Saturday, January 18, 2014

Okinawa: Testing Ground for US Biological Weapons

Kyodo News exposes over a dozen US military experiments on island in early 1960s

Sarah Lazare Common Dreams January 14, 2014

Protesters hold a sign at a mass anti-U.S. base rally in Ginowan, Okinawa on November 8, 2009. (Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon)The U.S. military used Okinawa, Japan as a testing ground for biological weapons during the early 1960s while the prefecture was under U.S. rule, Kyodo News revealed Sunday.

In over a dozen tests conducted between 1961 and 1962, rice paddies were showered with rice blast fungus to evaluate its threat to rice crops, according to U.S. military documents reported by Kyodo News.

The fungus, described by scientists as a ‘threat to global food security,’ causes lesions to form on plants and is estimated to ruin enough rice crops to feed 60 million people each year.

Kyodo News reports that similar experiments were conducted in Taiwan, in addition to previously disclosed chemical and biological tests in the United States.

‘The United States is believed to have had China and Southeast Asia in mind in developing such crop-harming agents,’ the report states.

For decades, Okinawa residents have resisted the U.S. military on the island, with continuous protests against the presence of U.S. service members, industrial pollution, sexual assaults, and the overall danger of neighboring a military installation.

A majority of Japan's U.S. military bases, and half of the 50,000 U.S. troops in the country, are located in Okinawa.

Read more

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Fr Chris McPhee msc, Australian Missionary of the Sacred Heart, based in Rome serving on the General Council.

‘I need to say something about our Australian Government and Refugees... and of how much shame I feel being an Australian overseas.

January 19 and 26, 2014 mark two very important days for all of us. The first is World Day of Migrants and Refugees and the 26th is Australia day... Which I believe is the beginning of Refugees and migrants into Australia.

Today our Prime Minister, Tony Abbott is a Catholic, and one who publicly declares himself Catholic... as well as a number of others on our Australian Parliamentary front bench... and in a different arena are often heard speaking about the right to life.

As Catholics we must affirm the fundamental human right of persons to migrate for the sake of life. In the public arena we must give voice to those unable to make their cry of distress and oppression heard.

Today, our Gospel stories keep reminding me... by tending to the wounds of refugees and showing hospitality to migrants, we put into practice Jesus' commandment: to see him in those who need us, ‘for I was a stranger and you welcomed me.’[Mt25.35]

Messages are coming from many different sources - but they are loud and clear... To quote my own Bishop, the bishop of Rome, Pope Francis: ‘Dear friends, let us not forget the flesh of Christ which is in the flesh of refugees: their flesh is the flesh of Christ.’ [address, 24 May 2013]

My fellow Australian Catholics we are called: to nourish the faith and hope of migrants and refugees... to be open, welcoming, just and loving; ‘for I was a stranger and you welcomed me.’[Mt25.35]. This is our calling!

You know as I said earlier, we often talk about life issues - this is about the protection of life! And what we are doing on the high seas is a disgrace.

This Australia Day ... with open arms then, let us welcome our sisters and brothers who leave their homeland for our country, forced by political instability, violence and persecution... and together we journey toward the Kingdom - the reign of God.’

Fr Chris McPhee msc, Australian Missionary of the Sacred Heart, based in Rome serving on the General Council.

‘Spirituality is not just about religion, or church attendance, or fidelity to one or other legal requirement. Spirituality is understood to be an innate wisdom of the human heart that enlivens a zest for life, a search for meaning and purpose, a love for all that is good and beautiful, a passion to create a better world, a sensitivity to the life-energy (God, if you wish) that permeates the entire cosmos.’

Diarmuid O'Murchu msc Our World in Transition: Making Sense of a Changing World

Monday, January 6, 2014

Bangaladeshi textile factory operator to face charges over fatal fire - Ben Doherty In Dhaka, Bangladesh, Sarah Whyte Sun-Herald January 5, 2014

Grieving families: Shafali Rahman, whose son Nayeem died in the fire. Photo: Ben Doherty

The Bangladeshi textile factory making material for Kmart, Target, Big W, and Just Jeans clothes, in which a massive fire in October killed seven workers, was reportedly warned by government inspectors a week before the blaze that the building was "dangerous to human life".

But despite an order to fix the biggest problems, the factory continued to operate without modification.

Australian companies using material sourced from Aswad Composite Mills in Gazipur say they did not know of the warning issued before the fire, and were not auditing the factory.

Aswad's owners deny there were any faults with the factory, saying criminal charges being laid by the government are "false and fabricated". They also claim the warning letter, a copy of which has been obtained by Fairfax Media, is part of a government cover-up.

On October 8, a fire broke out at Aswad when the chimney of a drying machine caught fire. The blaze spread across the factory's upper floor, fuelled by metres of fabric and drums of dye chemicals.

The seven workers who died were trapped upstairs.

Order forms from a host of Western fashion retailers were found in the charred wreckage. Australian companies Target, Big W, Kmart, and Just Jeans used material created in the factory.

On October 2, one week before the fatal blaze, the factory was issued with a formal notification by the Bangladeshi government that the building was unsafe for work.

The report, signed by government inspector Shahidul Islam, raised nine violations with the company, saying that the building was "dangerous to human life and security", and that the "fire extinguishers and other fire safety equipment were not maintained in an appropriate manner".

The inspector also found that the factory had been enlarged without approval; there was no record of regular maintenance of motors, electric switches and wiring; and the building was not properly ventilated.

"This is a legal notice to the factory after special inspection,'' the letter read. ''You are required to address these violations within seven days and report this to the authority. The authority is otherwise obliged to take legal action against the factory without prior notification.''

The Bangladeshi government says it will file criminal charges against the factory owners.

Aswad Composite Mills is owned by Palmal Group, one of Bangladesh's largest garment manufacturers, with 27 factories and more than 25,000 employees. It had exports of $US260 million ($290 million) last year. Managing director Nafis Sikder, told The Sun-Herald the allegations against the factory were "false and fabricated" and politically motivated.

He said the inspection, conducted on September 25, found the factory met all safety requirements. He said the government's letter, dated October 2, was not received by the factory until after the fire.

"This was a false letter. It was a cover-up by the labour department to show they were doing their job. After [previous accidents at] Tazreen and Rana Plaza there was a lot of pressure on the government to take action. This letter was to show higher-ups they were doing that. But it is contradictory to the report we have, which is 100 per cent positive."

Mr Sikder said the Aswad fire was the first for Palmal in 30 years in the industry. "This was a tragic incident at our company, and we have the greatest sympathy for all of the families affected. We are standing by the families of our victims … and we are being as transparent as possible."

The government is standing by its report. ''Our factory inspector found that the number of exhaust fans and the cooling system of the machine room was not sufficient and the walkway in the factory was very narrow,'' labour secretary Mikail Shiper said. ''We are going to file a case against the factory owners as they did not comply with the safety guidelines.''

The families of those killed have been paid 700,000 taka ($10,100) in compensation, from both Palmal and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

Big W, owned by Woolworths, said it did not know of the formal warning issued to Aswad, but claimed it audited all factories from where it sourced its products.

"Big W had no direct relationship with Aswad Composite Mills," a spokeswoman said. "They were a supplier to a supplier, and we were not aware of this document from the Bangladeshi government."

Target also said it had no "direct contractual relationship" with the factory. "The factory had not supplied material for Target clothing since February," a spokesman said. "Target Australia is always looking to improve worker safety and conditions in its Bangladesh sourcing factories. Our decision to sign the Bangladesh Accord and our commitment to publish details of our factory partners are evidence of that commitment."

Kmart also no longer sources material or garments from the group of factories, according to its recently published list of its suppliers in Bangladesh.

"Kmart has recently released a strengthened ethical sourcing code with the focus on helping our suppliers and their factories improve the safety, security and conditions for people who work in factories we source goods from," a Kmart spokeswoman said. Kmart also offered compensation to victims and their families of the Aswad fire.

Just Jeans did not return phone calls from The Sun-Herald.

The Aswad fire was one of a string of disasters in Bangladesh's massive but poorly regulated garment industry. Five fires and building collapses killed more than 1200 workers in the 12 months between November 2012 and last October.

Read more:

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Afghan Street Children Beg for Change

Published on Monday, December 30, 2013 by Common Dreams by Kathy Kelly

Kabul, Afghanistan is “home” to hundreds of thousands of children who have no home. Many of them live in squalid refugee camps with families that have been displaced by violence and war. Bereft of any income in a city already burdened by high rates of unemployment, families struggle to survive without adequate shelter, clothing, food or fuel. Winter is especially hard for refugee families. Survival sometimes means sending their children to work on the streets, as vendors, where they often become vulnerable to well organized gangs that lure them into drug and other criminal rings.The author with Safar, an Afghan “street child.” (Photo:

Last year, the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APV), a group of young Afghans who host me and other internationals when we visit their home in Kabul, began a program to help street children enrol in schools. They befriend small groups of children, get to know the children’s families and circumstances, and then reach agreements with the families that if the children are allowed to attend school and reduce their working hours on the streets, the APVs will compensate the families, supplying them with oil and rice. Next, the APVs buy warm clothes for each child and invite them to attend regular classes at the APV home to learn the alphabet and math.

Yesterday, Abdulhai and Hakim met a young boy, Safar, age 13, who was working as a boot polisher on a street near the APV home. Abdulhai asked to shake Safar’s hand, but the child refused. Understandably, Safar may have feared Abdulhai. But when Abdulhai and Hakim told Safar there were foreigners at the APV office who were keen to help, he followed them into our yard.

Sitting next to me, indoors, Safar continued shaking from the cold. We noticed that he had an angry red welt across his right cheek. Safar said that the previous day he had tried to warm his hands over an outdoor bar-b-que grill, and the cook hit him across the face with a red hot skewer to shoo him away. Safar clutched a half- filled small plastic Coca-Cola bottle in his hands. Asked why he was drinking cold soda on such a cold day, he said that he had a headache.

He was wearing a hoodie, light pants, and plastic slippers. He had no socks or gloves-- hardly adequate attire for working outside in the bitter cold all day. On a “good” day, Safar can earn 150 Afghanis, a sum that amounts to $3.00 and could purchase enough bread for a family of seven and perhaps have some left over to purchase clothes.

Abdulhai and Hakim asked Safar to come back the next day with some of his friends. One hour later, he arrived with five friends, two Pashto boys and three Tajiks, ranging in age from 13 to 5. The children promised to return the next day with more youngsters.

And so this morning seven street children filed into the APV home. None of them wore socks and all were shivering. Their eyes were gleaming as they nodded their heads, assuring us that they want to join APV’s street kids program.

Here in Kabul, a city relatively better off than most places in Afghanistan, we have electricity every other day. When the pipes freeze and there’s no electricity, we have no water. Imagine the hardships endured by people living with far less. Even in the United States, thousands of children’s basic needs aren’t met. The New York Times recently reported that there are 22,000 homeless children living in New York City.

Thinking of how the U.S. has used its resources here in Afghanistan, where more than a trillion has been spent on maintaining war and occupation, I feel deep shame. In 2014, the U.S. will spend 2.1 million dollars for every U.S. soldier stationed in Afghanistan. Convoys travel constantly between US military bases, transporting large amounts of fuel, food and clean water—luxury items to people living in refugee camps along their routes—often paying transportation tolls to corrupt officials, some of whom are known to head up criminal gangs.

While the U.S. lacks funds to guarantee basic human rights for hundreds of thousands of U.S. children, and while U.S. wars displace and destroy families in Afghanistan, the U.S. consistently meets the needs of weapon makers and war profiteers.

Even so, the inspiring activities of my young Afghan friends fuel a persistent hope. Heavy coverlets, called duvets, are bulging out of several storage rooms in the APV home. Talented young women have coordinated “the duvet project,” now in its second year, involving 60 women who produce a total of 600 duvets every two weeks for distribution to impoverished families. The seamstresses are paid for each duvet they make. In a society where women have few if any economic opportunities, this money can help women put food on the table and shoes on their children’s feet. The women equally represent three of the main ethnic divisions here in Kabul, --Hazara, Pashto, and Tajik -- an example that people can work together toward common goals. The young people work hard to develop similarly equal distribution amongst the neediest of families. Today they delivered 200 duvets to a school for blind children. Later in the day they will hike up the mountainside to visit widows who have no income.

This afternoon, 2 dozen young girls will be compensated for embroidering 144 blue scarves that proclaim “Borderfree” in Dari and English. The blue scarves, which are now being distributed in various parts of the world, symbolize the reality that there’s one blue sky above us. Activists in numerous peace and justice campaigns have been wearing the blue scarves.

Here in Kabul, our young friends gathered together on the evening of the winter solstice for music and celebration. At one point, they sat quietly, their faces illuminated by candle light, as each person in the circle said what they hoped would change, in the coming year, to help bring the world closer to peace. The visions danced – I hope children will be fed… I hope we won’t buy or sell weapons… I hope for forgiveness.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The collective yearning and longing of children who deserve a better world may yet affect hearts and minds all over the world, prompting people to ask why do we make wars? Why should people who already have so much amass weapons that protect their ability to gain more?

I hope we will join Afghanistan’s children in begging for change.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Kathy Kelly, a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence and is presently a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers in Kabul. Kathy Kelly's email is