Experts in international relations, human rights, policing, terrorism, psychology, mediation and journalism, drew an audience of over 100 to the inaugural ‘International Peace Summit: Resolving conflicts through Mediation,’ held at Regent’s University London in partnership with the Tutu Foundation UK on Saturday 9 April 2016.
The day offered a unique forum for debate and insight into some of the most pressing issues facing global society today, ranging from how psychology is employed to resolve conflicts, through to how breakthroughs in community relations help shunt outdated terrorist philosophies into insignificance for younger generations.
“We live in world of increasing turmoil and injustice,” explained Professor Aldwyn Cooper, Vice Chancellor of Regent’s University London, setting the scene for the event. “In Europe we have been relatively fortunate in terms of peacefully working together to protect our borders.
“However, Afghanistan, the Far East and other regions show increasing signs of disruption. We need good debates that can help us learn to work together more peacefully, particularly given the grave danger emerging around the edges of the European Continent.”
Nontombi Tutu, third child of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, spoke on the challenges of growing up black and female in apartheid South Africa, advocating that ‘in the time of floods, the wise build bridges.’ She said:
“In the United States we are seeing very clearly what building walls looks like in a time of crisis. The thinking is that the reason for a problem is somebody else. If we can just get rid of the culprit, then all of our problems will be solved.
“If we are in a crisis then they too are suffering. There must be a way to find a common cause so we can all come out intact. When we say our enemies are so far removed from who we are, there is no room for conversation. We often seem more comfortable with this.
“As a student I spoke about apartheid and was asked again and again about black South Africans, who were described as people I didn't recognise. So often we go into situations having a picture of who we ‘know’ we are going to meet.
“When we see Palestinian women saying they are proud of their son being a suicide bomber, we answer ‘how can they, they are not like us!?’ My question is ‘what has happened to a mother for that to be her response?’
“We have to start from how do we build bridges? How do we find common ground with those who we consider ‘enemy?’ It begins with an acceptance of our shared humanity. If ‘they’ are afraid of violence and being separated from those they love, if they laugh and cry... then there is some basic humanity we share. This is the first step in the process of building bridges.”
On the topic of policing conflict, Sir Hugh Orde, former President of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: “One of the most interesting programmes I saw was in Belgium where a local councillor didn't want more armed police, he wanted more community police.”
Serving London Metropolitan Police Officer, Sakira Suzia, knows more than most about front line policing challenges. A recipient of the Commissioners’ Bravery Award for her role during the 2011 London riots, she commented: “It wasn’t just the young looting during the riots. I saw suited-and-booted professionals too. People are opportunists and they thought they could get away with it.
“I work with a lot of gangs and it’s often the older generation who get kids to do their dirty work. A lack of communication with the community - who know who's doing what – is the real problem. Youth workers have all the intelligence because young people talk to them.
“Most often people from ethnic minorities don't like the police, so it helps when they see people like me. On one occasion we were investigating a murder in a mosque, and I was one of only two Muslim officers on duty. Having diversity on the force is so effective for dealing with the community we serve.”
Of all the day’s discussions on subjects covering the psychology of conflict, and mediation between Israel and Palestine and Serbia and Kosovo, it was perhaps Nontombi Naomi Tutu’s speech which hit the high note for its message on the need for greater humanity in our lives.