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:

Moment of Truth…Victims of Northern Ireland’s Troubled Past Can’t Wait Forever

I started working in Northern Ireland in 1996, the first question I was always asked was: “Did Northern Ireland need a South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)?” This was understandable, as I was at the time working in South Africa with victims testifying before the TRC that ran from 1995 until 2003. The troubling thing, however, is that I am still regularly asked that same question nearly 25 years later. During this time, how many victims have died without knowing the truth, or obtaining justice for atrocities?

The failure to deal effectively with the past remains a stain on the copybook of the Northern Ireland peace process. A potted history of the saga highlights how punishingly slow it has been.

The most significant Government-backed process was the Consultative Group of the Past that delivered its report in January 2009. But it ended up shelved, mainly due to its controversial recommendation around compensation for all those who lost relatives in the conflict.

"PM holds Northern Ireland talks" by UK Prime Minister Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Creeping headway was made over the following years, building upon the report in the failed Haass O’Sullivan talks in 2013 and subsequently. In December 2014, the political parties devised the Stormont House Agreement (SHA). It made a comprehensive set of proposals. The recommendations included setting up structures to collect the stories of the conflict in and about Northern Ireland, investigating unresolved cases, seeking information for victims from responsible groups, ensuring statements of acknowledgment for past hurts and identifying steps to build reconciliation. The SHA was put in a draft Bill in 2016. A public consultation started some two years later in May 2018. Over 17,000 written responses were received in the 21-week consultation. In between, the UN Special Rapporteur responsible for transitional justice significantly made two visits to Northern Ireland, tabling recommendations in November 2016. The British Government responded, “the recommendations can be best achieved through the full implementation of the SHA”.

In July 2019, a detailed summary of the consultation on the SHA was published. The British Government noted there was “an obligation to seek to address the legacy of the past” and it remained fully committed to the SHA.

But in March 2020, apparently motivated by political pressures from British Army veterans, the Government rowed back. The Secretary of State essentially proposed to pull the SHA apart, largely removing a focus of justice and investigation, favouring information recovery and storytelling under a broad, and undefined, banner of reconciliation. The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee rightly took issue with the approach, but then they argued for yet another consultation. Reading this abridged history, it is hard not to conclude that the dealing with the past process is nothing more than a protracted and shameful tale of delay and avoidance. How painfully frustrating must this be for victims and survivors.

This does not mean that a South African-style truth commission is the right answer. The exact structure of the South African commission, including its ability to grant amnesty to perpetrators who confessed to gross violations of human rights, is unlikely to work in Northern Ireland. Amnesty meant that some victims had to forgo retributive justice for truth in the name of the wider peace process. Closing down the potential for victims to get their cases to court, or preventing public inquiries, in exchange for a truth-recovery process is an unlikely (and arguably unnecessary) option in Northern Ireland. The public nature of parts of the South African process, with perpetrators and victims testifying openly, might also be a tall order for the more closed culture in Northern Ireland.

Handing over of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report

The South African process had other failings. The administrative treatment of victims and the lack of follow-up was a problem. Sometimes a simplistic language of reconciliation and healing was used that implied that truth and testimony alone could mend a deeply divided society, rather than coupling this with a long-term political process and socio-economic transformation, ensuring equality between black and white South Africans.

On the positive side, South Africans were confronted on television and radio directly with the past and could not ignore it. We had to face the harm we did to one another and listen to the stories of survivors. The five volumes of the South African TRC report, built on the testimony of approximately 22,000 victims (not just the 1,800 who testified publicly), tells a detailed and thematic story of human rights violations. The report and the extensive archive provide a historically authoritative record that cannot be erased.

One of the biggest successes of the process, however, was when the TRC challenged narrow assumptions about the past. I recall a survivor whom we worked with over many years. She believed, as did most of us who knew her, that the police were responsible for her 18-year-old son’s assassination as they had routinely threatened him. Through the TRC it transpired, however, that her son, an underground ANC operative, was shot dead by his own Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) unit, the then military wing of the ANC. His killers, who the family knew well, accused him of being a spy. Whether these allegations were correct or not, as they have never been proved, the news was shattering for the family. The personal price of truth was enormous. However, as much as it pains me to write this, the TRC did its job in this case.

There were many cases of this kind that challenged dominant narratives. For example, during apartheid it was common to hear about MK activists who had killed themselves in operations. It turned out through the TRC that some of these deaths were the result of state entrapment. The state also carried out what were called “false flag operations”. Sections of the security police undertook illegal acts, such as sabotage and arson, to give credibility to their agents; they also blamed MK activists for bomb blasts they had planted. It was these types of cases that brought home how “dirty” the war was in South Africa. But they also helped to create a “grey” picture of the past, challenging the blinkered view some had of the state and political groups they supported. Arguably, this loosened the narratives of the past, opening the door for new understandings.

Confronting the truth in this way is risky and unsettling. But is foot-dragging risk-free? In Northern Ireland, the past continues to dominate the present. Every day, we hear stories of tensions concerning unresolved cases, memorials and commemorations. Politicians and the public are in continuous narrative battles about who was the most responsible for the hurts of the past and why. Victims also cannot be asked to forget. A significant amount of work has been done by the community sector to fill the gap created by political indecisiveness. But still the unresolved past remains a threat to a stable future, particularly as new challenges, such as Brexit or border polls, loom.

International lessons unequivocally suggest the past will not go away over time. Many countries, where little has been done politically to address the past, such as those in the Balkans, remain polarised. Unresolved cases, as we have seen in Chile and Argentina, are also transferred generationally with new family members continuing the struggle for truth and justice. By any international standards, the undeniable pattern of evasion and political obfuscation of truth is fundamentally unjust to all victims seeking answers. Inaction on the past is not a neutral act, it is an active denial of rights to victims. It is also creating ongoing political tensions in itself. Something must be done.

The South African process is not a blueprint and had its problems, but South Africans developed it to meet their specific set of needs at a critical historical moment. South African politicians showed leadership and courage to undertake a concerted and holistic attempt to deal with the past. In Northern Ireland, a set of workable, locally developed and previously politically agreed proposals have been made in the Stormont House Agreement. These proposals are not perfect, but surely it is time for the governments and political parties to show some backbone and act in unison finally, supporting a way forward on dealing with the past? At the very least, no one can accuse them of rushing into anything.

Published by Brandon Hamber in the Belfast Telegraph, 12 December 2020.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Interview with Nicole Drouilly

As part of the ongoing “Following the Footsteps of the Disappeared” programme run by Conflict Textiles a new video interview was released on 10 December 2020, Human Rights Day. In this video interview with Nicole Drouilly, I explore in-depth, her experiences of searching for her sister Jacqueline, husband and unborn child, who disappeared in Chile in 1974. The discussion centres around a textile she made about her experiences. The textile “Stitching the Search” was displayed on 3 December 2020 as part of the ‘Conflict Textiles’ permanent, rotating exhibition at the Magee Campus Library, Ulster University.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Militarised Masculinities and Sustaining Peace

As part of the Geneva Peace Week (2-6 November 2020), I took part in a podcast discussion entitled "Militarised Masculinities and Sustaining Peace: Lessons from the Ground”. The podcast by Impunity Watch and the Master programme in Transitional Justice of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights provides space for an in-depth debate around this neglected topic. I argue for a more systemic understanding of masculinity and conflict that moves beyond individual acts of masculinised violence, to understanding how systems create militarised masculinity from the role of the military in society to the entertainment industry.  I share the platform with human rights activist Brisna Caxaj from Guatemala, who talks about her experience of militarised masculinity in her context.

Listen Now



Sunday, November 1, 2020

Why you are doing Halloween all wrong

Our 2020 Halloween Turnip
For some light relief, here is a short piece I penned on Halloween night...

Turns out the story of Halloween is somewhat like the story of the grey squirrel. Brought to the UK and Ireland from the US in Victorian times as living-ornaments for the wealthy, the adaptable and competitive grey squirrel has thrived contributing to the decline of the indigenous red squirrel. If you asked a child in Ireland to draw a squirrel more than likely, they would pen a grey rather than a red squirrel. Conversely, Halloween, now considered the most quintessential of so-called US consumption holidays, was a late import to the US from Ireland. But the US tradition has now overtaken all others. 

I was first alerted to the origins of Halloween by my wife, who is from Ireland, and told me that Halloween originated in that part of the world and as a child they carved turnips rather than pumpkins. Being of a sceptical mind, I thought this was a tradition peculiar to her home town of Derry or alternatively simply the practical outworking of the fact that fat American pumpkins are not common in the local environs. Then I did a bit of research. Turns out the turnip really is linked to the root of Halloween and not the pumpkin.

Read the rest of the article on Medium.com

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Dealing with the past in Northern Ireland: Resources

This is an ever-growing list of resources I have compiled (first published 29 June 2012) on dealing with the past in Northern Ireland. 

My last update, following the release of the most recent government policy consultation, was reposted and updated on 7 May 2021.


Key Policy Documents & Resources


Sequential list of key policy documents & resources

  • Veterans of the Northern Ireland Troubles protected (newspaper article on British Government "proposals" as no official sources exist at this point) (6 May 2021). Read [External].
  • Addressing the Legacy of Northern Ireland's past Northern Ireland Affairs Committee consultation (Interim Report) and Evidence (26 October 2020). Download [External].
  • Addressing the Legacy of Northern Ireland's past Northern Ireland Affairs Committee consultation: The UK Government's New Proposals (open to 1 June 2020). Download [External]
  • Ministerial Statement: Addressing Northern Ireland Legacy Issues: Written statement - HCWS168 (18 March 2020). Download [External]
  • Analysis of the Stormont House Agreement (SHA) consultation responses (July 2019). Download [External]
  • Consultation: Addressing the Legacy of Northern Ireland's Past (closed 10 September 2018). Download.
  • Draft Northern Ireland (Stormont House Agreement) Bill (10 March 2016). Download [External]
  • Healing Through Remembering: Guide to the Stormont House Agreement (SHA) (2016). Download [External]
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence on his mission to Northern Ireland: Comments by the State (16 Nov 2016). Download
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, on his mission to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (March 2016). Download
  • 'Model Bill Team' based at Queen's University Belfast and Committee on the Administration of Justice. Stormont House Agreement – Model Implementation Bill and Explanatory Notes (17 September 2015). Download [External]
  • Stormont House Agreement (23 December 2014). Download
  • Proposed Agreement (31 December 2013). An agreement among the parties of the Northern Ireland Executive on Parades, Select Commemorations, and Related Protests; Flags and Emblems; and Contending with the Past (also known as Haas O'Sullivan Proposals). Download [External]
  • House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (December 2009). The Report of the Consultative Group on the Past in Northern Ireland. Response. Download [External]
  • Report of the Consultative Group of the Past (January 2009). Download [External]
  • House of Commons. Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. (2008). Session 2007-08, evidence from Brandon Hamber, Cate Turner, Alan McBride and Sandra Peake. Download
  • Healing Through Remembering (2006). Making Peace with the Past: Options for truth recovery regarding the conflict in and about Northern Ireland. Download
  • House of Commons. Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (October 2005). Ways of Dealing with Northern Ireland's Past: Government Response to the Committee's Tenth Report of Session 2004-05. Download
  • House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee  Ways of Dealing with Northern Ireland's Past: Interim Report - Victims and Survivors  Tenth Report of Session 2004–05. Download
  • Healing Through Remembering Consultation on Dealing with the Past (2002). Download
  • 'We Will Remember Them': Report of the Victims Commissioner (April 1998). Download [External]

Articles by Brandon Hamber and Colleagues


Websites


Publications

List of key academic papers on Northern Ireland, dealing with the past and transitional justice, review the annotated list (56 references).

Friday, October 23, 2020

The Case for a Degree in Twitterdemiology

And now for something completely different, I just published "The Case for a Degree in Twitterdemiology" on my Medium channel
"MERS Coronavirus Particle" by NIAID
is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In these challenging times, the University is looking to develop new courses. I suggest we offer a course in "Twitterdemiology". The degree takes typically 2–3 months to complete, involves sharing, preferably uninformed, opinions on Twitter about the spread of diseases, preferably late at night and slightly drunk. A bonus is you never have to wear a mask during class. Involves some study in terms of looking at the occasional graph on a few websites and making a hasty conclusion. The degree is wholly part-time. The degree strongly appeals to those who like to think they are smarter than others for no good reason other than that social media now allows them to share their views in public unfiltered.

That said, the ability to look at a graph and understand what lines are going up or down is an essential criteria to join the class. Students will only be considered if they enjoy a good conspiracy theory and if they generally think experts are prone to exaggeration. Experience in the field of "Climate Change Denial" will stand you in good stead for this degree. 

Read the rest of the article on Medium https://t.co/aDJtHTk2sW 

Friday, October 16, 2020

Enhanced Integration of MHPSS in Peacebuilding

On 15 October I gave an address to the "Annual Conference 2020: Harnessing Potential" hosted by The Knowledge Platform Security & Rule of Law. The speech focused on the "Enhanced Integration of Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) in Peacebuilding".  The speech focused on sharing the recommendations for the UN Peacebuilding Architecture Review developed with a multidisciplinary Task Force of which I was a member. The Task Force was established by the government of The Netherlands which is promoting the integration of mental health and psychosocial support in peacebuilding efforts. 

You can listen to my speech below:

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Footsteps of the Disappeared Programme

"Following the Footsteps of the Disappeared" is a two-day programme incorporating a textile display and 2 seminars to mark International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances 30 August 2020.

Programme of Events

Photo credit: Recuerdos de Guadalupe / Guadalupe's Longings (Peru/Chile arpillera, Guadalupe Ccallocunto, 1989), photographer Martin Melaugh, © Conflict Textiles
Partners

"Following the Footsteps of the Disappeared" is a partnership between Conflict Textiles, the Ulster Museum and the John Hume and Thomas P. O'Neill Chair in Peace, Ulster University, and also the Transformative Memory Network.

Monday, August 3, 2020

On the Passing of John Hume

John Hume is undoubtedly one of the most significant politicians of the last 50 years. It was sad to hear of his passing today, and my thoughts are first with Pat Hume and the family.

John Hume was the product of social upheaval linked to the conflict in and about Northern Ireland from 1960s onwards, and he rose to prominence from humble roots when he took a stand against violence, in many ways similar to those that significantly influenced his thinking, such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.

Growing up in South Africa, and moving to Northern Ireland only in 2001, I came late to the work and philosophy of John Hume. However, when I first started to work in Derry in 1996, his home city, his legacy was impossible to ignore. This continues and is no more acute than today as he leaves the political stage forever.

In 1998, shortly after the signing of the Belfast Agreement, when I was still based in South Africa but was in Northern Ireland over the winter, I first met Pat Hume. She called at the door of my wife's sisters house where we were having a New Year's Eve party, just to say hello and wish us well. The down to earth nature of the Hume family was immediately apparent. Little did I know at the time that my history would become tied into the work of John Hume.

John Hume at the unveiling of a plaque to mark those he brought to Derry as part of the Tip O'Neill lecture series at Ulster University including Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Mary McAleese, John Kerry and Kofi Annan, among many others 

 

In 2015, I was appointed the John Hume and Thomas P. O'Neill Chair in Peace at Ulster University. The Chair honours John Hume and his pivotal role in the peace process, and Thomas P. O'Neill who, as Speaker of the House of Representatives, was a significant force for enlisting the United States in advancing peace in Northern Ireland. The two men worked together to bring the US into the peace process. The Chair recognises the contribution of both men to conflict transformation and peacebuilding by recording and sharing the lessons learned and continuing the process of peace and reconciliation for future generations. The Chair's reach extends now to South Africa, Colombia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Basque Country and Uganda, among others.

Every activity I, therefore, undertake in my professional life is tied to John Hume's legacy, and hopefully my contribution to peace locally and globally, as modest as it is, is a fitting tribute to his life and work, along with that of Tip O'Neill.

On hearing of the death of John, I wanted to make a few personal reflections, mostly about his work, which I have tried to better understand since being appointed the Hume O'Neill Chair. In the last few years, in particular, I have been reading some of Hume's speeches and watching video clips. His contribution is immense. Anyone who says that John Hume only ever made one speech, has never taken the time to mull over his words. I was also fortunate enough to be asked to write the Foreword to Sean Farren's edited book "John Hume: In His Own Words". This book, which is a collection of original speeches, particularly helped me to develop a deeper understanding of Hume's politics. Some of my reflections below I also recorded in the book but wanted to share some today.

I was fortunate enough to meet John and Pat Hume many times since 1998 thanks to their association with Ulster University and the Magee Campus in particular. What always came across is their strong belief in social justice, political tolerance and the peaceful resolution of conflict. I have further identified four key approaches routinely mentioned by John Hume to achieve this.

Firstly, Hume is committed to the idea that dialogue is essential and that conflicts can only be resolved through open discussion, even in contexts of sharp differences of opinion. Underpinning this is the idea that, certainly in Ireland, there is an inter-dependency between people that is inescapable.

Secondly, he believes that inter-dependence stretched globally. The European Union was an example of how unity and inter-dependence could be fostered. This also led Hume to recognise the importance of the US and its familial and historical connections to Ireland, as key to the peace process and stimulating economic growth, which was necessary to ensure and ultimately sustain peace. This global commitment, in part, explains his relationship with Tip O'Neill. But more profoundly this global commitment developed into Hume's form of nationalism, that is, a conviction that people and not place or geography defined nationhood.

Thirdly, Hume opposes the use of violence. In his speeches, Hume continually highlights with great compassion the cost of violence to individuals routinely quoting statistics of death. He also notes other impacts, i.e. that violence "has cost us jobs" and that peace cannot be built on "the ruins of a shattered economy". There are other elements of practicality in his views on non-violence, that is, that republican violence distracted from the social injustices in the society and would "only strengthen Unionism".

Finally, he consistently speaks of reconciliation. Hume's view seems to start instrumentally concerning reconciliation, that is that Irish Unity is only possible through different traditions coming together. A United Ireland for Hume would be achieved not by overcoming "the Northern Protestant but to seek his help and cooperation". However, as his thinking develops, it is clear he becomes more committed to the principle of reconciliation at all costs. Hume sees the "road of reconciliation" as the only "real road forward".

At the core of these beliefs, however, is a profoundly pragmatic view of the world, not a rose-tinted idea of social harmony. Reconciliation for Hume is not only people-to-people relationship building. Hume sees reconciliation as needing institutional, political and social support. Hume noted in 1983 that many "furiously abhor the work of reconciliation" for this very reason. We know today, not only in Northern Ireland but globally, that some still see reconciliation negatively: a sop to the aggressors; a false coming together; selling out one's principles; or some idealistic peacenik concept. However, John Hume suggests we have no other choice than to foster reconciliation if we are, for better or worse, destined to share our society with others.

John Hume challenges us all to recognise that reconciliation is profoundly difficult and tricky yet at the heart of sustainable peace, noting in a speech at Dublin Castle in 1983: "Let that reconciliation start today in this room – between ourselves. Goodwill alone – and I know we have with us today the goodwill of the mass of the people of this island – will not suffice. We must apply all the resources of our collective intelligence, imagination, generosity and determination to this great enterprise and be seen to do it. We must mean business and we must be seen to desperately mean business".

To this end, as I reflect sadly today on the passing of John Hume, I am reminded of these weighty words and feel inspired to play my small part in upholding his legacy. I hope others with more political influence will use this moment to reflect and rise to the challenge. Rest in peace, John, and thank you for all the hard lessons you continue to teach us, and for the hope your words and deeds continue to convey.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Gender, Truth-telling and Institutional Reform

DCAF (Geneva Centre for Security Sector Reform) with UN Women organised a panel discussion on integrating gender into truth-telling to create a platform for institutional reform on 23 July 2020. Seminar is now online.

Panel Members

  • Ibtihel Abdellatif, Chair of the Women's Committee, Tunisia Truth and Dignity Commission (IVD)
  • Professor Brandon Hamber, John Hume and Thomas P. O'Neill Chair in Peace, International Conflict Research Institute (INCORE), Ulster University
  • Farah Tanis, Executive Director, Black Women's Blueprint (US), Commissioner BWB Truth Commission US
  • Yasmin Sooka, Commissioner, UN CoHR on South Sudan and former Truth Commissioner for South Africa TRC, Sierra Leone TRC

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Seminar: Is the UK heading towards combat impunity?

I have continued with the Transitional Justice Institute (TJI), INCORE, and Healing Through Remembering to host seminars on our Dealing with the Past series.

On 5 June 2020, Dr Thomas Hansen, Lecturer in Law and member of the Transitional Justice Institute at Ulster University, delivered a seminar entitled  "Is the UK heading towards combat impunity?". The seminar focused on a number of initiatives and measures aimed at protecting military service personnel from investigation and prosecution currently being considered by the UK, including a Statute of Limitations, derogating from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in future armed conflicts; amending the Human Rights Act, and restricting UK courts' ability to adjudicate civil claims originating from conflicts abroad.

Dr Hansen argued that these measures if implemented, are problematic from a human rights and rule of perspective and undermines the UK's role as a strong defender of human rights in the global arena and a champion of the international rule of law.

The seminar is part of the Transitional Justice Institute (TJI) and INCORE, in partnership with Healing Through Remembering and the John Hume and Thomas P. O'Neill Chair in Peace, online seminar series. The seminar was chaired by Professor Brandon Hamber. The seminar can now be watched online.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Policy Brief: Historical Institutional Abuse and Transitional Justice

Professor Patricia Lundy and I have now published a Policy Brief based on work on historical institutional abuse and transitional justice.

This policy briefing draws upon the Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry to explicate the nexus of historical institutional abuse inquiries with transitional justice approaches. Through detailed analysis of empirical research with those who gave testimony to the Inquiry, the briefing explores to what extent the Inquiry was victim-centric, participatory and responsive. Drawing on lessons from transitional justice, the brief outlines five recommendations that could strengthen the victim-centred nature of approaches to dealing with the legacy of historical child abuse. The brief concludes that addressing victims' needs should be the linchpin for both transitional justice and historical institutional abuse approaches.

To download the Policy Brief, click here.

To download the longer Research Article, click here.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Statues Don't Teach History, They Applaud It

Recently I saw a piece quoting the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford, Louise Richardson, saying removing from Oriel College the statue of Cecil John Rhodes, the colonial administrator and financier, risks hiding history. The UK Prime Minister has also expressed the view, in a series of Tweets noting, particularly in relation to the statue of Winston Churchill, that "statues teach us about our past, with all its faults". Am I the only one who thinks this is nonsense?

Statues are not about history or pedagogy but commemoration. Should we commemorate people like Cecil John Rhodes today?

"Cecil John Rhodes UCT" by barbourians CCBY2.0
If the Vice-Chancellor is so concerned about history you can take down the statue and leave a large plinth explaining Rhodes brutal history and Oxford's relationship with colonialism. Or better still teach history in one of the esteemed colleges, or make a podcast, a movie or build a website, or even consult a book. I don't learn history from statues. Does anyone?

Statues tell us who society values and about the values of those commemorated. The whole idea of statues (at least traditionally) is to make these values and the venerable person a permanent feature, hence the granite and bronze. There is no place for Rhodes-like values today. Rhodes not only embodied white supremacy he literally defined it in paper he gave at Oxford in 1877, he wrote: "I contend that we [the white English] are the first race in the world, and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race. Just fancy those parts that are at present inhabited by the most despicable specimen of human being, what an alteration there would be in them if they were brought under Anglo-Saxon influence". The Vice-Chancellor of Oxford, argues we should understand such views of the past in the context of the time. But surely the point is we need to consider the views of the past in the context of present, not the other way around. The real question is should we be venerating a man who held such views today? This is not a historical question, or debate about context, it is a contemporary question about aspiration, values and the morality we wish to endorse.

Watching the protestors in London recently allegedly protecting certain statues from Black Lives Matter protestors, made we wonder how much history these self-appointed protectors had learnt from said statues. If you asked them about the history of say Churchill they may know a selected fact or two, but they did not learn it from a lump of bronze but from school, TV, or a book, or more than likely hearsay or family. In other words, even for those who think statues have historical value the object has taught them no history or the associated history is selective. Thus proving the point they have no substantive relationship to history beyond the symbolic. In fact teaching history is seldom the purpose for erecting a statue in the first place. They are primarily about glorification and by extension societal meaning-making and value creation. By definition they are at best a form of selective history-making which reinforces the idea history is made by individual great White men (largely) and thus have limited or no pedagogic value. Statues in their stark simplicity distort rather than convey historical complexity.

Hence there is, in my view, no need for statues that were undoubtedly created in praise of people who by contemporary standards would be seen as abhorrent. By all means, for example, let us remember Cecil John Rhodes, and learn about him and what he did (positively and negatively) in schools and museums, but deifying his alleged grandeur in a statue in the public realm is a completely different matter. We can place such statues in museums, as some have argued, where the context can be explained, but to use tax revenue to maintain them so they can dominate public space while symbolically oozing outdated and racist belief-systems is not ethical, educational or inclusive.

Statues, particularly of certain political and social figures are not benign. By having them in public space, and given that statues have traditionally always been about veneration, they are always symbolically imparting a set of values. In the case of many colonial figures around the world these values were undoubtedly about superiority, exclusion and racism. In this context, we have to ask why are some intent on keeping them?

Another common retort is that if we start the process of removing statues, then where do we stop? This is quickly followed by, and given what happened in Bristol to the statue of the slaver Colston, accusation that those of us who say there is no place for such statues in the public realm are advocating mob-vandalism. Of course not. The real question is not where do you stop with removing statues, but how and where do we start the discussion about their removal.

Let's be clear I am talking about statues in public space funded for their establishment and upkeep by public tax. So the public should have a say about what makes them comfortable or alienates them from the public space. This is not the same as saying the mob should decide, as I have been accused of doing when making similar comments on social media. We need to start with trusted and genuine local and national government processes, including proper consultation and debate how we use public space. From what I have read one of the reasons Colston ended up at the bottom of the harbour was that after multiple attempts to have a debate and resolve the issues at council level, the council dithered away for years not resolving the issue.

We all know governments can be terrible at these public consultations and debate, and I have my doubts, but when it comes to issues such as how the legacies of the past continue to impact on the identity and sense of place citizens have in society they have a duty to address this issue. It appears certainly in the US and UK, heads only momentarily pop out of the sand, when there is significant protest. If no one complains, then it is business as usual. Or if one quietly requests to discuss the state of the public realm in writing, it is shunted off to some committee never to emerge. Given the inaction on these issues in the past it is only right governments now feel, and should continue to feel, the pressure the Black Lives Matter has brought to the table, as well as other campaigners. The time has come for the government to be significantly more pro-active. The protests will continue to emerge until this happens.

It is not helpful for the British PM to say he will protect the statue of Churchill no matter what. Rather, he should be saying he will design a process to hear the views of the nation on the matter or more specifically a process in London-related boroughs. But seemingly he is afraid to have a genuine public debate because the majority of the government knows that this will open a discussion about colonialism and its legacy. The establishment, certainly in Britain, have wilfully denied the impact of colonialism for years or minimised it. Many of those sitting in the Lords are there because of inherited slave money as the Guardian covered. Britain has never made a wholesale apology for colonialism and the continued devastating impact of Empire. Instead, the PM himself has made widely misguided comments about colonialism in the past, largely arguing that Britain was good for Africa. Strangely not a view those who experienced Colonial rule or inherited the mess it left behind would largely share. In short, the government — and arguably the society at large — certainly in Britain — have chosen to exclude the negative impact of the colonial legacy from public debate and that is why this "statue" problem has arisen.

For Oxford it is the same and remember it too is funded largely by the public as with all UK universities. If they held a wide-ranging consultation with staff and students, and it was agreed Rhodes should stay, so be it from my perspective and at least then you know how the majority feel. If a group then ripped it down, we would know they were acting against the wishes of the majority. But I am sure if the full legacy of Rhodes was put on the table for open and honest debate, few would want to pay homage to him at the entrance of their school.

Of course, removing statues is not enough when we are discussing ongoing racism and intergenerational systemic exclusion of Black people globally. But it is symbolically important and hopefully leads to the acknowledgement of the past and its legacy in the present. In so doing we can begin the journey (albeit several hundreds years late) to shape a new set of values for our age. That is the real work to be done. If in 100 years the next generations no longer see these as right for society, which they probably will not, they must change again. That is called progress. But progress is never easy and there is no immediate resolution. But to be sure, opening public space to have a contested and tough discussion, and acknowledging the legacy of colonialism, is the only place to start. More denial, or continually saying anyone who wants to discuss this wishes to deny history or worse is a leftist lunatic or favours mob rule, will not make the catastrophic atrocities of the colonial past and their continued reverberations in the present miraculously go away.

This article was published on Medium on 14 June 2020. 

The article was published before Oxford took the decision to remove the statue of Cecil John Rhodes from the College.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Seminar: Trauma-Informed Approach

The second seminar in the Dealing with the Past series was hosted online on 18 May 2020, with some 250 people joining online. I chaired this important online event.

The seminar was entitled "The need for a trauma-informed approach to address the conflict's legacy" and was delivered by Professor Siobhan O'Neill on 18 May 2020. In this seminar Professor O'Neill presents the evidence on the transgenerational impact of trauma, and highlights the importance of a "trauma-informed" approach to addressing the conflict's legacy to protect the population from further harm.

The seminar is part of the Transitional Justice Institute (TJI) and INCORE, in partnership with Healing Through Remembering and the John Hume and Thomas P. O'Neill Chair in Peace, online seminar series. The seminar was chaired by Professor Brandon Hamber.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Bibliography: Northern Ireland and transitional justice

List of key academic papers on Northern Ireland, dealing with the past and transitional justice, review the annotated list (56 references).
  • Aiken, N. T. (2010). Learning to Live Together: Transitional Justice and Intergroup Reconciliation in Northern Ireland. International Journal of Transitional Justice, 4(2), 166-188.
  • Aiken, N. T. (2015). The Bloody Sunday Inquiry: Transitional Justice and Postconflict Reconciliation in Northern Ireland. Journal of Human Rights, 14(1), 101-123. 
  • Christine Bell, 'Transitional Justice, Interdisciplinarity and the State of the "Field" or "Non-Field",' International Journal of Transitional Justice 3(1) (2009): 5–27.
  • Bell, C. (2003). Dealing with the Past in Northern Ireland. Fordham International Law Journal, 26(4), 1095-1147.
  • Brown, K. (2012). 'What It Was Like to Live through a Day': Transitional Justice and the Memory of the Everyday in a Divided Society. International Journal of Transitional Justice, 6(3), 444-466. 
  • Brown, K., & Ní Aoláin, F. (2014). Through the Looking Glass: Transitional Justice Futures through the Lens of Nationalism, Feminism and Transformative Change. International Journal of Transitional Justice. 
  • Campbell, C., & Ni Aolain, F. (2003). Local Meets Global: Transitional Justice in Northern Ireland. Fordham International Law Journal, 26(4), 871-892. 
  • Campbell, C., Ni Aolain, F., & Harvey, C. (2003). The Frontiers of Legal Analysis: Reframing the Transition in Northern Ireland. Modern Law Review, 66(3), 317-345. 
  • Campbell, C., & Turner, C. (2008). Utopia and the doubters: truth, transition and the law. Legal Studies, 28(3), 374-395.
  • Campbell, C., Ni Aolain, F. (2003). Local Meets Global: Transitional Justice in Northern Ireland. Fordham International Law Journal, 26(4), 871-892.
  • Duffy, A. (2010). A Truth Commission for Northern Ireland? International Journal of Transitional Justice, 4(1), 26-46.
  • Gawn, R. (2007). Truth cohabitation: a truth commission for Northern Ireland?, Irish Political Studies, 22(3), pp. 339 –361.
  • Hackett, C., & Rolston, B. (2009). The burden of memory: Victims, storytelling and resistance in Northern Ireland. Memory Studies, 2(3), 355-376. 
  • Hamber, B. (Ed.). (1998). Past Imperfect: Dealing with the Past in Northern Ireland and Societies in Transition. Derry/Londonderry: University of Ulster, INCORE.
  • Hamber, B. (2003). Rights and Reasons: Challenges for Truth Recovery in South Africa and Northern Ireland. [Journal Article]. Fordham International Law Journal, 26(4), 1074-1094.
  • Hamber, B., & Lundy, P. (2020). Lessons from Transitional Justice? Toward a New Framing of a Victim-Centered Approach in the Case of Historical Institutional Abuse. Victims & Offenders, 15(6), 744-770.
  • Healing Through Remembering. (2002). Report of the Healing Through Remembering Project. Belfast: Healing Through Remembering.
  • Healing Through Remembering. (2005). Storytelling audit: An audit of personal story, narrative and testimony initiatives related to the conflict in and about Northern Ireland (Compiled by Gráinne Kelly). Belfast: Healing Through Remembering.
  • Healing Through Remembering. (2006). International Experiences of Days of Reflection and Remembrance. Belfast: Healing Through Remembering.
  • Healing Through Remembering (2006). Making Peace with the Past: Options for truth recovery regarding the conflict in and about Northern Ireland. Belfast: Healing Through Remembering. 
  • Hearty, K. (2015). Legislating Hierarchies of Victimhood and Perpetrators: The Civil Service (Special Advisers) Act (Northern Ireland) 2013 and the Meta-Conflict. Social & Legal Studies, 25(3), 333-353. 
  • Hegarty, A. (2003). The Government of Memory: Public Inquiries and the Limits of Justice in Northern Ireland. Fordham International Law Journal, 26(4), 1148-1192.
  • Hegarty, A. (2004). Truth, Law and Official Denial: The Case of Bloody Sunday. Criminal Law Forum, 15, 1990246.
  • Jankowitz, S. (2018). The 'Hierarchy of Victims' in Northern Ireland: A Framework for Critical Analysis. International Journal of Transitional Justice, 12(2), 216-236.
  • Kinder, E. (2020). Non-recurrence, reconciliation, and transitional justice: situating accountability in Northern Ireland's oral history archive. The International Journal of Human Rights, 1-20.
  • Lawther, C. (2013). Denial, Silence and the Politics of the Past: Unpicking the Opposition to Truth Recovery in Northern Ireland. International Journal of Transitional Justice, 7(1), 157-177.
  • Lawther, C (2017) The truth about loyalty: Emotions, ex-combatants and transitioning from the past. International Journal of Transitional Justice 11(3): 484–504.
  • Dempster, L. (2019). 'Quiet' Transitional Justice: 'Publicness', Trust and Legitimacy in the Search for the 'Disappeared'. Social & Legal Studies, 29(2), 246-272. doi:10.1177/0964663919833027
  • Lawther, C. (2020). Haunting and transitional justice: On lives, landscapes and unresolved pasts. International Review of Victimology, 0269758020945144. 
  • Lundy, P., McGovern, M. (2006). A Truth Commission for Northern Ireland? Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey: Research Update, 46.
  • Lundy, P., McGovern, M. (2008). Whose Justice? Rethinking Transitional Justice from the Bottom Up. Journal of Law and Society, 35(2), 265-292.
  • Lundy, P., McGovern, M. (2008). A Trojan Horse? Unionism, Trust and Truth-telling in Northern Ireland. IJTJ, 2(1), 42-62.
  • Lundy, P. (2009). 'Can the past be policed? Lessons from the Historical Enquiries Team Northern Ireland. Journal of Law and Social Challenges, 11, 109-171.
  • Lundy, P. (2011). Paradoxes and challenges of transitional justice at the 'local level': historical enquiries in Northern Ireland. Contemporary Social Science, 6(1), 89-105.
  • Lundy, P., & McGovern, M. (2008). Whose Justice? Rethinking Transitional Justice from the Bottom Up. Journal of Law and Society, 35(2), 265-292. 
  • Lundy, P. and M. Mcgovern (2008). "Truth, Justice and Dealing with the Legacy of the Past in Northern Ireland, 1998–2008" Ethnopolitics, 7(1), 177-193.
  • Lundy, P. (2010). Commissioning the Past in Northern Ireland. Review of International Affairs, LX(1138-1139), 101-133.
  • Mallinder, L. (2019). Metaconflict and international human rights law in dealing with Northern Ireland's past. Cambridge International Law Journal, 8(1), 5-38. 
  • McDowell, S. (2018). Transitional Justice and the Politics of Inscription: Memory, Space and Narrative in Northern Ireland. The AAG Review of Books, 6(4), 260-262.
  • McEvoy, K. (2007). Beyond Legalism: Towards a Thicker Understanding of Transitional Justice. Journal of Law and Society, 34(4), 411-440. 
  • Kieran McEvoy, 2010, Making peace with the past in Northern Ireland, The Guardian, October, 2010
  • McEvoy, K. (2010). Truth, Transition and Reconciliation: Dealing With the Past in Northern Ireland. London: Willan Publishing.
  • McEvoy, K. (2018). Travel, Dilemmas and Nonrecurrence: Observations on the 'Respectabilisation' of Transitional Justice. International Journal of Transitional Justice, 12(2), 185-193.
  • Kieran McEvoy and Anna Bryson, 'Justice, Truth and Oral History: Legislating the Past "from Below" in Northern Ireland,' Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly 67(1) (2016): 67–90.
  • McEvoy, K., & McConnachie, K. (2013). Victims and Transitional Justice: Voice, Agency and Blame. Social & Legal Studies, 22(4), 489-513. 
  • McEvoy, K., Holder, D., Mallinder, L., Bryson, A., Gormally, B., & McKeown, G. (2020). Prosecutions, Imprisonment and the Stormont House Agreement: A Critical Analysis of Proposals on Dealing with the Past in Northern Ireland.
  • McEvoy, Kieran ;  Bryson, Anna; Gormally, Brian; Holder, Daniel; Greenberg, Daniel; Hill, Jeremy;  Mallinder, Louise (2016). Stormont House Agreement: Model Implementation Bill. Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly 67(1): 1-36.
  • Ní Aoláin, F. (2002). Truth Telling Accountability and the Right to Life in Northern Ireland Issue. European Human Rights Law Review, 5, 572.
  • O'Rourke, C. (2008). The Shifting Signifier of 'Community' in Transitional Justice: A Feminist Analysis. Wisconsin Women's Law Journal, 23(2).
  • Rolston, B. (2002). Assembling the jigsaw: truth, justice and transition in the North of Ireland. Race and Class, 44(1), 87-106.
  • Rolston, B. (2006). Dealing with the Past: Pro-State Paramilitaries, Truth and Transition in Northern Ireland. Human Rights Quarterly, 28(3), 652-675.
  • Bill, R., & Fionnuala Ní, A. (2018). Colonialism, Redress and Transitional Justice: Ireland and Beyond. State Crime Journal, 7(2), 329-348.
  • Rooney, E., & Aoláin, F. N. (2018). Transitional Justice from the Margins: Intersections of Identities, Power and Human Rights. International Journal of Transitional Justice, 12(1), 1-8. 
  • Slugger O'Toole, Debating Dealing with the Past in the Assembly, 10 October 2010.
  • Simpson, K. (2009). Truth Recovery in Northern Ireland: Critically Interpreting the Past. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
 "The Troubles,Conway Street ,Belfast,Northern Ireland -1970,(The Peace Line)" 
by Kaspar C is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0A


Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Lessons from Transitional Justice for Historical Institutional Abuse

A new article on "Lessons from Transitional Justice? Toward a New Framing of a Victim-Centered Approach in the Case of Historical Institutional Abuse" has been published by myself and Professor Patricia Lundy. The article was published in the journal Victims and Offenders in April 2020.

The article critically examines transitional justice mechanisms to determine if historical abuse inquiries can learn from this field of practice. The article explores the Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry which reported its findings in January 2017 as a vehicle for addressing what lessons might be learned or shared between the fields of transitional justice and investigations into historical abuse. Through a detailed analysis of empirical research with those that gave testimony to the Inquiry, including fourthly-three victims and Inquiry transcripts, the article explores to what extent the Inquiry was victim-centered, enabled victim participation (beyond giving testimony) and addressed victim needs. The article shows that many of the flaws of transitional justice mechanisms have been replicated when dealing with historical child abuse.

Drawing on lessons from transitional justice – both positive and negative – the article outlines five broad areas for consideration that could strengthen the victim-centered nature of approaches to dealing with the legacy of historical child abuse. The article concludes that addressing victims' needs should be at the center and drive approaches and processes for both transitional justice and historical institutional abuse.

To request the article contact me.

If you have journal access the article can be downloaded here.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Breaking Binary History Online Seminar

The first of the "Dealing with the Past in Northern Ireland" seminar series is now available online. The seminar was entitled "Breaking Binary History: Can the Stormont House Agreement facilitate a broader and more representative understanding of the past?"" by Dr Adrian Grant on 7 May 2020.

The seminar is part of the Transitional Justice Institute (TJI) and INCORE, in partnership with Healing Through Remembering and the John Hume and Thomas P. O'Neill Chair in Peace, online seminar series.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Dealing with the Past Seminar Series

Despite the challenging current context debates about how to address Northern Ireland's past continue. I am delighted to be organising in my capacity as John Hume and Thomas P. O'Neill Chair in Peace - with the Transitional Justice Institute (TJI) and INCORE and in partnership with Healing Through Remembering - and important seminar series on this issue.  This online seminar series will explore the Stormont House Agreement and dealing with the past in Northern Ireland and run for the remainder of the year.

Find out more and review the schedule of seminars.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Psychosocial Issues and Peacebuilding Paper

Community Meeting, Colombia (Credit: Brandon Hamber)
Today I presented a short paper entitled "Mind the past to build the future: Systematic attention for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) inpeacebuilding efforts". The presentation was part of a member state consultation hosted by Stabilisation and Humanitarian Aid Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dutch Government. The initiative is run by the Dutch Government to find opportunities to enable international bodies, tasked with building sustainable peace, to integrate psychosocial aspects in all stages of their work.

In the member state consultation I was asked to give a brief insight into the psychosocial dynamics that need to be analysed and addressed when working on the peace-conflict continuum, and the value-added of Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) in peacebuilding efforts. Also, to focus on the importance of ongoing efforts to integrate MHPSS in peacebuilding. I based my remarks here on a chapter written for a large-scale research project into psychosocial issues and peacebuilding carried out by myself and colleagues.

You can download my paper here.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Masculinities: Women, Peace and Security Online Seminar

The Women, Peace and Security (WPS)  agenda, as defined by the UN Security Council, has latterly addressed itself more directly to the question of 'engaging men and boys'. On 3 April 2020 I gave a seminar on these developments and its significance for debates on masculinity, as well as WPS more broadly. The seminar is now available online.


This event is part of the WPS@20 seminar series hosted by the Ulster University Transitional Justice Institute to mark the upcoming 20th anniversary of the adoption of Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security by the United Nations Security Council.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Masculinities in Conflict: My Publications

I have numerous requests for my writing and publications on masculinities, conflict and transition. So below I have compiled a list of published work to date:

  • Hamber, Brandon (2015). There Is a Crack in Everything: Problematising Masculinities, Peacebuilding and Transitional Justice. Human Rights Review, 17 (1). pp. 9-34 [Request Copy or Access in the Journal]

  • Gallagher, Elizabeth and Hamber, Brandon (2015). Addressing the psychosocial needs of young men: The case of Northern Ireland. In: Psychosocial Perspectives on Peacebuilding. Springer: New York, pp. 90-149 [More Information]

  • 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]

  • Hamber, B. (2010). Masculinity and Transition: Crisis or Confusion in South Africa? Journal of Peacebuilding and Development, 5(3), 75-88 [Request Copy or Access in the Journal]

  • Hamber, B. & Palmary, I. (2009). Gender, Memorialization, and Symbolic Reparations. In R. Rubio-Marin (Ed.), The Gender of Reparations: Unsettling Sexual Hierarchies While Redressing Human Rights Violations (pp. 324-381). New York: Cambridge University Press [Request Copy]

  • Hamber, B. (2007). Masculinity and Transitional Justice: An Exploratory Essay. Peace Prints: South Asian Journal of Transitional Justice, 3(1), Autumn [Download]

  • Hamber, B. (2007). Masculinity and Transitional Justice: An Exploratory Essay. International Journal of Transitional Justice, 1(3), 375-390 [Request Copy or Access in the Journal]

  • Hamber, B. (2006). Where are the men in the battle for equality? Look South and Polity, 20 October 2006. [Download]

  • Hamber, B. (2006, 12-13 October). 'We must be very careful how we emancipate our women': shifting masculinities in post-apartheid South Africa. Paper presented at the Re-Imagining Women's Security: a Comparative Study of South Africa, Northern Ireland and Lebanon Round Table, New York [Download]

  • Hamber, B., Hillyard, P., Maguire, A., McWilliams, M., Robinson, G., Russell, D., et al. (2006). Discourses in Transition: Re-Imagining Women's Security. International Relations, 20(4), 487-502 [Request Copy or Access in the Journal]

If you cannot access any of the above publications, please send me a request and I will email it to you.

Friday, January 24, 2020

New John Hume Archive on CAIN

Great to hear that CAIN has recently received funding from the Reconciliation Fund to compile a new web resource of speeches, statements, and articles by John Hume during his political career (1964 to 2004). The work on this project began with a donation of source materials that Sean Farren had collected during the research on his book: Farren, Sean. (Ed.) (2017). John Hume: In his own words. I wrote a Foreword to the book. The initial working project page can be viewed here. The resource is key to my ongoing work at John Hume and Thomas P. O'Neill Chair in Peace.


Thursday, January 16, 2020

Screenings of Two Indonesian Films

The lastest screenings "Screening Violence" project took place in Dungannon on 16 January 2020, with the support of the Dungannon Film Club, showing two Indonesian films followed by a discussion with participants. The films were Sowan (The Visit) which documents the friendship of two young women, Mien and Murti, who end up on different sides of the political troubles of the mid-1960s. The second film Provocator Damai (Peace Provocateur) is short documentary charts the experiences of Christians and Muslims residing with families of the opposite faith. The second film, in particular, raised an important discussion about the impact of cross-community work in Northern Ireland, with a range of divergent views.


Scene from The Visit (Sowan)
The AHRC Project "Screening Violence: A Transnational Study of Post-Conflict Imaginaries" is undertaken with partners in Newcastle and Bristol University, and works with co-investigators and partners in Algeria, Argentina, Colombia, Northern Ireland and Indonesia.