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January 23, 2016

Tutu Inspires Students at University of Michigan-Flint to Fight for Justice

tutu-540x360Nontombi Naomi Tutu was in Flint, Michigan this week to serve as the keynote speaker for the University’s Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium.

One of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s daughters, the civil rights and gender equality activist was on the campus to discuss race and equality.

“He (Martin Luther King, Jr.) spoke, yes, of having a dream, but he spoke of having a dream that required us as members of the community of the world, the nation, to step up,” Tutu said. Read More

January 17, 2016

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – Our Conscience Then & Now


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a speech almost exactly a year before his death which may be unfamiliar to many of us.  It has been somewhat eclipsed in the collective memory of America by his glorious and unforgettable “I Have A Dream speech.”  But it is no less important as a cornerstone of his legacy.  The speech, Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam, was delivered in April 1967.  In it, Dr. King raised the call to end the war in Vietnam and spoke of the pivotal choice our society had before it:

“We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.” Read More

May 4, 2015

Why Does Desmond Tutu Think Bryan Stevenson is “Shaping the Moral Universe”?

By Desmond Tutu | Photo by Annie Liebowitz

“Justice needs champions, and Bryan Stevenson is such a champion.”

Bryan Stevenson is a brilliant lawyer representing America’s conscience on a mission to guarantee equal justice for all.

Over the millennia, people have asked, If God is on the side of justice, why do injustice and inequity abound on earth? When will discrimination and prejudice end?

Not frivolous questions.

In the United States of America, the land of the free, 2.3 million people are imprisoned, with one in three black male babies born this century expected to join them—together with 1 in 17 white boys.  (Read the entire article at VanityFair.com)

April 27, 2015

Rescuing Iraq’s Christians from Extinction


In his Harvard International Law Journal Commentary, “Saving an Ancient Community,” Jonathan A. Pride examines the latest danger to Iraq’s Christians, who in recent years have been pushed to the brink of extinction. Mr. Pride identifies three factors that threaten the very existence of Christianity in Iraq: (i) a Western “other” Christian identity; (ii) Islamic extremism; and (iii) a depressed economy that has taken an enormous toll on Iraq’s Christians.


After a brief introduction in Part I, Mr. Pride’s Commentary is divided into three sections. Part II, “Identity Construction,” examines the identity of Christians in Iraq, who are often labeled as the Western “Other” or as “agents” of the West, and whose rights are consequently restricted. Mr. Pride concludes that “[d]isproportionately small representation in government, a constitution that emphasizes the Muslim identity of Iraq instead of minority rights, and laws that can easily be used to implement anti-Christian policies leave Christians on the fringes of the governing process and the national character, thus increasing the likelihood of their treatment as an ‘other’ in Iraqi national life” (p. 201).

In Part III, “From Minority to Refugee,” Mr. Pride argues that in post-Saddam Iraq, “extremists from both the Sunni and Shia communities began to target Christian communities in efforts to enforce stricter forms of Islam … Christians began receiving threats to convert to Islam or leave [their communities], and Christian churches, individuals, and businesses suffered numerous attacks” (p. 201). However, “Christians did not start to truly flee from their homes until their priests and archbishops began to be kidnapped, killed, and sometimes mutilated or decapitated” (p. 201). By 2011, one-third to one-half of the Christian population of Iraq (over half a million Iraqi Christians) fled the country. Despite accounting for only five percent of the total population of Iraq, Christians accounted for “nearly half the refugees fleeing Iraq” (p. 202). Mr. Pride identifies the many factors, including the economic and security situation in Iraq, that hinder Christians from voluntarily repatriating to Iraq.

Mr. Pride argues in Part IV, “Ways Forward,” for a three-prong strategy for encouraging Christians to remain in or repatriate to Iraq. This strategy consists of the following three-point plan:

(a)   The Iraqi government should act to deconstruct the “other” identity of Christians. This can be achieved, for example, by enacting constitutional changes reflecting an emphasis on equal protection and granting minorities a meaningful voice in government, as well as using the post-ethnic conflict reintegration methods that were effective in the Balkans;

(b)    The Christian area in the Kurdistan Nineveh Plain should be given a “safe zone” status, allowing Christian villages to assemble local police forces and governing councils to ensure security; and

(c)    The international community must invest in and help rebuild Iraq’s economy to attract Christians back to Iraq, as “[t]argeted investment in the reconstruction of Christian villages and in general Iraqi industry would go a long way in keeping Iraq a viable option for Christians.” Mr. Pride recognizes that such aid to Christian villages could draw “the familiar trope of Christians as Western agents” and “Christian favoritism” (p. 211), but these accusations make it all the more imperative that the international community clearly communicate that international assistance is targeting the victims of devastating ethnic cleansing and, arguably, genocide (p. 211). International aid targeting Christians in Iraq ought to be no different than the international aid that targeted Muslims in the Balkans a decade earlier; such aid should be victim-based, not religiously driven.

Finally, in Part V, “Conclusion,” Mr. Pride closes by observing that while his proposals do not ensure success, “they create more suitable conditions for the survival of Christianity in Iraq” (p. 212).


Mr. Pride’s piece is particularly relevant to the developments that Iraq has witnessed over the last two years, with the self-styled Islamic State having gained control of significant swaths of territory in Iraq and subjecting Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities to some of the most brutal forms of persecution that history has known, including burning people alive, beheadings, crucifixions and limb amputations, even of women and children.

In addition to Mr. Pride’s suggestions for combating the extinction of Christians in Iraq, there is a desperate need for peace-loving Muslims to engage sectarian Islamic armed groups from within the framework of Islamic law. Because these armed groups refuse to acknowledge the validity of non-Islamic international humanitarian law and the protections that it affords civilians, they should be challenged on the basis of the very Islamic laws that they claim to implement. This can be achieved by Islamic scholars and Imams, operating from within the framework of Islamic law, challenging armed groups’ interpretations of the sacred texts they use to justify attacks on Christians and other civilians, debating the apologists of jihād and highlighting the discrepancies between these armed groups’ acts and the acts strictly forbidden by Islamic law—looting, the mutilation of corpses and the murder of non-combatants in times of war, to name a few. Imams and other leaders of Muslim communities ought to emphasize and re-emphasize the Islamic proof texts that provide for the protection of women, children and other civilians, including the aḥadīth whereby the Prophet Muhammad expressly forbade the targeted killing of women and children, including the ḥadīth where he declared that it is “not permissible to kill women and children, even if the enemy uses them as human shields” (see Yusuf al-Qaraḍāwī, Fiqh al-Jihād, Volume I, Bab VI: The Islamic Army of Jihād, its duties and ethics and constitution, Faṣl 5: The Ethical Constitution during war in Islām).

Yet it is not enough that “establishment” Imams and clerics voice these views. For example, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia (Al-Asheikh) and other establishment religious leaders each day issue statements published in the Saudi Gazette and Arab News condemning extremism as contrary to Islam, yet extremists do not heed these calls as they view these establishment clerics as agents of the very regimes that they aim to abolish. Rather, it is the local clerics and leaders in remote and poor regions of society that can get through to Muslims who might otherwise succumb to the recruiting efforts of extremist armed groups.

Because challenging Islamic armed groups on the basis of international law often does not make headway, Islamic law itself may serve as an effective—albeit under-utilized—tool in engaging them. Such an approach may yield stronger results in increasing the respect for the protection of unarmed civilians, including Christians and other minorities, in times of armed conflict.

Mr. Pride’s Commentary is available at http://www.harvardilj.org/2012/04/online_53_pride, or as a downloadable PDF from http://www.harvardilj.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/HILJ-Online_53_Pride.pdf

September 14, 2014

Petersburg, Virginia Dedication of Historical Marker is Ubuntu in Action

“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”
~ Desmond Tutu

This is a story of how the inspiration to act on an epiphany experienced many years ago emerged as a fully formed symbol of Ubuntu in Petersburg, Virginia in this 14th year of the 21st Century.  Some might choose to see the hand of “divine providence” intervening to ensure a successful outcome.  But first, we will set the scene in the context of the mid-20th Century.

The story reminds Americans that overt racial segregation was a fact of life in public schools until the 1954 landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Brown v. Board of Education case in Topeka, Kansas, which struck down segregation in public schools as “inherently unequal” based on the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which guarantees all citizens equal protection under the law.  In 1954, 17 states and the District of Columbia had laws that required elementary schools to be segregated and four states had laws “permitting” segregation but did not generally enforce them.  In 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court extended its prohibition of segregation to include state-supported colleges and universities.

In spite of the Supreme Court victory for equal education in 1954 and 1956, it took many more years for all states to be in compliance.  Sadly, due to the phenomenon of “white flight” from areas where previously all white schools would now admit black children, many American cities still struggle with quality, funding, and full integration in their public school systems.

Except for Black History Month, we do not hear very much about the educational institutions that African American free men and women and ex-slaves built to ensure their own and their children’s education in the post-Civil War decades.  One such outstanding institution began a mere 13 years after the 1865 surrender of General Robert E. Lee to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia, ending the Civil War.   The St. Stephen’s Normal and Industrial School in Petersburg, Virginia, a branch of the Virginia Theological Seminary, opened the Bishop Payne Divinity School, “the only seminary for black men in the Episcopal Church” in 1878.

Reverend W. Pegram Johnson III successfully led the effort to establish the historical road marker acknowledging the Bishop Payne Divinity School and its great contribution to the education of African-American seminarians before desegregation.

And now back to that inspirational epiphany.  The person who experienced it is himself an Episcopal priest, a white Episcopal priest, who grew up in Petersburg and attended the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia, graduating in 1965.  On a family visit to Alexandria, Rev. W. Pegram Johnson III dropped by his alma mater and found himself in the Bishop Payne Library.  Memories of his boyhood in Petersburg came to mind—his adventures combing a field near Lieutenants Run for treasures from the Battle of Petersburg during the American Civil War (buttons, bones, and even live shells).  That war was less than 100 years ago when he was a child. He also thought about growing up in a town with a cemetery where 30,000 Confederate soldiers were buried.  These recollections reflect the sense of division that still hangs heavily over some places where the Civil War was fought—not only in the South, but at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania battle in the North as well.

Now, though, for Rev. Johnson, that sense of division brought to mind the great work of the Bishop Payne Divinity School.  He remembered the momentous chance meeting at the root of the epiphany that opened up his new understanding of equality.  Before entering the seminary, the future seminarian traveled to Hong Kong to teach.  On shipboard, he met a young Chinese man who shared a saying from Confucius—“Within the four seas, all men are brothers.”

Once in Hong Kong, through his experiences in a culture so different from his own, Reverend Johnson was able to fully grasp the concept of equality and inequality.  He returned to the U.S. with a new awareness and appreciation for what each person and each culture contributes to the world.  He enrolled in the Virginia Theological Seminary and was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1966.  Eleanor Roosevelt could have been talking about Rev. Johnson when she said, “People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built.”

Historical road marker unveiled on grounds of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Petersburg, VA

So while visiting the Bishop Payne Library at the Virginia Theological Seminary, the inspiration came to Rev. Johnson to mount a campaign for a historical road marker commemorating the great achievements of the Bishop Payne Divinity School, and honoring the 260 black men and women graduates, along with their faculty, staff, trustees, and wardens.  Rev. Johnson was successful, and on March 29, 2014, the marker was unveiled in Petersburg by the St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

Reverend Johnson’s story is one that reflects vividly the words of our great Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Read the full article published in the Summer 2014 issue of the Virginia Seminary Journal:

“Historic Marker Honors Early Black Theological Education,” by Christopher Pote, cpote@vts.edu, Archivist, Virginia Theological Seminary.

Archivist and author, Christopher Pote, made the following remarks at the March 31, 2014, dedication of the historical road marker for the Bishop Payne Divinity School: “The VTS Archives holds the remaining institutional records of Bishop Payne Divinity School, but has only a few archival collections of the people who made it such a great institution.  Judging by my conversations with relatives and descendants of both former students and faculty this weekend, I am confident that our holdings will deepen as we continue to document the heritage of this historic seminary.”

About VTS Archivist Christopher Pote

“Both the African American Episcopal Historical Collection (AAEHC) and the VTS Archives are housed in the Bishop Payne Library here on the VTS campus in Alexandria, VA.  I served as archivist for the AAEHC first, and then my responsibilities were extended to include the entire VTS archival collection.  Technically I am still Head Archivist for the AAEHC, but am ably assisted by Dr. Joseph Thompson, Assistant Archivist for the AAEHC.”

Permission to use photographs:  We gratefully acknowledge permission from the Virginia Theological Seminary to use the photographs included in this post.  Please note that permission is limited to use in this post exclusively. If you wish to request permission to use any of the photographs in the post (including those on the link to the complete article as it appears in the Virginia Seminary Journal, Summer 2014 issue), please submit your request for permission via e-mail to Archivist Pote [cpote@vts.edu].

March 10, 2014

Indonesian Comfort Women Seek Justice as Time Runs Out

The term Jugun Ianfu (Comfort Women) refers to those women who were forced into sexual slavery to fulfill the sexual needs of Japanese military personnel and civil officers at ianjo or comfort stations during the Asian Pacific War in 1931-1945.  Most people in the U.S. think about this era as World War II, which included the European Theater as well as Asia, but the U.S. did not enter the war until 1941, with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.  The sexual slavery system was created by the Japanese military to operate in the areas they occupied and was part of the Japanese logistical war strategy during the Asia Pacific War of 1931-1945.

The total number of wartime Jugun Ianfu will never be known for sure. The estimate is at least 200,000 women from Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan, The Philippines, The Netherlands, Malaysia, Timor Leste, and Indonesia.  In Indonesia, there are around 22,000 former Jugun Ianfu as reported by Ex-Heiho Forum, and 1,156 as reported by Legal Aid Institute-Jogjakarta (Hartono & Juliantoro 1997). This does not include unreported cases because some former Jugun Ianfu are ashamed or have passed away.

Sixty-nine years have passed since the Japanese surrendered to the Allied Forces in 1945. The official silence about Jugun Ianfu was broken 23 years ago with the testimony of South Korean survivor, Kim Hak Soon in 1991 at the “Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery,” convened first in Tokyo, Japan, in 2000, and again at The Hague, Netherlands in 2001. These tribunals were significant in their decision to hold Emperor Hirohito, high military officers, and staff responsible for the crimes. However, as a main perpetrator, the Japanese government has yet to take responsibility for these actions during the war.

Hence, many of the survivors have been faced with new forms of violence. The wounds of Japanese colonialism and war still fester in several nations in East and Southeast Asia. In a number of countries, in particular South and North Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, the Philippines, Timor Leste, the Netherlands, and Taiwan, “…the plight of Jugun Ianfu in particular has come to symbolize imperial Japan’s war crimes.” (Soh 2008:1) In general, attitudes regarding the proper place of the Jugun Ianfu in the social landscape both nationally (South Korea, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Indonesia) and internationally have not changed significantly. Today, these Jugun Ianfu survivors, who are now in their late eighties and nineties, still live with terrifying memories of their captivity and sexual enslavement. Many suffer from irreparable psychological and physical wounds.

Time is Running Out for Justice

The need to address justice for Indonesian Jugun Ianfu survivors is now at a critical juncture.  While most Jugun Ianfu survivors in South Korea, China, Taiwan, and the Philippines have courageously stepped forward and are telling the truth of what happened to them, only a small number of Jugun Ianfu survivors in Indonesia have emerged from the shadows to tell their stories to the public.  This reluctance to be heard is the result of a great sense of guilt, shame, fear, insecurity, and social depression that is embedded within Indonesian society regarding Jugun Ianfu survivors. Indonesian and Japanese societies have stigmatized and marginalized these tragic victims who allege that they continue to suffer with the ongoing outrage of being denounced as prostitutes or “gross humans” within their own communities.

Justice for the Indonesian Jugun Ianfu can only become a reality if survivors step forward and tell the truth. By telling the truth, the terrible psychological damage of stigmatization can be erased and the deep physical and psychological wounds of the Indonesian Jugun Ianfu can begin to heal. The truth about the systematic use of women as sexual slaves describes a criminal act, one that is further compounded by governments that continue to deny that these women were unwilling victims.  This false version of history requires legal remedies and the recanting of decades of false testimony.

The Jugun Ianfu in Indonesia need to tell the truth about how they suffered in the past, not only from sexual violence, but also from the loss of family during a brutal conflict that occurred over many years. Truth-telling is the only way in which Jugun Ianfu survivors have any chance at all to even begin the process of lessening the physical and psychological trauma they endured. Truth is oriented toward creating a transparent history, and it is from this orientation that I propose truth-telling as a way to heal the wounds and lessen the effects of the trauma suffered by these victims.  If there is any hope for these women who have suffered so terribly to develop even a small element of trust, it will be through truth-telling.  It remains to be seen if it is even realistic to expect the Jugun Ianfu to be able to find any way to forgive those who perpetrated these horrific crimes against them during their enslavement.

The concept of truth-telling requires that there be full confessions from the perpetrators. However, in the case of the Jugun Ianfu in Indonesia, the truth-telling process will focus only on the voices of the victims. Time is of the essence as survivors are growing older.  Those survivors still alive today may die before they receive the justice they deserve for the great suffering they endured which has effectively taken their entire lives from them.

Lessons from South Africa

There are four important initiatives based on truth-telling that are recommended in order to achieve justice for Indonesia’s Jugun Ianfu survivors. These important are adapted from the work of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Chaired by Desmond Tutu who was appointed by Nelson Mandela.  I have summarized the adaptation of each of the four truth-telling initiatives below:

1)  Factual or forensic truth which refers to “the familiar legal or scientific notion of bringing to light corroborated evidence in obtaining accurate information through reliable (impartial, objective) procedures” (Fisher 2000:133). This Commission will try to identify the building and locations for the ianjo in the areas of Japanese military deployment and look for the eyewitnesses in order to collect testimony and evidence. This Commission will also search for a village of ianjo and will look for buildings which were used as ianjo.  The testimony of victims and eyewitnesses will help to confirm the location where the ianjo was established.

2)  Personal narrative truth which calls for the stories of victims: These narratives “tell the history of the lives of women” (Personal Narratives Group 1989:4). In a situation wherein the victim may find it difficult to tell her personal narrative, the life story is told to a second person through presentation, discussion and exhibition. The second person then records every necessary document such as pictures, videos, diaries, journals and letters. I recommend four different forms of personal narrative, these are: first, non-verbal literature such as books – biography and autobiographies, journals, letters and diaries; second, art performance such as theater, short/long cinema and documentary; third, art exhibition such as paintings and photographs; and fourth, personal narrative taught by second person such as presentations and discussion at conferences and symposiums. The publication of the life histories of survivors must be coupled with press conferences through credible media to awaken the senses of the public about the said issue.

3)  Social truth targets to establish bridges between individuals in the process of education: Meaning, the truth can be realized during social mutual interaction between the survivors and the second persons. The objective of social truth as a truth-telling method through education is based on the paradigm that “peace can be educated by emphasizing the role of individual’s attitude and change of behavior for the attainment of peace” (Galtung 1975). Truth Commission or other actors can call this program Education for Reconciliation or it can create other related names.

Here are the Education for Reconciliation programs I recommend:

  • Establish and maintain a Survivors House to serve as a place to do historical research and that includes an education center.  It should also be a temporary shelter for the survivors.
  • Organize the “Friendship” program that aims to build a network between survivors, academia, and individuals.
  • Establish an integration program by organizations or other actors for survivors and the families of survivors, aiming to provide important mechanisms to assist the survivors in their quest for reconciliation.
  • Establish an historical museum and memorial monument.
  • To be workable, organizations or other actors must organize Education for Reconciliation with Information, Education, and Media Relations advocacy programs. Besides those programs, the           Education for Reconciliation programs must be aligned with other assistance programs such as the welfare assistance programs, campaign and advocacy work, lawsuit support action, a monthly general meeting for the survivors and families, and finally, the establishment of an international networking program.

4)   Restorative truth refers to “the macro level of analysis in finding facts and meaning in human relationships such as between survivors and the society or between survivors and the state” (Fisher 2000:133). The process of holding public hearings can be one clear example of this procedure.

Truth-telling is just one tool in reconciliation’s toolkit, but it is the tool that serves as the foundation for eventual reconciliation. The other tools that complete the picture and make reconciliation possible include healing, retributive justice, and reparation.  In Indonesia, where the issue of Jugun Ianfu is not acknowledged by the public and the Indonesian government refuses to address the issue, truth-telling by the victims is critical in order to get all of the information into the hands of the public.  It is at this point that other contributors to achieving full justice for the Jugun Ianfu of Indonesia enter the effort.  These important players would include local, national, and international news outlets covering the Jugun Ianfu story from beginning to end.


Although truth-telling can be a strong, effective way for the voices of Jugun Ianfu survivors to be heard, it is almost invariably extremely difficult in many cultural contexts.  Few cultures in the world encourage exposing stories of severe mistreatment by governments.  It is rare to find cultures where people approve of their fellow citizens talking openly about very private matters. In the case of Indonesian Jugun Ianfu survivors, they stand alone against a government that denies the historical facts.

Imagine these now elderly women being questioned as if they were veteran prostitutes, with decades of their lives lived in the dangerous world of crime on the edges of cities and towns.  Try to feel as they would sitting across from interrogators in a badly lit, mostly barren room.  Hear these frail survivors as they bear the entire burden of telling the truth about the life of “comfort women” who serviced the sexual needs of military men of all ranks, as well as civil servants and others who were deemed deserving of having their physiological sexual needs satisfied by young women who were captured from mostly Asian countries and held against their wills with no chance of escape.

The Jugun Ianfu women, now in their eighties and nineties, are telling the truth about how they were rounded up and transported to areas called ianjo, or comfort stations, where they began decades of sexual slavery and the unimaginable trauma that resulted from their imprisonment.  Japan established the Jugun Ianfu as part of their strategic planning for conflict starting in 1931.  The services of these enslaved women were treated as a vital element contributing to the welfare of military personnel on a par with as food, clothing, and medical care.

The truth-telling by these brave Indonesian Jugun Ianfu will inspire the others who have hidden in the shadows for many reasons, not the least of which is the psychological trauma and damage they suffered at the hands of their captors. This foundation of truth-telling can be joined by the justice of reparation in order to achieve complete reconciliation. When the Indonesian Jugun Ianfu receive reparation and the offenders are made to pay, through legal channels, for the physical and psychological trauma they caused these women, reconciliation will be within reach as will the final chapter in this shameful, horrific, inhumane treatment endured by the Indonesian Jugun Ianfu.

Some of the text in this post appears on the author’s blog entries at: http://www.internationalpeaceandconflict.org/

Some of the text in this post appears in the author’s master’s thesis:
“Truth-telling as a Foundation for Reconciliation for the Jugun Ianfu in Indonesia” http://rotaryicu.wordpress.com/rotary-fellows/