OTTAWA, Dec. 8 /CNW/ - The widow of a murdered Congolese human rights defender from a KAIROS- supported group, Canadian church leaders and the heads of some of Canada's most respected non-governmental organizations are calling on the Canadian government to renew funding for the human rights program of KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives.
Their call came at a news conference on Parliament Hill today where KAIROS Executive Director Mary Corkery urged the government to demonstrate its ongoing commitment to human rights by approving KAIROS' funding.
On November 30th, a senior official with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) called Corkery to inform her that CIDA would no longer fund KAIROS, despite a 35-year collaboration. On December 4th, following media reports and questions in the House of Commons, International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda faxed a brief letter to KAIROS stating that CIDA was focusing its resources on three themes: food security, children and youth, and economic growth.
KAIROS, a church-based non-governmental organization that represents seven of Canada's largest church denominations, works on a range of social justice issues, including human rights in Africa, Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Middle East.
CIDA and KAIROS had an agreement through which CIDA funds matched KAIROS' contribution by a ratio of three to one. Following a very positive CIDA evaluation and audit earlier this year, KAIROS submitted an application for renewal in March 2009.
"Our proposal was approved at all levels of CIDA up to the Minister's desk. At no point were we told that our agreement with CIDA was in jeopardy because of new priorities," says Corkery. "We cannot understand why our widely respected human rights program would be ended when the Minister herself has affirmed a continued commitment to human rights in Canadian Official Development Assistance."
In May of 2009, speaking of new priorities in a speech at the Munk Centre, the Minister affirmed that "...governance, the environment and equality between men and women will not be ignored...they will from now on be integrated into everything we do. And of course, we will also continue our work to promote...human rights...". KAIROS' program fits exactly with the priorities the Minister affirmed.
Since 1973, KAIROS and the church coalitions from which it was formed had received funding from CIDA to support partners in countries with the world's most egregious human rights violations including Sudan, the Philippines, Colombia, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Deborah Kitumaini, widow of Pascal Kabungulu, Executive Secretary of Les Héritiers de la Justice (The Heirs of Justice), also spoke at the news conference. Kituamaini's husband was murdered in 2006 for speaking out about the human rights situation in the Congo.
Speaking through a translator she said, "CIDA's decision will hurt the women and children of the Congo who daily suffer abuses from armed groups on all sides. KAIROS' support for Les Héritiers de la Justice is crucial for the defense of women's rights-it is about saving lives."
In spite of the stark reality of the death of partners such as Pascal Kabungulu, it remains true that KAIROS-CIDA accompaniment has meant greater safety for many human rights defenders. Partners have written letters to Minister Oda expressing fears for a future without KAIROS' partnership.
"If KAIROS' work on behalf of human rights in the Congo and elsewhere does not fit with CIDA's definition of human rights the question has to be asked, why not?" said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada.
Gerry Barr, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Council of International Cooperation said the NGO sector is deeply troubled to learn of CIDA's decision to terminate its partnership ties with KAIROS.
"KAIROS' reputation as a human rights champion committed to advancing the 'voice' of the poor and dedicated especially to working on poverty eradication with some of the world's most marginalized people leave most in our sector with the impression that KAIROS not only meets, but embodies the priorities set out in the Offical Development Accountability Act," he said.
KAIROS supports 21 ecumenical and civil society groups overseas. CIDA funded work would directly benefit an estimated 250,000 women and men from four regions and eight CIDA focus countries over the proposed four-year agreement. Hundreds of thousands of people would be indirect beneficiaries.
"Make no mistake. Lives will be seriously affected and possibly lost if some of the groups KAIROS supports do not receive its assistance," said The Right Reverend Philip Poole Bishop of York-Credit Valley of the Anglican Diocese of Toronto.
"God calls us to help the most disadvantaged. We are in common purpose with KAIROS in this work. We want to be in common purpose with the government of Canada as well," says Msgr. Roger Ébacher, Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Gatineau-Hull.
Since news of the cuts broke a week ago, the government has been under increasing pressure to reverse its decision. Canadians from across the country, churches and non-governmental groups have written letters of support for KAIROS and called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Minister Bev Oda to reverse the decision. Questions have been raised in the House of Commons and all opposition parties and the Green Party have also issued media releases calling on the government to reverse its decision.
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SOURCE KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives
For further information: For further information: Media contact: Adiat Junaid, Communications Program Coordinator, KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, (416) 463-5312, ext. 223, 1-877-403-8933, ext. 223, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.kairoscanada.org