Friday, 27 July 2012

Transitioning - Human Rights and Peacebuilding

This post is necessarily going to be 3 parts inspiration and 1 part ignorance, although that recipe is not scientific. Often, when I engage in the theory and concepts of the kinds of things I want to dedicate my life to, if often feels like I am 100% ignorant. That's not just a self-deprecating comment. I think it accurately reflects an important state of mind when engaging with ideas of conflict resolution, peace, security, justice, and development.

I'm currently in the first week of the Hague Symposium - a month-long training course offered by the International Peace and Security Institution on Post-conflict Transitions and International Justice. So far, we've had the pleasure of learning from ICC Prosecutor Bensouda, Professor Dov Jacobs, Lt. General Ton van Loon, and Jan Pronk, as well as various engaging discussions between the 60 participants, who come from 26 different countries. (if you want to read the IPSI blog on the symposium, check it out). The goal of the conference is to discuss, and hopefully create, workable solutions for ending conflict, establishing peace, and facilitating development. Lofty goals, but with a group of capable and motivated young intellectuals, it will be very interesting to see what turns out.

Approaching these kind of 'grand problems' does require a massive acknowledgement of my ignorance on large aspects of our global world. I hope this is a good place to start - many people that know much more than me, have worked hard at setting up the systems and dynamics that are currently in place in the world. And, to be frank, there are a lot more negative aspects to our current world order than positives. So perhaps a 'blank slate', or a beginners mind, are important aspects to tackling such a grand challenge. That's what I'm telling myself, at least.

Here are a few things that I've been thinking about, thanks to the lectures, as well as great discussions with peers:

  • Peace vs. Justice - there has been a lot of debate that in developing situations, especially where conflict is involved, pursuing peace is somehow incompatible with pursuing justice. I don't believe that this distinction works. Or, I believe that it only holds true if one considers the definition of 'peace' to be the cessation of hostilities, and the definition of 'justice' means prosecuting suspects in a court of law. Neither of those definitions hold true, and I am unaware of any particular situation in the world where the pursuit of justice has necessarily excluded the possibility of peace, and, vice versa, that the creation of peace between conflicting sides has stopped the process of justice. Definitely there have been situations where you can have one without the other, but that is not evidence that you cannot have one AND the other. That's just not true. But, I think that achieving a balance requires a radical redefinition of what 'peace' and 'justice' mean. A practical, realistic, and contextually driven definition.
  • Military Intervention - I've never really considered it before, but it really seems like any move towards building a peaceful society must involve the military. It almost seems paradoxical. As the Lt. Gen. mentioned in his talk - 'the military is trained in shooting people, and they're actually pretty good at it'. That seems to be a pretty weird foundation for peace. But failing to recognize the myriad possibilities and positive opportunities that military institutions can provide is short sighted. The military represents a physical manifestation of violence, but what else does it provide? More importantly, in any situation of conflict, some militarization will be present. So ignoring it is not an option.
  • Comprehensiveness - The idea that development requires a very broad range of services isn't very controversial. But, in reality, most development work is far from holistic. This is a grand challenge - how would we coordinate and cooperate (both at the domestic and international level) in a way that catalyses positive development - long term development, rather than short-term solutions that lead to further conflict and undesirable consequences. 
This is all pretty theoretical and conceptual. But, that is exactly the challenge, and that is exactly the most important thing, for me, that needs to happen. At the same time as I fill my brain with more concepts, more ideas, and more knowledge, I also need to preserve that 'mental blankness', so that I can have the creative space to turn the idea of peace into the reality of peace. The Dalai Lama's twitter feed just spouted this out: "Whatever you do, take a realistic approach and think of the long term interests of humanity". I wouldn't expect anything less than pure, timely wisdom from HHDL. It's a good aspiration, even if I'm not entirely sure what is 'realistic', nor what the long term interests of humanity might be. I'll do my best, and I hope you are too.

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