On October 19-20 the Edinburgh Peace Initiative hosted its second annual conference, with support from the Global Justice Academy. Below, Kasia Musur, Conference Rapporteur and Edinburgh student on the MSc Global Crime, Justice and Security, gives her reflections on the event.
The weekend of the 19th and the 20th of October brought on exciting opportunities for individuals and organisations concerned with human rights, global justice and peace, as Edinburgh hosted the Global Citizenship Commission and the Edinburgh Peace Initiative’s Voices in Conflict: Rights, Realism and Moral Outrage conference.
We were all very excited to see and hear campaigner Malala Yousefzai share her goals and passions round education for all. We were taken by the opportunity to hear from the Commission’s members and take part in such high profile discussions. Whether we watched the Commission from the audience at McEwan Hall, online at home or at the City Chambers, most of us felt the grandeur of the events that Saturday morning.
With our minds stimulated by the talks at Bristo Square, we were ready to make the most of the Edinburgh Peace Initiative’s conference at the Edinburgh City Chambers.
Coming straight from the event at McEwan Hall, Ms Zainab Hawa Bangura introduced us to her role as the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, and opened the conference by highlighting the importance of addressing issues, which often remain invisible in the shadow of loud and visible political struggles. Ms Bangura set the tone of the conference by stressing the significance of breaking the silence and spreading awareness of rape, violence and marginalisation. This reality, however, remains removed from the spotlight in effect begging a further insight into its existence and possible routes to its elimination.
The Edinburgh Peace Initiative (EPI) conference was an attempt to tackle important and difficult questions. The central idea behind EPI conferences was to provide a safe space for opposing ideas and finding middle ground. By trying to engage a wide spectrum of participants and speakers, EPI hopes to build up solid foundations for future projects. For that reason, a number of practitioners, academics as well as students met in order to discuss ways in which the civil society could contribute towards making the voices of real people heard. The discussions focused around the themes of reconciliation work, the role of peace initiatives, and mediation work. Speakers from diverse backgrounds gave flesh to the theory with their lived experiences of conflict and peace building processes.
Two days of discussions touched upon victimisation and recovery in post-conflict society; the role of idealism and realism in peacebuilding work; various aspects of, motives for, and the moral question of intervention; as well as the importance of encouragement, facilitation and listening to the stories told by those involved.
As the conference revolved around the voices of people caught in a conflict, the underlying theme was one of human rights. All of the discussions, directly or indirectly, focused on the way in which conflict violates even the most basic and fundamental rights of individuals and groups. The grassroots character of proposed solutions and potential future initiatives was interwoven with the aim of securing human rights at all levels and stages of the peacebuilding process.
The conference culminated with four simultaneous brainstorming sessions, which evaluated the two days and summarised the learning outcomes. What we have learned from one another that weekend was that there are many ways for supporting conflict resolution. However, none of these roads is straight and all of them require a careful evaluation of their appropriateness, long term effects and impacts on the population we are trying to help.
Achieving peace and justice is a goal, which cannot be achieved without self-awareness and awareness of the selves inside a conflict. The only way to have a positive, meaningful impact is by encouraging, facilitating, listening to and hearing the voices of those who need the support the most. This can be done by anyone, anywhere in the world. Initiatives such as the EPI stand as proof of the huge potential that lies within the civil society. In all fairness, I hope future conferences and projects involve the wider community and not in majority academics and students, but nevertheless it is a good start. All that is needed is a clear goal, commitment and encouragement for individuals and organisations to join efforts and create informed, realistic and effective projects supporting peacebuilding and conflict resolution.
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