Melanie Pino-Elliott

Not My Pope?

I’ll never forget the time in eighth-grade religion class when one of my classmates asked why our school didn’t participate in neighborhood cleanup days. My teacher replied, “It’s not fair to worry about things like that when souls are going to Hell every day.”

She elaborated, “The earth can save itself.”

Seriously. A human being actually uttered that sentence without irony.

This teacher would also frequently stress the importance of following everything the Catholic Church teaches without question. (You can’t just pick and choose!)

Which, of course, begs the question of how she and others from this line of thinking are responding to Pope Francis’s new encyclical on ecology and climate change.

Entitled Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, the official statement of church teaching calls on all of humanity to do their part to stop environmental deterioration; to “recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption in order to combat this warming” and protect our shared home.

However, protecting the environment and acting as stewards of the earth are not new concepts for the Church. In 1981, the U.S. Catholic Conference even issued a statement that recognized the threat of climate change and the need for clean energy.

So while the encyclical may be increasing global consciousness and moving the sympathetic to act, it’s probably not troubling the deniers as much as you’d think.

Progress on North Korea?

For the first time, a broad coalition of nations is pushing to refer North Korea, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for prosecution.

This development follows a series of efforts that began six months ago with a commission of inquiry report  documenting the rampant human rights abuses in DPRK.

Several entities, including Citizens for Global Solutions and the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, have called on the Security Council to refer DPRK to the ICC. Last week, Japan and the European Union distributed a draft resolution among UN member states asking for the same, to which 43 countries now have signed on in support.

This may signify progress on a previously stagnant situation: despite widespread awareness of and outrage at mass atrocities committed in DPRK—including torture, starvation, forced labor, execution without trial, rape, forced abortion, and infanticide—the government has remained indifferent to efforts from the international community to effect change, with Pyongyang threatening to walk out of nuclear negotiations if the issue was raised.

Continuing the Fight Against North Korean Atrocities

Propaganda portrait of Kim Il-sung

We all have some idea of how bad things are in North Korea, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). We’re also aware that outside efforts to remedy the situation haven't really panned out. But turning our backs on the suffering civilians is not an option. So where do we go from here?

The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect published a policy brief last week offering some possible answers to this question.

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is a doctrine that obligates countries to safeguard their populations from mass atrocities, including genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. If a State is unable to fulfill this responsibility, it falls to other countries to provide diplomatic and humanitarian assistance. If the State is unwilling to do so, the international community becomes compelled to intervene.  

DPRK clearly falls into the latter category, as its millions of citizens are victimized by the brutal regime every day. The Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry (CoI) has found systematic human rights violations, particularly in the form of political prison camps. Hundreds of thousands of inmates in these camps are subjected to starvation, forced labor, execution without trial, torture, rape, forced abortion, and infanticide. Meanwhile, millions of other citizens live in abject poverty, suffering from hunger and malnutrition while the State uses food as a means of control.