Interesting take on the challenges for civil society in Northern Ireland

An interesting news article from US television channel PBS. It is very informative and captures the unique nature of the challenges that remain present in civil society in Northern Ireland.  While there is clearly still much to do in addressing the frictions that exist between the Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland, this short clip demonstrates that progress is being made and that there are grounds to be positive about the future.

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Chairman of Causeway Institute meets Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma

The Chairman of the Causeway Institute, Rt Hon Jeffrey Donaldson MP, has met with the Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma.

CIPCR Chairman meeting Aung San Suu Kyi, main opposition leader in Burma

The two-hour meeting was focused on the Northern Ireland peace process and how elements of it might form the basis of a peace process structure in Burma.  The meeting took place as part of a 5 day visit to Burma to meet government Ministers and officials, members of opposition parties and representatives of various ethnic groups. The Chairman also met the Deputy Speaker of the Parliament and the Vice President.  The visit has been organised with Inter Mediate, through Jonathan Powell, former chief of staff to Tony Blair and a key player in the Northern Ireland peace process.

In subsequent discussions with the UK Ambassador to Burma, Andrew Heyn, it was clear that there is enthusiasm for sharing lessons from the Northern Ireland peace process with all groups in Burma in order to assist their transition to a more open, democratic society.

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Causeway Institute hold discussions with key Bahraini Government Ministers

A team from the Causeway Institute has recently met with a number of Government Ministers from the Kingdom of Bahrain.  The discussions were centred upon the lessons of the Northern Ireland peace process, specifically the reform of policing and justice, and how they might be applied in Bahrain.

In the meeting with the Minister of Interior, Lt Gen Rashed Bin Abdulla Al Khalifa we discussed how the delivery of security and policing in Northern Ireland was reformed, as a concurrent part of the peace process.  Of particular interest to the Bahraini delegation was the reform of policing that led to the formation of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the importance of having properly representative security forces.  Present at the meeting was the Senior Police Adviser, John Yates, formerly of the Metropolitan Police in London.


CIPCR Chair and Director meet Bahrain's Minister of Interior


The team also met with the Minister of Justice & Islamic Affairs & Waqf, Sheikh Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa, to discuss the implementation of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) Recommendations.  The BICI Follow-Up Unit have just published a comprehensive summary of the progress of implementation to date.  The Minister discussed some of the challenges of driving through reforms in his department whilst dealing with offences that were committed during the civil unrest of 2011 and at the same time encouraging a process of national reconciliation. The Minister noted that there were clear comparisons with the evolution of the Northern Ireland peace process and that the Government of Bahrain was keen to learn from this.

These meetings follow on from the successful visit by a Bahraini delegation, to Northern Ireland earlier in the year.  The delegation, which was hosted by the Causeway Institute, included Dr Salah bin Ali Abdulrahman, who was recently appointed Minister of Human Rights Affairs in the Government of Bahrain.  We hope to host a follow-up visit to Northern Ireland by Dr Salah Ali and his officials in the autumn.  We have also agreed to undertake a series of further meetings, discussions and visits with delegations from across the Bahrain Government and also Civil Society Groups and Human Rights organisations.

Causeway’s work with Bahrain is being supported by the FCO in London and facilitated by the UK Embassy in Bahrain through the Ambassador there, Iain Lindsay.

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CIPCR Chairman joins other Western Politicians in Dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood

CIPCR Chair Engaging Muslim Brotherhood

CIPCR Chair Engaging Muslim Brotherhood

The Chairman of CIPCR has recently participated in a dialogue with Parliamentarians representing the Muslim Brotherhood.  In collaboration with the German Foreign Ministry, the Korber Foundation and Forward Thinking a meeting for Parliamentarians from Britain, France and Germany was held to facilitate discussions with Parliamentarians from Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, and representatives from Libya. The meeting enabled dialogue on issues such as the transitions and reforms towards democratic institutions, as well as on the ways European countries can support the political processes in the transitioning countries in the Middle East and North Africa.  This was the second meeting in this dialogue, following a very successful meeting in London in December 2011.
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Exporting the lessons learned from the Northern Ireland Peace Process

The journalist Mary Fitzgerald, writing in the Irish Times on 5th May 2012, asked the question ‘Could the Northern Ireland peace process help resolve divisions elsewhere?’.

She solicited views from a number of key players in conflict resolution on the transferability of the lessons from the Northern Ireland Peace Process. Here is an excerpt from her article:

Last week delegates from across the region covered by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) gathered at Dublin Castle to examine the Northern Ireland peace process as a case study of possible relevance to conflict resolution efforts elsewhere.

“Ireland’s story is one of the impossible made possible; I hope it is one that will inspire those striving for peace beyond this island, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Eamon Gilmore, told the conference.

Exporting the lessons learned in Northern Ireland has been one of the themes underpinning Ireland’s chairmanship of the OSCE this year. It has also featured in Department of Foreign Affairs strategy; a conflict resolution unit was established within the department in 2007.

In Northern Ireland, where key players in the peace process have supported similar efforts in other areas of conflict including the Basque country, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and the Middle East, the EU has allocated funding of almost €25 million towards the building of an international conflict resolution centre at the site of the former Maze prison.

The Irish Times asked five people with expertise relating to other regions experiencing or emerging from conflict what lessons, if any, can be transferred from the Northern Ireland example.

Prof Rory Miller, Director of Middle East and Mediterranean studies, King’s College London

As a specialist in external, including Irish, intervention in the Middle East, I have witnessed or participated in various discussions on the value of the Northern Ireland model across the region. Such discussions predate the Good Friday years. Since the 1920s the Irish precedent has been examined as a model for conflict resolution from Iraq to Palestine.

One can date the beginning of the “Talking to Terrorists” debate back to the late 1930s when the British government investigated whether there were any Palestinian Arab leaders with the “dynamic qualities” of Michael Collins and, if so, whether it should follow the Irish example and pursue a peace between “cabinet ministers and murderers”.

Historical curiosities aside, my experience tells me that the real lesson of the Northern Ireland model for the Middle East is that regional and external actors have an important role to play as intermediaries and guarantors but only if they are willing to abandon self-interested motives and harness their resources and political capital in the interests of peace.

The contemporary Middle East is much farther from this reality than Northern Ireland since the late 1990s and this makes it harder for the local parties to draw on constructive outside support.

Wilhelm Verwoerd, Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation

As a South African who has worked for more than 10 years at the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation in Wicklow, I have mixed feelings about the sharing of lessons between conflict areas. I have seen the real comparative value of bringing survivors and former combatants from, for example, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or South Africa to Ireland and especially Northern Ireland (and vice versa).

At a human level there is clearly lots of mutual learning potential – for example, around creative and destructive ways of dealing with the human impact of violent political conflict. However, these types of interactions require time, careful facilitation and humility.

As a former researcher within the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), I have become very careful about how I share “TRC lessons”, especially in Northern Ireland. I’ve seen how easily a high-profile “success story” can be interpreted as a prescriptive model rather than a respectful mirror, as a “recipe” that invites resistance rather than helping people to see their own unique challenges more clearly and provide encouragement on their specific journey.

Looking at a rather ragged South African reconciliation process from the Wicklow hills, the one lesson that stands out for me is the importance of an extensive commitment to ongoing peace work at a community level.

Kate Fearon, Head of the International Civilian Office in Mitrovica, northern Kosovo, and former policy adviser for the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition

I’ve worked in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Kosovo. In each place I’ve used things that I’ve learned from my time with the Northern Ireland peace process. Values such as equality and inclusion. Phrases such as “if you are part of the problem, you’re part of the solution” and “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”. Concepts such as “sufficient consensus” and “prepare your constituency for change”.

There’s no one-size-fits-all peace agreement. Mitrovica, where I work now, is a divided town, similar in that aspect to Derry. There is a total absence of rule of law, unemployment is at around 30 per cent and there is deep mistrust between Kosovar Albanians and Kosovar Serbs who live there.

One Mitrovica resident who went on a recent study visit to Belfast said: “It was an eye-opener. I could see how, on a practical level, you really could have two attitudes to the state accommodated on one level of functionality.”

Not everything is applicable all of the time, but most of it is, much of the time. The key is building relationships with the local community until they reach a point where they will take risks for peace, and trust in the bits of our story that make sense for them.

Michael Semple, Regional specialist on Afghanistan and Pakistan, formerly with both the UN and EU. Fellow at the Carr centre for human rights at Harvard University’s Kennedy school of government

I remember the 1994 ceasefire vividly. I was in central Afghanistan in the midst of a civil war. It was also the start of the satellite TV era. I gathered the Afghans I was working with around footage of Hume and Adams talking about the ceasefire. I struggled to convince them that the Afghan conflict was no more complex and they might yet see a ceasefire.

Eighteen years later I work on understanding conflict and promoting reconciliation in Afghanistan. I find myself drawing on Irish parallels daily. For me the key insight from Irish peacemaking is the importance of political developments within the movements running the armed campaign. I often discuss the logic of violence with members of the Taliban movement. They are so convinced of the uniqueness of their cause that their eyes might glaze over if I tried to explain what happened in Ireland.

But I am convinced that insights into the Irish experience provide me with a useful guide on how to deal with conflict actors on the other side of the world.

Nuala O’Loan, Former Northern Ireland police ombudsman; Ireland’s former roving ambassador for conflict resolution and special envoy to Timor-Leste

Many initiatives developed during the course of the Northern Ireland peace negotiations are relevant to conflict elsewhere: the Mitchell principles, and processes for verification of decommissioning, are being used in Spain in attempts to resolve the ETA situation.

The Patten Report on policing, devised to enable the development of a police service that would win the confidence of all the people in Northern Ireland, was used by the UN mission to Timor-Leste when I was working there as special envoy for the Irish government, to help develop a modern police service with the popular support to take over from the UN policing units.

Principles of police accountability developed in Northern Ireland factored in attempts to encourage community support, and are of interest to other conflict zones. There were processes to bring ex-combatants into the labour market, and to care for security-force widows and orphans. Funding was provided for gender advisers to ensure equality measures in policy development. A major project involved women from Northern Ireland, Ireland, Liberia and Timor-Leste sharing experiences such as preventing violence by communicating across the peace walls, provision for victims of the conflict, and involving women as community workers and politicians to help rebuild the country.

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CIPCR selected by the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office to undertake new reconciliation project in Kabul

CIPCR is proud to have been selected by the FCO to undertake a project in Afghanistan to work alongside the representatives of the Afghan people and to share our experience of promoting reconciliation in a post-conflict scenario.

In Northern Ireland, we have a UK based experience of creating political stability and reconciliation in a post conflict/transitional context.  This includes the unique arrangements we have devised to protect the rights of all groups in the Assembly and an electoral system that ensures balanced representation at all levels of the legislature and executive.  We have also accrued significant experience in helping armed groups transition to full involvement with democratic politics and in reforming political parties so that they can adjust to governing in a more normal society.

The Causeway Institute brings together many of the key players in Northern Ireland politics who have been involved in peace-building and conflict resolution and seeks to share their experience with those who are in or are emerging from conflict in their own region.

The key themes that CIPCR will be promoting in Afghanistan are:

  • Building trust between political parties
  • Building trust within the community – leadership and bottom up approaches
  • Promotion of community safety, therefore building confidence
  • Zero tolerance of sectarianism – Legislating against manifestations of division such as discrimination and hate crime
  • Engagement and reconciliation programmes within and between communities
  • Dealing with those who have previously been reluctant to engage
  • Dealing with the past – rehabilitation and support for victims
  • Community participation in reconciliation – participative democracy and finding local solutions to local problems
  • Promoting greater understanding and knowledge
  • Tackling the particular challenges of the correlation between poverty, segregation and conflict
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CIPCR hosts a major visit of our partners in the Arab Network for Tolerance

Arab Network for Tolerance visit to Northern Ireland March 2012

Arab Network for Tolerance visit to Northern Ireland March 2012

CIPCR recently had the honour of hosting a delegation from our Middle East partners, the Arab Network for Tolerance.

Delegates from Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen descended on Belfast for a week-long programme of events. Whilst coming from different countries, the group members are affiliated to the Arab Network for Tolerance which is a forum where activists, academics, media professionals and youth can come together to identify new strategies for improving human rights in the MENA region.  The Network was formed in 2008 by the Ramallah Centre for Human Rights Studies and this study visit was led by the Centre’s Director Dr Iyad Bargouthi.  We were also joined by a number of delegates from Bahrain, who are beginning to look more closely at these issues.

The visit to Belfast is part of a wider programme of activity that CIPCR is undertaking in partnership with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD).  This involves working with the Ramallah Centre and members of the Network for Tolerance to build their capacity and capability in order to enable them to be more effective in their own countries and across the Middle East region.

WFD has been supporting a programme of political development in the Middle East and as part of this initiative requested CIPCR to provide a tailored study visit to Northern Ireland to see at first hand the transformation which has begun, and continues, in society generally and both within and across communities.  WFD asked for a particular focus on human rights and equality issues and arrangements in Northern Ireland, linking this focus to the development of peace-building and conflict transformation.

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 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.  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.

Both WFD and the programme delegates regard the Northern Ireland experience as providing a very relevant contribution to the objectives of the Arab Network for Tolerance.  It is not the purpose of either the wider project nor 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 Arab Network for Tolerance’s role and remit.

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CIPCR to host delegations from Moldova and Transdneistria

CIPCR is proud to have been asked by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to host delegations from Moldova and Transdniestria visiting Ireland in the next few weeks.

The aim of the visit to Belfast is to allow the Moldovan and Transdniestrian delegations to meet political and community leaders involved in the peace process in Northern Ireland and who can share their experiences, explain how they overcame obstacles to build trust and confidence and what guarantees were needed at different stages to ensure that agreements reached would be kept and how these guarantees were expressed.  We hope that this will enable the sides to the Transdniestria conflict to approach their own conflict settlement process in a more creative way, especially now that formal settlement talks are about to resume.

CIPCR is working in partnership with the UK Ambassador and the OSCE Mission to Moldova to deliver a meaningful and illuminating visit to Northern Ireland.  Both delegations will also visit the Republic of Ireland during their trip, in order to get a ‘Dublin view’ of the peace process.  The Irish OSCE Task Force is organising that leg of the visit.  With the Republic of Ireland Presidency of the OSCE in  2012, this is a particularly important visit.

CIPCR looks forward to working with both the OSCE and the government of the Republic of Ireland in 2012, during its Presidency, in order to use the lessons of the Northern Ireland peace process to advance security and co-operation across Europe and beyond.

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Progress on the Northern Ireland conflict resolution centre

CIPCR welcome the latest step towards the transformative regeneration of the former Maze prison site.  Funding of £18.6 million for a new build centre focussing on education and learning was confirmed by the Special European Funding Body and will come from the Northern Ireland dedicated special EU PEACE fund.

The centre will have a dedicated exhibition space focusing on victims and survivors along with a comprehensive archive and educational facility.


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Ireland to draw on experience to promote conflict resolution in 2012 as new OSCE Chair

DUBLIN, 1 January 2012 – Ireland’s 2012 Chair of the OSCE will seek to address protracted conflicts, promote Internet freedom and strengthen co-operation between the 56 OSCE participating States, said the new Chairperson-in-Office, Irish Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore, today.

“The world is facing unprecedented security challenges, and the multilateral co-operation made possible by the OSCE is needed now more than ever. Ireland is committed to upholding core OSCE values and promoting peace, security and respect for human rights and rule of law in the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian region.”

The Deputy Prime Minister pledged to build on the results achieved by Lithuania’s 2011 OSCE Chairmanship and the decisions taken at the Vilnius Ministerial Council in December, notably in the area of conflict prevention.

“I particularly wish to congratulate Lithuania on the successful resumption of official 5+2 talks in the Transdniestrian settlement process. Ireland will seek to build on this momentum through supporting existing processes, including the Minsk Group on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the Geneva Discussions dealing with the August 2008 conflict in Georgia. We will draw on our own experience of conflict resolution in the context of the Northern Ireland peace process to advance these processes and facilitate engagement by all parties.“

Deputy Prime Minister Gilmore also welcomed decisions taken in Vilnius to strengthen the OSCE’s ability to deal with conflicts, address transnational threats and enhance engagement with OSCE Partners for Co-operation, including Afghanistan.

CIPCR has recently been working with the OSCE on the Transdniestrian settlement process.  We look forward to continuing to develop this work with the OSCE and also supporting the Irish presidency  in 2012, through sharing our experiences of the Northern Ireland Peace Process with other OSCE members, as well as other Nations and peoples involved in conflict.

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