(ABUJA, Nigeria) — The 82 freed Chibok schoolgirls arrived in Nigeria’s capital on Sunday to meet President Muhammadu Buhari as anxious families awaited an official list of names and looked forward to reuniting three years after the mass abduction.
The newly released girls arrived at the Abuja airport and were met by the Buhari’s chief of staff, presidential adviser Femi Adesina said. The president was expected to meet with the schoolgirls at 4 p.m. local time.
The 82 girls were freed Saturday in exchange for an unspecified number of detained suspected Boko Haram extremists, Buhari’s office said in a statement.
This is the largest negotiated release so far of the nearly 300 girls whose abduction in 2014 highlighted the threat of Nigeria’s homegrown extremists who are linked to the Islamic State group. Before Saturday’s release, 195 of the girls had been captive. Now 113 of the girls remain unaccounted for.
A first group of 21 girls were released in October as Nigeria announced it had begun negotiations with the extremist group. At the time, the government denied making an exchange for Boko Haram suspects or paying ransom.
The girls released in October have been reported to be in government care in Abuja for medical attention, trauma counseling and rehabilitation, according to the government. Human rights groups have criticized the decision to keep the girls in custody in Abuja, nearly 900 kilometers (560 miles) from Chibok.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, which along with the Swiss government mediated months of negotiations between Nigeria’s government and Boko Haram, said the newly released girls soon would meet with their families.
The ICRC also tweeted what might be the first public image of the freed schoolgirls on Sunday, showing a line of young women wearing shirts with the ICRC logo waiting to board a helicopter.
The ICRC said it had acted as a neutral intermediary to transport the freed girls into Nigerian government custody.
Long-suffering family members said they were eagerly awaiting a list of names and their “hopes and expectations are high.”
The Bring Back Our Girls campaign said Sunday it was happy that Nigeria’s government had committed to rescuing the 113 remaining schoolgirls. “We urge the president and his government to earnestly pursue the release of all our Chibok girls and other abducted citizens of Nigeria,” the group said in a statement.
The 276 schoolgirls kidnapped from Chibok in 2014 are among thousands of people abducted by Boko Haram over the years.
The mass abduction brought the extremist group’s rampage in northern Nigeria to world attention and began years of heartbreak for the families of the missing schoolgirls.
Some relatives did not live to see their daughters released. Many of the captive girls, most of them Christians, were forced to marry their captors and give birth to children in remote forest hideouts without knowing if they would see their parents again. It is feared that other girls were strapped with explosives and sent on missions as suicide bombers.
A Nigerian military official with direct knowledge of the rescue operation said the freed girls were found near the town of Banki in Borno state near Cameroon.
Boko Haram remains active in that area. On Friday, the United States and Britain issued warnings that the extremist group was actively planning to kidnap foreigners in an area of Borno state “along the Kumshe-Banki axis.”
Buhari late last year announced Boko Haram had been “crushed,” but the group continues to carry out attacks in northern Nigeria and neighboring countries. Its insurgency has killed more than 20,000 people and driven 2.6 million from their homes, with millions facing starvation.
It’s been a long time since these girls were taken from their homes and their village. I am sure it seems much, much longer to them. I don’t know exactly what tragedies they have survived, but I know that they have survived because they are courageous, and because they love life. I honor them and their survival and now I ask for prayers for their continued healing, that they are able to make whole lives for themselves, and to move on from this terrible experience they have lived through.
It is my solemn hope that this kind of experience will never happen to a group of young girls ever again. That they will not be kidnapped, taken from their homes, lives and families; that their lives will not be reduced to be owned and controlled by terrorists or warriors again.
In the four and a half years I have blogged, I have mentioned my grandfather and how, while I was a child, he taught me to never forget the past. For those who don’t know me well, he immigrated here from Croatia. He said they would be Americans now. He became a tool and dye maker and worked throughout the depression. He spoke English without any accent. I was 22 years old when he died.
He taught me to remember the past because if we didn’t it would happen again. I was nine when he first mentioned the Holocaust. I listened. He explained the camps to me. He taught me to respect other people and their customs. He bought me a book of black and white pictures of the carnage the Allies found when they freed the camps. I can still close my eyes and see those walking naked skeletons. I didn’t scar me; it made me care about others. It helped me emphasize with their pain. He gave me the desire to help make the world a better place. He taught me that evil can come in beautiful packaging.
I found this article and almost cried because he says many of the things grandpa used to say to me. So I am going to let you hear them now. Because history is lining up to repeat itself and we need to know how to prevent it or at least to fight it.
History tells us what may happen next with Brexit & Trump
It seems we’re entering another of those stupid seasons humans impose on themselves at fairly regular intervals. I am sketching out here opinions based on information, they may prove right, or may prove wrong, and they’re intended just to challenge and be part of a wider dialogue.
My background is archaeology, so also history and anthropology. It leads me to look at big historical patterns. My theory is that most peoples’ perspective of history is limited to the experience communicated by their parents and grandparents, so 50–100 years. To go beyond that you have to read, study, and learn to untangle the propaganda that is inevitable in all telling of history. In a nutshell, at university I would fail a paper if I didn’t compare at least two, if not three opposing views on a topic. Taking one telling of events as gospel doesn’t wash in the comparative analytical method of research that forms the core of British academia. (I can’t speak for other systems, but they’re definitely not all alike in this way).
So zooming out, we humans have a habit of going into phases of mass destruction, generally self imposed to some extent or another. This handy list shows all the wars over time. Wars are actually the norm for humans, but every now and then something big comes along. I am interested in the Black Death, which devastated Europe. The opening of Boccaccio’s Decameron describes Florence in the grips of the Plague. It is as beyond imagination as the Somme, Hiroshima, or the Holocaust. I mean, you quite literally can’t put yourself there and imagine what it was like. For those in the midst of the Plague it must have felt like the end of the world.
But a defining feature of humans is their resilience. To us now it seems obvious that we survived the Plague, but to people at the time it must have seemed incredible that their society continued afterwards. Indeed, many takes on the effects of the Black Death are that it had a positive impact in the long term. Well summed up here: “By targeting frail people of all ages, and killing them by the hundreds of thousands within an extremely short period of time, the Black Death might have represented a strong force of natural selection and removed the weakest individuals on a very broad scale within Europe,“ …In addition, the Black Death significantly changed the social structure of some European regions. Tragic depopulation created the shortage of working people. This shortage caused wages to rise. Products prices fell too. Consequently, standards of living increased. For instance, people started to consume more food of higher quality.”
But for the people living through it, as with the World Wars, Soviet Famines, Holocaust, it must have felt inconceivable that humans could rise up from it. The collapse of the Roman Empire, Black Death, Spanish Inquisition, Thirty Years War, War of the Roses, English Civil War… it’s a long list. Events of massive destruction from which humanity recovered and move on, often in better shape.
At a local level in time people think things are fine, then things rapidly spiral out of control until they become unstoppable, and we wreak massive destruction on ourselves. For the people living in the midst of this it is hard to see happening and hard to understand. To historians later it all makes sense and we see clearly how one thing led to another. During the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme I was struck that it was a direct outcome of theassassination of an Austrian Arch Duke in Bosnia. I very much doubt anyone at the time thought the killing of a European royal would lead to the death of 17 million people.
My point is that this is a cycle. It happens again and again, but as most people only have a 50–100 year historical perspective they don’t see that it’s happening again. As the events that led to the First World War unfolded, there were a few brilliant minds who started to warn that something big was wrong, that the web of treaties across Europe could lead to a war, but they were dismissed as hysterical, mad, or fools, as is always the way, and as people who worry about Putin, Brexit, and Trump are dismissed now.
Then after the War to end all Wars, we went and had another one. Again, for a historian it was quite predictable. Lead people to feel they have lost control of their country and destiny, people look for scapegoats, a charismatic leader captures the popular mood, and singles out that scapegoat. He talks in rhetoric that has no detail, and drums up anger and hatred. Soon the masses start to move as one, without any logic driving their actions, and the whole becomes unstoppable.
That was Hitler, but it was also Mussolini, Stalin, Putin, Mugabe, and so many more. Mugabe is a very good case in point. He whipped up national anger and hatred towards the land owning white minority (who happened to know how to run farms), and seized their land to redistribute to the people, in a great populist move which in the end unravelled the economy and farming industry and left the people in possession of land, but starving. See also the famines created by the Soviet Union, and the one caused by the Chinese Communists last century in which 20–40 million people died. It seems inconceivable that people could create a situation in which tens of millions of people die without reason, but we do it again and again.
But at the time people don’t realise they’re embarking on a route that will lead to a destruction period. They think they’re right, they’re cheered on by jeering angry mobs, their critics are mocked. This cycle, the one we saw for example from the Treaty of Versaille, to the rise of Hitler, to the Second World War, appears to be happening again. But as with before, most people cannot see it because:
1. They are only looking at the present, not the past or future
2. They are only looking immediately around them, not at how events connect globally
3. Most people don’t read, think, challenge, or hear opposing views
Trump is doing this in America. Those of us with some oversight from history can see it happening. Read this brilliant, long essay in the New York magazine to understand how Plato described all this, and it is happening just as he predicted. Trump says he will Make America Great Again, when in fact America is currently great, according to pretty well any statistics. He is using passion, anger, and rhetoric in the same way all his predecessors did — a charismatic narcissist who feeds on the crowd to become ever stronger, creating a cult around himself. You can blame society, politicians, the media, for America getting to the point that it’s ready for Trump, but the bigger historical picture is that history generally plays out the same way each time someone like him becomes the boss.
On a wider stage, zoom out some more, Russia is a dictatorship with a charismatic leader using fear and passion to establish a cult around himself. Turkey is now there too. Hungary, Poland, Slovakia are heading that way, and across Europe more Trumps and Putins are waiting in the wings, in fact funded by Putin, waiting for the popular tide to turn their way.
We should be asking ourselves what our Archduke Ferdinand moment will be. How will an apparently small event trigger another period of massive destruction. We see Brexit, Trump, Putin in isolation. The world does not work that way — all things are connected and affecting each other. I have pro-Brexit friends who say ‘oh, you’re going to blame that on Brexit too??’ But they don’t realise that actually, yes, historians will trace neat lines from apparently unrelated events back to major political and social shifts like Brexit.
Brexit — a group of angry people winning a fight — easily inspires other groups of angry people to start a similar fight, empowered with the idea that they may win. That alone can trigger chain reactions. A nuclear explosion is not caused by one atom splitting, but by the impact of the first atom that splits causing multiple other atoms near it to split, and they in turn causing multiple atoms to split. The exponential increase in atoms splitting, and their combined energy is the bomb. That is how World War One started and, ironically how World War Two ended.
An example of how Brexit could lead to a nuclear war could be this:
Brexit in the UK causes Italy or France to have a similar referendum. Le Pen wins an election in France. Europe now has a fractured EU. The EU, for all its many awful faults, has prevented a war in Europe for longer than ever before. The EU is also a major force in suppressing Putin’s military ambitions. European sanctions on Russia really hit the economy, and helped temper Russia’s attacks on Ukraine (there is a reason bad guys always want a weaker European Union). Trump wins in the US. Trump becomes isolationist, which weakens NATO. He has already said he would not automatically honour
NATO commitments in the face of a Russian attack on the Baltics.
With a fractured EU, and weakened NATO, Putin, facing an ongoing economic and social crisis in Russia, needs another foreign distraction around which to rally his people. He funds far right anti-EU activists in Latvia, who then create a reason for an uprising of the Russian Latvians in the East of the country (the EU border with Russia). Russia sends ‘peace keeping forces’ and ‘aid lorries’ into Latvia, as it did in Georgia, and in Ukraine. He annexes Eastern Latvia as he did Eastern Ukraine (Crimea has the same population as Latvia, by the way).
A divided Europe, with the leaders of France, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and others now pro-Russia, anti-EU, and funded by Putin, overrule calls for sanctions or a military response. NATO is slow to respond: Trump does not want America to be involved, and a large part of Europe is indifferent or blocking any action. Russia, seeing no real resistance to their actions, move further into Latvia, and then into Eastern Estonia and Lithuania. The Baltic States declare war on Russia and start to retaliate, as they have now been invaded so have no choice. Half of Europe sides with them, a few countries remain neutral, and a few side with Russia. Where does Turkey stand on this? How does ISIS respond to a new war in Europe? Who uses a nuclear weapon first?
This is just one Arch Duke Ferdinand scenario. The number of possible scenarios are infinite due to the massive complexity of the many moving parts. And of course many of them lead to nothing happening. But based on history we are due another period of destruction, and based on history all the indicators are that we are entering one.
It will come in ways we can’t see coming, and will spin out of control so fast people won’t be able to stop it. Historians will look back and make sense of it all and wonder how we could all have been so naïve. How could I sit in a nice café in London, writing this, without wanting to run away. How could people read it and make sarcastic and dismissive comments about how pro-Remain people should stop whining, and how we shouldn’t blame everything on Brexit. Others will read this and sneer at me for saying America is in great shape, that Trump is a possible future Hitler (and yes, Godwin’s Law. But my comparison is to another narcissistic, charismatic leader fanning flames of hatred until things spiral out of control). It’s easy to jump to conclusions that oppose pessimistic predictions based on the weight of history and learning. Trump won against the other Republicans in debates by countering their claims by calling them names and dismissing them. It’s an easy route but the wrong one.
Ignoring and mocking the experts , as people are doing around Brexit and Trump’s campaign, is no different to ignoring a doctor who tells you to stop smoking, and then finding later you’ve developed incurable cancer. A little thing leads to an unstoppable destruction that could have been prevented if you’d listened and thought a bit. But people smoke, and people die from it. That is the way of the human.
So I feel it’s all inevitable. I don’t know what it will be, but we are entering a bad phase. It will be unpleasant for those living through it, maybe even will unravel into being hellish and beyond imagination. Humans will come out the other side, recover, and move on. The human race will be fine, changed, maybe better. But for those at the sharp end — for the thousands of Turkish teachers who just got fired, for the Turkish journalists and lawyers in prison, for the Russian dissidents in gulags, for people lying wounded in French hospitals after terrorist attacks, for those yet to fall, this will be their Somme.
What can we do? Well, again, looking back, probably not much. The liberal intellectuals are always in the minority. See Clay Shirky’s Twitter Storm on this point. The people who see that open societies, being nice to other people, not being racist, not fighting wars, is a better way to live, they generally end up losing these fights. They don’t fight dirty. They are terrible at appealing to the populace. They are less violent, so end up in prisons, camps, and graves. We need to beware not to become divided (see: Labour party), we need to avoid getting lost in arguing through facts and logic, and counter the populist messages of passion and anger with our own similar messages. We need to understand and use social media. We need to harness a different fear. Fear of another World War nearly stopped World War 2, but didn’t. We need to avoid our own echo chambers. Trump and Putin supporters don’t read the Guardian, so writing there is just reassuring our friends. We need to find a way to bridge from our closed groups to other closed groups, try to cross the ever widening social divides.
(Perhaps I’m just writing this so I can be remembered by history as one of the people who saw it coming.)
Three jailed for India mother and daughter gang rape
Three men suspected of participating in the gang rape of a woman and her teenage daughter have been sent to jail for 14 days as investigations continue.
The two were dragged out of a car by a group of men along a highway between Noida, a Delhi suburb, and Kanpur city on Friday, reports said.
Three male relatives travelling with them were assaulted and tied up.
The incident has caused outrage across the country and raised questions about police efficiency.
Some of the victims alleged that they got no response from the official helpline number.
One of the men who was attacked told the Hindustan Times newspaper that the line had been continually busy and that when they finally got through, the officer at the other end of the line had “repeatedly asked questions instead of rescuing the family”.
Family members also alleged that a police van had driven past the field in Bulandshahr area where the incident took place, but had not stopped.
Senior police officer Sujeet Pandey told BBC Hindi on Monday that the three men, who were arrested on Sunday, were remanded in prison after they were identified by their victims.
Three more men were detained today, he added.
The Uttar Pradesh state government has suspended seven policemen in connection with the incident and set up a 300-member taskforce to investigate the incident.
The family was also robbed of money, jewelry and their mobile phones.
Scrutiny of sexual violence in India has grown since the 2012 gang rape and murder of a student on a Delhi bus.
However, brutal sexual attacks against women and children continue to be reported across the country.
My heart aches for the fact that there has been another rape. Actually, there have been thousands world wide today, but this one was a mother and daughter. This just seems heinous to me. World leaders need to recognize that crimes against women are serious. Rape is a crime where a woman body in invaded, ravaged and desecrated. Rape should be almost as serious as murder. Rape kills a part of a woman and it can never be replaced.
The Pope says that the world is at war, not a religious war, but war. I say there is a war against women and minorities going on.I am anti war, but we have to punish people who attack events and groups of people severely. We need to punish rapists very severely because they can not stop their behavior. They feel no remorse and should be shut away for the rest of their lives.
There are too many people in prison for minor charges serving long sentences and rapists getting out in a couple of weeks. The is backwards. This needs to be straightened out. We need to protect citizens, especially women and children. We need to prevent an all out war.
“We regard our living together not as an unfortunate mishap
warranting endless competition among us
but as a deliberate act of God
to make us a community of brothers and sisters
jointly involved in the quest for a composite answer
Muslims Go to Catholic Mass Across France, Italy to Show Solidarity
byTHE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ROUEN, France — In a gesture of solidarity following the gruesome killing of a French priest, Muslims on Sunday attended Catholic Mass in churches and cathedrals across France and Italy.
An Associated Press reporter at the scene said that a few dozen Muslims gathered at the towering Gothic cathedral in Rouen, near Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray where the 85-year-old Rev. Jacques Hamel had his throat slit by two teenage Muslim fanatics on Tuesday.
“We are very moved by the presence of our Muslim friends and I believe it is a courageous act that they did by coming to us,” said Dominique Lebrun, the archbishop of Rouen, after the service.
Some of the Muslims sat in the front row, across from the altar. Among the parishioners was one of the nuns who was briefly taken hostage at Hamel’s church after the priest was killed. She joined her fellow Catholics in turning to shake hands or embrace the Muslim churchgoers after the service.
Outside the church, a group of Muslims were applauded when they unfurled a banner: “Love for all. Hate for none.”
Churchgoer Jacqueline Prevot said that the attendance of Muslims was “a magnificent gesture.”
“Look at this whole Muslim community that attended Mass,” she said. “I find this very heartwarming; I am confident. I say to myself that this assassination won’t be lost, that it will maybe relaunch us better than politics can do; maybe we will react in a better way.”
Many of the Muslims who attended the service in Rouen — including those with the banner — were Ahmadiyya Muslims, a minority sect which differs from mainstream Islam in that it doesn’t regard Muhammad as the final prophet.
Similar interfaith gatherings were repeated elsewhere in France, as well as in neighboring Italy.
At Paris’ iconic Notre Dame cathedral, Dalil Boubakeur, the rector of the Mosque of Paris, said repeatedly that Muslims want to live in peace.
“The situation is serious,” Boubakeur told BFMTV. “Time has come to come together so as not to be divided.”
In Italy, the secretary general of the country’s Islamic Confederation, Abdullah Cozzolino, spoke from the altar in the Treasure of St. Gennaro chapel next to Naples’ Duomo cathedral. Three imams also attended Mass at the St. Maria Church in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood, donning their traditional dress as they entered the sanctuary and sat down in the front row.
Mohammed ben Mohammed, a member of the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy, said that he called on faithful in his sermon Friday “to report anyone who may be intent to damage society. I am sure that there are those among the faithful who are ready to speak up.”
Ahmed El Balzai, the imam of the Vobarno mosque in the Lombard province of Brescia, said he did not fear repercussions for speaking out.
“I am not afraid. … These people are tainting our religion and it is terrible to know that many people consider all Muslim terrorists. That is not the case,” El Balazi said. “Religion is one thing. Another is the behavior of Muslims who don’t represent us.”
Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni thanked Italian Muslims for their participation, saying they “are showing their communities the way of courage against fundamentalism.”
Like in France, Italy is increasing its supervision of mosques. Interior Minister Angelino Alfano told the Senate this week that authorities were scrutinizing mosque financing and working with the Islamic community to ensure that imams study in Italy, preach in Italian and are aware of Italy’s legal structure.
Pope Francis: ‘World Is at War’ 1:06
Meanwhile the Paris prosecutor’s office said it has requested that a cousin of one of the two 19-year-olds who slit the priest’s throat should be charged with participating in “a terrorist association with the aim of harming others.”
In a statement it said it appeared 30-year-old Frenchman Farid K. “knew very well, if not of the exact place or time, of his cousin’s impending plans for violence.”
The office added that a Syrian refugee detained in the wake of the attack was released Saturday.
As you read this article, please remember that the Muslims who participated in interfaith day of worship are moderate Muslims. They are not Jihadists. They are not participating in a holy war. The Pope says the world is at war and I fear he is correct. We need to dust off the anti-war placards and be ready to stand up to the hawks who want to kill, kill, kill. There are three religions that are considered the people of the book. The Muslims, the Jews and the Christians. They honor Moses, Abraham and Elijah.
Remember that each of our actions have reactions and many of those reactions can not be changed. These moderate Muslims in France and Italy are making an effort to show that they are not a threat, I think we need to honor that and honor them. Muslims have the right to live in America and Jews have a right to live here. Americans can not look at everyone who is different and feel fear. Yes, there are some you and I should fear, but the majority of Muslims are just people like you and I.
The silence spreads. I talk and must talk. So I speak to him and say to him. “Comrade, I did not want to kill you. If you jumped in here again, I would not do it, if you would be sensible too. But you were only an idea to me before, an abstraction that lived in my mind and called forth its appropriate response. It was that abstraction I stabbed. But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do thy never tell us that you are just poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony—forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy? If we threw away these rifles and this uniform you could be my brother like Kat and Albert. Take twenty years of my life comrade, and stand up—take more, for I do not know what I can even attempt to do with it now.”
—Erich Maria Remarque
” Think of what a world we could build if the power unleashed in war were applied to constructive tasks! On-tenth of the energy that the various belligerents spent in a war, a fraction of the money they exploded in hand grenades and poison gas, would suffice to raise the standard of living in every country and avert the economic catastrophe of worldwide unemployment. We must be prepared to make the same heroic sacrifices for the cause of war. There is no task that is more important or closer to my heart.”
Traditionally women have been seen as and forced to be second class citizens. All throughout written history, they have been expected to obey their husbands, accept any and all violence. They have been supposed to tolerate adultery. They have been made to feed their families with little or no help from their man. Marriage was a business arrangement to solidify relations between countries, as a mediation between warring clans or families. Marriage also used to require a bride price. Marry my daughter and I will give you 10 horses, 12 goats, and 6 bracelets of silver. We like to think times have changed but women continue to cook, clean, have babies and never speak about anything important.
Violence is happening around the world to men, women and children, but the women and children carry the brunt of the scars of the violence. Women may not look strong, but millions are strong. This is the story of such women and what they chose to do when violence drove them from their villages.
To the bravery and strength of every woman who surmounts her poverty, illiteracy, and homelessness and carves out for herself and her children a better life: I say you are heroines. Be proud of yourselves and children be proud of your Moms. Their strength keeps you all alive. Their bravery has shown the people of Colombia that women and children do matter. It shows that violence does not always win.
Displaced by violence, Colombian women build their own city
LIGA DE MUJERES DESPLAZADAS.
Some 6 million Colombians, more than half of them women, have been forced out of their homes due to a decades-long conflict between leftist guerrilla groups and parliamentary forces. On a plot of land outside the municipality of Turbaco, a group of displaced women have convened to build themselves a new home. They call themselves “The League of Displaced Women,” and their village the “City of Women.”
According to a feature in The Guardian, the idea for a female-fronted village was first conceived by displaced women living in El Pozón, an impoverished neighborhood of Cartagena. “We realized we had so many things in common that were affecting us,” said Yajaira Mejía, whose husband was murdered in 2001. “We were in a critically vulnerable state.” With the help of Patricia Guerrero, a lawyer from Bogotá, the women lobbied government agencies and eventually were granted enough money to buy land on the outskirts of Turbaco. The League of Displaced Women trained in construction, and began building houses. There are now 102 homes in the City of Women.
The League’s path to independence has not been easy. Because they were labeled as leftist guerillas, they have been susceptible to violence by right wing forces. Unidentified men once set fire to the City of Women’s communal hall, and the daughter of a founding League member was murdered. The partner of another League member was killed and dismembered.
But the women have not been deterred from their mission to empower female victims of internecine violence. The League has submitted a complaint with the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, claiming that the Colombian government failed to protect them from gender-based violence. And Patricia Guerrero, who is now the director of the League, has been pressing the government to expand the City of Women. “We built 100 houses,” she told The Guardian. “The government should build 100 more for other members of the organization.”
Colombia’s City of Women: a haven from violence
Women who had lost everything to conflict came together in their struggle for survival, learning the skills to build a neighbourhood of 102 homes
As with most Colombian cities, the roads of the busy northern town of Turbaco are laid out in a grid of numbered streets and avenues. But in one particular neighbourhood the main thoroughfare has a special name: Street of the Women Warriors.
The designation is a fitting tribute to the indomitable spirit of the women – all victims of Colombia’s decades-long internal conflict – who came together, organised themselves and built the neighbourhood of 102 homes with their own hands.
The idea for the City of Women was born in El Pozón, a poor, crowded and impoverished neighbourhood of Cartagena, far from the stunning colonial architecture that draws tourists from around the world. The city’s marginal neighbourhoods instead attract hundreds of thousands of people forcibly displaced from other areas of the country.
Yajaira Mejía, 45, was forced from her home twice. First, in 1998, she and her family fled the town of Plato, Magdalena, for Valledupar when one of her brothers-in-law was killed and another disappeared. Then, in 2001, her husband – who sold fruit and vegetables on Valledupar’s streets – was shot dead.
By the time Mejía arrived in El Pozón with her two small children, joining thousands of other displaced people, women there had already started organising. They would meet in the yards of their homes, precariously built from plastic tarp.
They were victims of the warring factions, including leftist guerrilla groups, rightwing paramilitary armies and even government forces. But what brought them together was their new struggle to survive.
“We realised we had so many things in common that were affecting us,” says Mejía. “We were in a critically vulnerable state.”
Patricia Guerrero, a lawyer from the Colombian capital Bogotá, encouraged and guided them. They called themselves the League of Displaced Women.
“She told us about our rights and helped us identify our needs,” says Mejía, noting that most of the women were unaware that as victims of the conflict they were entitled to aid and support from the government.
“Patricia made us realise that we needed to demand our rights, not ask for handouts,” she says.
They were labelled leftist guerrillas, which put them at risk of retaliation by rightwing paramilitary militias that had a strong and growing presence in the area. When one member of the group was raped, the league took it as a warning for all of them.
Still, they continued meeting, organising, planning.
One of the most pressing needs for the women was safe and stable housing for them and their families. After years of lobbying and knocking on the doors of aid agencies and government offices, they secured enough money through grants and subsidies to buy land on the outskirts of Turbaco.
The women trained in construction, and set out to build their own homes.
“We wanted to do it ourselves, to make these houses really ours,” says Deyanira Reyes, 48, another member of the league who lives in the City of Women.
In the darkest days of her displacement, when she lived in a squatter village, Reyes had a recurrent dream of walking up to a house and opening the door with a key. “It wasn’t a mansion, but it was my home,” she says.
Her dream became reality in 2006 when the league completed the 102 houses comprising the City of Women, each 78 sq m with a combined living/dining room, a kitchen, two bedrooms, a small backyard and a front porch.
Things didn’t always go smoothly, Mejía and Reyes recall. In 2004, the partner of one woman disappeared. He was a security guard at the breezeblock factory run by the league.
When his dismembered body was found several days later, construction work was halted and several women decided to pull out from the project.
“We panicked,” says Mejía. “We were afraid to go out on to the streets.”
But the man’s widow begged the women to continue. “She gave us the strength to carry on,” says Reyes.
In 2006, unidentified men set fire to the thatched roof of the communal hall where the women held their meetings. They rebuilt it.
And in 2011 the adult daughter of one of the founding women of the league, who was living in the city, was murdered.
“We make some people angry with our persistence,” says Mejía.
Guerrero, the director of the league, says she is now pressing the government to build more homes. “We built 100 houses – the government should build 100 more for other members of the organisation,” she says.
But the league is not just about building homes. It is also about creating female leaders.
Throughout the process of discovering and demanding their rights, the women have become more confident. “When we started off, these women couldn’t look a mayor in the eye. Now they’re not afraid of anything,” she says.
Guerrero is turning her attention to demanding justice and reparations for the crimes committed against the women and against the league as an organisation.
Not one of the 144 individual cases of crimes against the women, which include murder, rape and forced disappearances, has been resolved. No one has been held to account.
The same is true for the crimes against the organisation.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is studying the admissibility of a complaint the league brought against the Colombian government for a failure to provide access to justice and prevent gender-based violence.
This comes as the government is preparing itself for a post-conflict scenario if a final peace deal is signed with the Farc, which could happen soon.
A study of the league’s experience by the University of Los Andes in Bogotá recommended that the group’s work be studied and replicated by other organisations.
“In particular we would like to underscore the surprising combination of concrete projects to relieve poverty with strategies of long and short-term legal challenges and lobbying efforts on both a national and international level,” the study’s authors wrote.
As a successful organisation, the League of Displaced Women is preparing the next generation to continue to fight for women’s rights.
“Boys and girls who are growing up in the City of Women suckled the breasts of women becoming aware of their rights, demanding them. They have grown up with it,” says Guerrero.
“And they will continue our fight.”
Let us all help them continue the fight, the work, the sacrifices. Let us lift up our voices and declare that all violence must stop in this world. Let us support all of their brave efforts.
Mass Rape, a Weapon of War, Traumatizes South Sudan
By NICK CUMMING-BRUCEMARCH 11, 2016
The aftermath of an attack in February on a United Nations camp for civilians in Malakal, South Sudan.
GENEVA — First they killed her husband. Then, the South Sudanese woman said, government soldiers tied her to a tree and forced her to watch as at least 10 of them raped her 15-year-old daughter.
A little more than two years after the outbreak of civil war in South Sudan, the United Nations said Friday that all parties to the conflict had committed serious and systematic violence against civilians, but it singled out forces loyal to President Salva Kiir as the worst offenders.
“Crimes against humanity and war crimes have continued into 2015, and they have been predominantly perpetrated by the government,” David Marshall, the coordinator of a United Nations assessment team, said in an interview that was videotaped in South Sudan and released Friday along with the team’s report.
The mother’s account to United Nations investigators of the rape of her daughter was among many stories cited by the United Nations as evidence that government forces and affiliated militias had used sexual violence systematically to punish and terrorize civilians. Opposition forces also committed atrocities, but to a lesser degree, the United Nations said.
“This is one of the most horrendous human rights situations in the world, with massive use of rape as an instrument of terror and weapon of war, yet it has been more or less off the international radar,” Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, said in a statement.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed and more than two million forced to flee their homes since the start of the conflict between Mr. Kiir and his former vice president, Riek Machar, in December 2013, the United Nations said. The two sides agreed last August to set up a transitional government, but they have yet to do so.
In its 102-page report, the assessment team estimated that 10,553 civilians had died in Unity State in the 12 months that ended in November. Most appeared to have been killed deliberately, the team said.
The South Sudanese conflict intensified last year, particularly in Unity State, “where there has been a push by the government, both through the military leadership and the political leadership, to displace, kill, rape, abduct and pillage large portions of the civilian population,” Mr. Marshall said. “The consequence is that there has been much terror.”
Rights groups that have been expressing alarm about South Sudan for the past two years seized on the report to press their demands for a Security Council arms embargo and the establishment of a special war crimes court.
“While justice and an arms embargo alone will not solve this disaster, they are an essential contribution to ending the litany of appalling abuses against civilians,” said Jehanne Henry, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. Tom Andrews, a former United States congressman who is president of United to End Genocide in Washington, said: “The time for pleading and begging South Sudan’s government to implement a peace deal is over.”
The United Nations assessment team, which visited South Sudan between October and January, recorded detailed accounts of how civilians, including women and children, had been hanged from trees, burned alive, shot and hacked to pieces with machetes. Churches, mosques and hospitals came under attack, the team said.
The team said it documented more than 1,300 cases of rape between April and September in Unity State alone, and 50 more cases from September to October. Mr. al-Hussein said the numbers “must only be a snapshot of the real total.”
Government forces carried out most of the rapes in 2015, although in some cases, criminal gangs that have flourished in South Sudan’s prevailing lawlessness were involved, the team found.
Army-affiliated militias, made up mainly of youths, raped and abducted women and girls essentially as a form of payment, under an agreement that allowed them to “do what you can and take what you can,” the team reported. The militias stole cattle and other property under the same understanding, the team said.
Some women reported being taken as “wives” by soldiers and kept for sexual slavery in barracks where they were raped repeatedly. In some instances, witnesses said, attackers killed women who resisted them or even looked them in the eye, or who showed signs of being unable to withstand continued gang rape, the United Nations reported.
In one incident, witnesses saw soldiers arguing because one of them wanted to “take” a 6-year-old girl he thought was “beautiful.” Other soldiers eventually shot the girl, the witnesses said.
The United Nations team concluded that the violence it documented required a degree of preparation that suggested there was a plan to attack the civilian population. Attacks by the armed forces loyal to Mr. Kiir largely targeted members of Mr. Machar’s Nuer community, which is consistent with the government’s political objective of weakening its opponents and communities perceived as supporting them, the team said.
Critics of the government also became targets of state violence, the United Nations team said. Human rights activists, journalists and United Nations aid agency staff members were threatened, harassed, detained and in some instances killed, the team said.
One journalist, Peter Julius Moi, was shot dead in the capital, Juba, in June, only days after Mr. Kiir threatened to retaliate against journalists who reported “against the country.”
Another journalist, Joseph Afandi, who had written articles critical of the government, was found dead near a Juba graveyard earlier this week, according to the local news media, which reported that he appeared to have been beaten and burned. Mr. Afandi had been released in mid-February after two months of detention without charge.
“There needs to be a commitment to end the violence, and then there needs to be a commitment on meaningful accountability, to investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators,” Mr. Marshall said in his recorded interview.
But the reality is that “that can’t happen given that the machinery of violence is basically the state,” he added. “Both the military arm and the civilian leadership are part and parcel of the problem. They are orchestrating the violence against their own civilians.”
The United Nations report came as the world body’s Human Rights Council prepared to take up the South Sudan conflict. The council’s 47 members will vote this month on a resolution that is likely to call for the United Nations to appoint a special rapporteur to monitor developments there and report back to the council, according to diplomats engaged in negotiating the text.
So here we are, hearing stories of murder and rape during war. I think that the UN should stop rapes of women and girls.It is totally uncivilized to fight a war this way. Civilians do not often have a lot to do with the causes of war and yet they regularly pay the price.
I believe that it is an crime worse than murder. Rape, especially in the third world countries, takes a woman’s life away from her and she is still alive to watch how it unravels and disappears. Little girls, if they are not killed during the rape, often have serious physical and emotional injuries. Soldiers often use rifle butts and knives to commit the rapes. Fathers and brothers are many times made to watch. There have been reports of rapes among little girls as young as six years old.
Think about your daughters and granddaughters going through an experience like this. It is horrifying. The UN needs to intervene and punish all soldiers who commit rape and murder among innocent civilians. We must focus on our similarities and remember we are all children of the universe. We are star matter. Yes, you may have decided that you have a right to participate in war but nothing ever gives you the right to injure innocent citizens. Wars don’t accomplish anything; they destroy lives and countries. They are good for nothing. This depravity is despicable in the eyes of civilized peoples.
Soldiers waging war on civilians including rape and murder.