Posts Tagged ‘Megan Bradley’

I’ve had to catch up on a large backlog of emails, so I’m a little late posting my notes from the second day of the recent St. Paul University Conference on Displacement and Reconciliation. As before, the notes below aren’t synthesized into any sort of coherent meta-analysis, and in many (but not all) cases reflect areas where the discussions had possible implications for the Palestinian refugee case.

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The day started off with a wide-ranging discussion on “reconciliation and exile,” featuring discussions on Indian communal violence (Andreas D’Souza, Henry Martyn Institute, Hyderabad), the Vietnamese diaspora (Thien-Huong Ninh, USC), Rwandan-Canadians (Lisa Ndejuru, Concordia University), and North Korean refugees in South Korea (Anne-Marie Morin-Dion, Université de Montréal).

  • Attachment to homeland symbolism should be seen as something much more powerful than simply romantic nostalgia, but rather as an important way in which refugee communities constitute and reconstitute their identities.
  • Expressing refugee and survivor narratives provides and an opportunity to “reweave” the connections across fractured and dispersed communities.
  • The difficulties facing North Korean refugees trying to integrate in South Korean societies underscored the extent to which variations in the education, background, and experience of differing segments of a single national population can pose both socioeconomic challenges but also may be reflected in the ways identity is both self-defined and ascribed.
  • In the Korean case, government policy welcoming and supporting North Korean refugees has not eliminated social discrimination and stereotyping. Might a future Palestinian state face similar problems in attempting to integrate repatriating refugees, especially those with lower levels of education and financial resources (for example, refugees from Lebanon)? On the other hand, the internet and satellite TV age has created an array of connectors across the Palestinian diaspora which might ameliorate any such effect. Certainly while there was some tensions between returning PLO cadres (the so-called “Tunisians”) and local Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, over time that supposed cleavage has diminished and returnees have been enormously successful at becoming an integral part of local society.
  • One commentator on the Rwandan case asked whether “small group” memorialization and reconciliation (within segments of the Tutsi diaspora) might actually inhibit “large group” reconciliation (between Tutsis and Hutu). How can story-telling and remembrance be done in a way that promotes lasting peace, rather than contributing to a cycle of ethnic tension and alienation?
  • Another commentator raised a point in my own reflections from yesterday: what might we learn from the remarkable post-WWII Western European experience in reconciliation after massive sustained ethno-nationalist violence? While it might not be politically correct to say it, reconciliation in Europe was often top-down and imposed.
  • One panelist responded by highlighting the importance of the evolution of European identities, and the decline in absolute identity borders with the rise of overlapping and interpenetrating European identity. Of course, the Israeli-Palestinian case is a very, very, very long way from that being a possibility.
  • It takes a long time for old images and stereotyping to fade.

Next the conference moved on to exploring issues of displacement, justice, and reconciliation in Colombia, featuring presentations by Roberto Vidal Lopez (Pontifica Universidad Javeriana, Bogata), Friedarike Santner (University of Vienna) and William Renan Rodriguez (University of Magdalena, who wasn’t able to attend), Elizabeth Kerr (University of Bradford), and Mateja Celestina (University of Manchester).

  • There are an estimated 3.6 to 5.2 million IDPs in Colombia, representing 8-11% of the total population. While elaborate legislation is in place to address this, implementation has often been weak due to weak institutional capacities, corruption, patronage, budget constraints, bureaucracy, and limited political will.
  • While there are few parallels between Colombian and Palestinian forced displacement, the Colombian case does highlight the importance of well-resourced institutions with strong leadership and political support in programme implementation. Clearly there is scope for a future Palestinian repatriation program to be afflicted by dysfunctional patronage and politicization.
  • The nature of violence in Colombia is contested (something which, ironically, some of the debate among participants highlighted)
  • There was discussion of the factors that shape the mobilization of victims in pursuit of their rights and interests (although perhaps less discussion of what the implications of this might be).
  • Questions were raised about whether reconciliation is being genuinely pursued in Colombia, or whether it was the “image of reconciliation” that was being sold.
  • Emphasis was placed on the importance of “home” in discussions of displacement (a place where “one’s presence and entitlement are taken for granted”). Displacement is not a homogenous or universal process, nor is it simply locational. It has important emotional, social, and psychological dimensions, and varies across groups, locales, age, gender, and other factors.
  • Resettled IDPs may be seen as preexisting communities as undesirable outsiders. The provision of support for resettled IDPs (and, by extension, repatriated refugees) may generate jealousies on the part of non-refugee/IDP populations, especially those in need. To their credit, much of the policy work on Palestinian refugees (notably by the PA and World Bank) has stressed the importance of integrating future refugee absorption in the context of broader housing, employment, and social service programmes for the general population.

In the afternoon, attention turned the Middle East. One panel examined claims programs for large-scale displacements (Norbert Wuehler, IOM), intra-Lebanese displacement and reconciliation (Nancy Maroun, Buffalo State College), and the role of NGOs and international organizations in addressing conflict-induced displacement in Turkey (AyseBetülÇelik, Sabanci University, Turkey).

  • Some clear parallels quickly emerged between the Colombian and Turkish cases. In both conflicts, the state has attempted to frame the issue as a solely internal one of counter-terrorism. In the Turkish case, however, pressure from the EU (and the “carrot” of possible future EU accession) resulted in some shifts in Turkey’s approach to the Kurdish issue. By contrast, the UN has had less impact because of sovereignty constraints.
    • In Turkey, the exclusion of Kurdish political actors renders NGOs a potentially important interlocutor with IDPs. However, the state often regards these suspiciously, or even aligned with Kurdish nationalists. The state itself tends to decouple the humanitarian issue of IDPs from the broader political issues that gave rise to it.
    • To some extent, Turks have been passive bystanders in a conflict between the state and the PKK. However, an absence of dialogue or even societal recognition of the problem has meant that inter-ethnic social tensions are increasing.
  • The Lebanese case study focused on the legacies of Christian-Druze conflict in Mount Lebanon, and the impact of post-Ta’if reconciliation. This involved Christian-Druze meetings which produced a formal local reconciliation agreement, a ceremony, compensation, and reconstruction, and potential return.
    • Many Lebanese IDPs did not feel included, suggesting that committees were unrepresentative. Accordingly, they often did not agree with the arrangements that were reached. The affected population also had little confidence in the process. The funding of compensation, and development were also deeply affected by parliamentary and neopatrimonial politics, with funding being mobilized to support election campaigns.
    • As a consequence, the Lebanese reconciliation process did not generate much reconciliation, and in many respects became a source of division.
  • Discussion of mass claims process started by highlighting the variation in reparations programmes, and the extent to which is specific to the sets of issues it seeks to address. There was a lot here of relevance to the Palestinian refugee issue.
    • There has been very little concrete research on the actual effects of reparation programmes and their impact on reconciliation. In some cases (Colombia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq) it is not clear that reparations have made any substantial contribution to social reconciliation.
    • In Sierra Leone, victims received very few resources, and much later than possible perpetrators did through post-conflict DDR programmes. However, small amounts of funds were made for local memorialization and reconciliation ceremonies.
    • However, reparations may provide another sort of reconciliation that discussions have largely ignored: contributing the ability of claimants to reconcile themselves to their post-conflict situation.
    • Reparations may help with a degree of state-to-state normalization.
    • Implementation matters (in terms of the impact of reparations on reconciliation), and the implementation record is not good. Symbolic reparation/remembrance/reconciliation processes might be more effective. Reparations can also be an implicit or explicit acknowledgment of past wrongs.
    • Reparation programmes can also be divisive.
    • There is a need for more concrete empirical research on the actual effects of reparations programmes.

The final panel of the conference turned to the Palestinian case. Ironically, this was the discussion I was least able to take notes on, since I was chairing the session!

  •  Jaber Suleiman (independent researcher, Beirut) presented an excellent overview and assessment of various initiatives to promote Lebanese-Palestinian dialogue and reconciliation. He suggested that efforts to date had significant but insufficient impact, for a variety of reasons. The faltering efforts of the Lebanese government to implement its own reform agenda was a major part of the problem.
  • Mick Dumper (Exeter University) used Jeremy Waldron’s 1992 article on superseding historical injustice to raise a number of critical issues regarding how the passage of time might affect rights, claims, and remedies in the Palestinian refugee question. He argued that while a number of counter-arguments could be made, these could not wholly refute Waldron’s argument. However, engagement on the issue itself opened up a number of areas of potential compromise and helped to identify possible new initiatives
  •  Mike Molloy (University of Ottawa) examined the important role that “intangibles” play in the refugee issue, highlighting the very different narratives that the two sides bring to the table. The refugee issue could not be addressed, he suggested, solely by technical and material means. Rather, it was necessary to find ways in which both sides could find recognition of their experiences, hopes, and fears.

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All-in-all it was an excellent conference, with a diverse group of participants. Kudos to Megan Bradley for organizing it!

At the moment I’m attending an excellent conference in Ottawa organized by Megan Bradley at Saint Paul University on “Displacement and Reconciliation.” The conference has panels on both the Palestinians and the broader Middle East tomorrow, but most of the two-day event will examine issues of forced displacement, transitional justice, repatriation, reparations, and reconciliation in a broad global context and with the objective of fostering durable solutions to the situation of refugees and IDPs. Among the cases to be explored are those of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sri Lanka, Timor Leste, the Great Lakes region, Kenya, northern Uganda, Vietnam, the Koreas, Columbia, and elsewhere.

You’ll find below a variety of comments, reflections, and observations arising from the conference that might relate to the Palestinian refugee issue. Obviously, the viewing the conference through a Palestinian-centric lens only captures a small portion of the very rich discussions. On the other hand, there’s only so much that I can liveblog, and this is after all the Palestinian Refugee ResearchNet blog.

Also, don’t expect too much integration of the various points below into a coherent overall account. If I was to hold off posting until I had an opportunity to synthesize everything, I would never get around to posting!

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 The first panel of the conference dealt with “conceptual links and theoretical insights” on displacement, transitional justice, and reconciliation.

  • James Milner (Carleton University) highlighted the linkage between protracted displacement and conflict (radicalization, armed refugees and spoilers, the dangers of unsustainable early refugee returns, cross-border issues). Certainly, many analysts of the Middle East could highlight the role of Palestinian refugees in the Palestinian armed struggle. However, most Palestinians would not see diaspora-based armed struggles as undermining peace, but rather as advancing the principle of Palestinian self-determination upon which any sustainable solution must be based. This highlights the contested conceptual character of both “peace” (is it just an absence of violence, or does it relate to human rights and broader issues of social justice) and spoiler (the PLO was considered by some as a “spoiler” —until the early 1990s, when suddenly the same movement was considered a fundamental foundation of the peace process itself).
  • Where does reconciliation fit with the priorities of achieving a solution? Is it an end in itself, or a means of achieving other ends? How important is it to sustainable peace?
  • Can human capacity development among refugees help to prepare for a more effective and sustainable transition to peace? Although the point was first raised in the conference presentations in the context of refugees in Africa, it is a point that UNRWA often makes about the long term value of its investments in Palestinian health and education.
  • Vern Neufeld Redekop (Saint Paul University) highlighted the many conceptual dimensions of forced displacement. One aspect that he highlighted was that the costs of displacement to victims include both interior and exterior dimensions (otherwise understood, perhaps, as intangible and tangible suffering and losses), as well as individual and collective ones. The typology seems a useful one for thinking about the many ways that the Nakba has affected Palestinians.
  • Anneke Smit (University of Windsor) looked at the impact of property restitution on conflict resolution. She noted the growing consensus on the property rights of refugees and IDPs, including the right of property restitution. Property compensation is increasingly seen as the second-best solution, to be used only when restitution is not possible. She also noted that the legal principles show insufficient recognition of the impact of “facts on the ground” and the passage of time. She argued for a more holistic approach to the issue that didn’t just focus on property restitution (and refugee return), but rather looked at the broad range of elements that might be part of a durable solution. This issue, of course, is a key debate in approaches to the Palestinian refugee issue, with some analysts favouring a “rights-based“ approach that stresses return and restitution, and others emphasizing “pragmatic” that stresses the importance of achievable compromise.
  • One commentator raised the paradox that there is so much focus on property restitution and compensation, but typically less emphasis on compensation/reparations for other kinds of loss (such as death and physical injury).
  • Another commentator raised the important issue of how to balance the long-term issues of reconciliation, with the immediate short-term operational pressures in the field and on the ground. Several speakers also raised the issue of stove-piping and disconnects within the UN and other humanitarian, developmental, human rights, political, and other organizations. These two sets of dynamics, I think, become mutually reinforcing, with short-term pressures and differences in organizational mandates and priorities compounding each other.
  • In all of these discussions, I wondered about the issue of case selection. Scholars are often inclined to believe, normatively and theoretically, that reconciliation, repatriation, and transitional justice are important contributions to long-term peace. However, we rarely discuss the cases where “peace” was achieved without these being priorities. In post-WWII Western Europe, for example—arguably the most successful case of conflict transformation in modern history, albeit one that took 50 years—the new order was often built on accepting forced displacement in a broader context of force majeure, realpolitik, and external (Soviet) threat. Moreover, reconciliation was largely a top-down, engineered process. Certainly it was a different era, but what are the analytical implications of the European experience?
  • Also it is probably important to address cases where there appears to be a real peace versus justice dilemma, such that pursuit of one might actually undermine the other in the short and medium term. This isn’t to say, of course, that I think that reconciliation and transitional justice are unimportant. Clearly they are, or can be. However I do think it is useful to look at these issues through a critical lens, and to avoid cookie-cutter approaches that assume universal dynamics in which “all good things go together.”

The second panel offered three case studies of reconciliation, transitional justice, and durable solutions to displacement. These focused on Bosnia (Humera Haider, University of Birmingham), Sri Lanka (Vellaithamby Ameerdeen, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka), and Timor Leste (IOM).

  • In Bosnia, after a slow start, implementation of the Dayton Agreement finally saw substantial degrees of “minority return” (roughly half a million of a million returnees) and property restitution. However, some of this return was limited or temporary. Also, returnees face a variety of political, social, and economic challenges. This can serve to increase (rather decrease) ethnic tensions.
  • Some economic reintegration efforts in Bosnia have sought to create functional cross-ethnic links, and some social reintegration efforts have sought to incorporate economic elements.
  • What is the relationship between micro-level confidence-building measures (what, in the Israeli-Palestinian context were once called “people-to-people” activities) and macro-level process of negotiation and conflict? Do they really reinforce each other? When do the former prove to be durable, and help to dampen down sporadic tensions at the macro level? To what extent are the former possible or useful in the absence of the latter? What role does national and communal leadership play in this?
  • The presentation on Sri Lanka highlighted some of these problems, with the “macro” problems of limited political reform and political devolution and the key role of the Sri Lankan military in Tamil areas aggravate the “micro” challenges of repatriation, local communal competition, etc.
  • In Timor Leste, the Commission for Reception, Truth, and Reconciliation (CAVR) played an important role in enabling truth-telling, historical memory, and forgiveness. Partly this reflected a positive view of the value of truth and reconciliation, and partly it reflected the political reality that there was little enthusiasm for legal prosecution of Indonesian officials, nor was it advisable for the nascent state of Timor Leste to antagonize its powerful Indonesian neighbour. (Reconciliation later became something of a negative term after the 2006 political crisis, with the public accusing the political/military elites of a failure to themselves reconcile.)
  • Reconciliation and truth-telling are not in of themselves sufficient, given the important of social, political, and economic context.

The third panel examined issues of reconciliation, peacebuilding, and the resolution of displacement in the African context, with case studies from the Great Lakes region (Odomora Mubangizi, Arrupe College, Harare), Kenya (Paige Morrow, formerly at the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights), and Uganda (Pius Ojara, Refugee Law Project, Kampala).

  • Is property restitution a particularly Western concept? One speaker argued that it was. Certainly, real property rights are deeply embedded in Western law and capitalism. However, even if they aren’t universal, they are certainly commonplace, and extend to many areas of the non-Western world, including the Middle East.
  • Do multigenerational conflicts have important dynamics that differ in important respects from more recent displacements?
  • Do refugee camps create longer-term dependencies? In what ways are the characteristics of Palestinian refugee camps and camp services similar to or different from camp experiences and effects elsewhere?
  • How does the reconciliation of conflicts arising from mass ethnic cleansing differ from forced displacements that are related to more localized confrontations?
  • Reconciliation presumes both polarization and the ability of people to reset their internal frames of analysis and perspective. The process isn’t just about dialogue, but about creating structures and spaces to sustain that dialogue.
  • It is important that people feel that they have some voice, and that there is some mechanism whereby they can have their grievances heard.
  • How can self-identities and narratives shift in a way that makes reconciliation with the other easier?
Day 2 details to follow soon…