Past Events

CEO of Search for Common Ground Addresses Georgetown Students

October 20, 2015

On October 20, Shamil Idriss, CEO of Search for Common Ground (SFCG), a non-profit organization devoted to conflict prevention and resolution of conflict, addressed graduate students in Georgetown’s Conflict Resolution Program, in the School of Foreign Service’s McGhee Library. During the event, “Desperate Power: International Relations in the Era of Citizen Power”, he discussed his views on current trends in the field of conflict resolution and peacebuilding.

“This is, in my view, the most exciting, unprecedented moment in human history for citizen peacebuilders, for people who want to engage in international relations and make an impact,” says Idriss.

According to Search for Common Ground, the organization’s mission is to “transform the way the world deals with conflict- away from adversarial approaches and toward collaborative problem-solving.” It does so by partnering with people at all levels of society to turn conflicts into opportunities for collaboration through “establishing venues for dialogue; producing media that can break down barriers and influence social norms toward greater collaboration; and facilitating community engagement, in which parties to conflict cooperate to address shared interests or concerns.”

Idriss believes there exist both positive and disturbing trends in the field of peacebuilding, highlighting the work of SFCG in various regions of the world. The organization’s website displays SFCG’s extensive global reach, ranging from Tunisia to Kyrgyzstan, with 53 offices around the world, 1,477 local partners, and 1.4 million participants yearly in their programs.

“I have never seen governments so willing and eager to engage with civil society organizations, almost desperately looking for help. And this isn’t just in the U.S. and Western Europe, this is everywhere,” says Idriss.

The increased willingness on the part of governments to engage with civil society organizations opens up opportunities within the field of peacebuilding, for organizations like SFCG to have a positive impact.

According to Idriss, this desire for heightened communication between the two groups is the result of governments coming to the realization that the tools traditionally used to deal with threats to local and international stability- which are heavily dependent on kinetic force- are severely limited and in fact often self-defeating when applied to modern manifestations of instability, including citizen-led and stateless movements.

On the other hand, a troubling trend in the field observed by SFCG is in how governments are trying to prevent youth engagement in groups such as Daesh, or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). A common trend among these young people, and a significant factor in their desire to turn to extremism is rooted in a desire to feel heard, accepted, and empowered to make a difference on the injustices they see in the world. According to Idriss, government policies stigmatizing political and religious expression and treating youth increasingly as a potential threat to be guarded against exacerbate this issue.

“What’s really important for young people is for them to have the experience of being listened to, and respected,” says Idriss. “If they’re engaged with respectfully, and heard, that can cause a big shift in their willingness to start to engage, even from critical perspectives on how their own societies might be contributing to dynamics of conflict.”

On the part of Search for Common Ground, Idriss conveys his hopes for the future of the field of peacebuilding and conflict resolution as a whole.

“We’re being pressed to show results, even though some things can be quite hard to measure. We embrace this challenge, but what I would love to see is a leavening of accountability, and a genuine effort to measure outcomes across all forms of intervention that are intended to bring about more stable and just societies- from military approaches to citizen-led inclusive, collaborative, non-violent approaches- so we can demonstrate which ones are indeed more sustainable and cost-effective.”

Link to Search for Common Ground’s website:

– Contributed by Catherine Pilishvili, M.A. in Conflict Resolution, Class of 2017

A Career Soldier’s Perspectives on Conflict Resolution

November 5, 2015

On November 5th, 2015, Brigadier General Peter Zwack (Ret.) gave a talk on his perspective and lessons learned about conflict resolution from his experiences throughout his 34 years of military service. He began by noting that CR is a huge topic, and covers important issues that appear from relationships between nations to relationships between individuals in the smallest of villages in Afghanistan. He grew up during the Cold War, where CR ideas played a major role as both the U.S. and the USSR wanted to avoid a nuclear exchange, despite the high tensions. This did not simply cover ICBMs, but even included weapons like the U.S. M109, a nuclear capable artillery unit that was in the NATO elements defending the Fulda Gap, where General Zwack served.

The Kosovo conflict that started in March 17th, 2004 was the first conflict he examined. It took place 5 years after the surrender of Serbia during the Serbian War, and involved violent Serbian conflicts centered in Kosovo. At the time, General Zwack was a senior intelligence officer in the Kosovo Force (K-Force), a 26 nation multinational force. Also in the region were a number of other organizations including the UN, USAid, and other NGOs. They were attempting to provide stability to the highly pro-US Kosovo, and combating corruption in very unstable areas. These efforts included cooperation between military, intelligence, state building, and diplomatic elements in the area. A hotel in Baghdad is destroyed on the 17th, and local Albanians in the Balkans start turning on the Serbians, isolating and burning churches and monasteries and attacking Serbian communities across the Kosovo region. The K-Force and the UN was stretched thin and suddenly was dealing with unexpected levels of violence, necessitating the call for UN strategic reserves to be called in for the first time. After the conflict calmed, K-Force command was summoned to Serbia for failure in their mission. In the end, 19 peacekeepers were killed, though General Zwack explained that he and many other soldiers believe that it could have been much worse. The conflict highlighted how of the most important things to do when examining any area of conflict is to examine the neighboring regions, the local geography, and the political or ethnic groups in the area. By doing so, one can begin to learn the history of the area, and then truly begin to understand the narratives that drive behaviors; for example, the betrayal of a local leader to Turkey in the 1300s still plays a major role in Islamophobia in the region. It also highlighted how multiparty cooperation can be difficult when there are multiple nations in command; in some areas, Italian peacekeepers held their ground and returned fire when they were attacked, while German and French forces were ordered to stand down by their home nations, resulting in the destruction of the religious landmarks they were guarding.

General Zwack then examines a more recent example: Afghanistan. A nation with a history of failed international interventions, the Soviets pulled out of the region in 1989 after 13 thousand casualties with a puppet government in place. Their initial ventures were initially successful, but their mishandling of low-intensity conflict and conflict resolution failures such as brutal suppression of the local population quickly turns the region against them. After the puppet government loses USSR support due to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Taliban rises to power, leading eventually to the events of 9-11, precipitating U.S. entrance into Afghanistan. Once again, there were multiple Conflict Resolution puzzles that the 26 provincial reconstruction teams spread across the region found difficult to disentangle: creation of a credible national government, negotiations with local tribes and provincial governments, and the struggles of remaining impartial in an environment where it took CR skills to not only work with locals but also international contingents and other agencies. CR work was further hampered by high casualty conflicts and tactics such as the use of IEDs, leading to nervous soldiers and high tension environments. Progress was also slowed by UN elements slowly leaving due to rising violence, and the difficulties faced with the training of Afghan security forces.

The deeper issues impeding CR work, in General Zwack’s eyes, included the need for more area studies by the parties attempting to intervene in Afghanistan, as the complicated history of the region plays an important role in shaping behavior and politics in the area. The stress from the alien landscape also complicated the plans of the international forces and civilians that were not used to it. This involved the different views on women, as well as the misunderstanding and subsequent mishandling of the poppy trade: attempted eradication of the field simply left a lot of people unemployed and upset, a clear example of a failure of justice and conflict resolution, leading to increased poppy production, patronage, and corruption. There is also a disproportionate amount of youth, many of whom are unemployed and restless, resulting in many turning to violence. It was also difficult for the foreigners to deal with the local religion and culture, and keeping an open mind, especially when faced with aspects of extremist Sharia Islam.

Despite the cultural issues, education remained a major block of CR focus (rightly so, according to him), and the Afghan people were very enthusiastic about the opportunity. Elections were also an area of focus. The infrastructure needed for voting in very remote areas also made progress slow. Both elections and education needed secured areas for those opportunities to be provided, and the military played a vital role working with support groups in the area. NGOs and other organizations have also played an important role in providing support and aid to refugees. Unfortunately, military mistakes have contributed to the problems on the ground: the MSF hospital bombing by US military forces is a recent major example of this.

Even CR organizations on the ground create their own problems. They are sometimes viewed as cash cows by local populations, and corrupt politicians have taken advantage of CR presence in the past. Military and civilian cooperation has also been sometimes problematic in the past: CR workers are major targets in a dangerous environment, since ideals and culture are major objectives for both sides in the war, and though the military puts out daily danger briefings, CR workers have still been killed, injured, or kidnapped.

General Zwack concluded his talk by acknowledging that there is a serious need for CR in conflict areas, and a need for understanding both the history of the region as well as the relationships between all parties, including international partners. Civilian and military cooperation is paramount, with the civilian parties taking the lead unless military force is required for safety reasons. There is a need for mutual understanding of working and function cultures between both civilians and militaries. Additionally, understanding that there are differences in the national caveats of the participants is also important: different nations may order their forces in a region to stand down, when other nations may not. Intelligence sharing is also vital, as is an understanding of the local population, and knowing how to marginalize local corrupt actors. Coupled with security being a major priority, is an understanding that areas with unsecured borders are very difficult to improve. There also needs to be an eye on the endgame: under what circumstances will the enemy want to surrender. General Zwack commented that in many conflict regions, the military cannot provide CR solutions, and can only set the environment that CR organizations can work in. Finally, he offered a series of warnings. Never go into situations without learning the history or burying your biases first. Never promise anything you cannot guarantee, nor fail to have good continuity files to record negotiations, deals, and interactions. Technology levels rising across the board are also changing the strategic landscape, and the longer the length of the mission, the more the population and the enemy will learn to adapt. Understanding an individual 100% is impossible, but one must try. Experience, training, and suitable amounts of resources are vital, especially when in the grey areas of conflicted regions. This is especially true if military presence is to be credible, a necessary part of creating a workable CR environment. Similarly, once the environment is in place, civilians must be in the lead unless the environment is at risk of being destroyed by violence. Discipline and training amongst troops is also vital; the actions of a few can destroy the progress of many. Working with the local culture is also important, and the art of making displeasure or moral anger known without inciting an international incident is also vital. Coupled with this, General Zwack also warned against sermonizing, and cautioned his listeners to remember that “we have the watches and timetables. They have the time.”

– Contributed by Kunyu Fang, M.A. in Conflict Resolution, Class of 2017

Euro-Atlantic Security and the Ukraine Dilemma

October 22, 2015

On October 22nd, Ambassador Collins, who was the U.S. ambassador from the U.S. to the Russian Federation from 1997 to 2001, gave a talk explaining the intricacies of the conflict in Ukraine, and its implications for the wider geopolitical situation in Europe. He primarily split up his presentation into three parts: why this conflict matters, what this conflict is, and what can be done to alleviate the tensions in the regions.

In his opinion, this is the worst conflict in the Euro-Atlantic region since the end of the Cold War; other conflicts, such as those in the Balkans, were violent but did not have the same geopolitical implications. The existence of this conflict is now a major problem for the assumptions behind America’s procedures regarding post-Cold War peacekeeping and politics. In particular, it undermined the frameworks behind post-Cold War Europe, including the Helsinki Final Act in 1975 which was supposed to guarantee the territorial integrity of the signatories, the Charter of Paris in 1990 agreeing that all signatories would develop their countries on the basis of democratic governance and respect for human rights, and the Budapest Memorandum which was a series of security assurances to Ukraine, signed by the UK, U.S., and Russia in exchange for Ukraine’s surrender of its nuclear arms. The conflict has also inflamed old passions and grudges, especially between the East and West, and has severed intercultural dialogues. It is displacing people, destroying economic conditions, and disrupts security, fomenting fear.

The conflict, at its core, is incredibly controversial due to the hate, historical memories, unsettled issues, and demagoguery surrounding it. Ambassador Collins stated that he sees that there are 4 core issues at the heart of the conflict, all of which need to be resolved in order for this conflict to be stabilized. First, it is a geopolitical conflict between the U.S. and Russia and their individual views on how the security and political framework for the region should be structured; U.S. favors NATO, and Russia does not. Secondly, it is a Geo-Economic problem, Russia in particular sees the encroachment of NATO in the former territories of the USSR to be disruptive to its economic status quo, and this in large part led to the break-down in relations between Ukraine and Russia when Russia refused to allow the EU and Ukraine to work together without Russian input. Third, the bilateral Ukraine-Russia relationship has been an unhappy and contentious one, whether over independence, economic, or energy resource issues. Fourth, there is a great deal of internal Ukrainian conflict. There was never a complete resolution on how to define Ukrainian identity and politics, and there was little success in the creation of institutions to create stakeholders with a strong interest in the future of the state itself. Political opponents constantly went to outsiders for assistance in politics, and played up internal divisions for political gain, severely disrupting political bonding. Threatened Russian-speakers went to Russian allies for help, while others saw this as an example of Russian aggression, and a betrayal by the Russian speakers. Political interactions like this has squandered 25 years that could have been used to build more robust political system and fomented internal bonding.

The solutions, therefore, revolve around these four issues. Instead of single-mindedly focusing on the geopolitical conflict and placing blame on Russia, the solution needs to start with Ukraine. They must first, according to Ambassador Collins, be able to make decisions internally, since they can never truly decisively become European or Russian simply by allying with one side over the other. They must stand on their own and give their population something to rally around other than being anti-Russia. In the meantime, allies, such as the U.S., need to stay engaged in the region, but again, must remain apart from Ukraine’s mechanisms of recovery, which must remain independent. This is troubling especially since the U.S. can sometimes have issues sustaining attention on a single region or conflict. Additionally, continued economic sanctions against Russia are useful and presses them to appeal for a more equitable resolution of the conflict, but is not enough to solve the problem entirely. Fortunately, the interconnected nature of the global economy helps with economic negotiations, which can alleviate deadlock over the competing European integration schemes championed by the U.S. and Russia – NATO led vs. a system where Russia plays a bigger role.

Unfortunately, finding a common approach will be difficult. Both sides need to understand the limits of each other and the limits of each other’s’ systems. The current frozen dialogues make this impossible, and the Russians also must create their own reasonable system of European integration, if they want to become a more agreeable option.

– Contributed by Kunyu Fang, M.A. in Conflict Resolution, Class of 2017

Summer Fellowship Presentation

October 16, 2015

On Friday, October 16th, first and second year CR students convened to hear from the program’s five summer fellows about their summers abroad. Taylor Colvin started out the night telling us about her internship with IPIECA, an oil and gas industry association for environmental and social issues based in London. IPIECA works as the primary channel of communication between the UN and the oil and gas industry. Taylor worked with group assistance, communications, survey design, briefings, and messaging. Her briefings were part of a larger effort to working towards a ratification of a UN mandate on climate change. Taylor observed how important it is to have the social responsibility of a company imbedded into the financial and business principles of the organization. She learned valuable approaches to CSR (corporate social responsibility), which included content initiatives and other structures that link value creation with social responsibility.

Shifting to another region, we heard from Rachel Kuykendall who spent her summer in Jordan working for Mercy Corps. Mercy Corps in Jordan is mainly funded by the UK Department for International Development where they have been working with six communities in Northern Jordan most susceptible to conflict. Rachel worked mainly in conflict management with Syrian refugees, host communities and municipal actors. Community leaders were chosen from these six communities and were then trained in conflict management, negotiation, and proposal writing. Each community leader worked with their individual constituent groups to find what programs were most important to them so they could bring proposals to Mercy Corps to fund those projects. During her internship Rachel was the only staff member who was fluent in English, which gave her a valuable role translating documents.

Meredith Medlin interned for Catholic Relief Services in Kenya for CIRCA, which provides capacity building for religious communities. She helped to create community action models for interreligious communities. She even had the opportunity to sit in on a facilitation with Catholic nuns who wanted to learn more about the Muslim community to benefit their own community and to work with Muslims. Meredith’s experience differed from that of her peers’ because she spent most of her time alone in Kenya. This allowed her to grow and expand in a personal way, and in return she is better able to understand herself as a practitioner because of the fellowship.

In Braunschweig, Germany, Matthew Parkes interned at the Georg Eckert Institute which provides international textbook research. The institute has three core components: a summer school for sustainable peace, a visiting professorship and a symposium on education for sustainable peace. Matthew had the chance to not only provide research support, but was able to attend the institute’s summer school program. One of the main challenges of the institute is addressing the violent past in a manner that promotes sustainable peace because of the depictions of violence in the materials. Overall, Matthew enjoyed his experience living in Germany and the working environment. He was most struck by the constant memory of the Third Reich, World War II and the Holocaust throughout his travels in Germany. He also made lasting friendships with his coworkers and classmates.

Last to present was Emma Rehard who spent her summer in Ethiopia interning for Mercy Corps. Mercy Corps in Ethiopia works mainly on peacebuilding and natural resource management in Southern Ethiopia. Her position as the Learning and Knowledge Management intern lead her to ask the question – what are the key links to resilience and peacebuilding? She created a CMM (conflict management and mitigation) survey to address this question. 

– Contributed by Monica Makar, M.A. in Conflict Resolution, Class of 2017

Human Rights, Transitional Justice and Conflict Resolution with Andrew Solomon, USAID 

April 8, 2015

Andrew Solomon

On April 8th, the Conflict Resolution program at Georgetown University hosted Andrew Solomon for a presentation and lively discussion on the relationship between human rights, transitional justice, and conflict resolution. Andrew, a lawyer by training, has an extensive background working with transitional justice, and is currently the transitional justice advisor for USAID. His presentation covered his work history and the current discourse over transitional justice during post-conflict reconstruction.

Andrew began by outlining the mission of USAID, who work “ toward advancing democratic governance and human rights in developing countries as critical components for sustainable development and lasting peace.” Their key objectives are to combat extreme poverty, while advancing democracy and promoting U.S foreign objectives. They see the advancement of democratic principles and an end to poverty as being beneficial to both the  aided country and the world as a whole. They are a traditional U.S development agency, and his bureau focuses on building up the capacity of human rights institutions and defenders, which includes promoting human rights, transitional justice, and atrocity prevention.

Andrew noted that USAID operates on a widely held belief that the demand for justice is seen as a human right. To ensure an effective application of justice in the aftermath of conflict, there must be established safeguards and institutions to ensure that the process is both credible and effective. Andrew argued that when the legal process is seen as being ineffective of slow moving, it creates a perception in the inflicted community that justice was not properly served. He noted an old saying, “justice delayed, justice denied,” highlighting the importance of a timely and efficient legal process in the wake of violent conflict.

From there, Andrew asked the audience to define transitional justice, a difficult task as both the scope and objective of the process is quite broad. The UN defines transitional justice as “the full range of judicial and nonjudicial processes associated with a society’s attempt to come to terms with a legacy of large-scale past abuses, in order to ensure accountability, serve justice and achieve reconciliation.” Andrew compared it to the idea of establishing rule of law, in which the definition is a “term of art,” meaning there is much more to the concepts that a concrete definition cannot fully cover. Transitional justice focuses on legacies, and the idea of properly looking at and assessing the past in order to effectively deal with the present.

Andrew then touched upon the intended scope of transitional justice, which can be applied to deal with a vast array of issues. He noted the debate over how widespread and systemic does the abuse during a conflict need to be for there to be a need of assistance in helping the inflicted area implement transitional justice processes. Andrew’s bureau at USAID focuses on assisting societies that lack that mechanisms and resources to deal with the transitional process internally in the immediate aftermath of conflict.

– Contributed by Matthew Parkes, M.A. in Conflict Resolution, Class of 2016

Digital Humanitarians

March 30, 2015

Digital Humanitarians Talk

On March 30th, the Conflict Resolution program at Georgetown University hosted Patrick Meier for a presentation on his recently released book, “Digital Humanitarians: How Big Data is Changing the Face of Humanitarian Response.” Patrick is currently the director of QCRI’s Social Innovation Program, where he leads a team that uses human and machine computing techniques to develop and utilize ‘Next Generation Humanitarian Technologies’ for international humanitarian organizations. Patrick obtained his PhD at Tufts University’s renowned Fletcher School, and also has advanced degrees from Stanford and Columbia. He also has a very impressive social media presence, with his influential blog iRevolution receiving over 1.5 million views.

Patrick’s presentation highlighted how technological advances and trends, in particular the increased use of social media, has changed the way humanitarian organizations track and respond to a crisis. The landscape of information has shifted from one of scarcity to an overloading of responses during immediate disaster response. This dramatic influx of data can be difficult for humanitarian workers to effectively process. Patrick compared it the the famous “needle in the haystack” analogy, noting the difficult process of pinpointing accurate and legitimate sources within social media comments, and weeding out potentially inaccurate or misleading claims.

This influx of data can be potentially paralyzing to relief efforts, as an overly saturated data set makes it extremely difficult to effectively sort through the responses in a timely manner. As time is of utmost urgency during a crisis, traditional means of evaluating data have not kept with up with the urgent needs of people in need. In response to concerns over the speed and accuracy of responding to digital information, a collaborative approach was designed to create a more efficient and effective method of disaster assessment. This new approach is called ‘Micromappers,’ an online platform that combines crowdsourcing techniques with Artificial Intelligence programs, utilizing new technologies to more effectively assess the influx of social media responses during a disaster. The platform is engined by Artificial Intelligence Disaster Relief program, which relief organizations can then use to sort through data sets. AI programs help relief workers better classify events as they occur in real time, helping eliminate time concerns that have plagued other disaster responses.

While this approach has resulted in more reliable data sets, the issue of ensuring the accuracy of the findings continues to be a major challenge. To test the accuracy of  crowdsource data responses, experiments were done to see how effective this process was at detecting and verifying web content. Different tools for content verification such as ‘Verily’ have been utilized by humanitarian workers to crowdsource content, as more people sorting through the responses increases the productivity of the process.

All of us in the Conflict Resolution program are grateful to Patrick for taking time out of his very busy schedule to present on a fascinating and constantly evolving field. His work highlights the important role conflict resolution practitioners in ensuring the timely and effective response to humanitarian crises as they unfold.

– Contributed by Matthew Parkes, M.A. in Conflict Resolution, Class of 2016

Transition Programming in Conflict Environments

February 26, 2015

On February 26th, the Conflict Resolution program at Georgetown University hosted Stephen Lennon and Melissa Zelikoff from the USAID Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) for a lively discussion and delicious lunch from Corner Bakery. The discussion covered OTI’s operational strategy in implementing transition programs in conflict environments. Stephen, who is acting Director of OTI, wanted the discussion to be engaging and encouraged everyone in attendance to feel free to ask questions at any point. This created both a relaxed, but also very informative discussion on the role of OTI in the conflict resolution field.

Being a branch of USAID, OTI operates in conflicts and regions that are a high foreign policy focus for the American government. Stephen noted that OTI was established to be “the government’s preeminent response to countries around the world.” When OTI considers a new conflict area to create a program for, they have to consider numerous important factors that will influence the potential success of an OTI program. The key factors are if the region is an American foreign policy priority, political capacity in the conflict region, and if they will be accepted in the region by its citizens.

They have a distinct business model, meant to ensure their programs are structured with the conditions of the conflict and regional culture in mind, and must be adaptable if circumstances and needs in the regions change. For example, when OTI went to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, their program objectives shifted to rock removal in the Port Au Prince area. While such work is usually not part of OTI practice, it was an essential need of the region and thus OTI adapted to address the needs of the area. As a result, OTI must effectively analyze each potential conflict to get involved with to make sure they are in line with American foreign policy objectives, and will produce tangible results.

Both Stephen and Melissa noted the advantages and roadblocks that come with being a U.S Government funded organization. Since they are under supervision of the government, they are the ones that will be held responsible if a program was unsuccessful. Stephen considers their programs “are best when we end up impacting policy,” and on countless occasions OTI has successfully reformed American foreign policy objectives and practices in a given region. Melissa ended the discussion by mentioning potential conflicts that OTI might be creating programs for in the future, as well as desirable skills and experience for anyone interested in working for an organizations such as OTI. It was an excellent discussion, and all of us in the CR program are thankful to Stephen and Melissa for taking time out of their busy schedule to speak with us!

– Contributed by Matthew Parkes, M.A. in Conflict Resolution, Class of 2016

Toward a Critical Peace Education for Sustainability

February 13, 2015

On February 13th, the Conflict Resolution program hosted Professor Ed Brantmeier for lunch and a discussion on his academic work. The topic of his discussion was “Toward a Peace Education for Sustainability,” which explored how effectively enacted peace education programs can be integrated with values of  sustainability and long term social change. Ed has been working in the peace education field for decades, and is currently a Professor at James Madison University. He took an interest in this particular sub-field of peacebuilding upon recognizing the necessity for a more applied approach to teaching people about peace, and how these impact sustainability. Ed began the presentation with a five minute breathing exercise, which helped us become more attuned with our surroundings by forcing our minds to “slow down, and turn in.” This brief exercise reminded us of the importance of proper reflection and recognition of your surrounding environment, which many of us have become detached from in our rapidly changing world. He then related this exercise to the most effective processes of engagement as peacemakers. Those who work towards creating peace and social progress must be at a degree of inner peace, which in turn can evolve into relational peace, and with the right application can eventually become societal peace.  

Ed then spoke on the big picture issues affecting world peace, and how these issues bound all humanity together. Humans, according to Ed, will one day become an extinct species, like the dinosaurs and countless organisms that predate us. Upon this realization, humans can work together to both prolong our existence on Earth, but also improving our quality of life. He also noted the impending threats associated with climate change, and how the solutions to combat potential climate crisis will require worldwide cooperation. These issues can be approached through two large scale concepts, the first being to “deconstruct power dynamics,” which can hold back societal progress, and this deconstruction will help lead people to reconstruct their relationships with their community. The second is a “widening of the self,” which is to widen our personal connections beyond general constructs such as family, nationality, and religion. Ed referred to this as “seeing all things in yourself, and seeing yourself in all things.”

After describing the big picture issues, Ed then moved on to defining the concept of critical peace education. Ed’s definition argues that critical approaches offer peace educators and researchers to “contextual and conceptual resources to understand the structural impediments to advancing peace education in diverse locales across the globe.” This definition was part of a research project Ed had done with a fellow peace educator, who saw a need for a new method of defining  peace education. Their definition works through a multifaceted approach in order to facilitate, broad societal peace. With a situated power analysis, coupled with engaged societal change, it could help create a vibrant, sustained peace. This approach requires confronting and “powering down” the dominant-subordinate social structures, and instead focusing on democratic, caring, and nonviolent values geared towards both men and women. Ed noted that in times of crisis or tragedy, government and society tend to focus on increasing security and seeking retribution, rather than rebuilding relationships in the aftermath.

At the end of his presentation, Ed highlighted the necessary conditions of a vibrant, sustained peace, as well as a critical pedagogy of peace. In order for sustained peace to occur, there needs to be an increased level of social justice on both a micro and macro level, as justice and peace are dependent on each other. There also needs to be what Ed referred to as “ecological justice,” which is to understand domination and oppression, environments that create racism, and revitalizing traditional ecological practices. Ed concluded by noting some “everyday revolutionary practices,” which included increased humility, aligning our money with our values, and creating a culture of peace. Upon completion of the presentation, Ed was kind enough to play us a song on his Native American flute, which he has been playing for over 20 years. All of us in attendance were thankful to Ed for a lively and informative discussion, and his many contributions to the peacebuilding field.

– Contributed by Matthew Parkes, M.A. in Conflict Resolution, Class of 2016

Responsibility to Protect: Preventing Mass Atrocities” on Peace and Collaborative Development Network

January 28, 2015

On January 28th. the Conflict Resolution program welcomed Mark Hanis to campus for a lively presentation and discussion. The topic of the discussion was “Right to Protect (R2P): Preventing Mass Atrocities,” focusing on the movement towards creating more effective atrocity prevention programs and policy. Mark has been working in the genocide prevention field since his college years, having created with his friends multiple programs aimed at helping victims of the 2004 genocide in Sudan. Since graduating, Mark has already established himself as an accomplished member of the field. He has helped found multiple genocide prevention programs such as Organ Alliance, United to End Genocide (Formerly the Genocide Prevention Network), which focused on developing a strategic and results-based approach to preventing mass atrocities. In addition to his vast accomplishments, Mark has also been a White House Fellow, working under Vice President Joe Biden as a National Security Affairs special advisor for South America, Africa, and Human Rights.

Mark’s presentation covered how his interest in the field of atrocity prevention began, and went through the evolution of atrocity prevention measures, and the increased domestic and international recognition of the field. Mark has a deep personal connection to genocide, as all four of his grandparents were survivors of the Holocaust. Fortunately, all of them were able to flee Germany, and Mark was raised in Ecuador amongst a community of fellow survivors. Mark said he was inspired by the testimonies of his family and neighbors, and the concept of “never forget,” in the hope that by learning from genocide, we may one day be able to prevent mass atrocities. Sadly, the cry for “never again” has been more of an ideal than a reality, or as Mark puts it, “rhetoric has not followed practice.” Mark highlighted some of the majors reasons why past attempts to prevent mass atrocity have been largely unsuccessful. The first issue is protection, as simply providing aid to targeted groups is not sufficient in preventing potential persecution. Genocide needs to be seen as a political issue that political leaders and policy makers must address. Atrocity prevention groups must get the public engaged in the issues of genocide and mass violence, and encourage them to apply pressure on elected officials to become more versed in both issues of mass atrocity, and the different methods of anti-atrocity responses and practices. Mark has witnessed firsthand the potential of applying pressure to politicians, having helped form, which tracked every member of Congress’s voting record on the Genocide in Darfur, which enabled citizens to directly contact their local Congressmen and call for them to be more involved in preventing the genocide.

 At the end of the presentation, Mark noted the multifaceted approach used to help prevent genocide and mass atrocity, as combating large scale violence requires involvement of actors in many sectors. He ended us with a reminder that in order to effectively prevent mass atrocities, we cannot afford to be bystanders, but rather “upstanders.” He then provided ample time for questions, which primarily focused on the limits of R2P programs, and where he sees the field progressing in future years. It was a highly informative discussion, and all of us in the Conflict Resolution program are grateful that Mark was willing to take time out of his incredibly busy schedule to come speak with us, and highlighting the role of Conflict Resolution practitioners in helping prevent mass violence and conflicts across the world.

– Contributed by Matthew Parkes, M.A. in Conflict Resolution, Class of 2016

Two Unlikely Friends: A Conversation with the Parents Circle

September 11, 2014

On September 11th, the Conflict Resolution Program, in partnership with Alliance for Peacebuilding and the Foundation for Middle East Peace, hosted the Parents Circle- Families Forum for a discussion at McCarthy Hall. Titled “Two Unlikely Friends”, Parents Circle members Robi Damelin and Bassam Aramin shared their moving stories of reconciliation, grief, and forgiveness. The Parents Circle is a grassroots organization that brings together Israeli and Palestinian citizens who have lost a loved one during the prolonged conflict in the region. They believe that reconciliation between citizens on both sides of the conflict is crucial to creating a sustained peace. The relationship between the Conflict Resolution and the Parents Circle dates back to 2008, when Georgetown University President Dr. John DiGioia hosted the Parents Circle for a three-day conflict resolution workshop. Since then the Parents Circle and Conflict Resolution program have collaborated for speaking events, workshops, and Conflict Resolution students have even interned with the organization.

Both speakers shared their powerful personal stories, leaving a lasting impression on everyone in attendance. Aramin spoke of growing up as a young Palestinian resistance fighter, who learned over time the Israeli people he had spent his whole life wanting to kill had also suffered great tragedies. He eventually became an advocate for peace in his home region, until one day his 13 year old daughter was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier. As Aramin and his family tried to cope with this horrific tragedy, he found the strength to reach out to the soldier with a message of forgiveness. He viewed the soldier as also a victim, having been ordered to shoot and kill innocent children. It was a powerful and provoking testimony, making the audience ponder if they could learn to forgive a person that harmed a member of their family. Aramin and his family have to face this reality on a daily basis, yet have chosen to not live their lives consumed by vengeance.

Damelin had moved to Israel from South Africa with her family. She was at home when authorities arrived to tell her that her son, a young student at an Israeli University, had been murdered by a Palestinian sniper. She struggled to cope with the unimaginable grief, but over time began connecting with other grieving families on both sides of the conflict. Damelin  believes that if we are ever to have sustained peace in the region, both sides must learn to rid themselves of bitterness and the desire for vengeance. Even after her attempt to reach out to the man who shot her son was met with hostile results, her spirit never waned, and she continues to tell her story moving story to audiences all across the world.  

The Role of Religion in Conflict Dynamics with James Patton, Executive Vice-President and COO of the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy (ICRD)

October 9, 2014

On Thursday, October 9, Mr. James Patton, Executive Vice President and COO of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD), provided a fascinating presentation about the role of religion in conflicts to students and faculty from the Government Department and Conflict Resolution Program. During his presentation, he discussed religion and conflict, the role of identity singularity as an instigator of conflict, the importance of the “do no harm” principle, and the neutrality of religion, among a myriad of other related topics. Mr. Patton highlighted the importance of analyzing social dynamics of conflicts and the various roles religion can play. Additionally, he stressed adaptability and humility in the planning and design of intervention programs in order to increase the likelihood of their success, while addressing the need for programs to take identity narratives and counter-narratives into account. This would provide conflict practitioners with a better understanding of the power-related motives that often benefit from the continuation of conflicts.

One of the concepts Mr. Patton stressed was the need to fully and thoroughly analyze the complexities of a conflict in order to maintain authentic engagement with religious actors. Contrary to many beliefs that religion exacerbates conflict, Mr. Patton poses that religion can serve to mitigate a conflict and bring disputants together. He provided examples of this idea in countries such as Nigeria, where Pastor James Movel Wuye and Imam Muhammad Nurayan Ashafa now travel the world together despite the previous history of violence between their followers. Another fascinating example he presented was a situation in which he brought Evangelical and Pentecostal pastors together with imams of both Sunni and Shia sects and provided a space for them to witness each others’ methods of prayer, highlighting the similarities. Mr. Patton’s presentation also had a regional focus in Latin America, with current reintegration initiatives in Colombia that contain religious components in order provide spiritual reconciliation for former combatants. He identified the involvement of an increasingly present civil society, women’s movements, and challenges to the current program. In the conclusion of the presentation, Mr. Patton posed that religions allow people to do the impossible, and that they can be used to benefit conflict dynamics, a concept for which he provided concrete evidence, and one that contains the possibility of future exploration.

Alumni Dinner with Shannon Zimmerman ’12

October 15, 2014

Shannon Zimmerman ’12 is currently working as a Senior Program Specialist Center for Gender and Peacebuilding at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Prior to USIP, Shannon worked as a research assistant at SIPRI North America. During her graduate studies she received a Boren Fellowship to study culture and languages in Tunis, Tunisia, where she witnessed the Tunisian Revolution and the start of the Arab Spring. Her studies focused on embedded cultural norms as they relate to conflict and human security, and the role and impact of peacekeeping missions. From 2007 to 2009, Zimmerman served as a Peace Corps youth development volunteer in Ukraine. In January, Shannon plans to move to Australia to begin a PhD at University of Queensland. Ten CR students joined for dinner, where they discussed Shannon’s advice to current students, what it’s like to work at USIP, and the challenges and rewards of living and working abroad. 

2014 Oliver Tambo Lecture with Dr. Charles Villa-Vicencio on “Political Leadership: What Nelson Mandela Could Not Do”

October 20, 2014

Georgetown President John Degioia opened the event by noting the long list of accomplishments by Professor Villa-Vicencio and their decades-long personal relationship. Professor Villa-Vicencio is considered to be a leading global authority on transitional justice and political reconciliation. He was the National Research Director of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, and has been an advisor to many countries dealing with post-conflict reconciliation and transitional justice. He is currently a visiting Research Scholar in the Conflict Resolution Program at GU, as well as a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.

The topic of Professor Villa-Vicencio’s lecture was “Political Leadership: What Nelson Mandela Could Not Do.” His lecture touched upon the personal skills and moral convictions that made President Mandela a successful statesman, but also the limits of  Mandela and the current issues facing South Africa. Mandela has become such a famous historical figure that there is a tendency to view him in idealistic and heroic terms. Like every person, Mandela had his personal strengths and weaknesses, and the story of South African independence does end with the fall of the Apartheid. Though he established a new era of governance and equality in South Africa, the nation still faces pressing concerns. While the racial political institutions and laws of the Apartheid movement have been disbanded, the country has struggled to properly deal with increasing income inequality. As a result, racial inequality is still a major issue in South Africa, and a lack of economic stability has left the future of the nation in doubt. Though the concerns facing South Africa are vast, Villa-Vicencio ended the lecture on a hopeful note, touching on the need for leadership in South Africa to unite on economic reforms and social justice.

The annual lecture, hosted by the office of  President DeGioia and the African Studies Program, honors the legacy of of Oliver Tambo, a leading figure in the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa. With Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu, Tambo founded the ANC Youth League in 1943, and later became President of the African National Congress. He is perhaps best remembered for his crucial role in garnering international support for the anti-Apartheid movement. Past lecturers include Desmond Tutu, and Thabo Mbeki, the second post-Apartheid President of South Africa.

11/3 Aid in Danger: The Perils and Promise of Humanitarianism with Larissa Fast, AAAS Fellow at the USAID Global Development Lab 

November 3, 2014

The CR Program hosted a lunch event with Larissa Fast, a leading researcher from the Kroc Institute and USAID’s Development Lab. Dr. Fast studies attacks on humanitarian aid workers. Her new book, Aid in Danger: The Perils and Promise of Humanitarianism, explores the assumptions that currently dominate security practices for aid agencies and possible moves toward new approaches. During the short time we had together, Dr. Fast was able to present a thoughtful analysis of aid workers’ situations in various contexts and how their organizations respond. The main questions driving her research include, how do we explain these attacks? and how do we protect humanitarians from these attacks?

Dr. Fast broke down the concepts involved in aid worker attacks in order to make the phenomenon more understandable for us. She explained that violence against aid workers is often reported as large, massive attacks on compounds or caravans. These attacks get all the news coverage, but in reality they relatively rarely occur. Much more common, however, are mild threats of violence and impediments to travel that require a great deal of agencies’ time and resources to mitigate. These two different kinds of danger make up the broader category of violence toward humanitarian workers. 

Having solidified her working definitions, Dr. Fast moved into a discussion of the various causes of violence toward aid workers. She cited the more commonly recognized causes, such as perceived political or religious threats and kidnapping or ransom situations, but the more compelling causes of aid violence were the often-overlooked ones. These included agencies’ lack of preparation and security, aid workers’ own recklessness, and the simply tragic scenario of someone being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Dr. Fast argued that we must “broaden the spectrum of conversation” surrounding these lesser-known causes of attacks. These causes illuminate several interesting facets of the humanitarian field that do not usually make it to the evening news.

Dr. Fast then listed the current mechanisms in place to protect aid workers. These include UN declarations and resolutions, physical protection, deterrence, and negotiated access as a means of security. The last mechanism, also called gaining consent, holds the most promise according to Dr. Fast. She argued that the increased fortification of humanitarianism, which emphasizes physical protection (i.e. armored cars) and deterrence (i.e. armed guards), goes against the core of the humanitarian ethos. A more humanely focused model for security would be significantly more preferable for her.

The future of aid work in dangerous regions rests on agencies’ ability to keep their workers safe. Dr. Fast did an excellent job of explicating the current theories and practices surrounding the situation, and she even offered the group a few alternatives to the current trajectory that make room for more serious progress. Fast argued for attention to the unique contexts into which each aid project inserts itself. She also called for a more human-centered approach to security that rests on person-to-person relationships as the strongest deterrence to violence. She recognized that this shift in thinking will be difficult, but “if we can change the way aid agencies think about security, we can change the way aid is delivered.”