Experts in international relations, human rights, policing, terrorism, psychology, mediation and journalism drew an audience of more than 100 to the ‘International Peace Summit: The Aftermath of Conflict,’ held at Regent’s University London in partnership with the Tutu Foundation UK on Saturday 1 April 2017.
The day offered a unique forum for debate and insight into some of the most pressing issues facing global society, ranging from the rule of law and post-conflict justice, through to African reconstruction, practical reconciliation efforts, and personal stories and analysis of conflict from around the world.
Throughout the day there were exceptional contributions from speakers including Lord Alex Carlisle CBE, Lord Paul Boateng, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Senator David Coltart from Rhodesia, Sir Hugh Orde, eminent judges and journalists and the Amie intercultural choir.
Among the most moving addresses were speeches made by three young women – Ghada Mohamad, Muzoon Almellehan and Maria Orozco.
Ms Mohamad, studying at UWC Red Cross Nordic and a self-described ‘Palestinian refugee in Lebanon,’ explained: “I am the result of all of the conflict I have witnessed in my life. After 69 years my parents, grandparents and l were all born in Lebanon and are still called refugees there.
“I wanted to be a brain surgeon and I’m ready to work harder than anyone. I had to leave my family and come to Norway to study because in Lebanon I am not able to learn and work as a doctor.”
Ms Almellehan, a Syrian refugee and education advocate for displaced young people, said: “We didn’t leave our countries because we don’t want to live there. We left because of conflict, war and a lack of safety.
“In the refugee camp I was determined to have an education because this is the only way people can fight for their rights. The first question I asked was ‘where is the school?’ We don’t want to be known as ‘refugees.’ Education will give us the power go home and help all of our people.”
Ms Orozco, also studying at UWC Red Cross Nordic and a Columbian national, said: “Columbia has been at war for years. The government invests millions of dollars in buying guns – money that if this conflict didn’t exist could go towards education, culture and sport.
“The biggest communication problem today is that people listen to reply, they don’t listen to understand. We all have the ability to put ourselves in somebody else’s place – this is called empathy.”
Other key comments from the day included:
Speaking on the ‘the rule of law,’ Lord Carlile, said: “The way in which counter-terrorism courts and executions have taken place and the way people, including lawyers, have disappeared in Bangladesh is all because they oppose the present government. It’s shocking because Bangladesh is a country we have significant relations with.”
On the subject of ‘justice post-conflict,’ and in particular South Africa’s apartheid-era, Marina Wheeler QC commented: “Members of the apartheid government and the local police forces proved an obstacle to reconciliation. The truth and Reconciliation Commission was the only realistic option to avoid dissent into full-scale civil war, but it is not the answer in all places and at all times.”
In a keynote speech on ‘African economic empowerment’, Lord Boateng said: “Destitute societies are all too often expected by the international community to become liberal democracies with free-market economies overnight.
“In a post-conflict society what people want most is a sense of security and to feed their families. We forget the importance of putting people on the ground who can show farmers how to increase productivity, or how to access seeds which will flourish where water supplies have been destroyed, or how to clear mines so that farming can take place.”
In a closing conversation focused on ‘Zimbabwe then and now,’ Sir Malcolm Rifkind noted: “Lancaster house, where the independence of Zimbabwe was negotiated, was in some ways an enormous success – it brought civil war and the Ian Smith regime to an end peacefully.”
Zimbabwean lawyer and politician, Senator Coltart, countered: “Discrimination continued after Lancaster House. There were seats reserved specifically for white MPs.”
In regard to President Robert Mugabe, Senator Coltart added: “I don’t think he was genuine about reconciliation – it was just a tactic. He was cunning and in 1980 understood that, having neutralised white opinion, he needed to turn his attention to the Commonwealth, which he did very soon after coming to power.”
View a gallery of photos from the day by Paul Grover here.