NUCHR Day 3

Screen shot 2013-01-17 at 10.10.54 PM

Day 3 was rife with panels and this post would be novel length if I went into detail about every speaker and every point they made. So here are some highlights:

  • Are troops the right actors to enforce peace? If peace has to be enforced, is the conflict actually over? Is there such a thing as a post-conflict community?
  • What does local ownership actually mean? International actors should be there to assist, not to replace local leadership (especially concerning the risk of dependency), but is successful local ownership dependent on the quality of local leadership already present? How can that be fostered?

A lot of the speakers I met, while all very friendly and excited to be at the conference, seemed rather jaded. Many were happy about what they and others had accomplished, but there was a definite sense of…not hopelessness, but realistic somberness about the way they described their work. UN peacemaker Murray McCullough, however, was a fountain of British optimism and hilarity (as a side note: my interactions with British people over the last year have exponentially increased my desire to go to England. Soon.) Key quotes include:

You know, at some point you’re going to lose all your money, some bastard is going to break your heart, and your grandparents are going to die, but that’s life.

The first thing you gotta do if you want to get involved with this field, is you just gotta go. I don’t care if you go alone, go in pairs, or go with your boyfriend, you just gotta GO.

Back at Cambridge the ‘human rights’ folk were all either tree-hugger hippie types or stuffy academics with elbow patches on their clothing.

He said this and then noticed that both myself and the man that worked for the Carter Center (who was sitting next to me) had elbow patches. Oops. He also said that as long as we are willing to work for nothing, someone will find something for us to do somewhere. Maybe that will be the plan for after D.C. next year: go somewhere and find someone that will let me do something.

Murray was one of the people who really stood out to me, but there were a few more.

  1. Michael Miklaucic from the National Defense University in Washington D.C. (awesome, awesome place). Michael really stood out to me because he was the only “security guy” at the conference. He was a self-proclaimed “suit” and admitted that what made him different from every other speaker was that he first and foremost cared about the national security interests of the United States. However, what really resonated with me was when he said that they key to integrating conflict resolution and peace building into the upper ranks of the U.S. foreign policy agenda is to understand where the stabilization of certain states and the security interests (not to be confused with material interests) of the U.S. lie. I also liked when he argued that the perfect should never be the enemy of the good because this idea seems to get in the way of a lot of productive ideas that are never actualized for fear of critique.
  2. Libby Hoffman from Fambul Tok. Libby took a radically different approach from Michael. Working in Sierra Leone, she created an organization called Fambul Tok, which promotes truth telling and reconciliation in local villages in Sierra Leone. It operates on the principle of pure consultation, i.e.: what do victims want, what do we have, and what can we do to give them what they want with what we have? And it operates on the grassroots level, identifying local groups as more important than the state. Her organization focuses on the local Sierra Leonean tradition of confronting someone who has wronged you around a bonfire with the entire village present, having both parties tell their sides of the story, and then deciding whether to apologize and forgive. This way, more than any international court of law she argued, is the best way to promote healing after conflict.
  3. Tom Oliver, the keynote speaker. Tom is one of those people that I’m not entirely sure how to describe. Artist? Businessman? Cool person who surfs a lot? He has used his artistic vision and sense of idealism to raise awareness about peace around the world and his talk focused primarily on how its necessary to find peace within yourself to be able to tap into whatever skills you posses so that you can then promote peace elsewhere. Everyone at the conference (save a few of my friends) were incredibly critical of him and his message. They said he was too idealistic, that his message didn’t jive with the tone of the conference, and that he ultimately sounded like a “self-help guy that troubled rich people would listen to” (to use the words of one of the students I spoke to). Frankly, I loved him. He was definitely a bit overly idealistic and perhaps too energetic for most people to handle. But I say more power to him for having an ideal visions for the world and how it should run. I think that people like him, that are energetic, passionate, completely comfortable in their own skin, contagious, and genuine are remarkable people are rare and whoever wants to put them down for being a little more “new-age”, think about what these idealists have accomplished before you knock their method.

The evening ended with a closing banquet, where the Northwestern students who organized the conference thanked the delegates for coming and gave the speakers flowers (which Michael gave to me because he didn’t know what to do with it). Overall, it was a really good experience and I’m glad I went. Were parts of it more overwhelming than helpful? Yes. Do I have more questions now than before? Yes. Will I ever talk to the people I met there again? Maybe. I think peace is just a thing that is supposed to be confusing and messy and that requires constant revision and critique. By the time I get a job doing peace work, many of the things we talked about will have changed. I just know that devoting myself to peace is what I want and need to do and this conference was just one of the many ways that I can learn more about how to do it.

Conferences are strange things to me because I’m still trying to master the whole “networking” thing. I was once told that the best way to network is to get a life because people are more interested in interesting people. Makes sense to me. And seems like it would make for more interesting conversation than the standard, “what do you do? what are you studying?”. Next week I’m off to Chicago again for…another conference! This time it is the Midwest Political Science Association Conference (I recently learned that the more savvy political scientists just call it Midwest). It definitely won’t be as intimate or focused as NUCHR, but I’m excited about the diversity (and a little intimidated, to be honest). But it should be really fun and informative and hopefully I’ll get around to blogging about it a little quicker than this one.

NUCHR Day 2

Image

I have been meaning to blog about my final days at NUCHR for a really really really really long time now, but haven’t gotten around to it because of school and laziness. Yesterday I had my first day of Intro to Peace Studies (I may have been 15 minutes late because I “closed my eyes” for 35 minutes after my alarm went off) and felt inspired to revisit this and finally write about my experience.

Peace, my professor said, in his naturally gentle and creaking voice, is the one of the least explored areas of sociology. Like political science (a field I consider myself more familiar with), peace is something everyone desires and something everyone recognizes is important and difficult to achieve, but is at the same time unwilling and/or unable to devote the time, energy, and resources necessary to achieve it.

At NUCHR, I simultaneously felt an overwhelming sense of optimism because I was meeting so many experienced peacemakers with wonderful ideas who have made great strides in their work (as well as the hopeful wide-eyed twenty-somethings who want a make difference) along with a sense of daunting difficulty and frustration. As much as these people have dedicated themselves to their careers (almost all were single or divorced) the overall message from each one was that no one knows how to make peace correctly and, if they do, they don’t know how to make it lasting. Everyone has their own theories and (unfortunately) their own agendas, which often conflict and aren’t coordinated.

Tom Crick from the Carter Center spoke about the need for peace models like the Camp David Accords or the Dayton Agreement: put people in a room together and bang their heads together make them communicate with one another with a mediator present to keep them from throwing punches the negotiation on track. He stressed the need to include EVERYONE in negotiations (aka: the Taliban) if peace is to have a chance of succeeding. Tom worked in Liberia where he spoke about something I have heard a few times before–the demand for peace. Often conflict ridden communities want the absence of violence and are content to settle for this baseline peace if it means they have food, shelter, and no longer fear for their physical safety. What comes afterwards–and what people love to champion–such as human rights and democracy are secondary concerns that local populations can do without if it means potentially stirring up discontent. Two questions become relevant: 1) If people are informed about the benefits of human and political rights and about legitimate justice systems through some type of civic education, would they care? 2) Who are we (‘we’ referring to the general western ‘we’, but particularly to a post-9/11 United States) to educate people about what their lives are missing?

A very interesting man named Mark Nelson (from Stanford) spoke next and presented an interesting solution to the common criticism that peace is something completely intangible that cannot be seen. He argued that by using the internet–particularly modern social media–we can measure peace and generate peace movements like never before. By measuring how many people from India and Pakistan or Israel and Iran are friends on facebook, we can gauge how civil societies actually feel about one another instead of using inflamed and often political rhetoric as a litmus for relations between countries. This type of “peace data” is very new and is opening doors that previously could not be budged. Is this type of connection enough to move people from awareness to collaboration? Is it enough to foster engagement and make people see that not only do they not have to be enemies, but that they can mutually invest in one another and are more useful to each other alive than dead.

The next panel was two women–Chipo Nyambuya and Dove Pressnall–who took very different approaches to post-conflict peace building. Chipo was a state-builder, someone who invested in institutions and organizations. She advocated for the development of legal systems, schools, healthcare, and law enforcement. Dove was a trauma psychiatrist and went to Liberia to see if she could help anyone with the techniques she had developed in the U.S. What she developed with her patients was a self-narrative and worked with them to create the narrative they wanted and to control the way that violence has influenced their narratives, effectively separating their experience from their identity. She wanted to help them change their identity from ‘victim’ to ‘survivor’. I appreciated that she clearly articulated the role an “outsider” can play in these types of situations. 1) Outside perspectives are helpful as long as your efforts are locally informed and driven and you are genuinely curious and respectful of that fact that you will never see the world the way they do and that you can never presume anything about their lives. 2) Solidarity and connection. You may not be able to understand them completely, but part of the human experience is seeking connections to know you are not alone. 3) New technologies and practices. Even though your way–as an educated westerner–may not work for everyone, new technologies may be incredibly useful. Just don’t be presumptuous.

We wrapped up the day by visiting different local peacekeeping sites around Chicago. I went to Ceasefire Little Village, a mentor program designed to minimize and prevent gang violence by having former gang members patrol the neighborhood and act as violence interrupters and mentors to young people in gangs. These people believed in restorative justice, not criminal justice. They, like many, believe the prison system in America is broken and it creates a cycle of targeted violence. Instead, credible messengers like themselves as former gang members, have a greater ability to reach out to youth and prevent violence. We heard countless heartbreaking and inspiring stories from the people we talked to–all of whom had been to prison–about themselves and about the progress they have made in their neighborhood. As a privileged, white female, many of the stories I heard were a little disheartening. The most credible of messengers and the people who can help the most are more often than not the ones who are local to the conflict. I went to bed with a spinning head, wondering if there was a place for someone like me: a young person who gives a damn, but does not have any particular set of characteristics or skills that make me stand out other than my dedication. I’ve come to believe that there are two types of people who can really change the world: the creative ones who have amazing, unique ideas and the ones who have no one special idea or skill, but are willing to devote themselves completely to something. I think I have more potential to be the latter.

Day 3 to be continued…

P.S. Only 6 more coffee mate flavors to go until I have tried them all. This week: cafe mocha.

South Asian Winter?

While at NUCHR I fully intended to blog each night about what had happened/what I had learned/who I had met/etc. each day, but after going for 13 hours a day and being loaded with so much information I thought my head was going to explode…I didn’t have it in me. I still need to sift through my notes and try to wrap my head around everything I learned and see if I can make any sense of this complicated thing called peacekeeping.

So writing those blog entries has been too daunting and time-consuming to do this week. There is something I do have a quick second to blog about though.

The protests in Pakistan lead by Tahir ul Qadri against government corruption were settled on Thursday after several hours of negotiation. Here is what the AfPak Channel has to say:

The four-day sit-in staged by the Pakistani-Canadian cleric Tahir-ul Qadri and thousands of supporters ended on Thursday after negotiations between Qadri and senior government officials resulted in a signed agreement called the Long March Declaration (Guardian, AFP, Post, AJE, BBC, LAT, Reuters, NYT). The agreement reportedly satisfies none of the cleric’s demands for the dissolution of parliament, the resignation of the government, and allowing the judiciary and military to play a part in choosing the caretaker government that will be installed for up to three months between the time the current government’s term expires and the elections. The agreement did promise Qadri’s political party a say in choosing the caretaker government, though.

Some consider this a symbolic victory, while others are writing it off as an empty concession that was used to get Qadri out of Islamabad and will not change anything. While I’m still unsure about this guy and it doesn’t seem as though he has accomplished that much, two things about this story are very promising: 1) the protests shut down Islamabad for four days and 2) the protests ended peacefully. Change may be slow, but small sparks have a way of starting fires.

Check out this Foreign Policy slideshow of the protest. And as always, here are the links to the stories.

Links:

  • http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/01/17/chaos_in_the_capital
  • http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/01/17/protests_against_government_corruption_continue_in_islamabad
  • http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/01/18/pakistani_government_negotiates_deal_with_cleric
  • http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/18/world/asia/pakistani-official-refuses-order-to-arrest-prime-minister.html?ref=asia&_r=1&
  • http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jan/17/pakistan-cleric-protest-ends-deal

NUCHR Day 1

Screen shot 2013-01-17 at 10.10.54 PM

Several weeks ago I found out that I had been accepted to the Northwestern University Conference on Human Rights (NUCHR), the largest undergraduate human rights conference in the U.S. And I am finally here! Today was a whirlwind of traveling. I literally had to run to catch my flight because the security line was so long and then wandered around O’Hare airport for an hour because I got conflicting directions from everyone about how to find the bus that would take me to Evanston.

Tonight was the opening banquet and keynote speaker. I talked to a man from the Carter Center for a while about his experience working in Liberia and then mostly chatted with the girls at my table. It reminded me a lot of the first day of school, where everyone asks the same questions: “where are you from? what year are you? what are you studying?”. This time it was a little different though, because everyone is interested in what I am interested in: peace and conflict. It has already been so interesting and invigorating to be surrounded by people who are all passionate about the same issues that I am (with variations of course). Everyone here has had such cool academic/personal/travel experiences and I’m excited to learn more about them.

Anyways, after the mingling dinner (bonus points for mediterranean food) three veterans who were involved with peacekeeping operations (two in Iraq, one in Kosovo) spoke to us about their experiences. They said that, as military personnel, they were ill-equipped to deal with their assignment to “fix” what they had previously been sent there to destroy. I think I talked about this in an earlier post, but it is frustrating that the conclusion of every tale or discussion about how to successfully implement a peacekeeping operation is “it depends”, “its complicated”, or “no one knows”. Come on. As a graduating senior who is looking for direction, I would appreciate a big, flashing sign telling me where to direct my efforts. I don’t think that is too much to ask for.

Afterwards we moved to a big auditorium because the keynote address was available to all Northwestern students, not just the delegates. The speaker was Arthur Boutellis, a senior analyst at the International Peace Institute who has participated in many UN PKOs. He gave us a very thorough overview of UN facts and stated three themes he believes are essential to peacekeeping.

1) The consent of the host government. While obvious, his point was that a) consent is necessary, but not a sufficient guarantee for success and b) consent requires encouragement. ‘Consent’ cannot be assumed, but it should also not be given up on if a country is at first hesitant.

2) The protection of civilians. Again obvious, but the conflict he presented was the dilemma between the UN commitment to non-violent force and the moral imperative to not stand by as atrocities happen. While many agree that PKOs cannot (and should not) completely commit to non-violent means of protection, few UN member countries would be wiling to put their citizens in harms way.

3) Stabilization. This theme has a few components: a) the dilemma of needing to re-build local institutions and support the state in a country where these things may be corrupt/abusive, b) the size of the footprint left behind by external actors. He briefly touched on this issue of accountability (who is responsible and to whom are they accountable?) and past UN issue (the most recent being the cholera example in Haiti) and how the entire institution should not be blamed for a few mistakes.

I’m too tired right now to decide if I agree with these themes or not, but I will think about it more tomorrow. However, one thing definitely rang true for me tonight: a successful peacekeeping mission does not depend on what you do, but what they (the local community) will do with what you have done after you’ve left. Peacekeeping is not an end, but a tool to be developed and then given to local communities so that they can sustain themselves after foreign forces leave. Sounds obvious to me, but I guess it is easier said than done.