- The Washington Times - Friday, November 13, 2009

Dear Mr. President

With President Obama scheduled to make his first official visit to China next week, Amnesty International is urging him “to candidly address grave human rights concerns.” Failure to do so “would send the wrong signal,” the organization says in a Nov. 3 letter to the president.

The letter summarizes Amnesty’s major human rights concerns by subject matter, such as foreign policy; singles out some imprisoned persons; and urges Mr. Obama to seek the immediate and unconditional release of “those detained solely for engaging in peaceful protest, including support for the Dalai Lama, the independence of Tibet, or greater autonomy for Tibet.”

Religious persecution and forced abortion are cited as major problems, and Amnesty Executive Director Larry Cox said “benchmarks” could be established to help assess whether China improves its record.

The letter points out that women are compelled to undergo abortion and sterilization to comply with China’s one-child policy. It also says religious persecution has led to the detention and repression of thousands of Tibetans, Uighurs and Falun Gong practitioners.

The United States should ask China to lift restrictions and obstacles to freedom of worship, the letter says, and end the repression of Tibetans and Uighurs, who have been “the target of systematic and extensive human rights violations. These include arbitrary detention, torture, severe restrictions on freedom of religion and employment discrimination.”

Mr. Obama is scheduled to arrive Sunday in Shanghai for a four-day stay in China before heading to Seoul.

Faith investors challenge Chamber

Leading faith-based investors are challenging 36 major firms - including McDonald’s Corp., Target Corp., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Home Depot Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., and PepsiCo Inc. - to announce publicly whether they endorse the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s position against health care reform.

The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, which has 275 members and represents more than $100 billion in invested capital, said Tuesday that 60 of its faith-based institutional investor members have contacted 36 companies asking them to clarify their positions on the health care legislation that is before the Senate. They also are demanding a public statement. The other companies that were contacted are: Aetna, American Express, AT&T, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Cardinal Health, Cisco Systems Inc., Duke Energy, DuPont, Eli Lilly, Exxon Mobil Corp., General Electric Co., General Mills, Goldman Sachs, IBM, Kellogg Co., Kohl’s, Manpower Inc., Marriott, Medco, Merck & Co., Peabody, Pfizer Inc., Safeway Inc., Staples Inc., Starbucks, 3M, UnitedHealth Group, United Technologies, Wellpoint and Xerox.

Signatories of the letter include Benedictine Sisters of Ridgely, Md.; Catholic Health East; Catholic Healthcare West; Dominican Sisters of Hope; Dominican Sisters of Houston; Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, Wash.; Friends Fiduciary Corp.; Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers; Maryknoll Sisters; Mennonite Mutual Aid; Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati; Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul of New York; Unitarian Universalist Service Committee; and Wisconsin-Minnesota Coalition for Responsible Investment.

“It so happens that many of the very corporations [that] recognize the need for comprehensive health reform, and [that] have expressed to not only us but to congressional members, their support for the majority of policy positions proposed in either the Senate or House legislation, are also members of the Chamber of Commerce,” said Edward Gerardo, director of community and social investment for Bon Secours Health System Inc. “And many have expressed privately their disagreement and dissatisfaction with both the position and tactics of the national office of the Chamber. Well, it’s time for accountability. If we are going to have meaningful and effective health reform, if our health system is to be affordable and serve all, then we believe our friends in boardrooms and executive offices who underwrite the very work of the Chamber must take responsible action and call on the Chamber leadership to adopt a more constructive tone.”

Priests caught in cross hairs

Clergy in Mexico, who are caught in the cross hairs of a national drug war, are taking action. They have been meeting this week with their counterparts from Colombia and Italy to draft their own strategy for coping with violence. It’s a step for which they were lauded by the Vatican.

Their fear is warranted; even speaking has consequences.

One priest has shushed himself after speaking to the media earlier this year about the whereabouts of the notorious drug lord known as “El Chapo.” Just days after he spoke out, law enforcers discovered a note and the bodies of two army lieutenants. “Neither the government nor priests can handle El Chapo,” the note said.

Afterward, the priest told inquiring reporters: “I am deaf and dumb.”

Clergy even receive threatening phone calls after preaching against drug use and violence, and Mass at one church was interrupted for hours when police stormed in to capture a lieutenant of a drug cartel. Priests have prayed with families of murdered men only to face the men’s killers in the confessional later.

There is consequential blood shed by the innocent.

In June, gunmen shot a priest and two seminary students on their way to a spiritual retreat. The area where the killings occurred is a known cocaine-trafficking route and one where opium is produced.

“We have become hostages in these violent confrontations between the drug cartels living among us,” Roman Catholic Archbishop Felipe Aguirre told Associated Press. He works in Acapulco, located in Guerrero state, where the priest and students were killed.

According to AP, the war between the cartels is fierce: Nearly 14,000 people have been killed since the drug crackdown was announced in 2006.

Mexico trails only Colombia as the most dangerous place for priests in Latin America, with two out of every 10 priests facing serious risks, according to an August study by the Mexican Council of Bishops, the AP reports.

The clergy’s strategy will include recommendations for priests and parishioners in drug hot spots.

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