A landmine-free world? Not there yet

Twenty years ago this week, history was made.

On December 3-4, 1997, the Mine Ban Treaty opened for signature at the National Conference Centre, just a stone’s throw from Parliament Hill.

As Former Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy put pen to paper and affixed the first signature to the landmark treaty, thousands gathered in Ottawa—state delegates, throngs of media, NGOs, grassroots peace activists, and even a bus-load of landmine activists who had traveled several continents to get here.

That day, they accomplished what had felt nearly impossible just 14 months before—an international treaty that entirely banned a weapon known to cause indiscriminate physical and psychological harm to civilians around the world.

Sometimes referred to as the Ottawa Convention—though officially known as the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction—this treaty is arguably one of the world’s most successful.

Photo by MAG Sri Lanka

In the mid-1990s, roughly 26,000 people were victims of anti-personnel landmines every single year—killed or permanently maimed, their lives altered in an instant.

Twenty years later, 162 states have become treaty signatories; more than 51 million stockpiled landmines have been destroyed; 27 countries and 1 territory once plagued by contamination have declared themselves mine-free; and production by the majority of the world’s landmine producers has ceased.

Just as importantly, the Treaty has helped make landmines one of the most stigmatized weapons in the world. At the end of the Cold War, landmines were an accepted component of virtually every state’s military arsenal. Fast forward to today, and international norms have developed that discourage any country—signatory or not—from using them. In fact, many non-signatory states (the U.S., for instance) are in de-facto compliance with the Convention.

This groundbreaking instrument also has broader significance for the ways in which it shaped future arms-control activism.

Back in 1996, most countries favoured working through traditional UN disarmament channels. But as negotiations within these structures (i.e. the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons) were resulting in diplomatic stalemate, Canada did the “un-diplomatic” thing. It stuck its neck out—proclaiming that by December of 1997 Canada would hold a conference to sign a new treaty banning landmines. And it would do so by bypassing conventional channels altogether.

This alternative (and, at that time, unusual!) diplomatic model broadened the scope of participation to include civil society in the negotiations. While not an easy sell for many governments, this innovative process, Axworthy recalls, gave “participants…equal standing at the table regardless of their position. Mine victims sat next to ministers discussing strategy, reflecting an emerging sense of partnership between government and civil groups.”[1]

Within this context, NGOs and landmine victims—mobilized under the banner of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (a Nobel Peace Prize winner!)—made their case, providing compelling documentation on the devastating humanitarian impacts these weapons had.

In the end, this alternative process achieved an outright ban on a weapon that countries had once argued were indispensable. It was a game-changer.

One only need to look to later treaties on cluster bombs (2008), small arms (2014), and, most recently, nuclear weapons (2017), to see how NGOs, governments, and civil society have come together again and again to put humanitarian concerns at the center of disarmament conversations.

At this twenty-year anniversary of the Landmine Treaty, there obviously are plenty of reasons to celebrate.

In Ottawa this week we did just that. On Monday, December 4, NGOs gathered with government officials, diplomats, de-miners, and landmine survivors to commemorate the success of the Treaty. The conference, aptly-named “Unfinished Business: The Ottawa Treaty at 20,” explored the “wins” of the last twenty years, but it also threw down the many challenges that remain.

Let’s make no mistake—there is much business to be finished. Landmines are not an issue of the past.

With well over 60 countries still contaminated, people can’t travel freely, return home post-conflict, farm their land, or regain their livelihoods (check out the Landmine Monitor for annual statistics).

And as we heard this week, the world is facing a new landmine emergency. The number of people killed or injured by anti-personnel mines and other explosive devices has increased in recent years, hitting a ten-year high in 2015.

As organizations like Mines Advisory Group have reported, the regional conflict in Iraq and Syria (not to mention Ukraine and Myanmar) has resulted in a scale of contamination not seen for decades. Improvised explosive devices and locally-manufactured mines in these contexts are “sensitive enough to be triggered by a child’s footsteps but powerful enough to disable a tank,” MAG said at the conference.

All of this within the context of a global decline in funding.

Thankfully, on Monday Canada announced almost $12 million in funding for mine action projects in places like Iraq, Syria, Cambodia, Laos, Ukraine, and Colombia.

While a far cry from the $62.8 million Canada contributed at its peak in 1997, this funding is crucial. As the Landmine 2025 campaign is pushing, global support for clearance must be re-energized if signatories are to achieve treaty commitments.

And as Axworthy also noted this week, Canada could also lead in efforts to invest in new technologies for clearance.[2]

In other words, even as we celebrate the Treaty’s remarkable achievements, we must also recognize that much work remains. Let’s finish the job!

By Jenn Wiebe, Ottawa Office Director

[1] Lloyd Axworthy, Navigating a New World: Canada’s Global Future, Chapter 6: The Ottawa Process, pg. 127.
[2] Check out groups like Demine Robotics in Kitchener-Waterloo, ON.

Voices of the Peacebuilders, Part 1: Women as Peacebuilders

This is the first of a two-part series called the Voices of the Peacebuilders, on the importance of magnifying the voices of individuals and organizations working at the grassroots, within communities. Very often these voices are overlooked or excluded from high-level policy tables when it comes to resolving conflict and building peace around the world.

In October, I was in my hometown of Fredericton, New Brunswick where I gave two public lectures at the University of New Brunswick. This two-part series will outline points from each lecture and provide a video link. The first, held on October 16 and hosted by the Faculty of Education, was entitled: “From the Grassroots to the Negotiating Tables: The Case for Women as Peacebuilders.”

Women are so often excluded from the high-level peace negotiating tables and their efforts for peace are largely ignored in the mainstream news, despite making up half of the population, and often bearing the brunt of conflict. Yet this has not stopped women from being innovators and champions for peace within their communities, including within MCC’s partners.

We must bring these voices to the table and make the case for women as innovators and leaders, working for peace, from the grassroots to the negotiating table.

Join me on a brief world tour to see snapshots of some of this work, and let me introduce you to some of these women peacebuilders, from Colombia to Nigeria and from South Sudan to Palestine and Israel.

Mampujan Colombia: Weaving history and speaking peace

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A quilt depicting the forced displacement of 2000. MCC Colombia’s office in Bogota.

On Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, meet the Women Weavers of Dreams and Flavors, a group of women from the small Afro-Colombian community of Mampujan. In 2000 this entire community was forcibly displaced, as part of Colombia’s 50+ years armed conflict, leaving the community traumatized.  In response, MCC’s partner, Sembrandopaz, together with the community, developed a healing project in which women, working together, sewed quilts, depicting the story of their displacement. As the women stitched, they shared their hurts, and, in doing so, they not only found healing, but a passion to work for justice.

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Women Weavers of Dreams and Flavours of Peace of Mampuján win a national peace prize in Colombia, 2015. Photo, Anna Vogt, thellamadiaries.com

The women then decided to create a series of quilts, depicting the entire history of their community, including ancestors arriving on slave ships, independence, forced displacement, and dreams for the future. They have shared these quilts with other Colombian communities who have also undergone trauma in the armed conflict, and the women of Mampujan have received national and international recognition for these efforts. Much work remains, but the women of Mampujan have led the way in a movement for healing, peace and justice. Read more about Mampujan’s story here.

Jos, Nigeria: Inter-faith bridgebuilding for a common goal of peace

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Amina Ahmed (second from the right) with MCC staff (left to right) Charles Kwuelum (MCC Washington, D.C.), Kati Garrison (MCC UN) and Bekah Sears (MCC Ottawa) on a 2016 visit to Jos, Nigeria. Photo, Ben Weisbrod.

In Jos, Nigeria we meet Amina Ahmed, a local leader in interfaith peacebuilding, and an avid supporter of MCC partner Emergency Preparedness Response Team (EPRT), a joint Christian and Muslim organization responding to crises by addressing conflict at its roots. Because Jos is on the dividing line, of sorts, between the Christian South and Muslim North in Nigeria, it has often been at the epicenter of multiple acute outbursts of violence between Christians and Muslims, creating deep animosity. Yet Amina, along with others, are seeking to change these dynamics and bring people together in peace.

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Amina Ahmed, director of a women’s peace organization, leads a nonviolence training supported by MCC in Jos, Nigeria, 2015. MCC photo, Dave Klassen.

But Amina was not always a leader in these efforts. As a Muslim, Amina was traumatized by violence carried out by Christians against Muslims, including her brother’s murder in 2001. For months she felt deep rage and fear, wanting revenge, seeking out groups planning violent attacks against Christians. But, at her father’s urging, Amina attended an interfaith peace workshop. Seeing both Muslims and Christians working together for peace, Amina’s heart was transformed. Since then she has become a champion for peace across religious or ethnic divides in Nigeria. Read more about Amina’s story here.

Rumbek, South Sudan: “The weak become strong”

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Loreto Peace Club member speaking to local women about conflict resolution, Rumbek, South Sudan, 2017. Photo, Candacia Greeman.

On to Rumbek, South Sudan, where leadership in peacebuilding comes from a group perceived as the “weakest” in society, i.e. girls and young women. South Sudan has been engulfed in civil war since 2013, displacing millions and civilians are often the deliberate targets of violence. But there are also deep cycles of violence and oppression within communities, particularly targeting girls. This includes early forced marriage, deeply tied to the importance of cattle ownership. Male relatives force girls into marriage to reclaim the cattle debt the girls’ fathers would have accumulated for their own marriage dowries.

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Loreto Peace Club members, Rumbek, South Sudan, 2017. Photo, Candacia Greeman

At the Loreto Girls Secondary School in Rumbek, MCC supports peace clubs aimed at fostering inter-personal conflict resolution skills, in the recognition that lasting peace begins at the community level. Peace club members then initiated community-based trauma healing and reconciliation groups, within the wider community called Listening Circles: safe spaces to share trauma and grievances, while fostering reconciliation. An MCC worker describes these young women as “a source of hope for South Sudan, and a reason to hope in South Sudan.” Read more about Loreto peace clubs here.

Nazareth, Palestine and Israel: Stitching reconciliation and standing up for human rights

The final stop takes us to a church basement in Nazareth with Violette Khoury, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and the director of MCC partner Sabeel’s Nazareth office. Palestinian citizens of Israel make up 21% of the population of the country. Although Palestinians are citizens, Violette describes state laws which discriminate against them with respect to land and housing rights, education rights, cultural and language rights and more. But most of all, Violette laments both deteriorating relations in between Christian and Muslim Palestinians in Nazareth, as well as a dominant narrative that denies the history and roots of the Palestinian people in the region.

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Violette Khoury shows traditional Palestinian embroidery to MCC visitors from Canada. Khoury is the director of Sabeel Nazareth, the Nazareth office of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre, an MCC partner that provides a theological and spiritual resource for the Palestinian church. Violette leads a program that brings together local people, particularly women, of different faith traditions, to share and preserve their common Palestinian heritage with activities like embroidery. (MCC photo/Elizabeth Kessler)

In response, Violette started a project for local women, both Christians and Muslims and even Jewish Israelis, to learn ancient stitching techniques that were once commonplace in Nazareth. In this project Violette hopes to bring unity and reconciliation, all while reclaiming the history of the Palestinian people in the region. She says, “There is denial of us being a people and having a heritage. But we do exist; we have roots; we are here!” In addition, by inviting Jewish Israelis she hopes to extend reconciliation efforts and cross barriers that seem insurmountable. Read more of the context in which Violette works here.

Conclusion: Will we follow their lead?

On November 1, 2017, after many consultations and civil society and parliamentary input, the Canadian government launched its second Canadian National Action Plan (C-NAP) on implementing the UN’s Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda. This is hopeful news.

The first objective of the CNAP – one which our Ottawa Office staff will be watching closely– calls for the “increase of meaningful participation of women, women’s organizations and networks in conflict prevention, conflict resolution and post-conflict state-building.”

In the meantime, in addition to monitoring governmental action on women and peacebuilding, our task is clear. We continue learning, telling the stories, spreading the word, and standing in solidarity with these and other peacebuilders around the world, making the case for women peacebuilders, from the grassroots all the way to the negotiating tables.

Watch the full lecture here 

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Dr. Ottilia Chareka (Photo St FX University) This lecture, the 6th Annual Dr. Ottilia Chareka Memorial Lecture in Education and Social Justice was given in her honour. Tragically, Ottilia was killed in 2011. Ottilia was a long-time friend of mine (Rebekah) and I was both humbled and honoured to help carry on her legacy.

By Rebekah Sears, Policy Analyst for the MCC Ottawa Office

Welcome as a prelude to peace in Colombia

Alix Lozano is a Colombian  Pastor and Theologian and the Co-founder of the Ecumenical
Women’s Group of Peace-Builders (GemPaz). This piece was originally published on the MCC LACA Advocacy blog on June 21, 2017. This reflection is taken from the Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia worship packet.

All people at different stages and different moments of life seek spaces of welcome, healing spaces, spaces of acceptance, inclusion, and transformation. Political violence, delinquency, invisibility, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and poverty are some of the sources of stress, isolation, and trauma present in the realities of the Colombian people.

At this time, Colombia is experiencing a peace process, where the reintegration of ex-combatants in civil society is fiat accompli. The role of spaces, circles, and groups as instruments of the welcoming and transforming love of God is very pertinent, both in times of peace and in times of peace-building. We remember the biblical text of 2 Corinthians 1:4 which says: He consoles us in our suffering that we may console those who suffer, giving them the same comfort that he has give us.

Hospitality is an essential practice and value in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, as a lifestyle and as teaching. Hospitality, understood as unconditional welcome of the most needy, is an act of unconditional love.

In fact, throughout the New Testament, much emphasis is given to the Greek concept of philoxenia, defined as love of the stranger. Philoxenia is more than just tolerating the other, without loving her or him; it is desiring his or her good. Xenos, which means “strange” as well as “stranger,” refers to the foreigner, the immigrant, and the exiled. It can be attributed to any human being who is a stranger, who needs welcoming in a strange land. This word is also the root of the term Xenophobia, which means rejection of the stranger, the foreigner. In diverse parables and teachings of Jesus, one finds reference to the responsibility to welcome others and offer them a home.

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Gathering of Colombian peacebuilders; Photo credit, Anna Vogt

In Luke 10:38-42, Jesus is on the road and is received in a home, the home of his friends. He rests and is served and welcomed. He takes advantage of the friendly atmosphere to teach with love. The women, Martha and Mary, have a special moment with the Teacher which gives us much to reflect on. In that home, Mary and Martha experience conviction and special strength.

Martha and Mary each have a distinctive way of welcoming and showing hospitality to Jesus. Martha does this through her concrete responsibilities as lady of the house, from the starting point of what is “normal,” that is, the norms of hospitality and welcome; she is a symbol of those in society who believe that everything is solved by fulfilling one’s duty. Thus the criteria for judging the behavior of others is simply to determine whether or not they have done their duty.

Mary also fulfills the custom of welcome and hospitality, but she does it in a very different way, with a novel attitude born from her heart. She is attentive to the presence of the other, in this case Jesus, by sitting by his side, listening to him, and offering him a personal relationship; but she does this outside of the social norm, what is legal or cultural. In doing so, Mary chooses “the better way,” breaking with tradition. She acts from what is human, from what is closeness, from what is a posture of listening and seeing the needs of the other, which were also her own needs.

It is important to note that Jesus does not judge Martha, as sometimes is believed, but rather invites her to see, hear, and listen for new ways of relating – a welcome that humanizes, where BEING is more important than DOING.

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Gathering of Colombian peacebuilders; Photo credit, Anna Vogt

The call of the Spirit, the Ruah, is to be welcomed, to give welcome, and to offer peace to people who come from different spaces as a prelude to the path of reconciliation in Colombia, which has taken on this peace process, where government and guerrillas have decided to put an end to the armed conflict.

PRAYER FOR PEACE

God of life,
God of hope,
God of justice,
God of peace,
Our voices today unite in one cry,
A cry born from the depths of the heart
Of a humanity and creation wounded by war
That asks you to accompany our history
And knock down barriers that separate us so
that
Dialogues may come about that take us to
peace.

God of life,
God of hope,
God of justice,
Our hands, our emotions
And all that we are
Unites in one dream of love
To walk with all those
Who suffer in our world and who,
Through processes of
Resistance, create peace.
Come Lord, fill us with your strength and
Carry us in your arms when
Our feet can no longer walk.
Come Lord.

– Inter-faith Dialogue for Peace, Peacebuilders in Prayer Liturgy.

We invite you and your congregation to join in with MCC partner organization, Justapaz, in celebrating Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia this summer. A packet of resource and worship materials is available here.

This post is also available in Spanish

Light, peace and hope shining in the darkness

We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. –Henri Nouwen

It’s almost time – Christmas time! Our period of Advent waiting is nearly finished for another year. It is a time when many churches and families are lighting candles in anticipation. It is a season where we celebrate light coming into the darkness. Our hope is arriving—in many ways it is already here!

When I was working for MCC in Bogota, Colombia I experienced the Advent season as  an explosion of light. I have never seen so many bright and flashing Christmas lights. I remember taking a cable car up Monserrate, a mountain overlooking the city, to join with thousands of others, who waited for the Christmas lights to be turned on for another season.

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Night of the Candles.Noche de las Velitas in Bogota.  Photo credit/Anna Vogt

In the midst of the often extravagant celebrations, one of the most beautiful celebrations of light in Colombia is December 7, la Noche de las Velitas —the Night of the Candles. This is an annual celebration popular across Colombia on the eve of December 8th, when the church celebrates the immaculate conception of Jesus in Mary by the Holy Spirit, and the lights guiding Mary and Joseph into Bethlehem.

Every year on December 7 Colombians meet together in parks, on balconies and in the streets, to light candles, watch them burn all the way to the end, while visiting with each other. For the next few weeks and even months the parks and sidewalks are plastered with the remnants of candles.

Then we think about this year. 2016 has been a politically intense year in Colombia, to say the least. It began with the announcement in June that a peace deal between the FARC and the government was forthcoming with the signing of a unilateral ceasefire. Across Bogota people flooded the streets in celebration. After more than 50 years of armed conflict, there was a light of peace at the end of the tunnel.

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Angélica Rincón lights a candle for peace. Photo credit/Anna Vogt

By the end of August, officials signed a peace deal in Havana Cuba, where talks had been hosted for the past four years. At the end of September, leaders, dignitaries and delegates from Colombia and around the world gathered to watch the formal signing of the peace accords. President Santos was then awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

However, on October 2 in a national plebiscite to officially endorse the peace accords—to everyone’s complete shock—the support of the peace deal failed by less than 0.25%, or about 60,000 votes. It was a completely devastating moment for many Colombians, to say the least. The future seemed uncertain, the peace process potentially in tatters.

Enter, once again, the candles and cries for peace. In the weeks that followed, Colombians from across the country poured out into the streets, marching, lighting candles and urging continued efforts to reach a peace agreement. Students and social activists joined together with churches and faith leaders, meeting together in Plaza Bolivar in Bogota, singing, comforting each other and calling for peace.

Eventually, by December 1, after many consultations across various parties, the Colombian Congress passed revised peace accords. The process was back on track, but not without significant opposition. And not without hardship and ongoing doubts.. But then December 7 came again—La Noche de las Velitas.

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Candles in Bolivar Plaza. Photo credit/Anna Vogt

As I write this, I’m thinking about our advocacy work with government in Canada and around the world. I think of the ongoing challenge of working for peace and justice within imperfect systems, where people so often seem to be looking for loopholes which will benefit themselves and their own interests. Sometimes I think about the futility of this work. Even when governments are committed to peace and justice, they will never be the fulfillment of true light in the darkness.

That fulfillment comes through the Incarnate One.

During Advent and at Christmas we celebrate this one authentic hope—Jesus, the light that shines in the darkness.  And this is the reason we continue our advocacy work, despite what comes our way, praying that our efforts point to this true light.

I close with an Advent prayer from one of my favourite theologians, Henri Nouwen. I offer this prayer for Colombia, for Canada and for places where the darkness threatens to overwhelm—may peace, light and hope shine brightly.

Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.
We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.
We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.
We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.
To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”

By Bekah Sears, policy analyst for the Ottawa Office

Colombia’s long road to bread and peace

Angélica Rincón could not stop smiling. All around her, crowds of people cheered and waved signs, banners and Colombian flags. Rincón – like others who have worked with MCC Colombia’s partners [Justapaz] – had longed for this turning point toward peace for many years.

After nearly four years of negotiations, [a historic peace accord] effectively ended the longest-running armed conflict in the Western hemisphere. Fighting between diverse armed groups has killed some 260,000 people and displaced close to 7 million since 1958.  (Elizabeth Phelps, Saying goodbye to war and hello to peace in Colombia.)

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Angélica Rincón of MCC partner Justapaz lights a candle for peace. Photo courtesy Anna Vogt

This week churches and community groups across Colombia will be marking the International Day of Peace – September 21.  For years churches, organizations and communities across Colombia, including many of MCC’s partners like Justapaz, have come together to celebrate this day with a call to action – calling for the basic necessities of life – Pan y Paz (Bread and Peace). A positive peace is more than a lack of armed conflict; it is a world where everyone has enough to eat and all are able to live without fear. On this day churches and communities march through the streets with candles, singing songs of hope and peace and offering bread to everyone they pass.

In September 2014, in my first blog post as policy analyst for the Ottawa Office and while still working in Colombia, I shared the hopes and dreams for peace of a small community just outside of Bogota, San Nicolas in Soacha. Residents of San Nicolas, especially the youth, have long felt the impacts of violence and threats of violence on a very regular basis.  After more than five decades of armed conflict, the cries ringing out from this community represent the cries from across Colombia – “We just want peace.”

The political context in Colombia is quite different in September 2016. After almost four years of peace talks, the Colombian government and the largest and longest running guerrilla group, the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC), have announced peace accords, coupled with a bilateral ceasefire and an action plan for implementation. The announcement of the ceasefire was made in late June – resulting in celebrations throughout the streets of Bogota – and the final agreement was reached by both parties at the end of August 2016, with the objective of signing the accords by the end of September.

The peace accords themselves follow the original agenda of the negotiations:

  • Political participation in the national arena for the FARC;
  • Agrarian reform aimed at supporting small-scale land owners and property rights;
  • Greater investment in legal crops, creating incentives for farmers to disengage from the illicit economy;
  • Commissions and special courts to hear directly from victims of the armed conflict;
  • A roadmap to wide scale demobilization of the FARC, to be monitored by international bodies.
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MCC workers, together with partners, celebrate the June 2016 announcement of coming peace accords.  Photos courtesy Anna Vogt

MCC’s partner organizations and staff, such as Justapaz, have worked tirelessly for years in the lead-up to negotiations, and connecting with communities and civil society as the talks progressed. But the work is hardly over.

One could say we are just beginning generations of work.

The first step is gaining approval from Colombians in a national plebiscite (referendum) to be held on October 2, 2016.

But  beyond this lies the challenge of turning the peace accords into reality. Although the announcement of accords was publicly celebrated in the streets of Bogota, how will the various regions respond to the post-accord era? Many critics claim past demobilization processes of other armed groups had significant problems. Will disarmament, support for development and recovery reach all corners of Colombia? And how can the government accommodate the needs and concerns of over 6 million victims of forced displacement? Critics of the accords also claim excessive leniency was granted to both FARC and government perpetrators. Plus, the roots of the 50+ year conflict run very deep, relating to longstanding inequality and access to land and resources. Finally, many Colombians are hesitant to trust this process, as several previous attempts by the FARC and the government to reach a sustainable peace agreement have failed.

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Photo courtesy Anna Vogt

Despite the excitement around the peace agreement, MCC’s partners across the country, as reported by staff on the ground share many of these and other concerns. Integral peace goes beyond high level negotiations. Integral peace calls for a just society where everyone has access to sufficient food, resources and livelihoods; where everyone across the country can live in dignity and pursue their dreams; where people can live without fear or the imminent threat of violence.

As churches and communities mark September 21 this year, calling for Pan y Paz, my thoughts and prayers continue to follow the communities across the country, rural and urban, including Soacha, where communities and local leaders stand up for peace and justice, despite continuing challenges. My prayer is that this year’s Pan y Paz continues to reflect calls for peace and dignity throughout the communities of Colombia, as the country begins to move down the long and challenging road to peace.

By Rebekah Sears, policy analyst for the Ottawa Office

 

A settler encounters the Doctrine of Discovery

This week’s guest writer is James Schellenberg, Coordinator of MCC Canada’s Low German Program. 

As an almost 67 year old ‘settler,’ born and raised on the Manitoba prairie, and connected to the land through seed-time and harvest, it was profoundly disquieting to have that connection challenged when I was confronted with my culpability in the implementation of the Doctrine of Discovery.  Two days of presentations on this topic at Thunderbird House in Winnipeg in early April occasioned this disquiet, and made me think.

When my great-grandparents settled here on the ‘empty land’ of the Canadian prairie in the newly-formed Province of Manitoba in the 1870’s, they were simply grateful for the opportunity to acquire land. They were grateful for the opportunity to ‘subdue’ the prairie by the sweat of their brow, and to make the land productive–by their definition.  It was with a deep and grateful satisfaction that they laid the foundation for what they hoped would be a secure future for their children and grandchildren. They truly and humbly felt that they were doing what God had called and gifted them to do.

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Low German Mennonites in Salamanca, Quintana Roo, Mexico.  MCC photo/Kennert Giesbrecht

Three generations later, when I as a child encountered Indigenous people, it was almost as if they were the interlopers, and we were the legitimate inhabitants.  And nowhere was I challenged in that perception. At school we learned about the discoverers and explorers, and reveled in their exploits.  At church we heard about ‘native missions’ and felt good about our efforts to make ‘them’ more like ‘us’.  Even after I grew up and studied, and gained some sensitivity about stereotypes, my perspective in the teaching of Canadian history was still very much that of the ‘discoverers’ and settlers.

Therefore it was profoundly disquieting to be confronted with an aspect of my history that felt like something I should have known and should have seen.  It was disturbing to see, in documented detail, how closely the church has been aligned with empire, and how conveniently doctrine could accommodate the aims of empire.   It was painful to be reminded of the many ways this has played out also in the relatively recent history of our own country, and how also we, as Mennonites, have been participants.  How could we claim not to see the injustice and wrong in a policy of assimilation that wrested children from the arms of their mothers and grandmothers, no matter how pious the terms it was couched in?

So it has been unsettling, and it has made me think. It is one thing to acknowledge an injustice, and another thing entirely to put things right.  What was done in the past cannot be undone, and recognizing the root causes of pain and dysfunction does not address their consequences.  It is so easy to let the unease and disquiet become an end in itself.  It is too easy to let meetings and conversations feel like an end, rather than the means to an end.  And so I need to remind myself of the need to move beyond reflection and conversation to action.  Acknowledgement of complicity in an injustice calls for participation in the work for justice.

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Low German Mennonites from Mexico are looking for land holdings in Colombia so that their children can continue the farming tradition that is valued in their communities. MCC photo/Kennert Giesbrecht

And it calls for vigilance in the present.  How do the assumptions that underlie the Doctrine of Discovery continue to provide rationale for what we do?  A situation that has come up recently in the course of my work with the so-called ‘Low German Mennonites’ has unsettling echoes.  In their seemingly insatiable quest for land that will allow their children also to be people of the land, Low German Mennonites from Mexico are considering the purchase of land in Colombia. They are simply looking for fertile land with abundant rainfall where they can find it, and where they will, with assurances from government about their independence in questions of education and religion, be able to live quietly and productively on the land. The ‘empty land’ that they are being offered, however, is land from which the legitimate owners have been forced, during the years of violence and instability in Colombia.

Given our own history in Canada, we in MCC cannot simply take the ‘moral high ground’ and condemn the action of land-seeking Mennonites from Mexico.  But we can invite them into conversation with Mennonites from Colombia, who see this quest with entirely different eyes.  We can, acknowledging our complicity in the injustice in our own past, call them and ourselves to a higher standard.

And that just might be one small step in the direction of repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery.

More than a single story: Migration in the Americas

This week’s guest writer is Anna Vogt, policy analyst and advocacy support for MCC Latin America Caribbean (LACA), based in Bogota, Colombia. This reflection was first posted on the Latin America Advocacy blog and is the first of a special series of articles on migration.

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Stories of people on the move dominated headlines throughout 2015: refugees from Syria; deportations and raids of Central Americans living in the United States; the journey of unaccompanied minors north through Mexico and many other stories. So far, analysis for 2016 predict more of the same: people continue to move throughout our globalised world at the highest rate since World War Two.

It is easy, however, to read headlines and come away with a stereotyped idea of migration. How well do we really understand the complexities of this theme, especially from a Latin American and Caribbean perspective, where this blog is based? How does our understanding influence public policy and how we treat our neighbours?

In the book Advocacy in Conflict, Casey Hogel emphasis that, “The power to define a campaign or movement’s narratives- and the amount of diversity and nuance that is allowed within narratives- has huge ramifications for the level of solidarity that activism espouses.” A complex understanding of migration, from migrants themselves, is vital if we want to realistically advocate with people on the move, not simply assume we understand their situation.

As Hogel mentions, that complex understanding starts with asking who is defining the narratives around migration: those who are experiencing the pressure to migrate and the migrants themselves or others?  Yet the majority of the time, migrant experiences are not present in public coverage of the theme. In a recent report, researchers found that migrants were referenced in only 15% of British newspaper articles on migration and that 85% of British articles on the topic did not even include a migrant perspective.

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The report goes on to state that “46% of stories represented migrants as a threat or a danger to the economy and to society, while 38% represented them as victims. Furthermore, migrants’ voices were mostly absent from the coverage of migration.” Given similar news coverage in Canada and the United States, this is a problem of perception that impacts and reflects on policy decisions and debates.

In fact, readers only heard the voices of migrants when the articles included in the studied portrayed the migrant as a victim. While allowing migrants to share their experiences is a good thing, telling a story of only simplified trauma in a portrayal that presents people only as victims, does not allow the nuances, complexities and contributions of migrants or their agency to shine through. Complex narratives demand more than simply an emotional reaction. They include the facts about who migrants are, where they have come from and why, in order to contribute in a meaningful and realistic way to advocacy.

Migration is a normal part of life and society, both in the north and the south, yet migration is “still framed as extraordinary and involving extraordinary individuals and stories…. As with most of us, the majority of migrants lead lives which are fairly normal and not particularly newsworthy. Their migration experience may not be a key or significant feature of their identity. Or it might just be seen as another characteristic to be shared, but not shown off or emphasised, with their neighbours.”

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A complex understanding also examines the variety of forms of migration that take place throughout the region. Did you know that many migrants move from one Latin American country to another, instead of heading north?  That more Mexicans have left the US to return home than have left Mexico to move north in 2009-2014? That the amount of migrants coming from Africa to Latin America has dramatically increased over the last five years?  That 15,000 migrants from the United States live in Colombia?  (Check out thiscool app for a global perspective of migration!)

During orientation at MCC, participants watch Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted Talk on the danger of a single story. How we talk and write about people and issues matters because our beliefs either perpetuate stereotypes or challenge them and the structures that hold them in place.

We are excited, therefore, to present a new blog series on migration in LACA, where we want to tell more than simply a single story about migration, portraying migrants as neither simply victims nor villains, but ordinary people, seeking to live ordinary lives. Throughout the course of the series over the next few months, we will cover topics ranging from south-south migration, migration and climate change, urbanization, reintegration, armed conflict and migration, those who choose not to migrate, migration and gender, and much much more.

We invite you to participate and to pay attention to the diversity of meanings included with the theme of migration throughout our series and in the people around you.

To read subsequent posts on migration, visit Latin America Advocacy Blog.