Monday, January 10, 2022

Challenges of Intergenerational Healing after Mass Atrocity

We have just a new piece published in Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal

Hamber, Brandon and Palmary, Ingrid (2021). A Dance of Shadows and Fires: Conceptual and Practical Challenges of Intergenerational Healing after Mass Atrocity. Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal, 15 (3), 100-120 [Download].


Abstract

The legacy of mass atrocity – including colonialism, slavery or specific manifestations such as apartheid – continue long after their demise. Applying a temporal inter-generational lens adds complications. We argue that mass atrocity creates for subsequent generations a deep psychological rupture akin to witnessing past atrocities. This creates a moral liability in the present. Healing is a process dependent on the authenticity (evident in discourse and action) with which we address contemporary problems. A further overriding task is to open social and political space for divergent voices. Acknowledgement of mass atrocity requires more than one-off events or institutional responses (the grand apology, the truth commission). Rather acknowledgement has to become a lived social, cultural and political reality. Without this acknowledgement, healing, either collectively or individually, is stymied. Healing after mass atrocity is as much about political action (addressing inequalities and racism) as an act of re-imaging created through constant and contested re-writing. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Advocacy Services Research Report

 Today the Commission for Victims and Survivors of Northern Ireland (CVSNI) and Ulster University (INCORE & TJI) launched the Advocacy Services Report focusing on advocacy and dealing with the past. The report was authored by Dr Maire Braniff, Professor Brandon Hamber, Dr Catherine O'Rourke, Dr Philip McCready and Dr John Bell. 

The Report found that while the needs of victims and survivors are not homogenous there are core principles that underpin effective service provision. Essentially they should be victim-led, build trust, not create dependency, be compassionate and empathetic and value the lived experience and perspective of the individual. The groups offering advocacy were led by such principles. Further provision for dealing with the past should draw on and learn from the scale, diversity and experience of advocacy practice to date. 

Equally, however, our research found that this was challenging work. There was unanimity amongst all service users and service providers that the biggest challenge was the systemic delay and the slow nature of legacy investigation and information recovery. The biggest scope for improvement in advocacy services was the accessibility of information and more streamlined and quicker responses from statutory agencies. 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Amnesty a line in the sand? It’s not even close

If we know anything about the Johnson government in the UK, they are not great at sticking to agreements or taking the views of the devolved nations seriously. The recent statement by the Secretary of State, Brandon Lewis, proposing new legislation to enforce a statute of limitations for all conflict-related violations in Northern Ireland fits this mould.

In July 2019, following a 15-month consultation on the legacy proposal in the Stormont House Agreement (SHA) of 2014 agreed by all political parties, the British Government committed to its full implementation. Two years later, it is now proposing to pull the SHA apart.


The recent proposals remove a focus on justice and investigation, favouring information recovery and storytelling under an undefined banner of reconciliation. All of Northern Ireland’s five main political parties, the Irish government, civil society organisations and most victims’ groups are heavily critical of what amounts to an amnesty for conflict-era offences. Yet, the views of the people of Northern Ireland, and especially victims of both state and non-state violence, seem to matter little.

Ostensibly, Northern Ireland victims are less important than a Tory manifesto pledge to stop so-called “vexatious” legal cases against former British soldiers, even if the price is also a paramilitary amnesty.

Yet, the actual case for amnesty in Lewis’ statement is rather flimsy.

Firstly, Lewis points out that criminal investigations are increasingly unlikely to deliver in court. We know as time passes this is not incorrect. But because justice is unlikely, should prosecutions be abandoned? Could we imagine doing the same for other crimes such as rape because it has a low conviction rate? Choosing to abandon prosecution is not a logistical issue but a political one.

Secondly, it is stated that the current system is not working. But there is no current system. It is a mishmash of processes. No systematic and over-arching attempt has been made to deal with the past in Northern Ireland, despite a set of agreed proposals being put forward in the SHA.

Thirdly, it is implied that amnesty is the only viable route. Yet the British consultation on the SHA points out that the overwhelming view from the 17,000 responses was that amnesty was not appropriate. Two years ago, it was perfectly feasible for the other SHA mechanisms such as storytelling and information recovery to run alongside justice processes, yet suddenly this is off the table.

There are other options under discussion. For example, British soldiers remain eligible for the same deal as paramilitaries in terms of early release under the Belfast Agreement. If convicted, a maximum of two years can be served for conflict crimes. A discussion on reducing the length of this requirement to zero is an option. More radically, another option is to consider amnesty in exchange for truth as per the South African model.

Finally, Lewis argues that it is the criminal justice process that is hampering reconciliation. Is the implication that offering a blanket amnesty will lead to those who committed crimes miraculously coming forward, sharing the truth and seeking reconciliation with those they harmed? If so, this is devoid of reality.

Furthermore, contrary to Lewis’ assertion of amnesty fostering reconciliation, the British government’s own consultation on the SHA points out that curtailing the right to justice would “risk progress towards reconciliation”, not promote it.

What we also know internationally is that amnesties can create a short-term hiatus in a political process, but when justice is evaded, it simply festers and re-emerges rather than creating reconciliation.

The Spanish 1977 amnesty or “pact of forgetting”, following the Franco regime, has not stopped recent attempts to prosecute those responsible. Spain remains deeply divided. In Chile, the amnesty passed by Pinochet in 1978 was overturned in 1998. This led to dozens of prosecutions of those responsible for disappearance and torture over the following decades. Even in South Africa, there are new moves to prosecute those who did not avail of the amnesty offered by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

In this context, the current proposals are not the product of some difficult soul-searching and the only option left on the table. It is a cynical and calculated political move.

It fits a pattern of political evasion of truth that has been and continues to be fundamentally unjust to all victims. It demonstrates how little Northern Ireland victims mean to the UK government.

The major stumbling block to reconciliation and dealing with the past in Northern Ireland is not victims trying to exercise their rights to justice, but 50 years of avoidance, untruths and injustice.

What is needed now is courageous leadership that fulfils previous commitments and confronts the past head-on, not politicians trying to draw fanciful lines in the sand.

Far from dealing with the past, the proposed amnesty will simply redraw the battle lines for the future.

Published by Brandon Hamber in the Belfast Telegraph, 15 July 2021.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Seminar UN Secretary Generals’ Envoy on Youth

It was fantastic to chair a session on Thursday 20 May 2021, with the UN Secretary Generals’ Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake. In her talk the UN Envoy on Youth discussed UN priorities and issues concerning youth, peace and security.

    

This dialogue was part of the new seminar series entitled Youth, Peace and Security Leadership Series. The seminar series is a partnership between Ulster University (INCORE & TJI), The John and Pat Hume Foundation, John Hume and Thomas P. O’Neill Chair in Peace, International Fund for Ireland (IFI), the Centre for Youth Research and Dialogue and Interpeace.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

It’s time we stopped kidding ourselves: ‘new normal’ is abnormal

I have published a new piece in Belfast Telegraph

In my work dealing with the impact of political violence, a constant challenge is reminding people that when addressing survivors’ needs during times of conflict, it is the social context that is often the primary stressor. For example, as much as therapy for victims of conflict is useful, its value is limited if the conflict’s legacy persists and the social environment is destroyed. 

 You also cannot think about conflict without understanding that it has differential impacts. In Northern Ireland, for example, the neighbourhoods with the highest conflict death rate are those with the highest levels of poverty. When it comes to addressing the mental health impact of Covid-19, it seems we have a similar situation. We are acting as if the pandemic is only a medical problem, a behavioural issue (wear your mask, wash your hands, socially distance) and finally, a psychological question of coping mentally. 

Continue reading on Medium, link.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Truth Commission for Colombia Dialogue

A dialogue was held on 16 December 2020 hosted by the Truth Commission for Colombia entitled "Let's talk about coexistence and reconciliation". This reflexive dialogue focused on the mandate of the Commission to promote coexistence and reconciliation. The dialogue sought to learn from international experience to overcome challenges and help to strengthen the work of the Commission and its legacy in Colombia. 

The dialogue was an online discussion between panelists. The participants, based on their experiences, responded to guiding questions put forward by the moderator. Participants included Brandon Hamber (Northern Ireland); Sergio Jaramillo (Colombia); John Paul Lederach (USA); Elizabeth Lira (Chile) and Kimberly Theidon (USA, Colombia). 

In my input I stressed how despite significant investment in relationship building work in Northern Ireland from the EU, IFI and Atlantic Philanthropies that has strengthened community relationships, opportunities have not always been maximised. This he argued was because community and political processes have been treated separately. Ongoing political division at the leadership level undermines community interventions. In addition, the vision for reconciliation has focused on limited co-existence that accepts social, educational and residential divisions or changing these issue marginally, rather than a more transformative approach. The has created a negative rather than positive peace in Northern Ireland.

The panel discussion can be viewed below: