CIPCR International partnered the The Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) in delivering a major programme in countries from across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
WFD specialises in parliamentary strengthening and political party development; works at national, regional and local levels; and is uniquely placed to draw directly on the expertise and involvement of the Westminster political parties.
This joint programme involved a number of aspects including exploring the lessons learned from the Northern Ireland peace process and how elements of those lessons might be applicable to other countries and groups in MENA. The programme partner was the Arab Network for Tolerance (ANT) which is a forum where activists, academics, media professionals and youth can come together to identify new strategies for improving human rights. The Network was formed in 2008 by the Ramallah Centre for Human Rights Studies.
Causeway has provided a number of tailored study visits to Northern Ireland by Middle East groups to see at first hand the transformation which has begun, and continues, in society generally and both within and across communities. Delegates from Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen visited Belfast for the week-long programme of events.
The programme was specifically aimed at the higher level of engagement. Delegates met and were briefed by some of the key players in the Northern Ireland peace process, past and present. These included the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, former and serving Human Rights commissioners; the Chief Executive of the Equality Commission; the Victims Commission; the Police Ombudsman and the Policing Board as well as the leadership of the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland). Delegates also visited a number of community groups who are working across the sectarian interface in Belfast to deliver comprehensive programmes focussed on rights and justice. Representatives from the major political parties in Northern Ireland also briefed delegates on their respective parties’ views on human rights and equality.
CIPCR International has also supported the ANT holding a conference for its members in Beirut. This conference, hosted jointly by the ANT and the Permanent Peace Movement, brought together Human Rights groups from across MENA to discuss their approaches to Transitional Justice and Tolerance. The Chairman of CIPCR gave the keynote address at the conference. CIPCR associates also conducted a number of bi-lateral meetings with groups attending the Conference to explore ways in which we could better assist their development. This has led to significant engagements on potential activity in Libya, Bahrain and Sudan and with groups in Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine in order to support their development. These workshops focused on developing the capacity and capability of the individual groups in their own countries.
CIPCR International is working on developing a longer term programme of activity with the ANT to strengthen the power of their network through collaborative practices and shared agendas. . It is clear that the experience of Northern Ireland is very relevant to the objectives of the ANT. It is not the purpose of either the wider project or this specific visit to replicate arrangements existing in Northern Ireland or to address specific issues but rather to discuss them in an open and transparent way as a contribution to the debate which is part and parcel of the Network’s role and remit.