Pope to honor Baltic martyrs amid abuse crisis

A giant banner bearing a portrait of Pope Francis is displayed outside the Vilnius Cathedral on September 21, 2018 on the eve of his arrival in Vilnius as part of a Baltic tour. (AFP)
Updated 22 September 2018

Pope to honor Baltic martyrs amid abuse crisis

  • Scandals in Australia, Europe, and North and South America have involved widespread claims of abuse

VILNIUS: Pope Francis kicks off a Baltic tour in Catholic Lithuania on Saturday where he will honor victims of the region’s Nazi and Soviet occupations as the Church reels from fresh clerical abuse scandals.
The four-day trip to the northeastern edge of the European Union and NATO alliance brings him geographically close to Russia, where Vatican diplomats have been trying for years to arrange a papal visit.
The pontiff will also visit mainly Protestant Latvia on Monday and secular Estonia on Tuesday as all three Baltic states mark 100 years of independence this year.
But the celebrations risk being overshadowed by a fresh wave of devastating claims of sexual abuse by clergy across the globe.

Scandals in Australia, Europe, and North and South America have involved widespread claims of abuse — and cover-ups — by clergymen and lay members with one archbishop describing it as the church’s “own 9/11.”
Pope Francis has called for a meeting of the heads of Catholic bishops’ conferences at the Vatican next February to discuss the issue of the “protection of minors.”
However, the pontiff has kept a stony silence regarding claims he had ignored allegations of abuse that were reported to him.
U2 frontman Bono said he could see the pain on Francis’s face after a Wednesday meeting when he told the pope that “it looks to some people that the abusers are being more protected than the victims.”
Church authorities in Germany are expected to officially publish a study detailing decades of child sex abuse by priests as Francis winds down his trip on Tuesday.
According to the study, 1,670 clergymen in Germany committed some form of sexual attack against 3,677 minors between 1946 and 2014, Spiegel Online reported earlier this month quoting leaked data.

Francis will meet President Dalia Grybauskaite in Vilnius on Saturday before addressing youth and visiting a revered icon.
His trip will follow in the footsteps of late Polish-born pontiff Saint John Paul II, who traveled to all three Baltic states in 1993, just two years after they broke free from the crumbling Soviet Union.
The trio have since firmly anchored their sovereignty in alliances with the West by joining both NATO and the EU in 2004.
While that led to solid economic growth, it also brought social inequality that triggered mass emigration to western Europe — a troubling trend for states with populations ranging from 1.3 to 2.9 million.
The last century of Baltic state history was marked by the Nazi invasion — which wiped out almost all of the region’s Jews — and then decades of Soviet occupation during the Cold War.
Behind the Iron Curtain, the Catholic Church played a key role in the non-violent anti-Soviet resistance, especially in Lithuania, the only Catholic-majority country of the three.
“The Church was a fortress for all dissidents, not only Catholics. It strongly resisted Sovietization and defended the rights of believers,” historian Terese Birute Burauskaite told AFP.
As a result, it was persecuted with both priests and bishops killed by the authorities.
Vilnius estimates that more than 50,000 Lithuanians died in camps, prisons, and during deportations between 1944 and 1953. Another 20,000 partisans and supporters were killed in anti-Soviet guerilla warfare.
“I will honor all those whose past sacrifices have made freedom possible in the present,” the pontiff said in a Thursday video message addressed to the people of the Baltic states.
Francis will visit a museum in the former KGB building in Vilnius where regime opponents were tortured and killed.
He will also honor Holocaust victims at the ghetto memorial in Vilnius, known as the “Jerusalem of the North” for its vibrant Jewish community prior to WWII.
Around 200,000 Lithuanian Jews died at the hands of the Nazis and local collaborators under the 1941-44 German occupation.
Today there are only around 3,000 Jews left in the country of 2.9 million people.

Bosnians welcome UN verdict against Karadzic

A woman reacts after the verdict on former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic's appeal of his 40 year sentence for war crimes, in the Memorial centre Potocari near Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina on March 20, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 20 March 2019

Bosnians welcome UN verdict against Karadzic

  • ‘He should never be allowed to go free,’ Bosnian diplomat tells Arab News
  • Families of victims who traveled to The Hague hailed the verdict

JEDDAH: Former Bosnian-Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, widely known as the “Butcher of Bosnia,” has had his sentence for genocide and war crimes increased to life in prison.

He was appealing a 2016 verdict in which he was given a 40-year sentence for the Srebrenica massacre in the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

More than 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed in the town of Srebrenica by Bosnian-Serb forces in July 1995. Karadzic, 73, was also found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

The UN court said the 40-year sentence did not reflect the trial chamber’s analysis on the “gravity and responsibility for the largest and greatest set of crimes ever attributed to a single person at the ICTY (the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia).”

The ruling by the judges on Wednesday cannot be appealed, and will end one of the highest-profile legal battles stemming from the Balkan wars.

Karadzic showed almost no reaction as presiding Judge Vagn Joensen of Denmark read out the damning judgment.

The former leader is one of the most senior figures tried by The Hague’s war crimes court. His case is considered as key in delivering justice for the victims of the Bosnian conflict, which left more than 100,000 people dead and millions homeless.

Joensen said the trial chamber was wrong to impose a sentence of just 40 years, given what he called the “sheer scale and systematic cruelty” of Karadzic’s crimes. Applause broke out in the public gallery as Joensen passed the new sentence.

Families of victims who traveled to The Hague hailed the verdict. Mothers, some elderly and walking with canes, wept with apparent relief after watching the ruling read on a screen in Srebrenica.

Halim Grabus, a Bosnian-Muslim diplomat based in Geneva, told Arab News that the verdict “will act as a deterrent against the criminals responsible for the genocide of Muslims during the 1992-1995 war. He (Karadzic) should never be allowed to go free. He deserves maximum punishment.”

Grabus was in Bosnia during the war, and witnessed the scorched-earth policy of Karadzic and his fellow generals.

Grabus said it was not possible in today’s world to expect total justice, “but the verdict is important for the victims and survivors of Karadzic’s genocidal politics and ideology of hate.” 

A large majority of Serbs “continue to justify what he did, and continue to carry forward his hateful campaign against Bosnian Muslims,” Grabus added.

“Many of the killers of Muslims during the Bosnian war are still roaming free. They need to be arrested and brought to justice.”

Ratko Mladic, a Bosnian-Serb wartime military commander, is awaiting an appeal judgment of his genocide and war crimes conviction, which earned him a life sentence. Both he and Karadzic were convicted of genocide for their roles in the Srebrenica massacre.