What is Conflict Justice?
Conflict justice is the attempt to vindicate the rights of victims of conflict in a way that responds to their most immediate demands and supports the prospects of short term and medium term peace.
It encourages those engaged in mediation to focus on tangible rights-based benefits as an integral part of settlements.
It is premised on the belief that establishing a positive experience of rights and demonstrating that rights make a difference in real ways will encourage those tempted to resort to conflict to instead continue to invest in peace.
We know that many conflicts relapse and we know that even those that do not often deliver only a “negative peace”. Processes and settlements that focus on and secure rights based benefits can help re-establish the social pathways for existence based on respect and dignity for all around shared citizenship.
In the 1990s the idea of reconciliation was very popular but for various reasons it has slipped off the agenda. There are some understandable reasons for this. It is sometimes seen as a term that puts the burden on victims to forgive or to forget. It is also suggested that it is little more than a euphemism for impunity. Others indicate the confusions around whether reconciliation is a goal or a process; whether it ignores real and even necessary differences in society. There is a need for much work to be done to recover an ethical and actionable notion of reconciliation, but we believe that it will be impossible for societies to recover from war without an effort from all sides to establish a common basis of respect and dignity. We believe that efforts to humanize those deemed to be “other” and to eradicate the narratives and practices of division and hatred are essential to establish a positive peace.
Empowering Syrian Refugee and IDP Voices
There are 13 million Syrians who are either refugees or internally displaced. The pressures for forced and premature returns are significant and getting harder to resist. The Syrian government is not currently prepared to make any gesture towards a safe context for return. At the same time, Europe is adamant that any talk of reconstruction can only take place when a credible and politically inclusive settlement is agreed. Any such agreement must necessarily take account of the IDPs and refugee crisis.
The rights and interests of Syrian IDPs and refugees, as expressed by them, need to be integrated in a political settlement both as a matter of principle and in order to give a chance to sustainable peace in Syria and the region. The EIP therefore seeks to develop and support the capacities of a number of consultative committees from the hardest-hit areas in Syria. They will filter and analyse necessary information about laws and policies that affect their rights to a safe and dignified voluntary return, security, housing, land and property; and develop the means to engage with the broader displaced community and international policy and decision makers to ensure that their voices are heard.
During 2018, we helped established the first committee - the Homs Association for Citizens Dignity and have begun to establish a further two committees in connection with areas in Damascus. The Homs committee is currently composed of nine respected and qualified Homsi citizens. They are engaging in outreach activities with the broader Homsi community in order to build a legitimate movement. The initial meetings of the Damascus committees will take place in November 2018 and it I anticipated that a committee for Aleppo will follow shortly. In a short time an emerging, unmediated voice of refugees and IDPs can begin to play a role in shaping their own destinies and the search for peace in Syria.
Conflict and Transitional Justice Approaches in Connection with Mediation Efforts in Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Afghanistan
As the CJR programme is still in its infancy, a good deal of initial work is of a scoping nature. We are undertaking assessments and activities in a number of priority countries developing our work in the area of conflict justice and reconciliation where the EIP is already active. These countries include Iraq and Yemen and Afghanistan.
By mid-2018, we have conducted a number of detailed discussions in Kabul. The meetings were convened as part of the Afghan Peace Support Initiative (APSI) and in the spirit of contributing an Afghan-owned, Afghan-led peace process. The discussions were the first steps of an effort to engage in a fresh conversation with key stakeholders to help frame the discussion on justice and peace from the inside, through Afghan eyes, to understand the concerns, challenges and opportunities in the light of the current political climate.
In Afghanistan, as well as the other countries of interest, we are testing whether the idea of integrating into a peace process the concept of justice as a vindication of rights more broadly understood, rather than solely a means to accountability, is a useful approach that would encourage people to move away from violence. We are hopeful that by considering the issue of victims’ rights, in a context-specific manner and with due regard for the sensitivity on these issues, peace agreements will gain credibility and legitimacy rather than be destabilized.
Mediation, Reconciliation and Durable Peace
Research indicates that anything between fifty and sixty per cent of conflicts relapse at least once. The causes of relapse can be complex and varied but by definition relapse indicates a failure to achieve a minimum degree of reconciliation. Yet, the treatment of the concept of reconciliation over the years by a broad variety of actors has added complexity to controversy, making it very challenging to understand.
From mid-2018, we are embarking on a research project which will aim to document the ways in which the notion of reconciliation has or has not played a meaningful role in mediation and post-mediation processes. It will consider whether there are lessons to be drawn from this analysis that allows for practical approaches in mediation contexts to use reconciliation as a means of securing short and medium term peace. The project will develop a number of case studies and thematic, crosscutting chapters in exploring situations in which peace processes delivered an agreement.
This research project represents a cutting edge approach that cuts across and bridges the practitioner and academic spheres. What is innovative in this project is that we will address a series of issues fundamental to the understanding of conflict and conflict resolution that have only been addressed in isolation before. It will be will be useful both to practitioners, in so far as it will provide insight into negotiating practices from a series of important empirical cases, as well as making a key contribution to the academic scholarship on conflict recidivism, mediation and reconciliation.
To complement our practical and substantive work we will also carry out a significant research project over the next 30 months. The project will investigate how reconciliation has figured in mediated ends to conflict. Looking at eight case studies we will examine the degree to which the idea was present in the minds of parties, what it was taken to mean and the role it played; what steps if any were included in the settlement to advance the cause of reconciliation as it was understood, and what impact those processes had. We see this study as a first but important step in advancing practical approaches to reconciliation in mediation processes.