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
Over half of the pre-war Syrian population now consists of either refugees or internally displaced persons (IDPs). This situation presents enormous challenges both the people directly affected and to the stability of the countries where the refugees are living or may be likely to travel. The pressures for forced and premature returns are significant and getting harder to resist. The security of the region and the viability of Syria as a peaceful country depend massively on what happens to over 13 million people displaced from the conflict.
The UN and the EU both insist that the resolution of the conflict depends on an inclusive political settlement. Among other things, the EU says that discussions about supporting reconstruction should not take place until such a settlement is agreed. Such a settlement cannot delay the consideration of needs and processes of return of more than half the country. Indeed a strong case can be made that the creation of safe and dignified conditions for voluntary returns is, in fact, the principal axis for any discussion about a genuinely inclusive settlement at this point. At best, voices of the refugees and IDPs - if listened to at all - are mediated in a mass of other considerations.
Since 2018, the European Institute of Peace (EIP) has supported the Syria Association for Citizens Dignity. The Association is a popular movement established by Syrian citizens who seek to guarantee the right of return and ownership of refugees and displaced persons, to present their visions and concerns, and to ensure their voice is heard through influencing political decision-making and mobilising the necessary support. The Association embodies the diversity of the citizens of Syria, regardless of their social or religious background or gender. The Association is opposing the forced return of refugees and displaced persons and believes that a popular movement for a dignified return based on the recognition of the rights of refugees and displaced persons as Syrian citizens is central to any solution in Syria. The Association is now conducting outreach and consultations with displaced communities, which allows it to develop a genuine constituency.
In parallel, the EIP is producing policy-oriented analysis concerning conditions for safe, dignified and voluntary return regarding security and Housing, Land and Property (HLP) issues.
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.