Nicholas Winton, Savior of 669 Jewish Children on the Kindertransport from Prague, Dies at 106 (1909-2015)

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Photo: Nicholas Winton, Petr David Josek/ AP

Nicholas Winton, a Briton who said nothing for a half-century about his role in organizing the escape of 669 mostly Jewish children from Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II, a righteous deed like those of Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg, died on Wednesday in Maidenhead, England. He was 106.

The Rotary Club of Maidenhead, of which Mr. Winton was a former president, announced his death on its website. He lived in Maidenhead, west of London.

It was only after Mr. Winton’s wife found a scrapbook in the attic of their home in 1988 — a dusty record of names, pictures and documents detailing a story of redemption from the Holocaust — that he spoke of his all-but-forgotten work in the deliverance of children who, like the parents who gave them up to save their lives, were destined for Nazi concentration camps and extermination.

For all his ensuing honors and accolades in books and films, Mr. Winton was a reluctant hero, often compared to Schindler, the ethnic German who saved 1,200 Jews by employing them in his enamelware and munitions factories in Poland and Czechoslovakia, and to Wallenberg, the Swedish businessman and diplomat who used illegal passports and legation hideaways to save tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary.

Mr. Winton — Sir Nicholas in England since 2003, when he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II — was a London stockbroker in December 1938 when, on an impulse, he canceled a Swiss skiing vacation and flew to Prague at the behest of a friend who was aiding refugees in the Sudetenland, the western region of Czechoslovakia that had just been annexed by Germany.

Mr. Winton found vast camps of refugees living in appalling conditions. The pogroms of Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” had recently struck Jewish shops, homes and synagogues in Germany and Austria. War looked inevitable, and escape, especially for children, seemed hopeless, given the restrictions against Jewish immigration in the West.

Britain, however, was an exception. In late 1938, it began a program, called Kindertransport, to admit unaccompanied Jewish children up to age 17 if they had a host family, with the offer of a 50-pound warranty for an eventual return ticket. The Refugee Children’s Movement in Britain sent representatives to Germany and Austria, and 10,000 Jewish children were saved before the war began.

But there was no comparable mass-rescue effort in Czechoslovakia. Mr. Winton created one. It involved dangers, bribes, forgery, secret contacts with the Gestapo, nine railroad trains, an avalanche of paperwork and a lot of money. Nazi agents started following him. In his Prague hotel room, he met terrified parents desperate to get their children to safety, although it meant surrendering them to strangers in a foreign land.

As their numbers grew, a storefront office was opened. Long lines attracted Gestapo attention. Perilous confrontations were resolved with bribes. Eventually he registered more than 900 children, although he had names and details on 5,000. In early 1939, he left two friends, Trevor Chadwick and Bill Barazetti, in charge in Prague and returned to London to find foster homes, raise money and arrange transportation.

He and a few volunteers, including his mother, calling themselves the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, Children’s Section, enlisted aid from the Refugee Children’s Movement, had photos of the children printed and appealed for funds and foster homes in newspaper ads and church and synagogue bulletins.

Hundreds of families volunteered to take children, and money trickled in from donors — not enough to cover all the costs, but Mr. Winton made up the difference himself. He also appealed to the Home Office for entry visas, but the response was slow and time was short. “This was a few months before the war broke out,” he recalled. “So we forged the Home Office entry permits.”

In Prague, Mr. Chadwick quietly cultivated the chief of the Gestapo, Karl Bömelburg — they called him “the criminal rat” after his inspector’s rank of kriminalrat — and arranged for forged transit papers and bribes to be passed to key Nazis and Czech railway officials, who threatened to halt trains or seize the children unless they were paid off. The Gestapo chief proved instrumental, clearing the trains and transit papers, Mr. Chadwick said.

Searing Separations

Mr. Winton sent more money, some for bribes and some to cover expenses for children whose parents had been arrested and shot or had fled into hiding, while many of the Czech families sold possessions to pay for their children’s escape. The red tape and paperwork seemed endless.

But on March 14, 1939, it all came together. Hours before Hitler dismembered the Czech provinces of Bohemia and Moravia as a German “Protectorate,” the first 20 children left Prague on a train. Survivors told of searing scenes on the station platform in the final moments before departure as children sobbed and pleaded not to be sent away and parents faced giving up their children.

Mr. Winton and his colleagues later arranged for eight more trains to get the rest of the children out, crossing the Third Reich through Nuremberg and Cologne to the Hook of Holland, then across the North Sea by boat to Harwich, Essex, and on by British rail to the Liverpool Street Station in London. There, he and the host families met the children. Each refugee had a small bag and wore a name tag.

But only seven of the eight trains made it through, the last in early August, bringing the total rescued to 669. About 250 children, the largest group, were on board the last train out, on Sept. 1, 1939. On that day, however, Hitler invaded Poland, all borders controlled by Germany were closed and Mr. Winton’s rescue efforts came to an end.

“Within hours of the announcement, the train disappeared,” he recalled. “None of the 250 children aboard was ever seen again.” All were believed to have perished in concentration camps.

Nearly all the saved children were orphans by war’s end, their parents killed at Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen or Theresienstadt. After the war, many remained in Britain, but others returned to Czechoslovakia or emigrated to Israel, Australia or the United States. The survivors, many now in their 70s and 80s, still call themselves “Winton’s Children.”

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - OCTOBER 28:  Sir Nicholas Winton during receiving the Order of White Lion, the highest order of the Czech Republic, from Czech President Milos Zeman during the Independence Day at Prague Castle on October 28, 2014 in Prague, Czech Republic. 105-year-old Winton saved 669 mostly Jewish children by organising their escape from occupied Czechoslovakia to Great Britain, earning him the nickname the 'British Schindler'.  (Photo by isifa/Eduard Erben)
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC – Sir Nicholas Winton during receiving the Order of White Lion, the highest order of the Czech Republic, from Czech President Milos Zeman during the Independence Day at Prague Castle on October 28, 2014 in Prague, Czech Republic. 105-year-old Winton saved 669 mostly Jewish children by organizing their escape from occupied Czechoslovakia to Great Britain, earning him the nickname the ‘British Schindler’.

A Scrapbook in the Attic

Among them are the film director Karel Reisz, who made “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” (1981), “Isadora” (1968) and “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” (1960); Lord Alfred Dubs, who became a member of Parliament; Joe Schlesinger, a Canadian broadcast correspondent; Hugo Marom, a founder of the Israeli Air Force; Vera Gissing, the author of “Pearls of Childhood” (2007) and other books; and Renata Laxová, a geneticist who discovered the Neu-Laxová Syndrome, a congenital abnormality.

Mr. Winton was born Nicholas George Wertheim in London on May 19, 1909, one of three children of Rudolf and Barbara Wertheimer Wertheim. His parents were of German-Jewish origin but converted to Christianity and changed the family name to Winton. His father was a merchant banker, and Nicholas and his siblings, Bobby and Charlotte, grew up in a 20-room mansion in West Hampstead, London. He and Bobby were skilled fencers and late in life established the Winton Cup, a major British competition in the sport.

Nicholas attended Stowe School in Buckingham, was apprenticed in international banking in London and worked at Behrens Bank in Hamburg, Wassermann’s Bank in Berlin and Banque Nationale de Crédit in Paris. He was fluent in German and French when he returned to London in 1931 and became a stockbroker.

He was a Royal Air Force officer in the war and later worked for refugee organizations and the Abbeyfield Society, a charity that assists the elderly. He raised more than £1 million in one fund-raising drive. In 1983, he received the Order of the British Empire for his charity work.

But for 50 years he said nothing of the children’s rescue, not even to his wife, Grete Gjelstrup, a Dane he married in 1948. They had three children, Nicholas, Barbara and Robin. Robin died at age 7 in 1962. Mr. Winton’s wife died in 1999. The Rotary Club of Maidenhead said his daughter, Barbara, and two grandchildren were at his side at his death, but complete information on his survivors was not immediately available.

Excerpt, read more here.

Charleston Shooting, Burning of Black Churches Reignites Haunting Memories of America’s Dark Past

When Dylann Roof allegedly opened fire at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina it was an act of terror of the kind that happens all too often in black houses of worship. Roof has been charged with shooting and killing nine people, including senior pastor of the church and South Carolina state Sen. Clementa Pinckney.

Black communities in America have long used the church as a place to come together, to worship and to discuss social issues without fear of being targeted. But the ugly truth is that black churches have always been targets. White supremacists have sought to terrorize and destroy these institutions for as long as they’ve existed.

Although many church burnings, bombings and other hate crimes went unreported before and during the civil rights era, we know of at least 94 cases since the 1950s when black churches in America were the targets of what can only be described as domestic terrorism. (The list below contains relatively few incidents from the 1970s and 1980s, in part because exhaustive records from those years are hard to find. However, one report has found that there were 1,420 church fires in 1980 alone. There was a spike in violence against churches in the 1990s, which led Congress to pass the Church Arson Prevention Act in 1996.)

Attacks on Historically Black Churches, 1950s-Present

Bombing ArsonShooting Vandalism

1950s

Our list only dates back as far as 1956, but church bombings and burnings were happening well before then, and it also wasn’t uncommon for pastors to be targeted at their homes. On Dec. 25, 1956, in Birmingham, Alabama, the home of civil rights leader Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth was damaged in an explosion, along with the church next door.

Dec. 25, 1956 Bethel Baptist Birmingham, Alabama
April 28, 1957 Allen Temple AME Church Bessemer, Alabama
April 28, 1958 Temple Beth-El Birmingham, Alabama
June 29, 1958 Bethel Baptist Birmingham, Alabama

1960s

On Sept. 15, 1963, four black schoolgirls were killed by a bomb at Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church before Sunday morning service. It was the third explosion in the city in 11 days after federal legislation mandated the integration of Alabama schools. More than 8,000 people attended a public funeral held for three of the girls. The outrage over the bombing helped lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Jan. 16, 1962 New Bethel Baptist Church Birmingham, Alabama
Jan. 16, 1962 St. Luke’s AME Zion Church Birmingham, Alabama
Jan. 16, 1962 Triumph Church and Kingdom of God and Christ Birmingham, Alabama
Dec. 14, 1962 Bethel Baptist Church Birmingham, Alabama
Aug. 10, 1963 St. James United Methodist Church Birmingham, Alabama
Sept. 15, 1963 16th Street Baptist Church Birmingham, Alabama
June 17, 1964 Mt. Zion Church Longdale, Mississippi

1970s

In 1973, someone torched the Cartersville Baptist Church in Reston, Virginia, causing the pulpit and pews to fall into the basement. The church had been home to a congregation of 50 black people. Several years later, the Second Wilson Church, a meeting place for civil rights activists in Chester, South Carolina, was gutted when a flame spread from the windows to the ceiling shortly after a protest.

Summer 1973 Cartersville Baptist Church Reston, Virginia
Dec. 16, 1979 Second Wilson Church Chester, South Carolina

1980s

In 1980, police investigated a series of mysterious fires that damaged at least three black churches in New York City between April 23 and May 6.

Spring 1980 First Baptist Church New York City
Spring 1980 St. John’s Baptist Church New York City
May 4, 1980 Bethel AME New York City

1990s

In the mid-1990s, there was a spike in reported church fires. More than 30 black churches were burned in an 18-month period in 1995 and 1996, leading Congress to pass the Church Arson Prevention Act.

Jan. 5, 1990 Apostolic Faith Assembly Church Louisville, Kentucky
February 1992 Rock Springs Baptist Church McDonough, Georgia
April 4, 1993 Springhill Freewill Baptist Church Smithdale, Mississippi
April 4, 1993 Rocky Point Missionary Baptist Pike County, Mississippi
February 1994 Bucks Chapel Church Sumter County, Alabama
February 1994 Pine Top Baptist Church Sumter County, Alabama
February 1994 Oak Grove Missionary Church Sumter County, Alabama
February 19, 1994 Rock Hill Baptist Church Aiken County, South Carolina
Feb. 25, 1994 Old Rosemary Baptist Church Aiken County, South Carolina
July 21, 1994 Springfield Baptist Church Madison, Georgia
July 21, 1994 Elam Baptist Church Jones County, Georgia
August 1994 Benevolent Lodge #210 Clarkesville, Tennessee
Aug. 5, 1994 Greater Missionary Baptist Church Clarkesville, Tennessee
Sept. 8, 1994 Rice Chapel Buffalo, South Carolina
Dec. 30, 1994 Salem Missionary Baptist Church Fruitland, Tennessee
Jan. 13, 1995 Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church Crockett County, Tennessee
Jan. 13, 1995 Johnson Grove Baptist Bells, Tennessee
Jan. 29, 1995 Friendship Missionary Baptist Church Columbia, Tennessee
Jan. 29, 1995 Canaan AME Mount Pleasant, Tennessee
Jan. 31, 1995 Mt. Calvary Baptist Church Bolivar, Tennessee
March 9, 1995 Hammond Grove Baptist Church N. Augusta, South Carolina
March 24, 1995 Sike Savannah Methodist Church Ruffin, South Carolina
May 21, 1995 Summer Grove Baptist Church Aiken, South Carolina
June 20, 1995 Mt. Zion AME Church Greeleyville, South Carolina
June 21, 1995 Macedonia Baptist Church Manning, South Carolina
Aug. 15, 1995 St. John’s Baptist Church Lexington County, South Carolina
Oct. 14, 1995 Zion Chapel AME Sun, Louisiana
Oct. 31, 1995 Mount Pisgah Baptist Church Raeford, North Carolina
Dec. 1, 1995 Mount Hill Missionary Baptist Church Aiken County, South Carolina
Dec. 13, 1995 Jesus Christ Holy Gospel Laurens, South Carolina
Dec. 22, 1995 Mt. Zion Baptist Church Boligee, Alabama
Dec. 25, 1995 Mount Moriah Baptist Church Hillsborough, North Carolina
Dec. 30, 1995 Salem Baptist Gibson County, Tennessee
Jan. 6, 1996 Ohovah AME Church Orrum, North Carolina
Jan. 8, 1996 Inner City Church Knoxville, Tennessee
Jan. 11, 1996 Little Mt. Zion Baptist Green County, Alabama
Jan. 11, 1996 Mount Zoar Baptist Green County, Alabama
Feb. 1, 1996 Thomas Chapel Benevolent Society East Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Feb. 1, 1996 Cypress Grove Baptist East Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Feb. 1, 1996 St. Paul’s Free Baptist East Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Feb. 1, 1996 Sweet Home Baptist Church East Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Feb. 1, 1996 Thomas Chapel Benevolent Society East Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Feb. 21, 1996 Glorious Church of God in Christ Richmond, Virginia
Feb. 28, 1996 New Liberty Baptist Church Tyler, Alabama
March 1996 Gays Hill Baptist Church Millen, Georgia
March 1996 Butler Chapel AME Orangeburg, South Carolina
March 5, 1996 St. Paul AME Church Hatley, Mississippi
March 20, 1996 New Mount Zion Baptist Ruleville, Mississippi
March 21, 1996 Mt. Zion Baptist Church Ruleville, Mississippi
March 30, 1996 El Bethel Satartia, Mississippi
April 7, 1996 St. Paul’s Primitive Church Lauderdale, Mississippi
April 11, 1996 St. Charles Baptist Paincourtville, Louisiana
April 13, 1996 Rosemary Baptist Church Barnwell, South Carolina
April 26, 1996 Effingham Baptist Effingham, South Carolina
May 14, 1996 Mount Pleasant Baptist Tigrett, Tennessee
May 23, 1996 Mount Tabor Baptist Cerro Gordo, North Carolina
May 24, 1996 Pleasant Hill Baptist Lumberton, North Carolina
June 3, 1996 Rising Star Baptist Greensboro, Alabama
June 7, 1996 Matthews Murkland Presbyterian Church Charlotte, North Carolina
June 9, 1996 New Light House of Prayer Greenville, Texas
June 9, 1996 The Church of the Living God Greenville, Texas
June 12, 1996 Evangelist Temple Marianna, Florida
June 13, 1996 First Missionary Baptist Church Enid, Oklahoma
June 17, 1996 Central Grove Missionary Baptist Church Kossuth, Mississippi
June 17, 1996 Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church Kossuth, Mississippi
June 17, 1996 Hills Chapel Baptist Church Rocky Point, North Carolina
June 20, 1996 Immanuel Christian Fellowship Portland, Oregon
June 24, 1996 New Birth Temple Shreveport, Louisiana
May 17, 1996 Three African-American churches Desha County, Arkansas
March 26, 1997 Church of Christ Henderson, Nevada
June 30, 1997 St. Joe Baptist Church Little River, Alabama

2000-present

Terrorism against the black church is still an issue today. Five years before the mass shooting in Charleston, a man in Crane, Texas, burned down a Faith in Christ Church to gain status with a white supremacist gang. In the wake of the shooting at Mother Emanuel, at least seven black churches have been destroyed by fire. Three of the fires are being investigated as arson.

Jan. 12, 2004 Mount Moriah Baptist Church Roanoke, Virginia
Nov. 5, 2005 Macedonia Church of God in Christ Springfield, Massachusetts
Dec. 28, 2010 Faith in Christ Church Crane, Texas
June 17, 2015 Emanuel AME Church Charleston, South Carolina
June 21, 2015 College Hill Seventh Day Adventist Knoxville, Tennessee
June 23, 2015 God’s Power Church of Christ Macon, Georgia
June 24, 2015 Briar Creek Road Baptist Church Charlotte, North Carolina

 

Reprint: The Charleston Shooting Was At Least The 91st Violent Attack On A Black Church Since 1956 -By Taryn Finley | HuffPost

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The President Obama Honors the Life of Reverend Clementa Pinckney and 8 Others (Video)

Black Churches are Burning Again in America -By Emma Green | The Atlantic


Photo Credit: Madeleine Schimming, age 7, pays tribute to the 9 “angels” who were killed by a gunman during a Bible story session at the historic Emanuel AME in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015.

The nine angels were Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Cynthia Hurd, Ethel Lance, Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywaza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Susie Jackson, and Rev. and State Senator Clementa Pinckney.

Click here to learn how you can help or make a donation to Emanuel AME.

U.S. Supreme Court Declares Same-Sex Marriage Legal In All 50 States

Same sex marriage

To the list of landmark Supreme Court decisions reaffirming the power and the scope of the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law — from Brown v. Board of Education to Loving v. Virginia to United States v. Windsor — we can now add Obergefell v. Hodges.

In a profound and inspiring opinion expanding human rights across America, and bridging the nation’s past to its present, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote: “The right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty.”

As news of the ruling came out on Friday morning, opponents of same-sex marriage struggled to fathom how the country they thought they understood could so rapidly pass them by. But, in fact, the court’s decision fits comfortably within the arc of American legal history.

As Justice Kennedy explained, the Constitution’s power and endurance rest in the Constitution’s ability to evolve along with the nation’s consciousness. In that service, the court itself “has recognized that new insights and societal understandings can reveal unjustified inequality within our most fundamental institutions that once passed unnoticed and unchallenged.”

For gays and lesbians who have waited so long for the court to recognize their relationships as equal to opposite-sex relationships, it was a remember-where-you-were-when-it-happened moment.

Addressing what he called “the transcendent importance of marriage,” Justice Kennedy wrote that “through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality. This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation. There is dignity in the bond between two men or two women who seek to marry and in their autonomy to make such profound choices.”

Justice Kennedy’s focus on dignity and equality has been central to his majority opinion in each of the court’s three earlier gay rights cases. In 1996, the court held that states cannot deny gays, lesbians and bisexual people legal protection from discrimination. In 2003, it held that states cannot ban consensual sexual relations between people of the same sex. And in 2013, it struck down the heart of a federal law defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

In Friday’s ruling, Justice Kennedy emphasized the dignity and equality not only of same-sex couples, but of their families and children. “Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers,” he wrote, the children of these couples “suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser.”

President Obama, who opposed same-sex marriage in his first presidential campaign but announced in 2012 that he had changed his mind, said the decision “affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts: When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free.”

And yet, in the midst of all the hard-earned jubilation surrounding the decision, it was difficult not to think of the people who did not live to see this day.

People like John Arthur, who died in October 2013, only months after he married his partner of more than 20 years, Jim Obergefell, on the tarmac of Baltimore-Washington International Airport. They lived in Cincinnati, but Ohio would not let them marry; voters there had passed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2004. As Mr. Arthur lay on a stretcher, dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, he and Mr. Obergefell took a private medical jet to Maryland, where same-sex marriage is legal. They were married in a brief ceremony and then flew home.

When Ohio officials refused to put Mr. Obergefell’s name on his husband’s death certificate, he sued. Last November, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled against him and other couples challenging bans in Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee. Same-sex marriage, the court said, is a “social issue” for voters, and not the courts, to decide. Friday’s decision reversed that ruling.

The humane grandeur of the majority’s opinion stands out all the more starkly in contrast to the bitter, mocking small-mindedness of the dissents, one each by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito Jr. and Antonin Scalia.

Faced with a simple statement of human equality, the dissenters groped and scratched for a way to reject it.

The chief justice compared the ruling to some of the most notorious decisions in the court’s history, including Dred Scott v. Sandford, the 1857 ruling holding that black people could not be American citizens and that Congress could not outlaw slavery in the territories; and Lochner v. New York, a 1905 case that is widely rejected today as an example of justices imposing their own preferences in place of the law.

He invoked the traditional understanding of marriage, which he ascribed to, among others, Kalahari bushmen, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. But Justice Kennedy had a ready reply: “The limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples may long have seemed natural and just, but its inconsistency with the central meaning of the fundamental right to marry is now manifest.”

Justice Scalia mocked the ruling as a “judicial Putsch” and a threat to American democracy. “This is a naked judicial claim to legislative — indeed, super-legislative — power,” he wrote. “A system of government that makes the people subordinate to a committee of nine unelected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy.”

But that rant is wholly wrong. In American democracy, the judicial branch is the great bulwark against a majority’s refusal to recognize a minority’s fundamental constitutional rights. As Justice Kennedy wrote, “An individual can invoke a right to constitutional protection when he or she is harmed, even if the broader public disagrees and even if the legislature refuses to act.”

As gratifying as Friday’s ruling is, remember that equality won by a single vote.


Meanwhile, the dwindling number of Americans who oppose same-sex marriage have shifted tactics to rely on so-called religious-freedom laws, which they say allow them to, among other things, decline to provide business services for same-sex weddings.

Justice Kennedy said that Americans who disagree with same-sex marriage, for religious or other reasons, have the freedom to believe and to speak as they wish. “But when that sincere, personal opposition becomes enacted law and public policy, the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur of the state itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied.”

Still, the court did not give sexual orientation a special status, like race or gender, which would provide stronger protection against discriminatory laws.

More than four decades ago, a male couple in Hennepin County, Minn., applied for a marriage license and was denied. When their lawsuit reached the Supreme Court, the justices dismissed it “for want of a substantial federal question.”

In the years since, Americans’ attitudes toward gays and lesbians and the right to marry have changed dramatically. Before Friday’s ruling, same-sex marriage was already legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia, representing more than 70 percent of all Americans. A solid and growing majority now believes in marriage equality; among those ages 18 to 29, support is at nearly 80 percent.

Around the world the change has come even faster. Since 2000, 20 countries — from Argentina to Belgium to South Africa — have legalized same-sex marriage. In May, an Irish referendum on legalization won the support of nearly two-thirds of voters.

Justice Kennedy’s opinion will affect the course of American history, and it will change lives starting now.

Reprint: A Profound Ruling Delivers Justice on Gay Marriage ⎸NYT Editorial Board

After Same-Sex Marriage Ruling, Southern States Fall in Line -By Erik Eckholm & Manny Fernandez ⎸NYT

60 Million Uprooted: The Largest Refugee Crisis in Human History

Refugee2
In Nigeria, an estimated 1.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes amid attacks by the militant group Boko Haram. This woman sought refuge at St. Theresa Church in Yola, a poor, dusty city in Nigeria’s Adamawa State, in March 2015. (Photo: Peter Biro/ IRC). 

UNITED NATIONS (UNHCR) – Wars, conflict and persecution have forced more people than at any other time since records began to flee their homes and seek refuge and safety elsewhere, according to a new report from the UN refugee agency.

UNHCR’s annual Global Trends Report: World at War, released on Thursday (June 18), said that worldwide displacement was at the highest level ever recorded. It said the number of people forcibly displaced at the end of 2014 had risen to a staggering 59.5 million compared to 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million a decade ago.

The increase represents the biggest leap ever seen in a single year. Moreover, the report said the situation was likely to worsen still further. Globally, one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. If this were the population of a country, it would be the world’s 24th biggest.

“We are witnessing a paradigm change, an unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement as well as the response required is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.

Since early 2011, the main reason for the acceleration has been the war in Syria, now the world’s single-largest driver of displacement. Every day last year on average 42,500 people became refugees, asylum seekers, or internally displaced, a four-fold increase in just four years.

In Pictures: Refugees Around the World

All Photographs by Peter Biro/ International Rescue Mission

“It is terrifying that on the one hand there is more and more impunity for those starting conflicts, and on the other there is seeming utter inability of the international community to work together to stop wars and build and preserve peace,” Guterres added.

The UNHCR report detailed how in region after region, the number of refugees and internally displaced people is on the rise. In the past five years, at least 15 conflicts have erupted or reignited: eight in Africa (Côte d’Ivoire, Central African Republic, Libya, Mali, northeastern Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and this year in Burundi); three in the Middle East (Syria, Iraq, and Yemen); one in Europe (Ukraine) and three in Asia (Kyrgyzstan, and in several areas of Myanmar and Pakistan).

“Few of these crises have been resolved and most still generate new displacement,” the report noted, adding that in 2014 only 126,800 refugees were able to return to their home countries — the lowest number in 31 years.

Meanwhile, decades-old instability and conflict in Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere means that millions of people remain on the move or – as is increasingly common – stranded for years on the edge of society as long-term internally displaced or refugees.

One of the most recent and highly visible consequences of the world’s conflicts and the terrible suffering they cause has been the dramatic growth in the numbers of refugees seeking safety through dangerous sea journeys, including on the Mediterranean, in the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea, and in Southeast Asia.

Half of All Refugees are Children
The Global Trends Report detailed that in 2014 alone 13.9 million people became newly displaced – four times the number of the previous year. Worldwide there were 19.5 million refugees (up from 16.7 million in 2013), 38.2 million were displaced inside their own countries (up from 33.3 million in 2013), and 1.8 million people were awaiting the outcome of claims for asylum (against 1.2 million in 2013).

Most alarmingly, however, it showed that over half the world’s refugees are children.

“With huge shortages of funding and wide gaps in the global regime for protecting victims of war, people in need of compassion, aid and refuge are being abandoned,” warned Guterres. “For an age of unprecedented mass displacement, we need an unprecedented humanitarian response and a renewed global commitment to tolerance and protection for people fleeing conflict and persecution.”

Syria is the world’s biggest producer of both internally displaced people (7.6 million) and refugees (3.88 million at the end of 2014). Afghanistan (2.59 million) and Somalia (1.1 million) are the next biggest refugee source countries.

Almost nine out of every 10 refugees (86 per cent) are in regions and countries considered economically less developed.

Europe (up 51%)
Conflict in Ukraine, a record 219,000 Mediterranean crossings, and the large number of Syrian refugees in Turkey – which in 2014 became the world’s top refugee-hosting nation with 1.59 million Syrian refugees at year’s end – brought increased public attention, both positive and negative, to questions to do with refugees.

In the EU, the biggest volume of asylum applications was in Germany and Sweden. Overall, forced displacement numbers in Europe totalled 6.7 million at the end of the year, compared to 4.4 million at the end of 2013, and with the largest proportion of this being Syrians in Turkey and Ukrainians in the Russian Federation.

Middle East and North Africa (up 19%)
Syria’s ongoing war, with 7.6 million people displaced internally, and 3.88 million people displaced into the surrounding region and beyond as refugees, has alone made the Middle East the world’s largest producer and host of forced displacement. Adding to the high totals from Syria was a new displacement of least 2.6 million people in Iraq and 309,000 newly displaced in Libya.

Sub-Saharan Africa (Up 17%)
Africa’s numerous conflicts, including in Central African Republic, South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere, together produced immense forced displacement totals in 2014, on a scale only marginally lower than in the Middle East.

In all, sub-Saharan Africa saw 3.7 million refugees and 11.4 million internally displaced people, 4.5 million of whom were newly displaced in 2014. The 17 per cent overall increase excludes Nigeria, as methodology for counting internal displacement changed during 2014 and it could not be reliably calculated. Ethiopia replaced Kenya as the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa and the fifth largest worldwide.

Asia (up 31%)
Long one of the world’s major displacement producing regions, the number of refugees and internally displaced people in Asia grew by 31 per cent in 2014 to 9 million people. Continuing displacement was also seen in and from Myanmar in 2014, including of Rohingya from Rakhine state and in the Kachin and Northern Shan regions. Iran and Pakistan remained two of the world’s top four refugee hosting countries.

Americas (up 12%)
The Americas also saw a rise in forced displacement. The number of Colombian refugees dropped by 36,300 to 360,300 over the year, although mainly because of a revision in the numbers of refugees reported by Venezuela. Colombia continued, nonetheless to have one of the world’s largest internally displaced populations, reported at 6 million people and with 137,000 Colombians being newly displaced during the year. With more people fleeing gang violence or other forms of persecution in Central America, the United States saw 36,800 more asylum claims than in 2013, representing growth of 44 per cent.

The full Global Trends Report contains this information and more, including data on individual countries, demographics, numbers of people returning to their countries, and available estimates of stateless population.

Worldwide Displacement Hits All-Time High as War and Persecution Increase ⎸UNHCR

Black, Poor, and Stateless: Over 200,000 Stripped of Citizenship in Dominican Republic

A Haitian sugar cane worker shows an identity card as he takes part in a march towards Haitian embassy in Santo Domingo, demanding Haitian passports needed to regularize their migration status in the Dominican Republic, on October 30, 2014.   AFP PHOTO/Erika SANTELICES  (Photo credit should read ERIKA SANTELICES/AFP/Getty Images)
A Haitian sugar cane worker shows an identity card as he takes part in a march towards Haitian embassy in Santo Domingo, demanding Haitian passports needed to regularize their migration status in the Dominican Republic, on October 30, 2014. (Photo Credit: ERIKA SANTELICES/AFP/Getty Images)

Juliana Deguis Pierre was born in 1984 in Los Jovillos, Dominican Republic, 72 miles (116 kilometers) west of Santo Domingo. Under the country’s constitutional recognition of birthright citizenship, Deguis—the daughter of two undocumented Haitian immigrants working in the sugar cane fields—was issued a birth certificate recognizing her Dominican nationality. Now 29 years old, she has never traveled outside her native country. She speaks fluent Spanish and hardly any Creole.

In 2008, Deguis visited a Junta Central Electoral (Central Electoral Board—JCE) office to request a voter identification card. The officers confiscated her birth certificate on the grounds she had two Haitian last names. The Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic denied Deguis’ appeal of the decision, with a ruling (TC-168-13) on September 23, 2013, that she was wrongly registered as Dominican at birth.

With its ruling, the Constitutional Court, in effect, retroactively overturned citizenship norms that had been in effect from 1929 to 2010. A constitutional provision that excluded anyone born to foreigners “in transit” from claiming citizenship by birth was extended to anyone born to undocumented residents of the Dominican Republic.

The Court then commanded the JCE to produce a list of “foreigners” in a similar position as Deguis under the Court’s new interpretation, and register them as foreigners, thereby stripping thousands of Dominican citizens of foreign descent—primarily the sons and daughters of undocumented Haitian migrant workers—of their Dominican nationality.

The Court then ordered the government to regularize all “foreigners living illegally in the country,” by officially changing their legal status from nationals to foreigners.

Apart from the injustice inflicted upon thousands of people, the Constitutional Court’s decision flew in the face of the Dominican Republic’s international human rights obligations, namely the prohibitions against racial discrimination and the arbitrary deprivation of nationality.

However, since last fall the Dominican government has engaged in a widespread misinformation campaign—ranging from opinion pieces in international publications, to sending a high-level government delegation to meet with foreign leaders, and even employing professional lobbyists in Washington—in an attempt to defend the legality of the Court’s decision and spin it as a positive development for Dominicans.

The government’s cynical, misleading argument was that the ruling and ensuing legislation — the Naturalization Law (169-14) — would regularize the status of undocumented migrants in an attempt to provide them a pathway to citizenship and participation in formal sectors of society. In the process, the Dominican government has essentially converted Dominican citizens into migrants who now need to be “regularized.”

In response to domestic and international pressure, the government first adopted the Plan Nacional de Regularización de Extranjeros (National Regulation Plan for Foreigners) in November 2013. The plan creates an expedited process by which “foreigners residing irregularly in the Dominican Republic” could gain residency status. For months it was unclear whether the government would force Dominican citizens affected by the ruling to self-report as foreigners. Then, eight months after the Court’s decision, the Dominican legislature summarily passed the Naturalization Law introduced by President Danilo Medina. While the law was billed as a humanitarian solution to the situation created by decision 168-13, it offers a practical solution only for Deguis and a handful of others, leaving roughly 90 percent of those affected by the ruling stateless.

The decision and the policies that have followed, though, are not isolated events. They are another example of a pattern of discrimination against Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitians in general. The novelty is that, in this case, the country’s highest court has put its stamp of approval on a long list of xenophobic government regulations propagated over the past decade.

But that should be a wakeup call to the international community. Currently, one of the largest and most systematic violations of civil and political rights our region has seen in recent history continues to be covered up by Dominican government myths, alongside positive developments designed to distract the world’s attention from the current manifestation of an age-old problem.

Myth 1: Only a Handful of People are Affected by Decision 168-13.

There are three main groups affected by the Constitutional Court’s decision. The first category comprises individuals like Deguis who were born in the Dominican Republic between 1929 and 2007 to undocumented foreign-born parents, were registered with the JCE and were issued birth certificates recognizing their Dominican citizenship.

According to the JCE’s initial audit of the civil registry, there are 24,392 individuals who were arbitrarily and discriminatorily deprived of their Dominican nationality. The Naturalization Law passed in May appears to rectify the situation of individuals in this group by granting them citizenship as foreigners. But it fails to recognize their national birthright, only regranting them nationality because the government once mistakenly gave them birth certificates.

That group is the only one helped by the law. There’s a second group that includes individuals born between 2007 and 2010 in the Dominican Republic to undocumented foreigners—prior to a 2010 constitutional amendment—who have been incorrectly registered as foreigners. According to the JCE, there are approximately 21,449 individuals in this group, the majority of whom are Dominicans of Haitian descent who will continue to be arbitrarily and discriminatorily deprived of their right to nationality. The Naturalization Law expressly excludes this group from the benefits of its special regime, forcing them to self-report to the Regularization Plan as foreigners.

Last are the individuals that comprise the third group, born between 1929 and 2010 in the Dominican Republic to undocumented foreign parents and undocumented Dominicans who have yet to be registered by the JCE. For example, while Deguis was registered at birth and falls into the first category, her four children have yet to be registered by the JCE. It is common for Dominicans of all backgrounds not to be registered, particularly in more rural areas, but discriminatory policies and broad discretion by local civil registry officials have prevented tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent from registering as well.

The government has yet to release any estimates of how many people in this third category will be affected by the Constitutional Court ruling. In its decision, the Court states that the National Regularization Plan “will benefit the lives of hundreds of thousands of foreigners.” A 2013 survey conducted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated that approximately 244,151 Dominicans born to undocumented foreign parents currently reside in the Dominican Republic.

Based on existing information and the immense discretion still afforded to local civil registry officials to thwart individuals’ access to documents, it is impossible to identify the exact number of individuals affected by the Constitutional Court decision. However, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has estimated that more than 200,000 people are left stateless by the decision.

Myth 2: The Constitutional Court’s Decision Complied with International Law.

In its September ruling, the Constitutional Court explicitly acknowledged that its new-found interpretation of the concept “in transit” in Article 11 of the Dominican Constitution conflicted with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) decision in the Yean and Bosico Children v. Dominican Republic case of 2005.

In Yean and Bosico, the iachr held that the Dominican government’s attempt to expand the interpretation of the term “in transit” was incorrect, and that “to consider that a person is in transit, irrespective of the classification used, the state must respect a reasonable temporal limit and understand that a foreigner who develops connections in a state cannot be equated to a person in transit.”

That decision is binding on the Dominican Republic. Non-compliance is a violation of the government’s ratification of the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR) in 1978. Ignoring this precedent, the Constitutional Court held that Deguis should not have been granted citizenship at birth and ordered the nullification of her birth certificate.

The retroactive application of the Court’s decision to Deguis and thousands more represents an arbitrary deprivation of the right to nationality, in violation of Article 20 of the ACHR, Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 24(3), together with Articles 2 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

In a context of decades of discrimination against Haitians and those of Haitian descent, the Court’s decision perpetuates this discrimination by claiming that nationality “implies the existence of a set of historical, linguistic, racial and geopolitical features”—also in violation of Articles 1(1) and 24 of the ACHR and Articles 2 and 26 of the ICCPR.

The decision deprives Dominicans of Haitian descent basic rights such as voting, participation in government and freedom of movement, and also imperils a number of social, economic and cultural rights: the right to health, to social security, to work, and the right to education.

These are blatant violations of accepted international legal commitments and treaties signed by the Dominican Republic, ranging from the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness—which it signed but did not ratify—to the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Protocol of San Salvador), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Stateless in the Dominican Republic from Cronkite School on Vimeo.

Myth 3: The Government’s Hands Were (and still are) Tied Because it Had to Comply With the Decision of the Court.

Dominican government officials claim that whether they like it or not, the “ruling handed down by the Constitutional Court is binding on the three branches of government” and that President Medina must implement the Court’s decision. However, under international law and the international obligations of human rights treaties ratified by the Dominican Republic, the government is not bound by a judicial ruling that violates binding commitments already signed by the state.

Under the Vienna Convention on the Laws of Treaties, a state may not invoke the provisions of its internal law as justification for its failure to perform a treaty. In other words, the government may still—at any point—step in to stop the widespread rights violations caused by an internationally illegal decision.

Myth 4: The National Regularization Plan and Naturalization Law Address the Citizenship Crisis Caused by this Ruling.

The Naturalization Law adopted by the government in May has been billed as a “humanitarian” solution to the citizenship crisis created by the Constitutional Court’s ruling. Admittedly, the law presents a practical solution for Deguis and the first category of the 24,392 individuals affected by ruling. Unfortunately, the law excludes both the second and third groups of individuals. In effect, this means that hundreds of thousands of individuals are prevented from accessing the solution presented by the Naturalization Law.

The arbitrariness of the government’s solution is highlighted by families where half of their children received birth certificates, like Deguis, while their younger siblings are discriminatorily denied such documents at birth. Despite being born and raised Dominican by the same parents in the same community, a brother could now be forced to report to the authorities as a foreigner (or face expulsion), while his sister’s citizenship is recognized.

Thus, while the National Regularization Plan promulgated by the president in an executive order last November is supposed to address the anomalies pinpointed by the Constitutional Court and regularize the status of undocumented foreigners, for many, it makes their situation even more precarious.

Under the plan, Dominicans born to foreign parents and who were never issued documents are now required to self-report as “foreigners illegally residing in the country” by May 2015, (18 months after the plan comes into force) or face deportation. Should these individuals successfully obtain temporary or permanent residency under the plan, and remain in good standing with the government for two years, they would then be eligible to apply for naturalized citizenship.

But those are both gigantic “ifs.” First of all, those with a criminal record could summarily be denied access, and everyone’s fate will now rest in the hands of the same JCE officials responsible for a long, sordid history of discriminatorily denying them documents in the first place.

Additionally, should the government eventually grant naturalized citizenship to Dominicans it has deprived of birthright citizenship, it would create a category of second-class citizens without the same rights as Dominicans citizens by birth.

Haitian girls 2

Correcting a Wrong

The Dominican government’s actions should be subject to the same international condemnation that has responded to the human rights abuses of repressive regimes from Russia to Egypt and Zimbabwe. In an era of growing awareness of human rights norms, blatant oppression under the veneer of rule of law should be exposed and condemned. As political theorist Hannah Arendt once said, the right to nationality is so fundamental that it can be described as “the right to have rights.”

The government of Haiti was initially strong in raising objection to these offensive policies, but as it rightly stated, this is not a Haitian issue, but an issue concerning Dominican citizens. Meanwhile, most Latin American countries and the international community have remained shamefully silent.

Should the Dominican government follow through on its plans to create a whole generation of second-class citizens of Haitian descent, it will only worsen the ingrained social prejudice and systemic discrimination in the country.

Dominicans who refuse to self-report as foreigners could face deportation by officials known for massive and indiscriminate expulsions. And the surrounding region will see a flood of refugees, asylum seekers and stateless persons, as well as an increase in migration patterns.

That is to say, if left unaddressed, the repercussions of these policies will be felt around the world for years to come.

The implications of the court’s xenophobic ruling are disastrous. Ethnic Haitians — as well as the Dominican-born children of immigrants from Europe, China and elsewhere — may no longer be entitled to subsidized tuition, public health insurance or other benefits.

Reprint: The Dominican Republic and Haiti: Shame -By Santiago A. Canton & Wade H. McMullen, Jr. ⎸Quarterly Americas (Original publication, Summer 2014)

Recommended Readings
The Dominican Republic’s “Ethnic Purging”: Edwidge Danticat on Mass Deportation of Haitian Families ⎸Democracy Now!

Displaced in the D.R.: Letters from The Dominican Republic ⎸ Harper’s Magazine (May 2015)

The Dominican Republic Wants To Deport 60,000 Stateless Kids -By Roque Planas ⎸ Huffington Post

Thousands Find Themselves Stateless in the Dominican Republic ⎸Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications

The Dominican Republic’s Discrimination Against Haitians ⎸ Washington Post (Editorial Board)

Haitian’s Lynching Renews Protests Against Dominican Citizenship Law -By Kenya Downs ⎸ NPR

My Piece of Sky: Stories of Child Sex Abuse

Inspired by her own experience of sexual abuse, photojournalist Mariella Furrer began documenting the victims and the perpetrators.

MF5

MY PIECE OF SKY: STORIES OF CHILD SEX ABUSE, FORWARD

When I was about five years old, I was sexually abused by a stranger. I don’t think at that age I really understood what it was that had happened to me. But, somehow, I knew it was wrong and I felt to blame for letting the man touch me.

Shortly after the incident, I told my parents about it. I cannot begin to imagine the weight my disclosure must have had on them – the grief and the rage; furious at themselves for failing to protect me, enraged at the man for doing this to me, and infuriated at the world for allowing this to happen to their young daughter. The molestation could not have lasted more than a couple of minutes, but the incident affected my life in ways that are difficult to articulate.

I don’t think as a five-year-old you really understand that you have lost something when you are abused, but you have – something does change.

You lose your childhood really, your innocence is snatched away, and what little is left of that once pure child is now transformed into a sexual being, a child with a knowledge of things way before her time. From that moment on things were very different for me. I began covering myself up. Well into my teens I wore a t-shirt whenever I swam. I hated it when men stared at me; it made me uncomfortable. I went through a bulimic phase and hated my body and the attention it brought.

It took me a very long time after that to trust a man – or anyone – again. My Piece of Sky is the result of a journey into the world of child sexual abuse. It focuses on the crisis in South Africa, a country dealing with an epidemic of child sexual abuse, but it is not exclusively for South Africans.

Through photographs, journals, artwork and testimonies from the abused and abusers, it offers a glimpse into a world of utter depravity, of absolute horror, but of incredible resilience, too, as young survivors struggle to rebuild their lives. 

My exploration began in November 2002, when I received an assignment from a US-based women’s magazine to take photographs for an article on infant rape in South Africa.

I went to work with the South African Police Child Protection Unit in Port Shepstone, a town in the southeast of the country. I was only with them for a few days, but I was shocked by the numbers of children involved, and decided to continue working on the issue. The more I researched, the bigger the project became.

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Most of my access came through the Johannesburg-based Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children and the South African Police Services. Other contacts were made through individuals working in the field of child protection and healing. Young survivors are surrounded by child rights activists and child protection officers whose absolute priority is the wellbeing of the children. It took me a very long time to gain their trust, but once I had it, I was considered one of them.

Today, I believe that I am as much an activist for the rights and protection of these children as anyone else, and many police officers and child protection advocates remain my dear friends, as do many of the young survivors and their families.

All my photos and interviews with children were made with consent from the child’s guardian or caretaker. Once I had this, I would always explain to the child (if they were old enough to understand) that I was working on a project about the bad things that people do to children, that it also happened to me, and that I really hoped that one day when people saw these photos and read these interviews they would want help to stop this happening to other children.

I also guaranteed that they would never be identifiable in photos or interviews. When a child is molested or raped, they lose control over what is happening to them and their bodies, so while working with victims I was very sensitive about giving control back to them.

I would begin by sitting on the floor in a corner or somewhere out of the way. Once in my spot, I would move very little. I would take very few photos, watching to see how the children responded to the camera. I would interact with them often and become part of the team that worked to comfort them and make them feel safe. Throughout the process I would tell them that if at any time they felt uncomfortable with me or my camera, I would stop.

A few years into the project I decided I needed more than photography to tell this story. I was curious to know more about child sexual abuse; its impact on the survivors, their families, the police, the lawyers, and to try to understand what motivated the perpetrators. So I began doing in-depth interviews.

I used no particular set of questions during interviews. Instead, I formulated questions based on who I was working with, questions that would give me a better psychological and emotional understanding of their lives. I would always begin my interview by asking them to relay their story to me and as they talked I would jot down any questions that came to mind.

Once they finished their story, I would ask more in-depth, personal questions related to the psychology behind the trauma. What were they thinking when they were going through the attack? How did it impact them throughout their life – emotionally and sexually?

When I interviewed the perpetrators, it was with the understanding that My Piece of Sky would take some time to complete, and that they would not be identified, so as not to influence any pending court cases.

My interviews with them were really motivated by me wanting to understand their childhoods, when they were first attracted to children, whether they were abused or not, how they chose their victims, and how they went about abusing them. My work with perpetrators threw me into a very deep depression – but not for the reasons you might think.

The truth is we all have multiple facets to our personalities and these perpetrators were no different. They were abusers of children, but some of them were funny, intelligent, creative and caring.

After attending their group sessions for several weeks, one of the perpetrators asked me in front of the group how I felt about them now.

“Do you think we are all monsters?” I didn’t.

I could not at all condone what they had done, but I did not hate them. With this discovery, my black and white world of right and wrong, good and evil, caved in on top of me. All these years later, I am not the same person. Not because I have aged, but because I have learned so much – too much really.

Meeting these people and hearing their stories has taken me to the limits of my psychological, emotional and spiritual existence. It has tested me in ways that I am not yet able to comprehend, and after many of the interviews I would lie on my floor for hours, in shock at what I had heard.

Many times I have wanted to lock these interviews and photos up and walk away from them; pretend I had never seen them or heard them.

Only a sense of obligation to those who shared their deepest, darkest secrets so that it does not happen again has prevented me from doing so.

My Piece of Sky: Stories of Child Sexual Abuse ⎸Mariella Furrer

Mariella Furrer Photography

OUTSOURCING TORTURE

Ali Ibrahim and two other Muslim Danish citizens reveal for the first time how they were approached by the Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET) in the mid-2000s and how that landed them in Lebanon and some of the Middle East’s most notorious detention facilities.

Their stories point to what could be a hidden role for Denmark and Lebanon in a new form of rendition: the outsourcing of torture.

Ibrahim, a Lebanese-born torture victim, said in 2006 while he lived in Denmark, PET offered him incentives to cooperate but he was threatened when he refused. One of his brothers was involved with a group in Lebanon called Fatah Al Islam, which had taken control of the Palestinian refugee camp Nahr Al Bared, making him an attractive potential informer.

“The officer told me, ‘We will pay you money and you will be happy with us’,” Ibrahim said.

“I asked: ‘What happens if I say no to your offer?’ He said: ‘If you reject our offer, we will make you come to the station and sign every week’.”

“I told him: ‘I will then leave the country.’ He then asked: ‘Where do think you will go? We have friends all over the world. Do you want to go to Lebanon? We have friends there too’.”

Ibrahim says when he travelled to Lebanon later that year he was kidnapped from the streets of Tripoli in front of his wife and children by four armed men.

He claims he was subjected to eight months of solitary confinement, regular beatings, violent interrogations and torture, and spent almost three years in Lebanon’s notorious Roumieh prison.

When he was first placed in a cell with others, he says: “Only then did I realize that the brutal torture I received was not the worst. Some experience much harsher torture methods. I consider myself lucky. Others were raped.”

‘No exceptions’ to prohibition of torture

Juan E Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, told Al Jazeera that he could not comment on specific cases relating to Lebanon and Denmark but said the rule of law was the only way to fight terror.

“There are no exceptions to the prohibition of torture and other cruel and inhuman and degrading treatment,” Méndez says.

However, says that a lot remains hidden about the extraordinary renditions that took place as a result of the so-called “War on Terror”.

Evidence of rendition first emerged after the US government in 1995 approved a secret program for the transfer of alleged terror suspects.

“Unfortunately we are very far from knowing what exactly happened in each of the countries that participated in extraordinary renditions but we do know that there are 54 different countries that corroborated in some way or the other,” Méndez says.

He says only a handful of nations responded to UN requests for investigations. Himself a victim of torture, he says that the world is more accepting of torture today than when he was tortured decades ago.

In telling the story of three men caught in the dark web of Danish and Lebanese intelligence services, Outsourcing Torture exposes a Denmark at odds with its image as a world leader in the fight for human rights, a Denmark with secret military and intelligence ties with the US, and a quiet role in the so-called “War on Terror”.

Outsourcing Torture ⎸Al Jazeera (Interactive Media)

A Beautiful World War II Themed Ad: ‘Compassion Is a True Communication’

It’s been viewed by more than 1.3 million people.

A World War II-themed ad created by a mobile phone company in Thailand as part of a campaign called “The True Meaning of Giving” has taken the Internet by storm.

Produced by TrueMove, the three-minute spot uses a war story to show that “compassion is the true communication,” with the final moments of the ad tying everything together.

As noted by AdWeek, one of the actors wrote in the YouTube comments that the story references a POW camp in Kanchanaburi, Thailand.

During the Japanese occupation of Thailand in 1942, both allied POWs and Asian laborers were ordered by the Japanese to build a Thailand-Burma railway. The bridge is also known as the Death Highway and the Bridge over the River Kwai. Eventually, more than 100,000 people (16,000 allied POWs and 90,000 local Asian laborers) died from horrific working conditions.

Washington Post: Thousands Dead, Few Prosecuted

On a rainy night five years ago, Officer Coleman “Duke” Brackney set off in pursuit of a suspected drunk driver, chasing his black Mazda Miata down rural Arkansas roads at speeds of nearly 100 miles per hour. When the sports car finally came to rest in a ditch, Brackney opened fire at the rear window and repeatedly struck the driver, 41-year-old James Ahern, in the back. The gunshots killed Ahern.

Prosecutors charged Brackney with felony manslaughter. But he eventually entered a plea to a lesser charge and could ultimately be left with no criminal record.

Now, he serves as the police chief in a small community 20 miles from the scene of the shooting.

Brackney is among 54 officers charged over the past decade for fatally shooting someone while on duty, according to an analysis by The Washington Post and researchers at Bowling Green State University. This analysis, based on a wide range of public records and interviews with law enforcement, judicial and other legal experts, sought to identify for the first time every officer who faced charges­ for such shootings since 2005. These represent a small fraction of the thousands of fatal police shootings that have occurred across the country in that time.

In an overwhelming majority of the cases where an officer was charged, the person killed was unarmed. But it usually took more than that.

When prosecutors pressed charges, The Post analysis found, there were typically other factors that made the case exceptional, including: a victim shot in the back, a video recording of the incident, incriminating testimony from other officers or allegations of a coverup.

WARNING: GRAPHIC – SOUTH CAROLINA SHOOTING 

This video contains graphic content. A police officer in North Charleston, S.C., has been charged with murder after shooting a man during a traffic stop. Authorities said the decision to charge officer Michael Slager was made after they viewed video footage of the incident that showed him shooting the other man in the back as he was fleeing the scene.

Forty-three cases involved at least one of these four factors. Nineteen cases involved at least two.

In the most recent incident, officials in North Charleston, S.C., filed a murder charge Tuesday against a white police officer, Michael T. Slager, for gunning down an apparently unarmed black man. A video recording showed Slager repeatedly shooting the man in the back as he was running away.

“To charge an officer in a fatal shooting, it takes something so egregious, so over the top that it cannot be explained in any rational way,” said Philip M. Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green who studies arrests of police. “It also has to be a case that prosecutors are willing to hang their reputation on.”

But even in these most extreme instances, the majority of the officers whose cases have been resolved have not been convicted, The Post analysis found.

And when they are convicted or plead guilty, they’ve tended to get little time behind bars, on average four years and sometimes only weeks. Jurors are very reluctant to punish police officers, tending to view them as guardians of order, according to prosecutors and defense lawyers.

The definition of “officers” used in the analysis extends beyond local police to all government law enforcement personnel who are armed, including sheriff’s deputies and corrections officers. The analysis included some shootings that officers described as accidental.

There is no accurate tally of all the cases­ of police shootings across the country, even deadly ones. The FBI maintains a national database of fatal shootings by officers but does not require police departments to keep it updated.

Over the past year, a series of controversial police killings of unarmed victims — including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Tamir Rice in Cleveland and Eric Garner on Staten Island — has raised questions over what it takes for officers to face criminal ­charges. Often, the public is divided over whether the police went too far. Only in rare cases­ do prosecutors and grand juries decide that the killing cannot be justified.

Such cases include a Michigan state trooper who shot and killed an unarmed homeless man in Detroit as he was shuffling toward him, the man’s pants down past his knees. The incident was captured on video, and the officer, who said he thought the man had a gun, was charged with second-degree murder. A jury accepted the officer’s account and found him not guilty. He remains on the job.

They also include a police officer in Darlington County, S.C., who was charged with murder after he chased an unarmed man wanted for stealing a gas grill and three U-Haul trailers into the woods, shooting him in the back four times. A jury, believing that he feared for his life, found him not guilty.

Two Atlanta plainclothes officers opened fire and killed a 92-year-old woman during a mistaken drug raid on her home. As they pried the bars off her front door, she fired a single warning shot with an old revolver. The police responded by smashing the door down and shooting at her 39 times. One of the officers tried to disguise their error by planting bags of marijuana in her basement. The two officers pleaded guilty and received unusually stiff sentences of six and 10 years in a federal prison.

A rap musician, Killer Mike, wrote a song to memorialize the death of this African American grandmother at the hands of white officers, comparing her killing to “the dream of King when the sniper took his life.”

After the death of Michael Brown last summer, concerns about racism in policing have exploded in public debate, in particular whether white officers use excessive force when dealing with minorities and whether the criminal justice system protects the victims’ rights.

Among the officers charged since 2005 for fatal shootings, more than three-quarters were white. Two-thirds of their victims were minorities, all but two of them black.

Nearly all other cases­ involved black officers who killed black victims. In one other instance, a Latino officer fatally shot a white person and in another an Asian officer killed a black person. There were a total of 49 victims.

Identifying the exact role of race in fatal shootings and prosecutions is difficult. Often, prosecutors pursued charges against a backdrop of protests accusing police of racism. Race was also a factor in court when federal prosecutors stepped in and filed charges­ against officers for allegedly violating the victims’ civil rights. Six officers, all white, faced federal civil rights charges for killing blacks.

In interviews with more than 20 prosecutors across the country, they said that race did not factor into their decisions to bring charges against officers. The prosecutors said they pursued cases­ based on the legal merits.

RACE MATTERS 

 

But defense lawyer Doug Friesen, who represented a white officer convicted in 2013 for fatally shooting an unarmed black man, said that “it would be naive” for prosecutors to say race isn’t a consideration.

“Anytime you have politicians that have to make charging decisions, realistically that is part of their decision-making process,” Friesen said. “They are asking themselves, ‘Is there going to be rioting out in the streets?’ ”

Both Officer Coleman “Duke” Brackney and his victim James Ahern, shot dead in his Miata, were white.

Brackney, 32, recalled in an interview that he believed Ahern was about to back his car up and run over him. The engine was racing and the backup lights flashed, Brackney said.

A video, captured by a camera mounted on his cruiser’s dashboard, indicated that the sports car was not moving when the officer opened fire. The existence of that video was the key reason why prosecutors decided to bring charges, they said.

Number killed“In my mind, it was the third time he tried to run me over,” Brackney said in an interview with The Post. “His right hand came up in this sweeping motion, and I thought he was going for a gun. I don’t know what a jury would have believed — and that’s the problem. There was this risk, so entering a plea, I viewed it as a business decision.”

After pleading to a reduced charge of negligent homicide, a misdemeanor, Brackney served 30 days in jail as part of a plea agreement. The judge deferred the conviction, and if Brackney fulfills the terms of his probation, the case will be dismissed.

“No one wants to take a life, but at the end of the day, I realize that I’m the one who got to go home,” he said, adding, “I wouldn’t change what I did.”

He was fired by the Bella Vista Police Department, where he worked at the time, but was given another chance by the city of Sulphur Springs, Ark. Two years ago, city officials hired him to run the police department, where he manages a force of four officers who spend much of their time patrolling quiet streets and arresting small-time drug dealers.

Excerpt, read more Thousands Dead, Few Prosecuted | Washington Post

❋ Story by Kimberly Kindy, Kimbriell Kelly
❋ Graphics by Vesko Cholakov, Kevin Schaul
❋ Videos by Whitney Leaming, Divya Verma, Natasha Rudnick


Related: South Carolina: Police Dashcam of Moments Before Shooting (FULL VIDEO)

RECOMMENDED READINGS

South Carolina Officer Is Charged With Murder of Walter Scott -By Michael S. Schmidt & Matt Apuzzo | NYT

The Total Rejection of Michael Slager -By Adam Chandler | The Atlantic

❋ Michael Slager Had History Of Violence Against Black People | The Young Turks (Video)

❋ Another Police Shooting Of An Unarmed Black Man | The Young Turks (Video)

Fairfax Jail Inmate [Natasha McKenna] in Taser Death was Shackled -By Tom Jackman & Justin Jouvenal | Washington Post

Reserve Deputy Who Killed Eric Harris Pleads Not Guilty, Is Allowed to Take Vacation in Bahamas -By Breanna Edward | The Root

Tamir Rice and the Value of Life -By Charles M. Blow | NYT

Police Killed More Than 100 People In March -By Carimah Townes | ThinkProgress

A New Estimate Of Killings By Police Is Way Higher — And Still Too Low -By Carl Bialik | FiveThirtyEight

Killed By Police (Data Collection)

IGNORANCE OF THE LAW

There’s wide consensus around the video: Walter Scott was shot and killed in cold blood as he ran for his life from Michael Slager, the cop who stands charged with his murder in North Charleston, South Carolina. But Scott’s demise was set in motion moments earlier, when Slager decided to pull him over for a traffic violation—a stop that never should have happened.

The dashcam video leaves no doubt as to why Slager pulled over Scott: “The reason for the stop is that your third brake light’s out,” Slager told Scott, minutes prior to the fatal shooting.

Slager’s asserted “reason” had no premise in South Carolina law: Scott’s vehicle was in full compliance. Lacking reasonable suspicion that Scott was doing something illegal, Slager should’ve never pulled him over in the first place, unless his true motive was something other than a concern for enforcing the laws he took an oath to uphold.

Policing minor traffic violations as a pretext for more intrusive, “crime-fighting” stops is a real and dangerous problem—Slate’s Jamelle Bouie broke down the numbers of how people of color are hit hardest by this rampant style of roadside discrimination.

But there’s another problem: The legal pretexts police use for such traffic stops can be plainly mistaken or made up.

South Carolina law is straightforward on the issue of third brake lights. Motor vehicles must be equipped with “a stop lamp on the rear”—a singular brake light, which is to be maintained in good working order. A South Carolina appeals court confirmed this reading: A single operating brake light means a vehicle is “in full compliance with all statutory requirements regarding rear vehicle lights,” and a stop premised on requiring anything more is “unreasonable” and thus a violation of the driver’s constitutional rights. However, the decision was later overturned on appeal.

So why did Slager pull over Scott? If what he said, as captured on the dashcam account, is to be believed, Slager made a mistake and decided to “seize” Scott for a law not in the books. In a perfect world, such errors should never give a police officer an opportunity to stop anyone.

That perfect world was shattered in December, when the Supreme Court blessed the shady police practice of pulling someone over for breaking a law that doesn’t exist. The case was Heien v. North Carolina, involving the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures—the only shield against police overreach during close encounters with law enforcement. In an 8-to-1 decision, the court ruled that “reasonable” mistakes about what the law is can justify police stopping an otherwise law-abiding citizen.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who doesn’t seem to get pulled over often, announced the Heien reasoning with elegance: “To be reasonable is not to be perfect, and so the Fourth Amendment allows for some mistakes on the part of government officials, giving them fair leeway for enforcing the law in the community’s protection.”

It’s hard to argue with any of that, except for the fact that nowhere in the pronouncement is there any mention that the Fourth Amendment exists to protect the community from the government. Roberts’ formulation makes it seem as if the provision exists to protect the community from criminals.

And maybe Nicholas Heien, the petitioner in that case, was a criminal. When a North Carolina police officer pulled over Heien and Maynor Javier Vasquez in 2009, the officer informed them that they had been stopped “for a nonfunctioning brake light”—the same line Slager used on Scott. Heien, the owner of the car, got a warning citation and everything should’ve ended there. But the officer, for some unexplained reason, decided to ask Heien if he could give the car a “quick check” to ensure there were no “drugs or guns or anything like that.” That’s when Heien—against his better judgment—consented to the search, which revealed a baggie of cocaine, and everything went downhill for the two men.

Perhaps Heien and Vasquez got what they deserved, but should the car have been pulled over in the first place? Like South Carolina’s, North Carolina law only requires one working “stop lamp” in vehicles. (In the vast majority of states, the norm is two such lamps.) So if Heien’s single working brake light meant he was in compliance with the law, what legal justification did the officer have to perform the traffic stop to begin with? Shouldn’t the law enforcer know the essence of the traffic laws he’s enforcing, especially for something so common and straightforward as properly working taillights?

Not exactly, said the Supreme Court. Roberts and seven other colleagues were largely unpersuaded by the argument that if ignorance of the law is no excuse for the average citizen, it shouldn’t be an excuse for police officers, either. To the court, cops are just different. They get a pass for being ignorant about the law, so long as the ignorance is “reasonable.”

The lone dissenter, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, seemed to grasp the consequences of the court’s lopsided logic. Acknowledging that traffic stops “can be annoying, frightening, and perhaps humiliating,” Sotomayor argued that “an officer’s mistake of law, no matter how reasonable, cannot support the individualized suspicion necessary to justify a seizure under the Fourth Amendment.” More strikingly, she seemed to speak to our recent conversations around policing, portending that the Heien decision would lead to an erosion “of civil liberties in a context where that protection has already been worn down.”

The video of Scott running for his life as a result of a mundane traffic stop makes it clear that Sotomayor was right. Her focus on the experience of being confronted by the police, especially for communities where constitutional protections are thinner than anywhere else, was the more realistic approach. Other systemic factors surely played a role in Scott’s death—starting with the fact that too many police officers find it odd for someone to drive a luxury car while black. But it all began with that initial traffic stop, an unjustified intrusion on Scott’s freedom premised on Slager’s apparent ignorance of South Carolina law. Ignorance, the Supreme Court has now ruled, is an excuse for cops to get away with things you and I can’t.

Ignorance of the Law -By Cristian Farias | Slate


Cristian Farias is a journalist and lawyer who writes on Latino issues, civil rights, and the courts.