Wednesday, February 27, 2008

INCORE Summer School 2008

INCORE is pleased to announce that the 2008 International Summer School will be held from Monday 16th June to Friday 20th June 2008.

INCORE will offer three separate one-week courses:
• Evaluation and Impact Assessment of Peacebuilding Programmes;
• Reconciliation in Societies Coming Out of Conflict; and
• ***Transitioning from a Post-settlement to a Post-Conflict Society.

The school provides an intensive week of training, networking and discussion in the field of conflict resolution. It attempts to bridge the gap between policy, practice and research.

The INCORE Summer School is recognised by UNITAR (United Nations Institute for Training and Research) Programme of Correspondence Instruction in Peacekeeping Operations, and may form part of The Certificate-of-Training In Peace Support Operations (COTIPSO) Programme.

The closing date for applications is 29 February 2008. For further information on module details and how to apply, please click here.

***New module - it will draw on findings from INCORE's current Journeys Out project - for further details click here.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Save the world, buy nappies

If you have a small child, nappies can become an obsession. This is fuelled by marketers who draw you in with promises of super absorption and all-night comfort for your little darling. However, the marketing has taken a creepier, yet seemingly benign, turn.

While recently perusing the nappy aisle, I noticed that now, when you buy nappies, you can, it seems, simultaneously save the lives of other children. A brand of nappies, which will remain nameless in case they sue me, promises that they will donate 2,5p (35 South African cents) to charity to provide a pregnant woman in the developing world with a tetanus vaccine. To be fair, the company has managed to sell at least 7,4-million of the nappy packets and millions of vaccines have been administered as a result.

I am glad lives have been saved, but the more I think about this campaign, the more it just does not add up.

The average pack of nappies that makes this promise, in the UK, costs about £6, with some as high as £8,50. On the conservative sale price of £6, the amount going to charity is, therefore, less than half a per cent of the cost. If we assume that the company makes a modest 20% profit on the product (and it probably makes more), it is donating 2% of the profit. And how would we ever know whether it has increased the cost of the nappies by 2,5p to cover this?

As a result of this particular campaign, website traffic for the product in question increased by 40%, along with profits. The company has also managed to divert attention from the fact that its product, disposable nappies, is a major threat to the environment. The average child will use 5 000 nappies over its nappy-wearing life. This equates to 130 bin-bags full of nappies. In the UK, three-billion nappies a year are thrown away – the vast majority are not biodegradable (and if I am honest, I am no angel in this regard).

So all things considered, although this campaign was helpful to some in need, it is hard not to treat it cynically, given the enormous profits involved. I doubt the company felt the sting of giving to others one bit as a result of this campaign.

Companies are becoming increasingly aware of the business opportunities afforded by shoppers’ desires to be ethical. At Christmas, I bought charity Christmas cards. On opening them, I noticed that only 10% of the cost went to charity. The cards were 20% more expensive than ‘noncharity’ cards. In other words, the charity component was carried by the consumer, plus a bit of additional profit on the side for the company.

This smacks of a sinister form of marketing that uses good will as a way of reeling in business. The nappies campaign appeals to parental emotion. It tugs at the heart strings when you think of other babies in need, when you are spending on yours. Buying ‘charity’ nappies eases the guilt. The mental comfort comes in thinking you have helped, and those with corporate power have assisted too.

However, if you placed £2,50 into the correct charity box that would have bought 100 vaccines instantly. Or better still, a $10-million anonymous donation given by the nappy manufacturer’s parent company (which generated $76-billion is sales in the last fiscal year) would have done the job much more effectively.

The company involved, and the charity administering the vaccines, would probably argue that the publicity generated by the campaign was vital in raising awareness of the unknown scourge of tetanus. Far be it from me to pooh-pooh all corporate social responsibility. But although the old adage says, ‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth’. I think the corporate gift horse could do a whole lot better and be a lot more transparent.

This article by Brandon Hamber was published on Polity and in the Engineering News on 22 February 2008 as part of the column "Look South". Copyright Brandon Hamber.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Report on the Commission of Truth and Friendship

ICTJ recently released the publication of “Too Much Friendship, Too Little Truth: Monitoring Report on the Commission of Truth and Friendship in Indonesia and Timor-Leste”. The report focuses on the Commission of Truth and Friendship.

The report reveals according to ICTJ:

  • The CTF was created not with truth-telling and interpersonal reconciliation in mind, but as a means to ignore calls for international criminal justice already made by the UN and the international community.
  • The process for creating the Commission was insufficiently transparent and consultative, resulting in a body that has failed to reflect international best practices and the views of Timorese victims and communities.
  • The CTF’s Terms of Reference are fundamentally flawed, and included a mechanism for recommendations of amnesty while prohibiting recommendations for new judicial processes;
  • The Commission’s public hearings failed as a truth-telling activity. Most took place in Indonesia and gave accused perpetrators of serious crimes in Timor-Leste opportunities to provide self-serving accounts that charged the UN with responsibility for the mass violations and promoted factually incorrect versions of events. The UN Secretary General made a decision not to cooperate with the Commission due to its flawed mandate, so UN personnel were not able to respond to the serious allegations made against themselves and the organization in the public hearings.

The ICTJ adds thar "the Commission’s final report will be the final opportunity for the Commission to achieve some level of international credibility, which has been seriously compromised. This can only be achieved if the report places the principles of truth and justice ahead of the political factors which have marred the process to date". To download the publication click here.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Transitional Justice Data Base Project

A new Transitional Justice Bibliography of over 2,000 academic sources organized by theme and country has been made available by the Transitional Justice Data Base Project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The bibliography can be found here.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Truth a stranger, fiction the norm

For South Africans, what happens in Northern Ireland probably seems tangential to everyday life. However, living in Belfast means that I cannot escape it. Currently, as the new power-sharing government beds down, the issue of dealing with the past is taking up much media space. This marks a major shift. A few years ago, the question was off limits.

That said, exactly how society should deal with its past remains unclear. Some still favour ‘drawing a line’ under it. There is much talk of the South African approach, but few takers.

Last year, the British government set up a Consultative Panel on the Past to provide a way forward. The fact that it was a panel appointed by the British government, which is a player in the conflict, means that some people question whether it is the best vehicle to chart a way forward. Nonetheless, work has begun, with most adopting a ‘wait and see’ attitude.

Recently, the panel burst into public view with controversies about whether amnesty should be granted and whether the conflicts of the past should be labelled a ‘war’ or not. To South Africans, this might sound strange. Although this is an odd place for the discussion to start, it belies wider questions familiar to South Africans. In terms of amnesty, what compromises will be needed to deal with the past? As regards the ‘war’ question, this is significant in terms of acknowledging the extent of the conflict, and determining whose actions were legitimate.

South Africa was forced to confront these questions, given the scale of deaths, but in Northern Ireland, where 3 600 people lost their lives, it seems as if people think confronting the past is a choice. That said, the population is only 1,5-million, so 3 600 deaths is proportionally close to the number (roughly 25 000) of those who died in South Africa from political violence.

It seems, however, as if Northern Ireland has not reached first base. One critical question needs to be answered at this stage: is truth about past violations a right? Do we think knowing about the past from all sides is important, in principle? If so, then the next step is not to list all the reasons why this will never be possible, but rather to ask how society can ensure truth can be delivered. This needs political and social backing, independence and integrity.

South Africa, at least at political level, opted for the idea of truth as non-negotiable. This resulted in the truth commission. However, as I write, I am struck by the fact that much business related to the past is still not finished in South Africa. For example, those who failed to take the opportunity to apply for amnesty during the life of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have not been prosecuted for crimes such as murder and torture, or told the truth. For most victims, truth and justice remain elusive. Most continue to live in poverty.

So, as Northern Ireland confronts the question whether it should engage in truth recovery for the first time, perhaps, South Africans have to ask the question for a second time. Some of you reading this will roll your eyes at such a suggestion, but, if we think truth is a principle our young democracy should embody, have we done enough about uncovering and addressing the horrors of the past?

In turn, is the lack of a principled and unrelenting quest for the truth about the past emblematic of how we pursue truth in the present? It seems that when we suspect a cover-up, we establish a commission with much fanfare and promises of truth recovery and justice, but over time such endeavours lose focus and grind to a halt. Remember, to paraphrase writer HL Mencken, truth would cease to be stranger than fiction, if we were as used to it as to lies.

This article by Brandon Hamber was published on Polity and in the Engineering News on 1 February 2008 as part of the column "Look South". Copyright Brandon Hamber.