Burundi cancels visas of U.N. experts

Burundi’s ambassador in Geneva says the issue of expelled U.N. human rights experts from Bujumbura is being twisted to paint his country’s government in a bad light.

Renovat Tabu had been by the U.N. Human Rights Council on Tuesday to explain why his government had thrown out a U.N. team that the Council, with Burundi’s backing, had sent to investigate human rights abuses in the country.

Burundi cancels visas of U.N. experts

Deputy Human Rights Commissioner Kate Gilmore told the Council that her office could not deliver a promised report on human rights in Burundi because the government had not cooperated with the expert team, who were deployed in March and told their visas were cancelled in April.

Burundi is concerned by an unfair accusation which further entrenches the hostility which has been commonplace against Burundi for some time.

“It is a matter of concern that through its lack of cooperation Burundi has prevented implementation of this Council’s resolution and the mandated work of the group of experts,” she said.

Gilmore welcomed criticism of Burundi by European diplomats at the council, which she said showed “the inappropriateness, the unacceptability of this paralysis”.

Burundi says U.N. team changed mission

Tabu said the departure of the U.N. team had been spun to cast his government in a bad light.

“Burundi regrets… the way in which events have been twisted in order to imply there has not been full cooperation,” he said.

“Burundi is concerned by an unfair accusation which further entrenches the hostility which has been commonplace against Burundi for some time.”

He said former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein had changed the U.N. team’s mission, an “irregularity” which surprised Burundi’s migration services, who declined to extend the team’s visas.

Burundi’s human rights record

Burundi has been gripped by violence since early 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza said he would seek a third term, widely seen as a breach of the constitution.

Subsequent clashes between security forces and rebels left hundreds dead and forced about half a million to flee, reviving memories of the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda, which has a similar ethnic mix.

The agreement to send the experts to Burundi, based on a resolution submitted by the African group of countries at the Council last year, was widely seen as a diplomatic ploy to derail a more heavyweight Commission of Inquiry.

But the attempt failed, and the Council ended up sending both, leaving Burundi facing double scrutiny and with a public commitment to cooperate with investigators.

Last week the Commission of Inquiry said crimes against humanity were still being committed in Burundi, whipped up by rhetoric from top officials including Nkurunziza. Burundi called the accusations “lies”.

The Commission is seeking a renewal of its mandate from the 47-member Human Rights Council, which began a three-week session on Monday.

REUTERS

Ethiopia and Eritrea reopen border after 20 years

Celebrating their dramatic diplomatic thaw, the leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea on Tuesday officially opened the border where a bloody war and ensuing tensions had divided them for decades, with emotional residents embracing after years of separation.

Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s new reformist prime minister, and Isaias Afwerki, the longtime president of Eritrea, visited the Bure Front along with members of their militaries to mark the Ethiopian new year, Mr Abiy’s chief of staff Fitsum Arega said in a Twitter post.

The two opened the border post “for road transport connectivity” and later were doing the same at the Serha-Zalambesa crossing, Eritrean Information Minister Yemane Meskel said on Twitter.

Photos posted by both officials showed Mr Abiy in camouflage walking alongside Mr Isaias in olive drab, while hundreds of civilians lined a road with the countries’ flags in hand.

Television footage showed people of the countries’ Tigray region, who share close cultural ties, dancing while flag-draped camels wandered by.

The former bitter rivals have made a stunning reconciliation since Mr Abiy weeks after taking office in April announced that Ethiopia would fully embrace a peace deal that ended a 1998-2000 border war that killed tens of thousands.

Eritrean soldiers wait at the Bure front in May 2000 Credit: Sami Sallinen/Reuters


Eritrean soldiers wait at the Bure front in May 2000 
Credit: Sami Sallinen/Reuters

At the time, he said the countries would celebrate the Ethiopian new year together: “We want our brothers and sisters to come here and visit us as soon as possible.”

Embassies have reopened, telephone lines have been restored and commercial flights between the capitals have resumed as some long-separated families have held tearful reunions.

Landlocked Ethiopia, one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies, and Eritrea, one of the world’s most closed-off nations, also plan development cooperation around Eritrea’s Red Sea ports in particular.

Reports on social media on Monday indicated that mine-clearing activities were underway in one border area, signaling that an opening was planned. The United Nations has called the border one of the world’s most heavily mined.

It was not clear if the countries would withdraw troops from the border.

Factfile | Eritrea

Population: 4.95m
Official religion: Christianity (50%), Islam (48%), indigenous beliefs
Languages: Tigrinya, Arabic, English
Capital: Asmara (pop. 804,000)
GDP (PPP) per capita: $1,466
Life expectancy: 64.1 years

Did you know?

  • Eritrea ranks as having the second-least press freedom in the world, behind only North Korea. There are no privately owned news media organisations in the country
  • Eritrea achieved independence from neighbouring Ethiopia in 1993 via a free referendum. However, no further elections have taken place since that day and opposition political groups are barred from organising
  • The country is one of the world’s major origin points for asylum seekers. Both men and women flee the state’s compulsory, indefinite period of military service; a policy it has maintained since 1993

Mr Abiy on Monday told a new year’s eve concert crowd of thousands in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, that “as of today, Ethiopian and Eritrean people will prosper together and march in unison… The last five months have brought hope and reconciliation.”

The Ethiopian new year has roots in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and is related to the Julian calendar.

Eritrea has used the Gregorian calendar since it gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993.

The reconciliation between Ethiopia and Eritrea has been warmly welcomed by the international community and has led to a series of further thaws in the fragile Horn of Africa region, with Eritrea resuming diplomatic ties with both turbulent Somalia and the small but strategic port and military nation of Djibouti.

Observers now wonder whether the thaw will inspire Eritrea’s leader, who has led since independence without elections, to embrace reforms and loosen a strict military conscription system that has led the small country to become one of the largest sources of migrants fleeing toward Europe, Israel and elsewhere.

AU commends Horn of Africa nations for ‘African solutions to African problems’

The African Union Commission (AUC) has welcomed the normalisation of relations between Djibouti and Eritrea that was announced on Thursday, after marathon negotiations moderated by Ethiopia and Somalia.

The AUC chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat described the joint declaration signed by the nations of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia on Wedesday, and the Eritrea-Djibouti diplomatic breakthrough as ‘vital steps towards peace and stability in the region’.

‘‘I commend the leaders of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia for their bold leadership in the interest of their people,’‘ said Faki.

I commend the leaders of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia for their bold leadership in the interest of their people.

‘These regionally-led initiatives are a clear demonstration of the effectiveness of African solutions to African problems for the Africa we want.’‘

The rapproachment between Ethiopia and Eritrea followed the historic peace pact signed between Asmara and Addis Ababa, which declared an end to their state of war in July and agreed to open embassies, develop ports and resume flights between the two countries after decades of hostilities.

Eritrea has been subjected to a U.N. arms embargo since 2009 over allegations that it provided support to militants in Somalia and for failing to pull troops out of disputed territory with Djibouti. Asmara denies accusations it backed Somali insurgents.

South Sudan accused of killings, torture, squalor in jails

By SAM MEDNICK | Associated Press

Pushing filthy hands between the bars of his cell, Maluel Chol held up a small black plastic bag.

“This is where I go to the toilet,” he said. The 28-year-old has been detained for six months in South Sudan’s capital, accused of murder but not yet officially charged and with no access to a lawyer.

Hundreds of people detained in South Sudan face such treatment and far worse, a new Amnesty International report says, accusing authorities of torturing people to death and letting many others languish behind bars since civil war began in late 2013.

At least 20 people died in detention between 2014 and 2016 and four died last year because of harsh conditions and inadequate medical care, according to the report.

“It is extremely unconscionable that South Sudanese authorities arrest, torture and ill-treat people in total disregard for their human rights,” said Seif Magango, Amnesty’s deputy director for East Africa. He called on South Sudan’s government to release political detainees or charge them.

Hundreds of people have been subject to prolonged and arbitrary detention without charge by the country’s National Security Service and Military Intelligence Directorate, said the report, based on interviews with victims and witnesses. Suspected supporters of the armed opposition are increasingly targeted, it said.

One man suffered having his testicles pierced with sewing needles while being interrogated about the whereabouts of opposition leader Riek Machar, said the Amnesty report. Other detainees were made to drink water from the toilet and defecate and urinate in front of each other, while some were subjected to forced nudity and genital mutilation.

Last year one soldier died in detention while standing trial for a high-profile attack on a hotel in the capital, Juba, in 2016 in which foreigners said they were gang-raped and assaulted and a local journalist was shot dead.

South Sudan’s government called the new Amnesty report “rubbish” and based on inaccurate information from social media.

“We don’t have a culture of torturing people. We put you in prison to put you behind bars, not to beat you,” government spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny told The Associated Press.

As part of a new peace deal, the government in August released more than 20 political prisoners.

Despite that act of good faith, South Sudan’s political environment has become increasingly intolerant and any criticism of the government can lead to intimidation and detention, the new report says.

In July, academic and activist Peter Biar Ajak was arrested at Juba’s international airport and accused of treason. He has been detained without charge since then without access to legal counsel or any communication with the outside world, a human rights lawyer involved with his case, Phillips Anyang Ngong, told AP.

“It’s a situation that gives us fear for how the shrines of justice and the institutions concerned will be able to save us from this continued arbitrary arrest of people without charges,” Ngong said.

According to South Sudan’s Criminal Procedure Act, no one should be detained for longer than 24 hours while cases are investigated. The government has signed a U.N. convention against torture.

Even some prison officials acknowledge the system isn’t working.

At the public prison in Juba more than half of the roughly 1,000 inmates have not been charged or have not had access to a lawyer, director-general Henry Kuany Aguar told the AP.

On a recent visit to a detention center on the outskirts of Juba, AP spoke with several inmates held for days and weeks in squalid conditions without being charged.

Two dozen men crammed into three cells lining a narrow, mud-spattered hallway in the county jail, which acts as a transition center before people are moved to prisons.

Hanging his head, inmate Maluel Chol said he had been transferred from cell to cell for months but had not appeared in court or seen a lawyer. Gripping the handle of an empty water jug in his cell, shared with six other men, he said he is discouraged: “I’ll just keep being moved around until I die.”

Original Post – Fox News

Africa is on the verge of good spell but it takes strategy to harness it

By KWENDO OPANGA

On air, online and in print, British media, and some on the European continent, consistently reported that Prime Minister Theresa May was visiting Africa.

She wasn’t. She respectively visited South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya on a whistle-stop tour of three of Africa’s 54 countries.

That coverage obscured the fact that one, South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya were deliberately chosen by London for the PM because of their economic, political, security and geo-strategic importance; for the UK’s shifting interests and for the role they are to play in emergent or reset relations with London.

NATURAL RESOURCES

Two, the troika matter because Africa is no longer regarded as the Dark Continent but the rising land of opportunity, blessed with abundant natural resources and the world’s fastest growing population set to be a huge labour pool and market for global products in future.

Africa is the battlefield for the war for resources which features China, the rising superpower with generous state largesse; the US as the declining and niggardly superpower led by an economic nationalist; and a Europe that is battered economically by irregular immigration from Africa and politically by the toxic populism this spawns.

POLITICAL PILLARS

And, three, South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya are important because they matter as the economic, and by extension political, pillars of the South, West and East African regions of the continent. They matter because London, which is exiting the European Union, the world’s largest trading block, in March, is in search of new business frontiers as it resets its diplomatic and trading models. And, Nigeria’s and South Africa’s are respectively Africa’s first and second biggest economies.

The three matter because European countries want new partnerships that will create jobs and opportunities on the African continent so that young people do not migrate to Europe. South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya should be trailblazers for London’s shift from aid to trade and increasing interest in British private sector investment in Africa to create jobs and opportunities for young people.

BUSINESS MODELS

Lord Boateng, the Chairman of the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund, which awards grants to private sector firms to support new and innovative business models in Africa, put it better than Mrs May ever has in an interview with BBC’s Radio 4: “We have a lot of catching up to do if we are to make the most of what is a historic opportunity to recast the relationship between Africa and the UK away from being seen solely as a philanthropic exercise, a basket case suitable only for (overseas aid), to an opportunity that requires investment, that requires risk taking and support by government for British companies.”

PRIVATE SECTOR

Catching up? The consulting firm Development Reimagined reports China’s top leadership (the president, premier and foreign minister) has made a total of 79 visits to 43 different African countries over the past 10 years. France’s Emmanuel Macron has visited nine times and touched down in 11 countries. The last Brit PM, David Cameron, had visited in 2011.

Mrs May was herself clear that London is seeking a new kind of relationship with Africans that focuses on helping British private sector firms invest in fast-growing economies “bolstering states under threat” from Islamic extremism such as Chad, Mali and Niger.

DELICATELY PICKED

So, London delicately picked and chose Pretoria, Abuja and Nairobi for Prime Minister May just as Berlin chose the West African countries of Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria for Chancellor Angela Merkel; and President Trump welcomed Kenya’s President Kenyatta as the second African head of state to be invited to the White House.

The difference is provided by China, which is hosting almost all African heads of state or government in Beijing. In a word, there is a new scramble for Africa in which the Europeans have competition in the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Indians and Americans.

OWN INTERESTS

No picture captures this new competition for the opportunities Africa presents better than President Kenyatta being feted in Washington early in the week; hosting Mrs May in the middle of it and dashing off to Beijing at the end of it.

While Beijing would appear to want all of Africa or most of it, all of them are driven by their own interests first, but, unlike the buccaneers who carved out Africa among themselves in that infamous 1884-1885 Berlin Conference, Mrs May is clear that: “True partnerships are not about one party doing unto another, but states, governments, businesses and individuals working together in a responsible way to achieve common goals.”

wkopanga@gmail.com

In DRC, Youth Activists Mobilize for Post-Kabila Era

Young Congolese were at the forefront of calls for President Joseph Kabila to not seek re-election. Now that Kabila has agreed to step aside, young voters are gearing up for the December 23 poll and demanding a free and fair election.

In the DRC, more than half of the country’s 80 million people are below age 25, and many say they feel they have been ignored by successive governments.

As a result, many are skeptical of local politicians.

“The problem in Congo is that we are not free. We are not free at all. We’re in the hands of a few people who want to manipulate us, who want to take us according to their ambitions,” says Ornella Mujinga, 26.

She and her sister, Benta Loma, participated in a street rally in July to demand the government secure the conflict-ridden Kasai region where violence against women is high. Both sisters and more than 40 fellow activists were arrested.

“They brutalized us harshly. All we want is the liberty of those that have been assaulted. They were so harsh to us and we were (just) having a peaceful protest,” Loma says.

Loma says she has decided to dedicate her life for the struggle of a better DRC despite the government intimidation.

“If you condemn what is happening, they will tell you, ‘No this and that,’ and they will begin to pursue you. I want to feel the democracy. There is no democracy in Congo. I would like to see everyone free,” Loma says.

As she speaks, she begins to cry. Her sister watches her with concern.

Working within major parties

The DRC has battled political instability, insecurity and corruption for decades. The country is still recovering from two civil wars, and armed groups continue to fight over abundant mineral resources such as diamonds, cobalt, and silver, leaving the eastern provinces in a permanent state of conflict.

Youth activists say they deserve a better future and some are working within existing political parties to advocate for it.

Serge Luabeya attended a strategy meeting with senior members of the ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD). At the meeting, he shook hands with members of the party’s elite and joined in the chanting of “Viva, viva!”

Serge Luabeya, the deputy leader of the youth league of the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy, attends a high-level strategy meeting where party members are plotting how to attract new voters. (C. Oduah/VOA)
Serge Luabeya, the deputy leader of the youth league of the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy, attends a high-level strategy meeting where party members are plotting how to attract new voters. (C. Oduah/VOA)

But he’s also looking for young people to reach.

“They have over 55 percent of the population and in the heart of the party also there are a lot of youth. For the vision of the party, for the doctrine and ideology to be realized, the youth are needed,” he says.

Luabeya, the party’s deputy youth leader, said he was inspired by the younger Kabila, who took power in 2001 after the assassination of his father.

“I saw a young president, 29 years old, stand on a manifesto full of courage, with a strong conviction and with a lot of determination and I told myself that he is heaven-sent,” Luabeya says.

He says that under Kabila’s leadership, the economy has improved; but, international organizations, including the World Bank and United Nations, say Congo still ranks among the world’s poorest countries.

Clement Baruti, who leads the youth league of the largest opposition party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), accuses the country’s military elite of looting public funds.

Clement Baruti, the president of the youth league of the largest opposition party, UDPS, says the DRC must be ruled by law and civil rule in order to make progress. (C. Oduah/VOA)
Clement Baruti, the president of the youth league of the largest opposition party, UDPS, says the DRC must be ruled by law and civil rule in order to make progress. (C. Oduah/VOA)

“This country has been run by military officers disguising themselves as civilians,” he says. “We want a government that is ruled by law and civil rule because without such, the vision for progress will not work.”

A turning point?

The UDPS’s front man, Felix Tshisekedi, the son of veteran politician Etienne Tshisekedi, believes that he could be the “savior” of the DRC. At a recent press conference in Kinshasa, he spoke of ambitions to build the DRC’s own Silicon Valley to encourage young people to take an interest in high technology.

But political scientist Felicien Kabamba, a professor at the University of Kinshasa and analyst at the Congo Bureau of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, says such lofty goals will not have an impact until the country’s educational sector becomes a priority.

Young people dance on the grounds of the ruling PPRD party campaign office. (C. Oduah/VOA)
Young people dance on the grounds of the ruling PPRD party campaign office. (C. Oduah/VOA)

He describes the state of youth in the country as “catastrophic,” although he sees Kabila stepping down as a move in the right direction.

“This historical event introduces us to a new era but the way [ahead] is again very long,” he says.

Africans Living Longer, Healthier Lives

The World Health Organization says Africans are living longer and healthier lives. But the WHO warns that that millions on the continent still face the challenge of chronic diseases.

News of the uptick came in Dakar this week where WHO representatives met with officials from 47 African countries.

Healthy life expectancy on the continent rose from 44.4 years at the turn of the century to 53.8 years in 2015. Overall life expectancy climbed from 50.8 years to 61.2.

Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, said that two factors were mostly responsible for the change.

“What produced this result is a huge increase in access to treatment [of] HIV-AIDS, and in the better prevention and management of malaria,” Moeti said.

But the WHO says the type of disease that most commonly affects Africans is also changing.

While the number of deaths from diarrheal disease, respiratory infections, and HIV is falling, chronic conditions – such as cancer and heart disease – are claiming more lives.

Death rates from non-communicable diseases have remained steady since 2000 while the other top ten causes of mortality in Africa have fallen by 40 percent.

The WHO says health services in Africa have been slow to adapt to the new health challenges.

Humphrey Karamagi, sustainable development goal coordinator for the WHO, says the health needs of African youth are too often overlooked.

“The kind of health challenges that adolescents face are quite different from what we have been used to responding to – drug use, adolescent obesity and so on.”

Many African health officials and experts point to a lack of funding, but Stanley Okolo, head of the West African Health Organization, says that is overly simplistic.

“There is health, which is an issue in terms of investment and health funding. But there is also an issue in terms of health systems and how you can deliver better value for the money you have. And both have to be tackled simultaneously,” Okolo said.

African nations spend an average 40 percent of their health budgets on medical products, while barely a fifth goes to medical staff and infrastructure.

Health officials from Kenya, Nigeria and Cabo Verde say they are responding to the rise in non-communicable diseases by focusing on prevention and promoting healthy lifestyles.

Now Riek Machar agrees to sign S.Sudan peace deal: mediator

By AFP

KHARTOUM,

Sudan said Tuesday that South Sudanese rebel chief Riek Machar has agreed to sign a final peace deal with Juba to end a brutal civil war after initially refusing to do so.

Machar and President Salva Kiir have held weeks of talks in Khartoum in search of a comprehensive peace deal to end the conflict, which has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions since 2013 in the world’s youngest country.

The warring parties have already inked several agreements, including a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing deal that sees Machar returning as first vice president in the government.

But earlier on Tuesday in what was seen as a setback to ongoing peace efforts, Machar refused to sign the deal even as Juba inked it.

Hours later the Sudanese mediators announced that he had agreed to sign it.

“After intense negotiations by Sudanese mediators, Riek Machar agreed to sign the document on Thursday, August 30,” Sudanese Foreign Minister Al-Dierdiry Ahmed told reporters.

Machar and other rebel groups had initially refused to sign the draft, saying their reservations had not been acknowledged in the text.

The rebel groups had differences over the functioning of a proposed transitional government, how many states the country should be divided into and on the writing of a new constitution.

South Sudan finally became independent from Sudan in 2011, but a little over two years later a fresh war erupted pitting Kiir against Machar, his former deputy.

The conflict has seen widespread rape and murder of civilians, often along ethnic lines, and uprooted roughly a third of the population.

A succession of peace deals have been signed between the two leaders only to be broken, most recently in December.

 

African students are animals and human trash, say residents of Israeli town

ANA Reporter

Johannesburg – Students from various African countries who were part of an Israeli government programme to study agriculture have been kicked out of the Israeli town of Avshalom, after locals claimed they would bring “rape, murder and break-ins” to the area, the Afro-Palestine News Wire Service reported on Tuesday.

WhatsApp messages from a group of local residents obtained by Israeli media include statements such as: “There is a very serious problem and we need to deal with it urgently. Otherwise, remember very well what I’m saying, the day is not far away that there will be rape, murder and break-ins in the community”.

Another resident wrote: “As far as I’m concerned, they are animals, rapists, human trash. Their place is not here.”

“This is racism, it’s nothing else,” said Nir Damari, the owner of the house in Avshalom that had been rented out to the students. “What really bothers the residents is the renters’ skin colour,” he told Israeli media.

The incident comes at a time when anti-African racism in Israel has reached an all-time high.

In July, Israeli parliamentarian, Oren Hazan, said that Africans have no culture and that African refugees in Israel should be stopped from having children. In the video interview, Hazan further claimed that African immigrants are a “threat to Israel” that would destroy the country.

“If we don’t kick them out they will kick us out. We need to destroy the problem when it is still small,” said Hazan.

A new Israeli law now allows the government to withhold the salaries of African migrants until they leave the country. Activists fighting the law, say this is yet another attempt by the Israeli government to force them out, reported the Afro-Palestine News Wire Service.

In January, Israel offered to pay African migrants $3 500 per person to leave Israel. According to the government-sponsored deal, each migrant would also receive a free air ticket to return home or go to “third countries”, which rights groups identified as Rwanda and Uganda.

In April, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cancelled a deal with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to relocate African migrants, and respond to the protection needs of African asylum seekers in Israel.

Netanyahu has called African migrants a threat to Israel, and Israeli government minister, Miri Regev, has referred to them as “a cancer”. At the time, 52 percent of Israeli Jews agreed with Regev’s statement and a third approved of anti-African migrant violence.

African News Agency (ANA)

Disturbing details of decades of sexual abuse by Catholic priests

By REUTERS @reuters

Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania sexually abused thousands of children over a 70-year period and silenced victims through “the weaponisation of faith” and a systematic cover-up campaign by their bishops, the state attorney general said on Tuesday.

An 884-page report made public by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro after a two-year investigation contained graphic examples of children being groomed and sexually abused by clergymen.

It was largely based on documents from secret archives kept by the dioceses, including handwritten confessions by priests, he said.

“It was child sexual abuse, including rape, committed by grown men – priests – against children,” Shapiro told a press conference.

Representatives of the six Pennsylvania dioceses included in the report could not be reached for comment.

The attorney general said it was the most comprehensive report on Catholic clergy sex abuse in American history, nearly two decades after an expose of widespread abuse and cover-up in Boston that rocked the Roman Catholic church.

Several of the dioceses issued statements apologizing to victims and saying they were taking steps to ensure any criminal behavior was stopped. “The grand jury has challenged us as a Catholic diocese to put victims first and to continue to improve ways to protect children and youth,” Bishop Lawrence Persico of the Erie Diocese said in a statement.

As accusers wept behind him, Shapiro described alleged abuse by priests in six of the state’s eight dioceses, including a group of Pittsburgh clergymen accused of ordering an altar boy to strip naked and pose as Christ on the cross while they photographed him.

“The pattern was abuse, deny and cover up,” Shapiro said, adding that church officials sought to keep abuse allegations quiet long enough so they could no longer be prosecuted under Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations.

“Priests were raping little boys and girls,” Shapiro said. “They hid it all for decades.”

The report cited 301 priests, some of whom have died. Only two of the priests are still subject to prosecution.

A few of the clergymen accused in the report succeeded in having their names redacted, and Shapiro said he would argue at a Sept. 26 court hearing for making all the names public.

He said the grand jury identified about a thousand victims, but believed there may be many more.

Shapiro said that one priest had molested five sisters in one family, he said. The diocese settled with the family after requiring a confidentiality agreement, he said.

The attorney general said that Catholic bishops covered up child sexual abuse by priests and reassigned them repeatedly to different parishes. “They allowed priests to remain active for as long as 40 years,” he said.

Describing the “weaponization of faith” to silence victims, Shapiro cited several examples including one priest who allegedly told children “how Mary had to lick Jesus clean after he was born” to groom them for oral sex.

“Children were taught that this abuse was not only normal but that it was holy,” Shapiro said.

Since the Boston abuse scandal erupted in the 1990s, accusations involving American clerics have sporadically surfaced.

Theodore McCarrick, a former archbishop of Washington, resigned as a cardinal last month after accusations resurfaced that he abused a 16-year-old boy decades ago.

In recent months, Pope Francis accepted a number of resignations from Chilean bishops in a sex abuse scandal that has rocked that country.