Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Stormont House Agreement

After 11 weeks of talks at Stormont, this agreement was reached with Northern Ireland’s political leaders, providing a new approach to some of the most difficult issues left over from Northern Ireland’s past. It offers a new start and a far more hopeful future, but will need continued hard work to ensure it fulfils its promise.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Psychosocial, Peacebuilding and Social Change

Hamber, Brandon, Gallagher, Elizabeth and Ventevogel, Peter (2014) Narrowing the gap between psychosocial practice, peacebuilding and wider social change: an introduction to the Special Section in this issue. Intervention: Journal of Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Conflict Affected Area, 12 (1), 7-15 [Download]

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Duncan Morrow in the US Institute of Peace Insight Newsletter (Fall 2014) noted “Reconciliation,” according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, means “to make friendly again after an estrangement” and “to make acquiescent or contentedly submissive to something previously disagreeable”….. Classical peacemaking focuses on the first definition, with its emphasis on mutual friendship and the making of new relationships on all sides. Politics … has often seen reconciliation in the second sense, as something the loser in a conflict must do to come to terms with reality.”

There is a view, as outlined by Morrow above, that reconciliation aims at rebuilding fractured relationships after a conflict. This objective is pursued through dialogue, sharing stories, mediation, or other peacebuilding activities that convene individuals, groups, or communities. The purpose of such activity is to foster those deep and lasting connections across the society considered essential to sustainable peace.

It is challenging to think of political entities engaging in such work, as the Morrow quotation indirectly implies. In politics, claims Morrow, reconciliation has a harder edge and reconciliation is more about the loser becoming “contentedly submissive” with the victor after a conflict ends.

Relationships at all levels matter following political conflict, as they determine whether and how the progress to peace and stability will be made. In a divided society, building a new road is never simply a technical task—it invariably requires negotiation and discussion about the benefits for each actor. Inevitably, harms due to past violence, even in the most mundane of policy decisions, will surface during that process.

Reconciliation is not about a simple decision to cooperate, or designing processes so former adversaries can work together with the long-term aspiration that deeper connections will follow. This could result in a forgive-and-forget mentality or, if Morrow is right, an approach akin to getting on with “negative peace” in a resigned manner. This approach is not conducive to long-term stability or what I understand reconciliation to be.

In the short-term, coexistence and cooperation might be all that is possible. However, if lasting peace is to be guaranteed, we cannot avoid addressing relationships in a deliberate and strategic way. Justice, apology, reparations, acknowledgement, and healing are part of this process— issues that are not separate from reconciliation but central to it.

Published by Brandon Hamber in USIP Insight Newsletter (Fall 2014), click the link to also see  alerie Rosoux's Response to my comments and other articles on reconciliation in the edition.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Healing and Change in the City of Gold

I am delighted to announce that my new book, edited with Ingrid Palmary and Lorena Nunez is now out. It is entitled Healing and Change in the City of Gold: Case Studies of Coping and Support in Johannesburg.

This book offers radically new ways of thinking about precarious life in the city of Johannesburg. Using case studies as varied as Pentecostal and Zionist churches, brothels, shelters, political movements for change in Zimbabwe, ex-soldiers groups, counseling services and art projects, this volume grapples with the way its predominantly migrant residents navigate the opportunities, challenges, moral orders and relationships in this iconic and complex city.

Taking seriously how context shapes meaning the authors use participatory and ethnographic techniques to understand people’s everyday responses to the violence, insecurity and possibilities for change that they face in contemporary Johannesburg. Read together, the case studies give us new insights into what it means to seek support, to cope and to heal, going beyond what mental health professionals traditionally consider support mechanisms or interventions for those in distress. They develop a notion of healing that sees it as a process and an outcome that is rooted in the world-view of those who live in the city.

Throughout the chapters in this book is a sense of everyday insecurity alongside an equally strong sense of optimism, care and a striving for change. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that this book deals very centrally with themes of the struggle for progress, mobility (geographic, material and spiritual), and the sense of possibility and change associated with the City of Gold. Ultimately, the volume demonstrates that coping and healing are both a collective and individual achievement, as well as a economic, psychological, spiritual and material phenomenon shaped by context.

Interested in a copy, you can buy from Amazon, or directly from Springer.

You can also get updates on the book by visiting the Facebook Page.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Introducing PeaceTechLab

My latest initiative I am in involved in is PeaceTechLab.

The International Conflict Research Institute (INCORE) at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland, in partnership with The Nerve Centre in Derry, The Young Foundation, The Agirre Lehendakaria Center for Social and Political Studies in the Basque Country, New York based Culture Shock, and Scensei in Washington invite you to explore with us how technology and new media can be used to enhance peacebuilding practice. If you are interested, please contact me.

Monday, September 15, 2014

BBC Thought for the Day

Listen to the Audio File
At the moment the world seems gripped by conflict in Syria, Ukraine, Iraq and the devastating siege of Gaza.

Perhaps because of the overwhelming nature of these events – I recently found myself thinking about something that is both literally and figuratively miles away…

…Remember, Felix Baumgartner free-falling from space last year?

What I found remarkable about him was his attitude. Despite the seeming madness of his space dive, he claims as he jumped all he could think of was returning home to his family alive.

Family is obviously one of the most vital parts of all our lives.

In Gaza the most heart-breaking thing has been to see families torn apart and grieving due to the violence inflicted on their society.

The sad thing is that on the other side there are no doubt families who think occupation and aggression is necessary to protect their loved ones.

Violence against others is often justified as a proactive step to protecting family and community.

Of course, we all care for our relatives. But the idea of kinship and connection can be twisted, especially by those with power.

By evoking concepts like family and community as core social principles, politicians often allow us to feel good about doing self-centred things like supporting welfare cuts if they do not directly affect us…

…or in the extreme case to justify waging war on others.

Returning to Felix standing outside his diminutive space capsule with the world below, one cannot but be struck by how tiny our planet is in the vastness of space.

As he says: “Sometimes you have to go up really high to understand how small you are.”

You would think this realisation would make us as a species want to be closer, to cooperate more and work together.

Yet, perversely, it seems the more we are faced with the expanse of the universe and its diversity, the more we take refuge in our families and communities.

This might in the short term make each of us feel more secure, but paradoxically the more we retreat from those we see as ‘the other’ the more we end up fearing them…and fear is the root of many conflicts.

Safety is ensured – as counter intuitive as it sounds – when we move beyond the boundaries of the small worlds we all inhabit.

Genuine security for those we love can only be achieved when we connect with and know others…and that – even if it does not immediately fix all the world wide conflicts – is a small step we all can take each day.

BBC Radio Ulster
Thought for the Day by Brandon Hamber
26 August 2014

Friday, June 13, 2014

Reconsidered Narratives

A working group of the Victims and Survivors Forum produced an interesting paper last year on dealing with the past (download here). The document addresses a range of issues including truth, justice and reparations. Some space is also given to storytelling and the different narratives held about Northern Ireland’s conflicted past. Specifically, the paper calls for “a collection” of existing storytelling projects as this could make “an important contribution to a shared narrative of what happened”. Needless to say, the paper outlines how difficult it would be to achieve an accepted narrative of the past.

However, the paper is optimistic and argues that a composite narrative of the past may be possible if all different narratives are collected and placed along side each other. It places three caveats on this, that is, such narratives should be supplemented with additional material, not adjudicated, and those who engage with it will have to display a “generosity in listening”.

© Adrian van Leen, Public Domain,
The Accounts of the Conflict project based at INCORE at the University of Ulster with its core aim of collecting existing stories and making these available on the internet could make a major contribution to the ideal expressed in the Victims and Survivors Forum paper. Accounts of the Conflict will be a complex record of the past, albeit limited by those who choose to deposit their stories with the project. However, by being based on the internet, the archive can further expand and develop over time. A further strength will be that by linking the archive with CAIN, the largest global online repository of information on Northern Ireland, stories can be contextualised.

However, outside of the aspirations to create an archive that is large enough to start to paint some sort of composite picture of the past, the Victims and Survivors Forum paper reminds us of the importance of not just the content of storytelling but how we engage with the past. A first step might be, as Accounts of the Conflict will attempt to do, and the Victims and Survivors Forum advocate, to place narratives alongside each other. But the bigger question remains: What do different groups and individuals do with these stories?

The call for a “generosity in listening” and not just story collecting from one perspective is important. This is a tall order given the hurts experienced in the past, but the importance of “story listening” and not just “story telling” has to be a part of the wider reconciliation agenda.

But one also has to ask if placing narratives next to each other will be sufficient over the long-term. Unquestionably, with time, different narratives will interact and influence one another. Could this result in a reconsideration of aspects of the past? I hope so.

As we learn more about the perspectives of others, hopefully the way we see the past will widen, become more complicated and change, if only in terms of fractional parts of our own understandings. This I call a reconsidered narrative. Although it might sound daunting to even consider this at this point in time, surely it is only when we start to see the flaws in our own accounts of the past that change can happen and genuine acknowledgement can become a reality.

Originally published on the Accounts of the Conflict  Blog, 8 April 2014, click here.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Professor Ed Cairns: A biography

Roe, M.D., Barrett, M., Bar-Tal, D., Bretherton, D., Dawes, A., Gallagher, E., Giles, M.L., Hakvoort, I., Hamber, B., Moeschberger, S.L., Montiel, C.J., Muldoon, O.T., Salomon, G., Trew, K., and Wessells, M.G. (2014). Professor Ed Cairns: A personal and professional biography. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 20(1), 3-12 [Access in the Journal]

Friday, April 11, 2014

President Clinton Back in Derry to Cement the Peace

This week President Clinton made his fifth trip to Derry demonstrating his ongoing commitment to the peace process in Northern Ireland. President Clinton walked the Peace Bridge with Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume and his wife, Pat. He helped launch a new book, “Peacemaking in the Twenty-First Century,” celebrating the Tip O’Neill peace lectures given at the University of Ulster’s Magee campus, to which he contributed a lecture along with others including John Kerry, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Kofi Annan.

President Clinton then addressed a public audience of some 3,000 people in the Guildhall Square of the city, along with the Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, and members of other political parties, civil society groups, and Tom O’Neill the son of former US Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill. President Clinton told the crowd “never underestimate the impact that this small place has had on the large world because of that peace agreement…people want to know how it was done. You have inspired the world”. The President pointed out that other societies are looking to Northern Ireland as an example of how violence can be transformed into peace. The recent ceasefire by the Basque-separatist group ETA, and the beginning of decommissioning there, is an example of a society that looked to the Northern Ireland model.

But despite the phenomenal progress and what Northern Ireland has taught others, President Clinton also noted “there are still issues that remain unresolved in the 19 years since the ceasefire and 16 years since the Good Friday Agreement”. The President did not highlight specific issues but his message was well timed. The recent all-party talks facilitated by Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan aimed at addressing the outstanding issues of the peace process, including how to resolve differences about flags, parades and dealing with the past, did not bear fruit.

Derry Peace Bridge, © Brandon Hamber
President Clinton understands the challenges facing the Northern Ireland peace process more than most. He has been an advocate for peace for decades, dating back to his days as the Governor of Arkansas. Campaigning for the presidency in 1992, he promised to appoint a peace envoy to Northern Ireland and said “I think sometimes we are too reluctant to engage ourselves in a positive way because of our long-standing special relationship with Great Britain and also because it seemed such a thorny problem…I think the United States is now in a position to think about positive change”.

Decades of political violence had left more than 3,600 people dead in Northern Ireland, but the United States (US) largely stayed away from the conflict. Hesitant to strain their relationship with Great Britain and unsure of success, the US treated The Troubles as “an internal problem to be worked out” as President Reagan once put it.

Politicians like Tip O’Neill tried to change this policy, and through his friendship with John Hume, managed to increase a focus on the Irish question and establish the International Fund for Ireland, which contributed to job creation and equality. However, it was when President Clinton was elected that there was sufficient political power to reverse the US government policy of non-interventionism.

This policy change however required risks. In 1994, President Clinton granted a US travel visa to Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Féin. He believed that Adams was serious about making peace and that, if given greater legitimacy, he could help press the IRA to give up violence. The strategy worked. The visa increased Adams’ standing and enabled him to be more involved in the political process. In the words of the Irish Taoiseach, John Bruton, President Clinton’s decision to engage Sinn Féin “…gave them the confidence to end their campaign”. The British were furious at first when the visa was granted, but during his US visit, Adams promised to push Sinn Féin to make concrete positive decisions. Afterward the British accelerated their efforts to get political talks going, and the Irish government pressured Sinn Féin to cooperate. Seven months later, the IRA declared a ceasefire.

It took nearly four years for these initial steps to transform into the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. During this time, President Clinton continued to work for peace with all the parties. He appointed Senator George Mitchell as a peace envoy, and in 1995 became the first sitting US President to visit Northern Ireland, where he reaffirmed his support for a lasting peace. Speaking to a huge crowd in Guildhall Square, nearly 20 years ago now, he praised the ongoing efforts for peace, saying “… I see a peaceful city, a safe city, a hopeful city, full of young people that should have a peaceful and prosperous future here where their roots and families are”.

President Clinton’s engagement helped sustain the parties through years of difficult negotiations and a break in the cease-fire. He responded immediately, for example, after the Omagh Bomb in 1998 and travelled to Northern Ireland to calm tensions and meet the victims’ families. On the last day of negotiations, he stayed up all night on the phone to bring all of the parties together. The Good Friday Agreement was announced the next morning. After the peace agreement was signed, President Clinton remained committed to the future of Northern Ireland. In the last weeks of his presidency, he again visited Belfast, and urged everyone to move forward toward peace and prosperity.

The consistent message coming from President Clinton has through the years resonated with the philosophy of John Hume who always linked non-violence with economic growth. It is no wonder then that President Clinton chose to honour John Hume in his latest visit to Northern Ireland. It was also appropriate that President Clinton announced a Chair in Peace based at INCORE at the University of Ulster named after John Hume and Tip O’Neill, whose collective visions for Northern Ireland President Clinton was able to help realise in his Presidency and beyond.

So Northern Ireland has indeed come a long way in the last two decades. Derry as a city in particular feels a world away from the violence of the past. Last year it was the UK City of Culture and all the people of the city shared in its diversity and cultural heritage, and optimism remains high.

But at the same time, there is deep division in Northern Ireland. For example, only 7% of children go to integrated schools and many communities remain divided by so-called “peace walls”. Residential segregation between largely Catholic and Protestant communities is still a reality. The political process has faltered recently, particularly around how to deal with the past. Many victims of both paramilitary and state violence still feel their needs have not been met, especially in relation to truth and justice.

In this context, we need to thank those who forged the peace and pushed for it, but we also need to stay true to their wider vision, and we cannot be complacent. To echo the timely words of President Clinton this week, despite the progress, the people of Northern Ireland and the politicians needs to free themselves “…of the past so you can embrace it and be proud rather than be imprisoned by it". In short we need to now “finish the job”.

Blog originally published on the Clinton Foundation website, 7 March 2014, click here.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Peacebuilding Strategies with Young Men

Hamber, Brandon and Gallagher, Elizabeth (2014) Ships passing in the night: psychosocial programming and macro peacebuilding strategies with young men in Northern Ireland. Intervention: Journal of Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Conflict Affected Areas, 12 (1), 43-60 [Download]

Friday, March 7, 2014

Hierarchies of Victimhood: Public Talk New York

Please join the Transitional Justice Network for a conversation with Prof. Brandon Hamber, Director of the International Conflict Research Institute, about policy regarding victims of political violence.

The goal of the Transitional Justice Network is to promote global discourse among students, scholars, and professionals on issues of transitional justice. A place for discussion, where students can learn about issue in the field, scholars can link with other scholars working in similar areas, and professionals can keep up to date with trending thoughts and philosophies. See

Brandon Hamber is Director of the International Conflict Research Institute (INCORE), an associate site of the United Nations University based at the University of Ulster. He has written extensively on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the psychological implications of political violence, and the process of transition and reconciliation in South Africa, Northern Ireland, and abroad.

Ruti Teitel is the Ernst C. Stiefel Professor of Comparative Law, New York Law School.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

How Can Clergy Address the Legacy of the Troubles?

I'm speaking at this "How Can Clergy Address the Legacy of the Troubles? Conference", Wednesday 26th February 2014 in Brackaville Parish Hall, Coalisland (Full Programme). My topic is "The legacy of ‘The Troubles?". The question is what angle to take? So may different ways to think about this question: youth, sectarianism, invisible legacies, mental health, victims, legacies of violence, economic impact, embedded systems of practice (like segregated education), and of course "whatever you say nothing"....

Monday, January 6, 2014

Northern Ireland (failed?) Agreement of 31 December 2013

Over the second half of 2013, US diplomat Richard Haass (Chair) and Meghan O'Sullivan (Vice Chair) were ask to independently chair an all party panel to address outstanding contentious issues in the Northern Ireland peace process. They were asked to achieve consensus recommendations whenever possible on the specific issues of parades and protests; flags, symbols and emblems, and related matters; and the past (full mandate).

The Panel’s work took nearly six months, including 33 days of meetings and negotiations, and involved some 100 meetings with 500 people and 600 submissions from interested groups and the public.  A document, said to be the 7th draft, was produced on 31 December 2013, however, was not ratified by all parties. There have however been several calls to move forward on the parts of the document where there is consensus. 

Agreement Document of 31 December 2013

Haass and O'Sullivan 

  • Statement by Haass and O'Sullivan (8 January 2014, download)
  • Haass and O'Sullivan Op-Ed in Belfast Telegraph (27 December 2013, link)

Selection of Office Party Responses (Press Releases)