.يولد جميع الناس أحرارا متساوين في الكرامة والحقوق. وقد وهبوا عقلا وضميرا وعليهم أن يعامل بعضهم بعضا بروح الإخاء‎
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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Foreign Office apologises for Pope 'condom' memo

Pope Benedict XVIThe Foreign Office has apologised for a "foolish" document which suggested the Pope's visit to the UK could be marked by the launch of "Benedict" condoms.

Called "The ideal visit would see...", it said the Pope could be invited to open an abortion clinic and bless a gay marriage during September's visit.

The Foreign Office stressed the paper, which resulted from a "brainstorm" on the visit, did not reflect its views.

The Bishop of Nottingham said, if anything, it was "appalling manners".
The Rt Rev Malcolm McMahon said: "I think it's a lot worse that we invite someone into our country - a person like the Pope - and then he's treated in this way.

"I think it's appalling manners more than anything else."

The junior civil servant responsible had been put on other duties, the Foreign Office said.
Details of the document emerged after it was obtained by the Sunday Telegraph.

'Song with Queen'
The UK's ambassador to the Vatican, Francis Campbell, has met senior officials of the Holy See to express regret on behalf of the government.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband is said to have been "appalled" by the incident.

Robert Pigott
Robert Pigott, BBC religious affairs correspondent
It's clear that what the Foreign Office has called "this foolish document" did not reflect government policy. Its tone is clearly frivolous, and it came from junior officials.

But it has, nevertheless, the potential to cause considerable damage. Whether fairly or not, it will leave some Catholics with the impression of a culture within official circles in which their Church's teaching is not taken seriously.

Some will suspect prejudice against faith groups. Perhaps most damaging of all, it could leave an impression that the Pope might be regarded as a figure of fun less than five months before his visit to Britain.

Apart from the pressure on the papal visit from public feeling about sex abuse, and the threat of demonstrations against the Pope, the government needs the Vatican's help in a global diplomatic effort to curb climate change and fight poverty.
How serious and far-reaching the effect of the document is depends partly on how the Church itself responds.

The paper was attached as one of three "background documents" to a memo dated 5 March 2010 inviting officials in Whitehall and Downing Street to attend a meeting to discuss themes for the papal visit.

It suggested Benedict XVI could show his hard line on the sensitive issue of child abuse allegations against Roman Catholic priests by "sacking dodgy bishops" and launching a helpline for abused children.

The document went on to propose the Pope could apologise for the Spanish Armada or sing a song with the Queen for charity.

It listed "positive" public figures who could be made part of the Pope's visit, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair and 2009 Britain's Got Talent runner-up Susan Boyle, and those considered "negative", such as Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney and prominent atheist Richard Dawkins.

The civil servant responsible for sending round the memo said in a cover note: "Please protect; these should not be shared externally. The 'ideal visit' paper in particular was the product of a brainstorm which took into account even the most far-fetched of ideas."

An investigation was launched after some recipients of the memo, said to have been circulated to a restricted list, objected to its tone.
A Foreign Office spokesman said the department was "deeply sorry" for any offence the document had caused.

"This is clearly a foolish document that does not in any way reflect UK government or Foreign Office policy or views. Many of the ideas in the document are clearly ill-judged, naive and disrespectful," he said.

"The text was not cleared or shown to ministers or senior officials before circulation. As soon as senior officials became aware of the document, it was withdrawn from circulation.

"The individual responsible has been transferred to other duties. He has been told orally and in writing that this was a serious error of judgement and has accepted this view."

'Blue-skies thinking'
The Foreign Office said the memo had resulted from discussions by a group of three or four junior staff in a team working on early planning for the papal visit.

A source told the BBC News website the individual since moved to other duties had called the group together for "some blue-skies creative thinking about how to make the visit a success", but their discussions had become "a joke that has gone too far".

The source added that others in the group had been spoken to about the incident, but had not faced any formal action.

I think it's a joke that has gone wrong - light relief that has gone out of control.
Jack Valero, Catholic Voices

Bishop McMahon said he hoped it was meant to be "light hearted".
But he added: "That in itself can be dangerous if these memos move around the departments, they tend to gain momentum."

He said he did not think Catholics would be upset by the memo as they "are used to getting a bad press".

Jack Valero from the organisation Catholic Voices said he was not taking the memo seriously.

"I think it's a joke that has gone wrong - light relief that has gone out of control. And I think Catholics will just take it like this, you know, that they'll think about it today and then they will forget about it."

He said those that have been scarred by abortion would find the joke "a bit thin".

But he added: "In the Catholic church we are used to forgiveness, it's part of our culture to forgive people's mistakes."

Earlier this year the Pope announced 2010 would see the first papal visit to the UK since John Paul II's visit in 1982.

Pope Benedict XVI's visit will take place from 16 to 19 September, during which time he is expected to visit Birmingham, as part of the planned beatification of Cardinal John Newman, and Scotland.

The visit will come in the autumn of what is proving to be a difficult year for the Pope with a wave of allegations that Church authorities in Europe and North and South America failed to deal properly with priests accused of paedophilia.

The Pope himself has been accused of being part of a culture of secrecy and of not taking strong enough steps against paedophiles when he had that responsibility as a cardinal in Rome.

However, his supporters say he has been the most pro-active Pope yet in confronting abuse.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Woman sends adopted Son back to Russia

Russia's foreign minister has threatened to shut down international adoptions with the United States after a Tennessee woman sent a 7-year-old boy she adopted, back to Moscow on a one-way flight this week.

The boy, named Artyom Savelyev, apparently had a letter with him addressed to "whom it may concern." In the letter, Torry Hansen of Shelbyville, Tenn., says that she was misled by the orphanage about the boy's behavior problems and asks that the adoption be canceled.

I am certain that she was overwhelmed, but the choice she made has -- it's going to cause other kids not to be adopted.
"The reality is that most children who are adopted out of institutional care from around the world will have at the very least some developmental delays," says Chuck Johnson, CEO of the National Council for Adoption. He says the first year is often rocky, especially for older children, but calls the Tennessee adoption case the first of its kind.

"Occasionally inter-country adoptions do disrupt," he says. "Usually the child would remain in the United States and alternate care would be arranged for the child. This is the first time that I'm aware of that an internationally adopted child was put on an airplane and returned in this manner."
Johnson says the fact that the child made it back to his home country —- by himself — creates a new set of diplomatic problems.

The National Council for Adoption is working closely with the U.S. State Department to try and talk Russia out of suspending international adoptions.

"[The] United States will talk to Russians and explain to them that this is not what America stands for, that this is against our law as well," says Larisa Mason, one of the people working the phones for the council. A Russian living in Pittsburgh, Mason adopted a Russian orphan herself.

Mason says the U.S. takes the case very seriously and plans to file charges against Hansen.

"And if Russia wants us to do something and strengthen our procedure on international adoptions, we're ready to do that and talk to them," she says.

Rob Johnson of the Tennessee Department of Children's Services says case managers are investigating the incident with law enforcement. He says the state didn't know about any problems before the boy arrived in Moscow. The boy's adoption was finalized six months ago.

Since 1998, more than 47,000 Russian children have come to the U.S. The number of annual adoptions has tapered to just 1,600 last year. Part of the reason, according to adoption experts, is that Russia is doing a better job of placing orphans in its own country.

Still, Steve McGill of Nashville was sickened when he heard the news of a woman sending the boy back with a note. He and his wife adopted a Russian child in 2004.

"I am certain that she was overwhelmed, but the choice she made has — it's going to cause other kids not to be adopted," he says. "We've already had trouble with Russia shutting us down before because of corruption in the adoption industry. Kids get left without homes because she couldn't reach out for help here. So I'm angry."

Russia's threat to suspend American adoptions leaves thousands of families in limbo who are midstream in the years-long expensive process of bringing a Russian child to the U.S.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Uganda's anti-homosexuality bill threatens HIV/AIDS fight

Wambi Michael

HIV campaigners fear a homophobic bill currently being discussed by the Uganda parliament will lead to further stigmatisation of the gay community in Uganda and could stop HIV positive people from accessing treatment and hamper the fight against HIV and AIDS.

Being gay and HIV positive in Uganda has never been easy. But life is set to get a lot harder for gay people seeking treatment for HIV and AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.

Pereza (not his real name) knows better than most the difficulties gay people have in Uganda when it comes to accessing HIV treatment. When the 34-year-old, who works for a private business, first suspected that he was HIV positive he was too scared to go and be tested. "When I finally went to be tested, the counsellor asked me whether I had a partner," he told Panos. "I had to deceive her. If I had risked bringing a fellow man then I don't think I would have been enrolled for treatment."

"It takes courage for any gay person to seek medical treatment in this country," Pereza continued. "Most of us are dying because we cannot access treatment, care and support. You would be ridiculed if you dared to come out to tell a nurse or doctor that you are gay. Everyone would look at you as if you were something dirty."

The difficulties facing men and women like Pereza have recently come to light because of the so-called Anti Homosexuality Bill, a private member's bill currently being discussed by the Ugandan cabinet and which has created a growing climate of fear among the gay community in Uganda.

Already illegal

Homosexual acts are already illegal in this East African country, carrying a sentence of up to 14 years in prison. The bill, which was proposed towards the end of 2009 by David Bahati, an MP for the ruling National Resistance Movement, seeks to up this to life imprisonment. It also proposes the death sentence for a new offence of "aggravated homosexuality" – namely when one of the participants is under 16, disabled, HIV positive or a "serial offender".

An estimated 170,000 people are enrolled in government ARV treatment in Uganda with a further 100,000 expected to enrol by the middle of this year.

Dr. Stephen Watiti, the chairperson of the National Forum of People Living with HIV/AIDS Network, said about 80 percent of Uganda's ARV treatment is funded by foreign donors and any cuts in aid would directly affect HIV positive people. "Removing [any of] that money would be a death sentence to those receiving the treatment," he said.

Watiti said treatment interruptions caused by shortages of the drug could lead to a new drug resistant HIV epidemic. He added that criminalising HIV transmission in both homosexuals and heterosexuals would cause stigma that would fuel the disease, leading to more deaths.

Laban, a university student in Uganda's capital, Kampala, is scared.

"Some of my classmates know that I'm gay," the 23-year-old said. "With this law they are expected to report me to the police. If the bill is passed I will leave my studies and go into hiding."

He is referring to the fact that if the bill is passed anyone who fails to report within 24 hours the identities of any gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered person could be sent to prison for up to three years.

Prominent members of society "outed"

Some of the local newspapers have already "outed" prominent members of society they believe to be gay. Campaigners fear the bill could lead to McCarthy era witch hunts, sending the gay community underground and preventing effective anti HIV teaching.

Laban told Panos the gay community faces a lot of stigma. "You are expected to behave in a certain way which is approved by the culture and morals," he said. "So I have decided to live alone to avoid being ridiculed."

Frank Mugisha, head of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), is one of few gay Ugandans to actively campaign for their rights. As a result he has become a potential target and cannot go out without bodyguards. He told Panos the gay community has been living in fear since Bahati tabled his bill. "If the bill passes into law we will be ostracised by almost everyone in society. Already we can't go to overcrowded places because for fear of being attacked by a mob."

An "odious" bill

The bill has caused outcry, both internationally and in Uganda.

Barack Obama called the bill "odious", while several other leaders, including UK prime minister Gordon Brown, have put pressure on Uganda's president Yoweri Museveni to withdraw the bill.

One of those most strongly opposed to the bill is the Swedish government, which threatened to cut the $50 million in aid it gives Uganda each year if the bill is passed.

There have also been calls from US human rights campaigners for America to cut some of its considerable aid. The US is the biggest donor to Uganda's HIV treatment programmes under The US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). From 2004 to the end of 2009 Uganda had received a total of almost US$1.5 billion. The money has helped provide more than 200,000 people living with HIV/AIDS with life-prolonging antiretroviral (ARV) drugs.

As a result of this pressure, the bill now looks likely to be watered down. Museveni has himself changed tack. Having previously condemned homosexuals, he has distancing himself from the bill, declaring parliament's handling of it "must take into account our foreign policy interests". Meanwhile, David Bahati announced in January that he would be willing to amend the bill - though he did not say how.

Strong support for the bill

However, the voices supporting the bill – and denouncing foreign countries for intervening in Uganda's affairs – remain very strong.

Bahati has the support of Uganda's powerful lobby of Evangelical and Anglican bishops, many of whom have been outspoken in favour of the bill and who have the power to sway public opinion.

Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi of the Church of Uganda, the country's main Anglican Church which claims to represent 30 per cent of all Ugandans, publically confirmed his support for the bill in February at the General Synod, the national assembly of the Church of England, in London.

In a formal statement Orombi said the Church of Uganda "particularly appreciate[s] the objectives of the Bill which seek to... prohibit and penalize homosexual behaviour and related practices in Uganda as they constitute a threat to the traditional family." He also remarked that: "Homosexual practice has no place in God's design of creation, the continuation of the human race through procreation or His plan of redemption" and that "lesbianism, bestiality and other sexual perversions" should also be prohibited.

"State-legislated genocide"

Some members of the Christian community have spoken out against the bill and Ugandan society is divided. Canon Gideon Byamugisha, a prominent member of Uganda's Anglican Church, described the bill as "state-legislated genocide against a specific community".

Christopher Senyonjo, a retired Anglican bishop living in Uganda, said: "The bill will push Uganda towards being a police state. There is lack of understanding about homosexuality – it is not [about] recruitment [of gay people], it is [about] orientation."

Yet it is the feeling on the streets of Kampala and across Uganda that is likely to determine what happens, as MPs will court popular opinion.

Young preachers, encouraged by the churches, preach against homosexuality on Kampala's busy street corners.

One of these preachers is Betty Wanyaka. She told Panos: "I'm a mother and I believe in God, so I'm against homosexuality. The Word says men have to marry woman not man and man."

But not everyone agrees. Calvin Kanyali, a young salesman from Kampala, said there were more pressing issues than attacking the gay community.

"People are dying of cancer, the hospitals have no medicine but they want to spend the little money there is chasing after homosexuals. This shouldn't be the biggest priority for our MPs," he said.

HIV/AIDS' rates could rise on wave of homophobia

Uganda | A health worker visits a man with AIDS. A new anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda's parliament will make it more difficult to fight HIV/AIDS / Sean Sprague - Panos picturesGerald Sentongo, the Administrator of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), told Panos that if the bill was passed it would further complicate efforts to prevent HIV/AIDS among homosexuals in Uganda.

Around 5.4 per cent of Uganda's population is HIV positive, according to official government statistics. Campaigners fear this figure could rise with the rising tide of homophobia.

"No one will come out to seek treatment knowing that the nurse, counsellor or doctor is required by law to report a homosexual and have him arrested by police," Mr Sentongo said.

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