Putting Peacebuilding to the Test

August 12th, 2014 No comments

Zunaira Malik, United States of America

Take thirty six individuals: lawyers, students, and practitioners, train them in transitional justice and pragmatic peacebuilding, and then put them to the test. This has been our life for the past 72 hours. We’ve each been given roles, depicting international or national actors, and a detailed dossier outlining our interests and goals in the building of a transitional government in Beladusham, a fictionalized Syria.

Simulation 2 At the surface, the goal of the simulation appears simple: negotiate with all other parties to create a framework for a post-conflict transitional government that is satisfying for everyone. However, anyone participating would surely tell you otherwise. After spending the first day mapping out the priorities and interests of the different parties involved and building an alliance network, day two was supposed to involve a series of high-level meetings to focus on the finer details of the transitional framework in the areas of security, governance, aid and reformation, and justice. Scheming and backdoor diplomacy were in full mode. Emotions were starting to run high and slowly the halls of Clingendael had transformed into a very small replica of the global political arena.

Simulation 3By high noon, just hours after our first meeting on aid, which had not gone over so well, we found out that the two fighting parties from Beladusham had joined forces without the knowledge of any international parties and had written a preliminary draft of a new constitution. Of course this did not go over well with everyone who had been left out.  The rest of the meetings were cancelled as we tried to grapple with the unthinkable. “How dare they go behind our backs!?” I heard one participant portraying the United States approaching down the hall. Strategic planning turned to outrage and screaming and parties tried to grapple with how quickly the warring parties had decided to become a united front. It was indeed strange to see this reaction take place. Of course peace was our end goal, but that it happened so quickly and without the facilitation of important “key players,” turned off many individuals. Perhaps this is valid insight into the way real world politics work. In the obsession with self-validation and personal interests many international state players take away from the peace building process rather than contribute to it or celebrate it’s progress.

SimulationThere was a moment where I stopped in the middle of my running around to observe all the chaos and screaming and deliberating. The words of Charles Dickens yet again came to my mind “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.” We were so busy in trying to be in a hundred places at one time, trying so very hard to figure out how to manipulate the situation to our own advantages that we’d forgotten everything we’d learned. It became easy to discuss numbers and returns, interests and funds, and the people of Beladusham were quickly forgotten. There were no talks of capacity building, nor of reconciliation processes or sustainability, everything was as a macro level, the finer details left to be hashed out later. Of course a peace process is hard to portray entirely in a matter of two and a half days, but then many of these decisions would probably not be any different no matter how much time they were allotted. Many of these decisions are made in the moment, a result of the collision of many factors.

One thing that I heard repeated over and over in the past two days is how much of a struggle it has been for people to stay in role, and prioritize their given national interest with individual interests. It’s made me realize that policies on a national level function like a machine; there really is no room for spontaneous flexibility. And it has rejuvenated my belief that local organizations are able to creatively come up with more sustainable, better solutions. Perhaps Dickens has it right: perhaps we are foolish in thinking that next time we won’t repeat the same mistakes. But the last two days has me thinking how exactly can one navigate the waters of diplomacy and sustainable peace and will the two ever really be compatible or are we just delusioning ourselves?

Categories: The Hague 2014 Tags:

Fulfillment in a Career as a Peacebuilder

August 11th, 2014 No comments

by Amy Guest, USA

When I started graduate school nearly a year ago, I was positive that I wanted to get involved in international relations and diplomacy. My end goal was to work for the United Nations one day. I wanted to be an ambassador. However, once I began taking classes, I came to the realization that I wanted nothing to do with politics or international law. Working at the grassroots level was not only where I wanted to be– it was where I was supposed to be. From there, I decided to focus on trauma healing and community reconciliation. So, when I found out that Valerie Rosoux would be speaking with us about reconciliation, my inner ‘peace nerd’ came out.14659542362_39dbec76bc_o

On the morning of her session, Valerie asked the entire group to write down their definition of reconciliation, the objective of reconciliation, and a case study. She said there is not a consensus on the definition of reconciliation within the peacebuilding field. My definition evolved over time as other people read out their definition. My final definition was as follows: ‘reconciliation is the ability to forgive, but not necessarily forget, in order to live with one another through trust and relationship building; to change the feelings people have towards one another in order continue within as normal a life as possible after a conflict.’ I found this exercise incredibly challenging. I had never really thought about defining the concept of reconciliation outside of the broad description of bringing people back together.

Valerie discussed many different things throughout the day, but one area resonated with me a lot. She said there are currently three different approaches to reconciliation: structural, psychosocial, and spiritual. The structural approach to reconciliation addresses security as a priority. This approach deals with the interests and issues of the parties. It includes negotiations, joint institutions, and learning to work and talk together. It is a form of institutional reform.

Psychosocial approaches to reconciliation underline the cognitive and emotional aspects. It is about relationships and the creation of new relationships. Establishing a basic level of trust is essential. The psychosocial approach favors a process of adjustments of beliefs, attitudes, and emotions shared by the majority of the members of a society.

Going a little deeper is the spiritual approach. This highlights collective healing based on the rehabilitation of both victims and former combatants. It is the restoration of previously harmonious relationships.

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I would one day like to get involved with an organization which focuses on trauma healing and community reconciliation. After learning about these three approaches, I realized that each is important on different levels and could potentially be used either simultaneously or consecutively, but each one is important in any reconciliation process. Relationships and the sustainability of these relationships are key for survival. I can only hope to one day be a part of a reconciliation process of a community after experiencing a conflict. It is the one thing which would make me feel the most fulfilled in this life.

Categories: Bologna 2014 Tags:

Searching the Soul for Peace

August 7th, 2014 Comments off

by Raghda Abu-Shala, Palestine 

When we first arrived at the 2014 IPSI Bologna Symposium each participant was asked to choose one training day to write a blog post reflecting our thoughts on what we had learned. After contemplating my options for a long time, I decided to write about non-violent resistance (assuming that it would be a meaningful topic to focus on). Yet, here I am, writing my way through this blog, realizing that words are much easier than actions.14465039320_9b019bcb91_k

While I was listening to Mr. Jack Duvall (the President and Founding Director of The International Center on Nonviolent Conflict) speak about nonviolent resistance in civil society, its history, and practices around the world, I was thinking of all the innocent people who suffer violence, discrimination, and injustice for so long.

I live in the Gaza Strip. No one can imagine how difficult it is for me to write about nonviolent change while my country (Palestine) is going through a horrible war. While I am here in Bologna learning from the ICNC team, my thoughts are wondering how my family back in Gaza is doing. Are they safe? Is the bombing happening around them? How will I find Gaza when I am back? Will it be so destroyed I would not recognize anything? Will my favorite places be wiped out as it has happened before? Will I find that little cafeteria on the Gaza beach destroyed or will it still be there for me for a few more summers to come? Most importantly, will I find my family there in Gaza safe and sound, waiting for me? I pray for their safety every moment of every day and I am scared to receive news, at any moment, about them gone with one of the hateful attacks! The mere thought makes the blood freeze in my veins…

More than 20 days have passed since the offensive started and it does not seem like the diplomatic solution is progressing. The people of Gaza are stuck in a war between Israel and Hamas. Every time professor Mary King spoke about Mahatma Ghandi’s nonviolent movement for peace, the peace movement in South Africa, the four decades of interaction between African American and Indian independence using peaceful methods, I found it difficult not to shift my thoughts back to lost colleagues and mourned friends who have lost their lives and/or their entire families simply because they lived in Gaza and have no place to hide.
There is no sanctuary in Gaza; there are no bunkers or safe havens. The airstrikes that killed my friends were not necessarily targeting them specifically. My friends were killed because the Gaza Strip has a high population density—4,505 people per km² populated by 1.6 million people –half of them children living in a 365 km² area. The rocket targeting your building will not ask if you are a terrorist or not.

Sometimes, it is difficult to have peacefully-oriented thoughts amongst all this frustration and sadness. However, having suffered from the exact same situation my entire life, I am convinced deep in my heart that peace and only peace is the solution for a better life for our future generations. This will not be achieved through violence. Both parties have tried violence for more years than I care to count and the cycle of hatred is getting longer while a peaceful solution is becoming more elusive.

Nevertheless, I have found in my heart the strength to work on recruiting nonviolent methods to reach peace. This is despite the suffering of my people and the ugliest faces of oppression and violence. Regardless of all the frustration I feel, there is still hope, and it is not too late. We can still secure a better future for our children and give them an independent peaceful Palestine through nonviolent resistance.
As David Hume (1748) said, “people, for the sake of order, abandon their native liberty.” and I believe that, for the sake of our liberty and peace, we can also abandon our need for revenge. We owe at least this much to the memory of our beloved fallen ones.

The question is: will this very remarkable IPSI 2014 group of participants make peace one day?

The 2014 IPSI Bologna graduating class.

The 2014 IPSI Bologna graduating class.

Categories: Bologna 2014 Tags:

Experiences in Knowledge and Training

August 6th, 2014 Comments off

by Mojdeh Abtahi, Iran

We concluded the second week of the 2014 Bologna Symposium with Clingendael Institute Deputy Director Wilbur Perlot as well as Alvaro de Soto, a career diplomat who has held senior positions at the UN for 25 years under Secretary Generals Prez de Cuellar, Boutros Ghali, and Kofi Annan. We were privileged to listen to each of the speakers’ extraordinary experiences and information as well as objective lessons.IMG_3860 copy

Beyond the very useful discussions on the different types of negotiation, Wilbur shared with us his precious experiences training diplomats from different countries. The session was extremely useful for the participants in how to succeed in an international negotiation.

Wilbur’s training combined workshops, examples, simulations, case studies and role-plays. We took part in an extraordinary negotiation simulation on the status of Kosovo. Following this simulation we debriefed what we learned through discussion, self-assessments, culture, planning, and perception tools. I have learned a lot about negotiations and how to communicate during a negotiation in a real situation. Perlot delivered his job with passion and energy so well that all of us were cheered.

In the afternoon, Alvaro de Soto explained the peace process in Latin America. His contribution to the peace process in El Salvador was remarkable. He led the 1990-1991 negotiations that resulted in the peace accords and the reforms to end the country’s 10-year war. He explained the history of the different parties to the conflict, including the Kantadore group in Central America and outlined how they managed to settle down to peace.

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Lessons from De Soto’s knowledge of negotiations in the Central American peace process built a clear path for IPSI participants to negotiate and achieve peace.

Categories: Bologna 2014 Tags:

The Efficacy of Non-Violent Action

August 6th, 2014 Comments off

by Punya Bagga, India/Canada

As we moved into our third week of the symposium, we were introduced to a form of conflict resolution, or more appropriately, a different way of waging conflict: nonviolent action. Hailing from the nation whose father is credited with coining the terminology associated with the field of nonviolent action, Mahatma Gandhi, I am well aware of the power of movements that have as their only weapon the resilience of the human spirit in the face of oppression.IMG_4890

One of our speakers for the day and a promoter of Gandhian values, Dr. Mary Elizabeth King, entered this sphere at the age of twenty-two as a civil rights activist alongside the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She currently acts as the academic advisor of the International Centre on Nonviolent Action (ICNC). In our lecture, I was surprised to hear nonviolent movements portrayed as strategically planned alternative ways of waging conflict. This notion veers from the typical understanding of a nonviolent movement as a spontaneous eruption of repressed grievances following a random event.

The ease of civilian participation in nonviolent action due to reduced legal and physical risks may provide strength in numbers as masses can be easily mobilized but, the ICNC made clear that this had little bearing on the success of the movement. Civil resistance is inherently asymmetrical in nature and so it is necessary for nonviolent movements to be organized and resilient, having above all a grand strategy that employs diverse tactics of non-violent action (protests, marches, sit-ins, hunger-strikes, boycotts). The movement, moreover, must be developed in such a way that it can be redeveloped if it fails, that is, it must never demobilize completely.

As we delved into the history, successes and methods of waging non-violent action, Dr. King was asked to comment on the applicability of nonviolent action in the conflict between Israel and Hamas which has been flaring up outside of our safe classroom walls. The response caused discomfort in the room when it was suggested that Gazans take advantage of the asymmetrical power dynamic between Hamas and Israel by making use of nonviolent methods (such as hunger-strikes) to gain international sympathy for their cause and hopefully pressure for the cessation of violence. At the time, I was shocked at the proposition of going on a hunger-strike to prove worth to international support; I dare not speak for the emotions of my Gazan colleague who sat next to me. As I struggled through the day trying to come up with a rationale for this suggestion, I was compelled by another colleague, Choloe Chapple, to analyse Dr. King’s comment through the lens of non-violence.

In a grossly asymmetrical conflict, if the weaker party to a conflict chooses to either act violently or not act at all, and a third party (i.e. the international community) chooses silence, then we are left with the dilemma of the stronger party shaping the narrative. The use of violent methods by an organization/group of people that is struggling then justifies increased violence and oppression against that very group to control the struggle at large. Violence begets more violence and, as iterated by Dr. King, the cycle of revenge and retaliation never ends.

Throughout history nonviolent movements have surfaced in the face of acute suffering. It is perhaps too much to ask those who are suffering to pursue this transcendent path of waging conflict, but I cannot deny that there is a huge possibility such action will result in fewer casualties. I would be remiss not to emphasize that non-violent action seldom forms without a simultaneous or previously occurring violent movement with similar interests. However, even if non-violent action is not the golden solution to conflict resolution, we can appreciate that it may be the only bloodless solution we have in transforming the power-dynamic of an asymmetrical conflict– apart from miraculous diplomacy of course.

Additionally, my homeland India may have gained independence thanks in part to Gandhi’s nonviolent efforts, but such action does not always work. India’s 2011 nonviolent anti-corruption movement led by the Gandhi-emulating leader Anna Hazare, who used consistent hunger-strikes rallying around him mass protests involving diverse classes, has mostly fizzled out.

If non-violent action can help shift the power-dynamic, I wonder how it can organize, unify, and strategize to combat structural violence in countries so large, diverse, and ostensibly democratic as India or the United States?

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Categories: Bologna 2014 Tags:

La verità, niente di più sovversivo

August 5th, 2014 Comments off

by Claire Connellan, Austrailia 

On Thursday, as our third week at the Bologna Symposium neared its end, we began the first of two days of presentations by Jack Duvall, Dr. Maciej Bartkowski and Dr. Mary King from the International Centre for Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC).

Both Jack and Mary began their presentations with an assessment of the use of language around nonviolence (a term which was coined by Mahatma Gandhi). Jack showed us how the mainstream media uses negative terminology when describing acts of civil resistance (such as the word ‘unrest’ or ‘instability’) is deliberately used to discredit the movement. Furthermore, Mary noted that the term ‘nonviolence’ is itself inadequate; it describes what the movement is not, rather than what it is. Throughout this symposium many speakers, from Ambassador Jan Eliasson to Dr. Joyce Neu, have discussed the importance of language and terminology in the field of conflict resolution. Effective communication is key in this field, and a single word can decide the outcome of an entire negotiation. The language around nonviolence and civil resistance is also pivotal to its success.

IMG_4477Mary used Socrates as an example of how civil disobedience is not a new phenomenon. Socrates exhibited civil disobedience in his pursuit of the truth and was sentenced to death for his refusal to remain silent. In hearing this reference, I was reminded of a few words I had seen carved in a doorway during my wanderings through the porticos of Bologna. The carving reads “La verità, niente di più sovversivo.” Translated it means ‘nothing is more subversive than the truth’. Some brief research revealed that this phrase has been popular amongst students, politicians, and architects alike in Bologna– a city known for its left-leaning politics. Graffiti and flyers pepper the streets of Bologna with slogans such as “We are the 99%” or “Stay on the Barricades for Better Education”. Locals take to the soapbox to discuss social and political issues in Piazza Maggiore. All are evidence of a strong culture of civil resistance and nonviolent action in the town.

In oppressive and censored regimes, truth can be promoted through nonviolent actions such as protest, underground publications, and the implementation of alternative institutions. One example of the use of such alternative institutions is the Freedom Schools in Mississippi, which Mary was directly involved in through the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. These forms of nonviolent action assist in achieving the ‘ripeness’ necessary for conflict resolution.  They educate the public and also motivate them to join the movement for change. The change in public opinion then puts pressure on the government to engage in conflict resolution and create reforms.

Maciej presented many different examples of civil resistance movements throughout the world, many of these movements aimed to expose the truth. The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, who demand to know the whereabouts of their ‘disappeared’ sons during state terrorism, students in Belarus whose creative methods of civil resistance led to a law which effectively banned doing nothing, and toys demanding freedom of speech and an end to corruption (a personal favorite). In his presentation, Jack quoted Hannah Arendt, who saw civil society as “a kind of theater where freedom could appear”. Nonviolent action is a performance in the theatre of civil society promoting the truth and creating freedom. Only by first exposing the truth through nonviolent resistance can people begin to change the status quo. Be it segregation, corruption, violence, or unfree regimes, nothing is more subversive than the truth. 14600214709_737d1d3b47_z

Categories: Bologna 2014 Tags:

The Centrality of Protection and a Rights-based Approach

August 5th, 2014 Comments off

by Marta d’Agosto, Italy  

When Dept. Secretary General Jan Eliasson gave the keynote speech at the 2014 Bologna IPSI Symposium, the students asked him, “What shall we take into account when working in the humanitarian world in mediation and negotiation?”14614613907_9163387f40_k

His answer was, “diminish and reduce the gap with all inequalities, see the world as it should be.” He stressed the importance of the Rights-Up Front Initiative Inter Agency Standing Committee document. At the same time, he highlighted the importance of strengthening international organizations in order to improve their performance.

Following Amb. Jan Elliason, the link between human rights and peace has become a recurring theme during the 2014 IPSI Bolgona Symposium. During a student-speaker dinner with Alvaro de Soto these issues arose again when we spoke about the relevance of involving all parties to the conflict in peace-building dialogue, stressing the key nature of their involvement for successful outcomes, and, in any humanitarian situation, conducting assessment and planning according to needs is mandatory. Joyce Neu and Search for Common Ground’s Susan Collin-Marks and John Marks also discussed their interpretation of peace and human rights

For me, it is a fundamental issue. First of all, let’s talk about the applicable concept of a Protection and Human Rights-based approach, not only to where peace-building actions are pursued, but in all situations where humanitarian organizations are working. If based on legal principles, a human rights-based approach is not equivalent/referring only to a legalistic approach. It has a broader meaning beyond the division (or a choice) between peace and justice.  On the contrary, it is a way to play a role in the humanitarian field as a humanitarian actor whilst taking into account some important criteria as a guide to effectively protect humanitarian actions and strategies. The approach is embodied in the concept of protection: “All activities aimed at ensuring respect for the rights of the individual in accordance with the letter and the spirit of relevant bodies of law, including international human rights, humanitarian, and refugee law.”

Listening to some speakers, I couldn’t help but be concerned about the message that some organizations are in charge of human rights related issues whilst peace-makers pursue a different task. The message is that there is a tension between human rights organizations and peacemakers, that we need each other but we have different positions. So, I think it’s important to say something about the centrality of protection and the rights-based approach to any intervention we may take as an international community and in any field of operation.

Effective humanitarian projects follow the “risk equation”:

  • increase national authorities’ commitment and capacities to protecting people in the short, medium, and long term.
  • increase affected communities’ capacities to reduce their threats and vulnerabilities.
  • reduce protection threats, i.e. the impact of actors, institutions, and policies on people’s rights.
  • reduce vulnerabilities resulting from factors such ethnicity, gender, age and disability.

Projects should also include other considerations. For instance, in the “egg-model” humanitarian protection can address risks of abuse, act on underlying causes of violations, and/or address the consequences of abuse for survivors. This means that any action should aim to prevent or respond to a violation but also assess to what extent the project may contribute to remedial action and environment building.

The problem is that many humanitarian organisations do not apply arights-basedd approach to humanitarian action. That is, while they identify humanitarian needs and design humanitarian projects that respond to the population, they don’t analyse the underlying protection risks and the impact of their projects on these risks in short, medium, and long term. As a result, humanitarian projects may “do harm” by failing to address the preexistingt issues and exacerbating protection risks.14776908732_26c969a561_k

This is why Amb. Jan Eliasson stressed the importance of the “Rights up Front” Plan of Action (November 2013). The plan emphasises the imperative for the United Nations (and non-UN actors) to protect people, wherever they may be, in accordance with their human rights and in a manner that prevents and responds to violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. The principle of the “centrality of protection” means that humanitarian agencies must apply a rights-based rather than a needs-based approach to humanitarian assistance i.e. analyzing/addressing the root causes of human rights violations rather than simply responding to the immediate results thereof. Mediators, facilitators, and negotiators are not excluded from this approach and should take it into account during their work.

 

 

Categories: Bologna 2014 Tags:

Simulation Preparations with Wilbur Perlot

August 5th, 2014 Comments off

IMG_5254Kevin Coffey, Ireland

In anticipation of the intensive three-day simulation geared towards achieving peace in the fictionalized war-torn Beladusham, IPSI participants had the pleasure of being trained in negotiation by Mr. Wilbur Perlot; the deputy-director of the Clingendael Academy, one of the leading diplomatic training institutions in the world. Given the seemingly intractable divisions which arise in violent conflicts, effective negotiation skills is a pre-requisite for those seeking to enter the field of international mediation in the future. More immediately, the training offered extremely helpful guidance on how we should approach our simulation for the following days. As each IPSI participant has been given a unique role related to the Beladusham conflict, we all have individual and often competing agendas, which makes the conclusion of a negotiated settlement extremely challenging. However, after yesterday’s sessions I believe that equipped with the appropriate negotiation tools, the group will have a decent chance of finalizing an agreement. Fingers crossed!

IMG_5223Mr. Perlot advised the participants to be cognizant of the factors that enhance the potential for successful agreement. Certain factors are structural – that is, beyond the control of human actors – such as a “mutually-hurting stalemate”. This concept refers to a temporal juncture where the competing parties involved have reached a point where the status quo is intolerable, and likely to deteriorate in the future if nothing is done. Mr. Perlot referred to two cases which the presence and absence of a “mutually-hurting stalemate” are likely to have a played a key role in the negotiated outcome. The deteriorating situation in South Africa during the late 1980s left the National Party and the ANC with little alternative but to negotiate with one another. Conversely, the failure of the Geneva II Conference negotiations is likely to have occurred due to the Syrian government operating from a position of relative strength. Whilst the presence of favorable structural factors opens opportunities for conflict resolution, it is not enough in itself to build a successful peace framework. It is up to human agents to seize this “window of opportunity” and through effective negotiation skills conclude a sustainable peace accord. And this is where budding peace practitioners like IPSI participants can make a difference in the future.

With regard to the impact individual negotiators can make, certain key themes emerged from the discussion with Mr. Perlot. In particular, empathy for the opposing point of view is crucial even if there is deep hostility towards the opposing party. Without empathy, there is little scope to understand the interests and needs of other negotiating stakeholders, and propose credible solutions to the problem at hand. One should also be culturally sensitive to the norms of discourse in varying contexts. For instance, a Japanese diplomat saying “no” is more likely to reflect an absolute stance relative to a Brazilian counterpart, who may be more malleable. Mr. Perlot also drew up a negotiation matrix detailing the likelihood of parties adopting Competing, Accommodating, Compromising or Avoiding strategies. This visualization was extremely helpful in mapping out areas to prioritize within one’s agenda and anticipating the approach of your negotiating partner.

Throughout the four sessions, Mr. Perlot complemented his insights with good humor drawing on anecdotes from his own experience that detailed the almost absurd lengths diplomats will go to in order to realize their objectives. These ranged from diplomats adopting emotionally vacant poker faces, to two diplomats at a function consistently clinking their wine glass slightly below the other as a sign of respect. Lo and behold, both diplomats ended on the floor still clinking away. If this level of respect is present in the oncoming simulation, we will be in for a comfortable three days. However, given the competing agendas at play, there is likely to be no shortage of tense stand-offs. Nevertheless, equipped with the negotiation tools we learned yesterday, I expect these stand-offs to be punctuated by moments of mutual compromise and accommodation.

Categories: The Hague 2014 Tags:

South Africa: Reflections and the Troubles of Transition

August 4th, 2014 Comments off

Makhotso Lengane, South Africa

 IMG_5246As week three of The Hague Symposium drew to a close, so grew the feeling of sadness that comes with a goodbye that is imminent. It is hard to believe that in just a few weeks, those who were once strangers have become good friends and conversations once about our plans for the weekend have become about whose flight leaves for home first.

Friday’s case study on South Africa’s transition from a segregated society where the black majority was oppressed, to a democratic society with constitutionally enshrined rights, was a particularly poignant one. As we all revisited my country’s painful history, I reflected on the human cost and years of struggle that would one day allow me the opportunity to attend a symposium such as this and give me the privilege of learning from my peers and speakers in the way in which I have these past weeks.

I remembered the letters written to me from my exiled parents promising that they would return home after the country’s first democratic elections; so sure were they, even then, of the freedom and peace that would come once the nation’s people were finally given the opportunity to have their voices heard.  Such freedom did indeed come and few will forget the jubilation of Nelson Mandela’s inauguration as the nation’s first democratically elected President.

However, even as the country was in its celebratory state, the absence of those whose lives had been lost during the many years of conflict, was felt no less keenly by their loved ones and those whose livelihoods had been destroyed found that they were no less maimed.

Howard 2The nation needed healing and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was agreed upon and set up as the body through which restorative justice and indeed the promotion of national reconciliation would be achieved. Those who had committed acts of violence and committed human rights violations during the conflict were given the opportunity to come forward and reveal the truth in exchange for amnesty and those who were victims, were encouraged to come forward and speak of the violence and injustices to which they had been subjected.

While this gesture was a symbolic one undertaken by a country seeking to look forward towards a new future, it had sometimes unpleasant implications for the victims of state sponsored violence, the families of those who died and the majority of black South Africans whose suffering under apartheid was not easily quantifiable. Many found that their right to institute legal action against those who had committed wrongs against them was extinguished by the granting of the amnesties.

Howard Varney, a senior program advisor for the International Center for Transitional Justice, critically examined the implications of the approach adopted by South Africa. While South Africa is often touted as an example of successful and peaceful transition, the approach adopted has not been without its faults and indeed many have felt let down by the amnesty process.

Even if one were to accept as legitimate, the granting of amnesty to perpetrators of gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity, the state’s lack of commitment in prosecuting those who were not granted amnesty has been astounding and left many with the reality of never knowing what became of their loved ones in addition to the knowledge that those responsible still roam free.

Certainly it could not be argued that justice has been delivered for those who have neither the comfort of truth nor retributive justice and this invariably causes one to question the role that the attainment of justice has during a peace process and indeed whether it is a necessary constituent at all.

The model adopted by South Africa has not catered for all victims of political violence and while this is unacceptable to many, one may indeed argue that justice is not a concept related to a particular victim necessarily but rather one that ensures the well-being of a society as a whole. Perhaps in the quest for justice, victims must settle for societal good instead of individual satisfaction.

One also has to confront, perhaps, the uncomfortable proposition that the success of South Africa lies, in part, in its unwillingness to pursue legal action against those who aided the apartheid regime but nevertheless remain those in whose hands the economy lies.

Reconciliation has as its objective, the ability to co-exist where before this was not possible. Such co-existence does not necessarily require forgiveness or even contentment about such arrangement. This was illustrated by the exclusion of any requirement to tender an apology to victims in order for one to qualify for amnesty in South Africa and indeed many sat indignant and refused to tender any apology even as they applied for amnesty.

The TRC was an invaluable tool in South Africa’s transition as well as the state’s efforts directed towards reconciliation. Howard Varney’s critical examination of the amnesty hearings and their aftermath revealed the failings of the state just as it highlighted the successes.

Certainly it remains important to perform a critical evaluation of even those states labelled as successes in the context of post-conflict transition and to ensure that the processes put in place adequately address the concerns of those whose voices would otherwise never be heard.

Categories: The Hague 2014 Tags:

Numbered days at The Hague

August 4th, 2014 Comments off

Emily Fountain, United States of America

IMG_5245Steven Biko once wrote, “In time, we shall be in a position to bestow on South Africa the greatest possible gift – a more human face.”

I remember reading these words many years ago, but today they sit on me with a weight I have not felt before. Today, myself and 35 other “peacemakers” heard from Howard Varney on the truth and reconciliation process that took place in South Africa in the 1990s. While this topic is sobering on its own merits, the weight I felt today was also personal- the weight that represented the fact that our time here is running out. Today’s classes marked one week left of The Hague Symposium, and this knowledge is terrifying.

Throughout the symposium, we have been exposed to new ideas, had biases challenged, and engaged in a discourse with fellow colleagues who, though having different methodological approaches, all share similar goals. No matter what our respective fields are, the things we truly seek are some combination of truth and justice.

Today, we took this a step further in discussing the role of truth commissions in the process of reconciliation. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was set up in South Africa under the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act of 1995 and hearings began in 1996. The aim of this commission was to assist in South Africa’s transition, and part of their responsibility was granting an exchange of truth for amnesty if the perpetrators could prove that the case was political and that the offense was proportional to the political aim being pursued.

For some victims, this exchange offered them information, a step towards closure that otherwise had been denied. Certainly for some victims who had already known the truth, this exchange in the least offered the opportunity for the perpetrator to publicly admit wrongdoing.

In the end, many believe that these courts were successful in establishing reconciliation between South Africa’s peoples. Others, however, believe that justice is a pre-requisite to reconciliation rather than an alternative.

Howard PicThe quote given earlier by anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko was one such person. Biko was killed by security police and his family eventually argued that the TRC was unconstitutional in South Africa’s highest court.

Despite which side of this debate you may fall on, I think there is a salient lesson that lies in the words that Biko spoke that is applicable both to South Africa then and now, as well as to the lives of my fellow peacemakers and I as we get ready to leave one another.

“…to give South Africa a more human face.”

Biko called this the greatest gift, and I believe he is right. When we consider the other political battles being waged and the death tolls they are incurring, it is hard for me to imagine a goal that is more salient than this one.

Be it the lives lost in Syria, the civilian casualties in Gaza, the people of Ukraine, all of these hold one commonality- they are all comprised of people.

There is an inverse correlation between the suffering of these people, and the perceived belief of the amount of humanity that exists in these places. The human face, as Biko stated, has taken a backseat to political justifications and territorial pursuits. In this way, it is hard to imagine how we will arrive at peace in these places if humanity is disregarded, if the faces are forgotten as factions wage on.

At the beginning of this Symposium, Dr. Daniel Serwer talked with us about holistic transitions. In his presentation, the majority of his talk revolved around end states. As a high school teacher, I am all too familiar with this concept of “begin with the end in mind”. But, while I may apply this to the classroom, he explains it is all too often that we apply it to conflict.

What do we want is always the first things we must determine. It was another speaker, Justin Richmond, who explained the importance of establishing these goals before we throw out programs or solutions without determining what will be the indicators of our success. At the end of the day, a successful program does not signal success if it is not pertinent to this end state.

The steps we take must always be subsidiary to the end state we want.

For me, both in my community in Indianapolis and in a larger context, I believe I want the same thing that Biko stated: I want a more human face.

A more human face firstly for the kids in Indianapolis that I teach that are both underserved and systematically oppressed by a system that has overlooked them. A system that sees them as a collective rather than as an individual. What I want for the larger world is something similar.

And as we begin our last week in the City of Justice, I want to ask my fellow colleagues this same question:

What is your end state?

I want to ask you this question:

What is your proverbial human face?

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