First the Corona crisis and now the escalation on a political level. Two of Horyzon's project countries are currently in a state of emergency.
In Colombia, protests against the government of President Duque have been raging for more than two weeks and in Israel/Palestine there is the threat of a new outbreak of war. With this article, we inform you about the situation in our projects and comment on the events on the ground.
To learn more about the situation in the country and what Horyzon is doing about it, click on the relevant country and let the text unfold.
Colombia - Where is the long-awaited peace?
For more than two weeks, Colombia has been in a state of national strike. Thousands of people are demonstrating daily against the policy of President Ivan Duque, who wants to compensate for the economic losses of the Corona crisis with a tax increase that mainly affects the poorest people in the country. However, during the pandemic, millions of lower-middle class Colombians slipped into poverty, widening the inequality gap. Even before the Covid pandemic broke out, hundreds of thousands of people protested against the Colombian government's economic, social and environmental policies. The Covid 19 health emergency and the strict lockdown and quarantine measures quickly put an end to the protests. The government is now cracking down on the mostly peaceful protesters. Forty-one people have already been killed by security forces and hundreds have been arrested. Shocking videos are circulating on social media showing the disproportionate force with which the government is acting against the demonstrators. The right to freedom of expression is not respected in many places.
How are our partners on the ground doing?
In Cali, the epicentre of the protests, the situation is worrying. In recent days, there have been more clashes between state security forces and demonstrators. Certain neighbourhoods have been completely sealed off by the police and there is now a shortage of food. Our local project coordinator is dismayed: "Our own state has turned against us."
Many of the young people from the Paza la Paz project are involved in the national strike. After all, these are the very issues that are at the core of the project: speaking out against inequalities, being politically active as part of civil society, standing up for human rights, contributing to the transformation of Colombian society. The young people are closely accompanied by the project workers on site. The project leader from Quindío describes the process to me as follows: "First we do a historical contextualisation of current events with the young people. The young people should understand why this political division came about in our country and why such inequalities prevail. Of course, this is upsetting, which is why the emotions among the young people are very strong at the moment. We try to counter this with close emotional support and the creation of spaces in which the young people can exchange ideas with each other. It is also important that we propagate values such as reconciliation and non-violence. As a next step, we inform the young people about their rights, such as the right to freedom of expression, and together we develop ideas on how the young people can participate effectively and safely in the protests." Safety protocols have been developed for those of age who are allowed to take to the streets to protest. They use Whatsapp to report to the coordinators when they are going out and when they will be back home. Along the protest routes, safe houses have been defined where the youth can take shelter in case the situation gets worse. The youth carry emergency cards that show their blood group in case of injuries. Activities are carried out with the young people who are not yet of age in a protected setting, such as in Medellín, where a vigil was held on the theme of "A light for respect for life".
During a youth action in Bogotá, a reconciliation encounter took place: when youth from Paza la Paz painted a graffiti over 10 metres long speaking out against the disproportionate use of force by the police against demonstrators, the military joined in. Instead of the expected confrontation, the two groups engaged in dialogue.
What is Horyzon doing?
As a member of the Switzerland-Colombia Working Group (ask!), Horyzon has written a letter to Federal Councillor Ig-nazio Cassis. In this letter we ask Mr. Cassis to urge the Colombian government to respect human rights and to investigate the reported cases of police abuse of power.
We also support our partner YMCA Colombia in their Manifesto for Life and Dialogue, which calls for supporting the youth in Colombia in claiming their rights. You can read the manifesto HERE.
Palestine - Is there a threat of renewed war between Israel and Palestine?
Tensions have been brewing between Israel and Palestine for weeks. There are many reasons for this: the Corona crisis is straining relations between Israel and Palestine to the utmost. While a large part of the population in Israel has already been vaccinated, the Palestinian population has been left virtually empty-handed. As the occupying power, however, Israel would be obliged under the Fourth Geneva Convention to grant the population of the occupied territory equal access to health services. However, the Palestinian Authority is also contributing to the increasing political fragility. The promised parliamentary and presidential elections, scheduled for May, have been postponed indefinitely on flimsy pretexts by President Mahmoud Abbas, whose official term of office would have ended in 2009. The fact is that Abbas probably realised that he was unlikely to be re-elected. For the Palestinian people, the cancellation of the elections is another cut in their right to self-determination and a blow to democracy.
During the fasting month of Ramadan, there were repeated clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians in Jerusalem. The escalations began in East Jerusalem with the threatened eviction of four Palestinian families from their homes in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Israeli forces responded extremely violently to Palestinian demonstrators protesting against the forced eviction from Sheikh Jarrah. Hundreds were injured and dozens of Palestinians were arrested.
The excessive use of force against the Palestinian demonstrators has contributed to armed groups from the Gaza Strip firing rockets against Israel. In response, the Israeli military launched massive attacks on targets in Gaza. This resulted, among other things, in the collapse of a high-rise building containing numerous civilians. On the Palestinian side, 65 people were killed, including 13 children. Several hundred people were injured. On the Israeli side, 6 people were killed and over 200 others injured.
How are our partners doing on the ground?
The locations of our partner organisations and projects are not affected by the air strikes at the moment. Nevertheless, the tension among project staff on the ground is high. The corona pandemic also led to psychological and physical problems. Many project staff members had become infected with the virus in the last few months. Fortunately, all of them have recovered to date and only a few are suffering from the consequences of Long-Covid. The therapists of the reintegration programme of the YMCA East Jerusalem provide psychological care for victims of violence by the Israeli military.
What does Horyzon do?
The airstrikes between armed groups in Gaza and the Israeli military have resulted in the death of innocent people. Horyzon therefore calls on all parties to put an immediate end to the violence against civilians and to respect international humanitarian law. We call for constructive dialogue to bring about an immediate and peaceful resolution to the conflict. Through the Joint Advocacy Initiative project of YWCA Palestine and YMCA East Jerusalem, Horyzon encourages Palestinian youth in methods of non-violent resistance.
The threat of forced evictions in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah violates international law. The UN calls on Israel to immediately call off all forced evictions. East Jerusalem is part of the occupied Palestinian territory where international humanitarian law applies, said UN rights office spokesperson Rupert Colville. "The occupying power cannot confiscate private property in occupied territory."
Horyzon joins the UN in calling for an end to forced evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and the human rights violations and violence associated with them.