On the evening of Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day, activists gathered at New York City's Columbus Circle, overlooked by the Trump International Hotel, for a rally in solidarity with Iraqi and Syrian refugees—under the slogan "Human Rights TRUMP Oppression." Favored chants included "Say it loud, say it clear; Refugees are welcome here!" and "Dump Trump!"—an exhortation aimed at the GOP over the candidate's call for banning all Muslims from entering the US, but the latest in his relentless barrage of xenophobic bluster. Featured speakers included representatives of the Arab American Association of New York, MENA Solidarity Network, Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, Black Lives Matter—and a group of Syrian Americans, accompanied by a refugee recently arrived from war-torn Homs, whose comments in Arabic were translated. This group spoke against a backdrop of Syria's rebel flag and led chants of "Assad, ISIS, they're the same; Only difference is the name!"
Colombia's House of Representatives on Dec. 3 agreed to hold a plebiscite to seek popular approval of a peace deal with the FARC. The House vote is not the final decision; a reconciliation commission comprised of member of both the Senate and the House will have to approve the final version. According to the bill as it is sent to the commission, the plebiscite will be held three weeks after publication of the full peace agreement with the FARC. For the peace deal to be approved, more than 50% of 13% of the eligible population must vote in the plebiscite. Concretely, President Juan Manuel Santos will need the approval of 4.4 million Colombians, less than 10% of the population, to validate the eventual peace deal. The peace process cxontinues in spite of vociferous opposition by conservatives who fruitlessly lobbied for a higher threshold. (Colombia Reports, Dec. 4)
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos in early November announced a March 23, 2016 deadline for a peace accord with the FARC rebels, and broached a bilerateral ceasefire that he said could take effect next month and should be monitored by the United Nations. The FARC is currently maintaining a unilateral ceasefire while the military has drastically reduced its offensives against the guerillas. But FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri AKA "Timochenko" expressed skepticism about the deadline, instead calling in his Twitter account on Santos to concentrate on an actual end to hostilities. The exchange came as the peace talks, being held in Havana, approached their third anniversary. (Colombia Reports, Nov. 16; El Tiempo, Nov. 13; El Tiempo, Nov. 11; El Tiempo, Nov. 8)
Dr. Hashem al-Azzeh, who died on Oct. 21 after suffering excessive tear-gas inhalation in Hebron's Old City, was the latest victim of the Israeli settlement policies he spent most of his life struggling against. The 54-year-old activist and medical doctor was one of a few Palestinians who chose to remain with his family in Tel Rumeida, a neighborhood in central Hebron that over the course of decades has seen most of its Palestinian residents pushed out by aggressive Israeli settlers. After experiencing chest pains in his home, he found himself trapped. His family called an ambulance, but it was unable to reach him due to a series of Israeli army checkpoints along the nearby Shuhada Street, his niece Sundus al-Azzeh told Ma’an News Agency. Hashem began to walk toward the checkpoint at Bab al-Zawiya, where fierce clashes were underway as Palestinians protested the shooting of a Palestinian teen-ager [near Nablus] the night before. Once there, however, Sundus said that Israeli soldiers stopped him from moving on, and he soon found himself engulfed by tear gas. Unable to breath, he collapsed. He was rushed to Hebron's governmental hospital, but doctors were unable to save him. A doctor told Ma'an that Hashem had a history of cardiovascular disease, but it was tear-gas inhalation that killed him. Sundus said she was at his side when he passed away—it was the first time she had seen someone die.
"If the terrorist attacks continue, we will begin deporting the families of terrorists to the Gaza Strip," Israeli TV quoted a senior defense official as saying on Oct. 16—marking another step towards a genocidal solution to the Palestinian question. (JP) The "terrorist attacks" are of course the knifings that have slain seven Israelis since Oct. 1. The toll of Palestinians killed in this same period, mostly in clashes with security forces, is 41. Three Palestinians, inlcuding a teen, were killed Oct. 17 on the West Bank in apparent stabbing attempts on settlers. (Ma'an, AFP) Palestinian protesters on Oct. 16 torched the Jewish holy site of Joseph's Tomb of Nablus, badly damaging the structure. (BBC News) In more encouraging news, some 1,500 Jews and Arabs demonstrated the following evening in Jerusalem under the slogan "we will not surrender to despair." (Haaretz)
In what is being called the worst terrorist attack in Turkey's history, two suicide blasts went off amid a peace rally in Ankara Oct. 10, killing some 100 and injuring more than tiwce as many. The rally was called by leftist groups that support the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) to demand an end to fighting between government forces and Kurdish rebels in the country's east. The rally brought together both Kurds and ethnic Turks. Witnesses told the BBC that police fired tear-gas on the shocked survivors "as soon as the bomb went off," and "would not let ambulances through." President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the blast a "loathsome" act of terrorism. But HDP leader Selahettin Demirtas blamed the Turkish state for the attack and condemned the government as "murderers" with blood on their hands.
The Tunisia Quartet civil activist group was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Oct. 9 for its pivotal role in channeling the country's revolution in a secular and democratic direction. The Quartet was formed in the summer of 2013, composed of four civil society groups—the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT); the Tunisian League of Human Rights; the Bar Association; and the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts. It led what is called the National Dialogue, bringing together the country's fiercely adversarial political parties to forge a new democratic process. The groups opened the dialogue process amid an alarming political crisis, marked by political assassinations and turmoil. As other Arab countries were descending into civil war, Tunisia came back form the brink, adopting a secular constitution, thanks to a "vibrant civil society with demands for respect for basic human rights," in the words of the Nobel Prize Committee. (HRW, Oct. 9)
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader leader "Timochenko" announced in Havana Sept. 24 that they have set a six-month deadline to sign a peace deal, which will include establishment of a special justice system to try human rights abusers. "We're not going to fail! This is the chance for peace!," President Santos said. "On March 23, 2016 we will be bidding farewell to the longest-running conflict in the Americas." Timochenko later posted on the rebels Twitter feed: "Let's join efforts to achieve peace." But terms of the proposed justice process are meeting controvery, within Colombia and internationally.