Home » The Justice and Peace Story: Empowering Change Makers
The Justice and Peace Story: Empowering Change Makers
A word from the Director of Justice and Peace, Sebastiaan van der Zwaan
This year, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Justice and Peace Netherlands. From our founding in 1968 to now, we have remained committed to our vision of a just and sustainable world, one in which everyone, everywhere has the right to a dignified life, a world in which human rights are respected and all persons are free to develop themselves without distinction of origin, religion, political opinion, race, gender or sexual orientation.
With that, I would like to take this opportunity to extend my sincerest gratitude to all those that have contributed to our work and vision over the last 50 years. Celebrating our 50th anniversary can only be done together with all of you, because that is how we wish to make a difference, by working together with partners, whether on the local or international level, as grassroots activists or policymakers.
It’s an achievement that we can celebrate our anniversary, because to be honest a lot of hard work, conviction and support by many of our partners and friends that has brought us here today. There are a few people I would like to mention specifically. People like Victor Scheffers, our former Director, and source of inspiration. Simon Brussel, our former treasurer who has helped us many times in making the right choices for this organisation, Jagoda Paukovic, our former colleague that stood at the beginning of many new ideas. But also our international partners like Alexandra Delemenchuk, a long-time colleague, friend, trainer in our training courses for human rights defenders and one of the initiators of Shelter City Tbilisi, thank you for joining us tonight.
Looking at the signs of the times, it is clear that in the field of human rights much has changed for the better in the past 50 years, but that more change is still very much needed, also or especially, in this part of the world. We have long spoke of challenges beyond our borders, referring to places outside of the Netherlands, outside of Europe. But I believe we need to look and be critical of our own country and our own region, and the role we play, or do not play when it comes to human rights.
70 years ago, when the Universal Declaration on Human Rights was signed in Paris, it was the conviction of everyone present that: “…faith in fundamental human rights, and dignity and worth of the human person (of any human person )” was the starting point of a world that would be more peaceful and where we would respect and observe “…human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion”. Human rights is something we need to constantly work on, and perfection something we can only aspire to. But it seems after 70 years that we doubt and struggle with the very idea of human rights and putting those who are vulnerable first. Although this has clearly been the basis of peace and prosperity in the European region for such a long time, it is worrisome that those who have to flee war and conflict, that wish to have peace and try to travel to Europe are seen and treated more and more as criminals.
In Europe, it is the conviction of some that building higher walls is the only solution, using a fear and security-first strategy. The voice of this group is loud in public debate and media. At the same time, European citizens are taking action in solidarity with refugees – they are saving them from drowning, providing humanitarian assistance when they arrive in Europe and helping them rebuild their lives. But those taking action are in more and more places challenged or even criminalised for their solidarity. We see laws enacted in Poland and Hungary, and court cases against human rights defenders and journalists in, for example, Italy and France. This anti-refugee sentiment paired with a decreasing support for human rights and human rights organisations in Europe should make us realise that we need to do more, that yes, we need to welcome and support refugees, and yes, we need to continue to support human rights defenders and help them do their work in the most difficult circumstances. And we need to seriously strengthen the support for human rights, from the local level up, also in our part of the world. That´s the challenge that lies ahead of us, we need to broaden the basis for our work. For Justice and Peace, we will continue to do this for the years to come, whether it is with our partners in our Welcome Here (Welkom Hier) and Shelter Cities, through the Together Here (Samen Hier) project or ‘de Haagse Huiskamer’.
The story of Justice and Peace is supporting exceptional and brave people, people we work with and for, people who do speak out, who choose to question and challenge the status quo, who believe in human rights and inclusiveness and bring these ideas into practice.
The Justice and Peace story is that of an organisation that has developed over time, from 1 person to over 15 staff members. We have been outspoken at times, but have often chosen to contribute to human rights by developing or lobbying for practical alternatives that contribute to real, positive change on the local level. The story of Justice and Peace is supporting exceptional and brave people, people we work with and for, people who do speak out, who choose to question and challenge the status quo, who believe in human rights and inclusiveness and bring these ideas into practice.
Our story is the story of change makers who are doing this on a day to day basis. Our story is the story of Madi from the Gambia, working on women’s rights and democratisation, having to leave his country for a year but after returning now able to continue his important work, the story of Lucia from Mexico who works to shed light on the many cases of enforced disappearances in her country, giving answers to family members of the disappeared. Our story is the story of Christina, who dedicates her life to the social and economic empowerment of refugee and migrant women in the Netherlands. Our story is the story of Riccardo, an Italian captain of a boat stuck in the port of Barcelona that has rescued thousands of men, women and children that would have otherwise drowned without his aid. The truth needs to be told.
And our story is also the story of all human rights defenders that have stayed in the Shelter Cities in the past years, the partners in our Haagse Huiskamer and Welkom Hier festivals, and our partners worldwide that have been working alongside us for the past 50 years.
It is with pride that today I can say that we are an organisation that can contribute to the work of a growing group of change makers all over the world. These stories, our story, show that people can change the world, as Marga Klompé stated. To all, funders, partners and friends that supported us and those who have been contributing and following our steps along the way, you have made this story come to life.
This speech has been edited for length and clarity