Archive for the tag “Washington Post”

Left with nothing

Is your congregation involved deeply enough with the poor in your community to know who is preying on them?

nothingMichael Sallah, Debbie Cenziper, and Steven Rich report for the Washington Post:

On the day Bennie Coleman lost his house, the day armed U.S. marshals came to his door and ordered him off the property, he slumped in a folding chair across the street and watched the vestiges of his 76 years hauled to the curb.

Movers carted out his easy chair, his clothes, his television. Next came the things that were closest to his heart: his Marine Corps medals and photographs of his dead wife, Martha. The duplex in Northeast Washington that Coleman bought with cash two decades earlier was emptied and shuttered. By sundown, he had nowhere to go.

All because he didn’t pay a $134 property tax bill.

The retired Marine sergeant lost his house on that summer day two years ago through a tax lien sale — an obscure program run by D.C. government that enlists private investors to help the city recover unpaid taxes.

For decades, the District placed liens on properties when homeowners failed to pay their bills, then sold those liens at public auctions to mom-and-pop investors who drew a profit by charging owners interest on top of the tax debt until the money was repaid.

But under the watch of local leaders, the program has morphed into a predatory system of debt collection for well-financed, out-of-town companies that turned $500 delinquencies into $5,000 debts — then foreclosed on homes when families couldn’t pay, a Washington Post investigation found.

Read the full text of this provocative story by clicking here.

Islamist crimes against humanity in Mali

CC Washington Post NCSudarsan Raghavan reports for the Washington Post on Islamist crimes against humanity in northern Mali:

SEGOU, Mali — On a sweltering afternoon, Islamist police officers dragged Fatima Al Hassan out of her house in the fabled city of Timbuktu. They beat her up, shoved her into a white pickup truck and drove her to their headquarters. She was locked up in a jail as she awaited her sentence: 100 lashes with an electrical cord.

“Why are you doing this?” she recalled asking.

Hassan was being punished for giving water to a male visitor.

The Islamist radicals who seized a vast arc of territory in northern Mali in the spring are intensifying their brutality against the population, according to victims, human rights groups, and U.N. and Malian officials. The attacks are being perpetrated as the United States, European countries and regional powers are readying an African force to retake northern Mali, after months of hesitation. …

Refugees fleeing the north are now bringing stories that are darker than those recounted in interviews from this summer. Although their experiences cannot be independently verified — because the Islamists have threatened to kill or kidnap Westerners who visit — U.N. officials and human rights activists say that they have heard similar reports of horrific abuses and that some may amount to war crimes.

The refugees say the Islamists are raping and forcibly marrying women, and recruiting children for armed conflict. Social interaction deemed an affront to their interpretation of Islam is zealously punished through Islamic courts and a police force that has become more systematic and inflexible, human rights activists and local officials say. …

Radical Islamists have transformed vast stretches of desert in the north into an enclave for al-Qaeda militants and other jihadists. They have imposed a hard-edged brand of sharia law, echoing Afghanistan’s Taliban movement, in this West African country where moderate Islam has thrived for centuries.

People are deprived of basic freedoms, historic tombs have been destroyed, and any cultural practices deemed un-Islamic are banned. Children are denied education. The sick and elderly die because many doctors and nurses have fled, and most clinics and hospitals have been destroyed or looted. …

The Islamists .. have encouraged their fighters to marry women and girls, some as young as 10, and often at gunpoint. After sex, they initiate a quick divorce. In an extreme case that has shocked the country, a girl in Timbuktu was forced last month to “marry” six fighters in one night, according to a report in one of Mali’s biggest newspapers.

“They are abusing religion to force women and girls to have intercourse,” said Ibrahima Berte, an official at Mali’s National Commission for Human Rights. “This kind of forced marriage is really just sexual abuse.”

In a telephone interview, a senior Islamist commander conceded that his fighters were marrying young girls.

“Our religion says that if a girl is 12, she must get married to avoid losing her virginity in a wrong way,” said Oumar Ould Hamaha, the military leader of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, one of the three radical groups ruling the north. …

Boys, too, are being abused. With a possible war looming, some as young as 10 have been taken to training camps, where they learn to use weapons and plant homemade bombs, U.N. officials and human rights activists say. And as the economy worsens in rebel areas, some parents have “sold” their children as it becomes harder to buy food and to curry favor with the Islamists.

“They give $10 to impoverished parents to recruit their children in the name of defending Islam,” said Gaoussou Traore, the secretary general of Comade, a Malian children’s rights group. “The Islamists tell parents that their children will go to paradise, that they will benefit in the next world.” …

Read the full text of this excellent article by clicking here.

Afghan ‘dancing boys’ are invisible victims

Ernesto Londoño writes for the Washington Post:

DEHRAZI, Afghanistan — The 9-year-old boy with pale skin and big, piercing eyes captivated Mirzahan at first sight.

“He is more handsome than anyone in the village,” the 22-year-old farmer said, explaining why he is grooming the boy as a sexual partner and companion. There was another important factor that made Waheed easy to take on as a bacha bazi, or a boy for pleasure: “He doesn’t have a father, so there is no one to stop this.”

A growing number of Afghan children are being coerced into a life of sexual abuse. The practice of wealthy or prominent Afghans exploiting underage boys as sexual partners who are often dressed up as women to dance at gatherings is on the rise in post-Taliban Afghanistan, according to Afghan human rights researchers, Western officials and men who participate in the abuse.

“Like it or not, there was better rule of law under the Taliban,” said Dee Brillenburg Wurth, a child-protection expert at the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, who has sought to persuade the government to address the problem. “They saw it as a sin, and they stopped a lot of it.”

Over the past decade, the phenomenon has flourished in Pashtun areas in the south, in several northern provinces and even in the capital, according to Afghans who engage in the practice or have studied it. Although issues such as women’s rights and moral crimes have attracted a flood of donor aid and activism in recent years, bacha bazi remains poorly understood.

… “It is very sensitive and taboo in Afghanistan,” said Hayatullah Jawad, head of the Afghan Human Rights Research and Advocacy Organization, who is based in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif. “There are a lot of people involved in this case, but no one wants to talk about it.”

… Although the practice of bacha bazi has become something of an open secret in Afghanistan, it is seldom discussed in public or with outsiders.

Sitting next to the 9-year-old Waheed, who was wearing a pink pants-and-tunic set called a shalwar kameez, Mirzahan said he opted to take on the boy because marrying a woman would have been prohibitively expensive. The two have not had sex, Mirzahan said, but that will happen in a few years. For now, Waheed is being introduced to slightly older “danc­ing boys.”

“He is not dancing yet, but he is willing,” Mirzahan said with pride.

… Boys who become bachas are seen as property, said Jawad, the human rights researcher. Those who are perceived as being particularly beautiful can be sold for tens of thousands of dollars. The men who control them sometimes rent them out as dancers at male-only parties, and some are prostituted.

“This is abuse,” Jawad said. “Most of these children are not willing to do this. They do this for money. Their families are very poor.”

… When the boys age beyond their prime and get tossed aside, many become pimps or prostitutes, said Afghan photojournalist Barat Ali Batoor, who spent months chronicling the plight of dancing boys. Some turn to drugs or alcohol, he said.

“In Afghan society, if you are raped or you are abused, you will not have space in society to live proudly,” he said.

Read the full article by clicking here.

View a related photo gallery by clicking here.

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