For Some, Yellow Butterflies Symbolise Hope in the Midst of Colombia’s Uncertainty

Yellow butterflies covered every wall in the office of one of our partner organisations in Colombia.

The first butterfly was cut out and hung on a wall immediately following the signing of the peace agreement between the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on 26 September 2016 in Cartagena on the northern coast of the country.

In their speeches on this momentous occasion, both President Juan Manuel Santos and Timochenco, the commander and Chief of the FARC, referred to the yellow butterflies from celebrated Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ famous novel ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’: Gabriel Garcia Marquez is remembered for his love of yellow butterflies and flowers, which signify that nothing bad will happen.

“The war is over, we are starting to build peace” – Timochenko, Commander and Chief of the FARC

During his speech, Timochenko, stated, “war is over, we are starting to build peace’’ followed by a reference to a character in the novel, Mauricio Babilonia, who is constantly followed by yellow butterflies wherever he goes, as a symbol of infinite love and hope. Ivan Marquez, the FARC’s lead negotiator stated at a national FARC conference, “Tell Mauricio Babilonia he can release the yellow butterflies,” as a direct quote from the novel.

An Unexpected Outcome

These butterflies were a clear example of the hopeful expectancy that surrounded me in Bogota. Everyone was discussing what the peace agreement would mean for the country, especially for the regions most affected by the 52 year long conflict, especially the more rural areas of Colombia.

During the 53 years of internal conflict, hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost. All actors during the conflict have been responsible for major human rights violations; armed actors have also been responsible for a wide range of violations of religious freedom as hundreds of religious leaders have been the victims of targeted assassinations since 2000 and many have received threats, including death threats, by neo-paramilitary groups and guerrillas. Many churches have faced extortion from armed groups or have been forcibly closed.

However, at this point in time, the national plebiscite which was due to be held on 2 October 2016 had not yet taken place and was the final step required to bring the peace agreement into force.

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Burma: Stop the Block on Aid

No one should be denied food or medicine on account of their ethnicity or religion, but that is what is increasingly happening to some people in Burma. A humanitarian crisis is emerging because in some parts of the country, the authorities are blocking aid access. In other areas, international agencies are cutting aid. Blocks and cuts combined are resulting in displaced people who have fled conflict going hungry at night. That is why we have launched our new campaign: “Real Change”.

When we talk about refugees today, we think of Syria and Iraq. But Burma remains a country where significant numbers of people are fleeing conflict and persecution. Thousands escape to other countries, but others are internally displaced. Over 120,000 in Kachin and northern Shan states, and over 130,000 Rohingyas in Rakhine state.

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Enforced Disappearance: No Answers, No Accountability

Pictured: Widows Donatilda and Adalgiza

Ten years ago I sat in a small, hot room in Trujillo, Peru with a colleague and three women each clutching a folder. They held the folders as if they contained a fortune, and we leaned forward as one by one they carefully opened their folder to show us the precious contents. There were a few old photographs and scores of documents peppered with government stamps. When they finished, each woman closed her folder, looked at us, and said “I still don’t know where he is.”

The three women were talking about their husbands, victims of enforced disappearance. Some twenty years earlier the police had taken their husbands somewhere, making assurances to their young wives that they just needed to ask them a few questions and they’d soon be home. Days, then weeks, then years went by and their husbands did not return. The women went from police station to police station, then to the prisons, the hospitals and morgues but no one could tell them where they went, or rather, where they had been taken.

As we listened to them, I watched the way they treated the folders, holding them close to their chests, caressing the documents and photos as they showed them to us. I realised why the folders were so precious t them. It was because this was all they had left of their husbands. Without them, it was as if they had never existed at all.

Torturous Hope

Enforced disappearance is one of the cruellest human rights crimes.

There is the crime against the primary victim – who has disappeared – and this is compounded by the crime committed against their families and loved ones who endure years and even decades of wondering what has happened to them.

In the vast majority of these cases, the victim has been killed but the lack of a body or even information about their fate opens the door to hope that maybe they are out there somewhere. Hope, which is something we usually view as a positive thing, is distorted into a kind of torture as their families exhaust all their resources, financial as well as physical and emotional, to try to establish what has happened.

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Aleppo Bleeds as the Picture of Another Syrian Child Pricks the World’s Conscience

Many newspapers across the world today have chosen as their main image a photograph of a five year-old Syrian boy who has just survived an airstrike. Like that of another little Syrian boy called Aylan Kurdi, who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea last year, the image has gone viral.

It appears that once again the image of a Syrian child has pricked the world’s collective conscience, igniting renewed efforts to alleviate the suffering of Syrian civilians.

Khalid Albaih Syria cartoon credit Khalid Albaih

Image credit: Khalid Albaih https://www.facebook.com/albaih

 Aleppo as a microcosm for the Syrian Conflict

The Syrian conflict has a prominent sectarian aspect for which the battle for Aleppo is almost a microcosm, with the government and Shi’a militia on one side, and the largely-Islamist armed opposition groups on the other.

Within this complex picture, civilians from all sides are increasingly vulnerable as none of the warring parties have shown commitment to or respect for international humanitarian law, especially in terms of non-combatants, freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) and other human rights.

Aleppo, the second largest city in Syria used to have 4 million inhabitants. Today nearly half are displaced, either internally or externally.

The city has been a battlefield since 2012, and as the overall situation in Syria has deteriorated relentlessly, attention on the suffering of its inhabitants has ebbed and flowed dependent on fresh atrocities.

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The Impact of Sudan’s Identity War on Freedom of Religion or Belief

In June 2016, CSW joined a number of African and international civil society organisations in signing and delivering a letter marking the fifth anniversary of the conflicts in South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions, to 10 Downing Street. The letter urged the Prime Minister to use the UK’s considerable influence to ensure that international human rights and humanitarian law are respected.

Protesters walked from the Sudanese Embassy in London to Downing Street to deliver the letter. Among those taking part, it was striking to see veiled and unveiled Sudanese women from the Nuba Mountains, people from other parts of South Kordofan and Darfur, young children, and men in traditional Nuba dress united in calling for an end to all conflicts in Sudan.

This demonstration of unity in diversity was compelling, as was the cry for peace and freedom for all Sudanese citizens. The repression of religious and ethnic diversity in Sudan has been used repeatedly by President al Bashir’s government to sustain his 27-year rule, and what was clearly expressed on that overcast Saturday afternoon in London was the longing for an end to conflicts that serve to perpetuate a divisive government and for a lasting peace in which people can live side by side without fear, regardless of their cultural, linguistic, ethnic or religious differences.

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