and thought about life in Rwanda.


“When I look at the photograph now I think of all the progress I have made. I was in primary school back then but Trócaire helped me to pursue my studies and I feel very proud that I am now in university.


 “It was amazing to think that people from a different country were interested in my family.”

 

Josienne in 2014

Caption: Josienne in 2014, looking back at herself on the Trócaire box ,10 years on.


The generosity of Trócaire supporters in 2004 helped to provide families such as Josienne’s with the farming equipment they needed to improve food production. Trócaire has been working in Rwanda since 1994, supporting families in the poorest region of the country.  


However, the support of people in Ireland did not end with the Lent campaign. Trócaire supporters in Ireland continued to help Josienne and her family long after that campaign had finished.  By paying her school fees and helping to buy books and other materials, Josienne was able to finish her schooling.


She had always dreamt of going to university but she knew that her family was not able to afford the fees and the cost of sending her to Kigali. Josienne did not think she would ever be able to continue her education but Trócaire offered to pay her university fees and she was proud to study for her degree in business management.


“I enjoyed school and I always wanted to go to university but I did not know how I would be able to,” she said. “My dream has come true. I hope to one day be able to travel to Ireland to say thank you to the people there who made this possible.”

Find out more about how you can join the fight for justice: Lent 2016.

 

Josienne timeline

 

 

February 18, 2016

Trócaire podcast service launched

What does the future hold for Gaza? Has Sierra Leone recovered from Ebola? And how can we make climate change an election issue in Ireland?

These are the questions we are asking on Outside The Box, Trócaire’s first podcast. 

Sean Farrell of Trócaire’s international division has recently returned from Gaza and the West Bank and he offers a fascinating insight into the complex problems faced in that region. 

He compares life the Palestinian territories with some of his other experiences in countries such as Zimbabwe and Romania, and speaks frankly about the ongoing land grab by illegal Israeli settlements. 

Sierra Leone Ebola

Sorcha Fennell, Trócaire’s Head of Region for West Africa, recently travelled to Sierra Leone to assess how the country is progressing after the Ebola epidemic. She reports that while a sense of normality is returning, it is a fragile normality that masks continued vulnerability. 

Finally, Emmet Sheerin of the Campaigns team speaks about his recent role as Joseph Bloggs, a satirical election candidate who thinks that Ireland needs to cash in on the climate crisis.

Outside The Box will be a regular podcast service from Trócaire, one which we hope will bring interesting insights from around the globe to our supporters. 

 

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