Fairness in international trade

Where are these children of South Sudan now. (Br. Bill Firman)

Catholic social justice lobby NETWORK has joined the chorus of those opposed to parts of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade accord currently under negotiation.

TPP was already opposed by those who say the lowering of trade barriers hurts American workers and takes advantage of nations were worker, safety and environmental protections are lacking.

But a classified portion of the agreement that was leaked has drawn criticism from all sides, including from Republicans who had generally backed it.

The section that has drawn so much ire creates tribunals where corporations could sue nations they claim hurt their business interests.

NETWORK points out that these types of tribunals have already been used to devastating effect, citing a small town in Peru poisoned by a lead-smelting operation. When Peru finally attempted to force a clean-up, the firm went bankrupt to avoid its responsibility, and its parent company is now suing Peru for $800 million over lost profits, money Peru could be using instead for health or education. Ninety-nine percent of children in the town have tested positive for lead poisoning, which causes brain damage, and significant drops in IQ have been observed.

In recent years, corporations have used the [tribunal] provisions in trade agreements to undermine a nation’s – or a community’s – ability to protect against environmental degradation of natural resources and worker safety.  Meanwhile, our faith organizations serve those living in poverty in every country in the world and stand witness to the pain that bad trade policies inflict on communities, particularly developing countries. 

NETWORK is just one of several faith communities opposing the provisions, including Catholics for the Alliance of the Common Good, Catholic Democrats, Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach and Presbyterian Church USA.

Injustice in India

Also speaking out forcefully for the cause of justice is Religious of Jesus and Mary Sr. Monica Joseph, superior general of her community Ranaghat, India, where an elderly nun was raped March 14. Six attackers also “stole money from the school, vandalized the chapel, broke open the tabernacle and took away the ciborium, the sacred vessel used during Mass,” the BBC reported. Two men have been arrested.

But Joseph, while condemning the horrifying attack, said the incident must be used to point out the host of injustices taking place in Indian society:

The violation of the dignity of a woman in this incident is against our culture and tradition, but I plead with you, let us not focus on this one issue, let us bring to the fore the many voiceless and illiterate women and children in various parts of our beloved country and the world at large that go unnoticed and ignored. Let us focus our energies and resources to safeguard the girl child. It is our duty to ensure the dignity and safety of all women and children.

We are deeply pained that our chapel, which is our place of prayer and worship was desecrated. Let us resolve today to ask God to give us the grace to inculcate in all, respect for all religions and places of worship.

Joseph points out that one can forgive but still want justice:

On our part . . . we have forgiven the miscreants, this is our legacy left behind by Jesus and our Foundress St. Claudine Thevenet. But definitely we want justice. Let the culprits and the mastermind behind this gruesome deed, be brought to book, not for our sake alone, but to safeguard thousands of suffering, silent women and children. They should not be let off scot free to continue destroying and wounding other vulnerable persons.

But then goes on to mourn what the perpetrators have become, asking, “What went wrong?” We are all responsible for not providing the young attackers with a good education and employment, she said.

“It is in our hands to change the world and make it a safer place for us now and for the future generations,” Joseph said. “This is our responsibility.”

Lost generation of South Sudan

Life has never been easy in South Sudan. But things have been so terrible of late that Solidarity With South Sudan Executive Director De LaSalle Christian Br. Bill Firman is wondering what will become of a generation of children raised amid the horror of war.

For four years, Solidarity provided teacher training in the town of Leer.

“On past visits to Leer, I took many photos,” Firman writes. “I look at them today and wonder what has happened to these people who welcomed us so warmly.”

He knows what happened to the Comboni priests, brothers and sisters that were there: Government troops and rebels from Darfur arrived, forcing them to flee into the bush, where they tried to survive among swamps filled with mosquitos, crocodiles and hippos.

When they were finally able to return, Leer had been looted and burned to the ground. He says a Comboni sister reports that children there have been recruited to fight in the war and that the water has been polluted by chemicals used for oil drilling.

What happened to the smiling children Firman used to see? No one knows.

The atrocities have been inhuman, sub-human: there is no respect for human dignity. Countless numbers of people have been killed, maimed or traumatized. There is no logic to a war like this. So many people are crying out for peace. Yet the leaders, with their own families safely in Kenya or Uganda, are not listening. O Lord, hear the anguished cries of your people!

Firman notes that reporting in South Sudan can be suspect, but first-hand reports continue to confirm compulsory enlistment of men and boys into the fighting.

“While this kind of military build up seems to indicate both sides are preparing for further fighting, the good news is that the wet season is approaching and that will make movement of troops and machinery very difficult,” he writes. “Some say each side is preparing for one big final push. A wiser view is that both sides will lose if they try.”

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at dstockman@ncronline.org.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter @DanStockman or on Facebook.]