Thursday, 23 August 2012

Week 2: IPSI Hague Symposium

Leiden by Night
[Note: I'm now back in Nairobi trying to adjust to a more 'normal' routine. These next few posts are a week-by-week recap of the highlights of the Symposium. For other insight from some of the other participants, please check out the IPSI blog and look at the pictures taken by Keith Lane - the pictures prove that while most of the participants were quite good looking, I am not very photogenic.]

Week 2 of the Symposium focused on specific countries as case studies in Transitional Justice (or lack thereof) - Argentina, South Africa, and the former Yugoslavia.

Juan Mendez, the current UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, gave his personal insights into the historical human rights issues that occurred in Argentina. He was involved as a lawyer who represented 'freedom fighters', and was himself imprisoned and tortured as a result of his work. The situation in Argentina is a real lesson in the struggles for democracy and responsible governance, as well as some of the evils that state officials can perpetuate for the sake of ideology. The history of the conflict in Argentina reads like a movie script, except that some of the violence and evil is unimaginable. A defining feature of this conflict was the use of forced disappearances, which not only included throwing people (alive) off of helicopters and into the sea, but also saw babies taken from their captive mothers to be raised by military families. But the conflict itself went much deeper than this, and after Mr. Mendez' presentation, I can understand why the slogan nunca mas exists. Argentina, now, has changed a lot, but this recent history should not be forgotten.

Charles Villa-Vicencio, who was the National Research Director for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, gave some personal insights into the struggles, challenges, and successes of the transition out of Apartheid in South Africa. The South African conflict was steeped in racism at a level that shocked the consciousness of the entire world. But, it was also a peculiar and unique situation - rarely in global history have the world's nations agreed on such a large scale about the evil that was apartheid, and rarely has such a gifted leader - Nelson Mandela - managed to ascend to power and (a) retain his morality/ethics, and (b) retain his life. The transition (which is still ongoing) of South Africa out of the oppressive apartheid regime involved a collective effort of a huge number of people, many compromises, and a lot of work. Chief among this was the creation and implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation commission in South Africa. None of this came easily, and none of it without sacrifice. One of the main contentions about the South African TRC was its provision of Amnesty for perpetrators. This had two effects: it allowed for perpetrators to tell their side of the story, and allowed for a more full version of the truth. It also meant that they went unpunished. Despite the gains made through the national reconciliation measures, South Africa is now faced with similar racial segregation, this time through issues of poverty and social class, rather than an ideology of racism. That is an altogether different hurdle to get over. But Mr. Villa-Vicencio's presentation left us all feeling a lot of hope and connectedness (ubuntu) with the situation in South Africa.

Finally, we were addressed by two men with lengthy credentials: Ambassador Jacques Paul Klein (Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in both Bosnia and Herzegovnia and Liberia, as well as the Coordinator for UN operations in Liberia) and Bill Stuebner (Former Special Adviser to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and Former Chief of Staff and Senior Deputy for Human Rights in the OSCE Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina). They gave us some background information and insight into the peacekeeping missions during the ethnic cleansing that occurred in the former Yugoslavia, and Ambassador Klein also shared his experiences in Liberia. Both of these men, and the presentations they gave, were altogether different than the previous discussions on Argentina and South Africa. Their perspectives were as 'interventionists' - outsiders who entered into conflicted states, and attempted to end the conflict. Their stories were just as dark as some of the other stories, but their methods and insights were much more...militaristically practical. While the other two presenters discussed the societal impacts, the ideologies, and the long term impacts of transitions, these two gentlemen focused on something much more immediate - peace as the cessation of violence. Their jobs were simple - stop the fighting. And, to that effect, they were successful. However, the current picture of the Balkans is not good, and Mr. Stuebner describes the area as being on top of a 'sleeping dragon' that, when it wakes up, wants blood. He thinks that it is going to wake up soon.

As part of our experience learning about the former Yugoslavia and the Balkan conflict, we also paid a visit to the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia. We were introduced to the inner workings of the Tribunal, and discussed some of the different aspects of how it was set up, how it functions, and what it is doing now, as it winds up its mandate. It has prosecuted 161 indicted criminals who were responsible for the ethnic cleansing and other atrocities. I suppose the major question is, then, if you've managed to prosecute 'those most responsible', and there is still a likelihood of more violence, what has actually been accomplished? The answer, I think, is first, accountability, and second, that Justice is necessary, but not sufficient, for peace. (Although, some people might even argue that it's not even necessary for peace).

Outside of the symposium, week 2 was full of bike rides, picnics, beaches, and general merrymaking. I also managed to sign up for creating a 'Transitional Framework' for IPSI posterity, but that will wait until week 4.

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