Words can make a difference – both for good and evil.
Words have the power to restore hope and heal divides. Dialogue and mediation can halt outbreaks of violence and sitting down and talking with your enemy can prevent tensions from spiralling into conflict. But words also have the power to divide. Hate speech can all too easily create a culture of violence and persecution and lead to atrocities.
The theme of Holocaust Memorial Day in 2018 explores the power words hold. We see this in our work every day. From using words to stop young people from carrying out suicide attacks, to negotiating with militia leaders to secure the release of child soldiers, words play an integral role healing divides, as much as they do in causing them.
On this day of reflection, we shed light on the powerful work and words of three local organisations in their fight to end atrocities being committed today in 2018.
Words that hurt
The Rohingya people, a stateless minority group from the state of Rakhine in Myanmar, have long suffered persecution and a denial of basic human rights from the Myanmar state.
In the latest wave of military crackdown, their houses have been destroyed, they have been denied the freedom of movement, basic access to food, shelter and health care, and face unspeakable violence on a daily basis. At least 480,000 Rohingyas have now made the dangerous journey across the Naaf River to seek refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh, now totalling 700,000 Rohingya refugees.
Such atrocities have been described as “the worst example of ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘genocide.'” In reaction to this, local organisations in both Myanmar and Bangladesh are using their words to create a dialogue of action.
The Centre for Social Integrity (CSI)
Winner of Peace Direct’s 2017 Tomorrow’s Peacebuilders Awards, CSI works in the Rakhine region and other parts of Myanmar in response to this ongoing crisis. CSI aims to strengthen the Rohingya civil society and people’s ability to strategically advocate for their own civic, political and human rights. Their new core team of youth peace leaders is currently working towards building a society that resolves problems through dialogue. The core team, living and working in the conflict affected region, also works to counter hate speech on social media: “one of the strongest fuelling factors in our conflict.”
Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK)
ASK works at an international level in Bangladesh to assist deprived sections of society, with a focus on women, child labour and labourers. Their aim is to establish a society based on impartiality and justice, and free from gender discrimination. ASK has observed various dimensions of the attacks on the Rohingya community from the beginning and has expressed their deep concerns about the living conditions of the Rohingya refugees. After making an overall assessment of the crisis, ASK submitted a number of recommendations at the national and international level to the Government of Bangladesh and the international community in the hope of bridging the gaps in the coordination of current initiatives; one such recommendation being to “enter into a multi-lateral dialogue on this issue to ensure immediate cessation of the ongoing violence against the Rohingyas.”
The Arakan Project
is a human rights organisation in Myanmar working towards a future in which all people from Rakhine/Arakan State are able to exercise their human rights in a peaceful, just and democratic Myanmar. With a focus on the Rohingya refugee situation, the project works together with local communities to project their voices internationally. Its reports and research papers form the basis of international advocacy, primarily targeting United Nations human rights mechanisms in addition to governments, international human rights and humanitarian stakeholders, and the media.
Words that heal
Desmund Tutu famously said: “If you want peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.”
Whether it’s speaking to those committing violence on the ground, or projecting silenced voices to the UN, words play a pivotal role in ending violence and driving peace forward.
It’s often dangerous, takes time and endless patience, but words can save lives.
To see the power words have to drive change, read some of the stories from local people building peace around the world.
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