Neoliberalism and Climate Change

August 10, 2015

Last two weeks of the Summer Peacebuilding Program have been a whirlwind of knowledge, experiences and personal growth. As I continue to figure and process the information that I am fortunately being provided with, I am starting to make connections and links to my area of study, which is Environmental Action. One particularly interesting session held by Dr.William Arocha was based on neoliberalism, market forces and strong property rights, and irrespective of my personal opinions on neoliberalism, I recognize that neoliberalism could be a magic tool in the face of environmental crisis.

In a society that is based on profits and commoditization, nobody protects common shared resources. We live in an economic world that is driven by private and vested interests and therefore, it is but imperative that we see climate change through the lens of global market business. Climate change is the best opportunity for efficient and innovative businesses in the market to grow and develop. It is a booming market for better blueprints, technology, and invention. There is a whole new market open for experimental transformation in the way small and large scale industries run. In the neoliberalist era that is striving to strike a chord between economic development and ecological concern, these new pollution regulated and efficient goods and services will quickly capitulate to great economic success.

Also, in order to please and impress the public with green strategies, companies are focussing on reducing raw material needed for production of goods. Books become e-versions, hard disks become thumb drives, TV boxes become flat screens, etc. There is a massive reduction in the use of material. Technological and market growth extrapolates into less input and more output. Evidently market based approaches can provide solid incentives to the actors involved and new markets to grow and prosper. Thereby giving window for better, improved and efficient ways of tackling the imminent problem of climate change.

The single most benefit that market based approach can provide is that when markets are competitive and price signalling of scarce resources is present, then the markets can exactly determine the price value for these depleting resources. In most cases environmental concerns do not seem a big and imminent issue to the public because they are not quantifiable and the consequences of issues like climate change are not individualized. When one has to pay for the scarce resources, only then will she or he know the value it holds. This can be seen in global carbon markets, when emitters have to pay a certain amount of money corresponding to the emissions that they produced. This is proving to be efficient way of not only controlling emissions but also a way to spread awareness regarding imminent issues of climate change.  This awareness further promotes individual action that extrapolates into community action. For example, when big names in the industry such as Coldplay band indulge in carbon offsets as an individual action, it promotes a whole lot of growth in the carbon trade sector, and with more groups joining, it becomes a community action.  Climate change is opportunity for us to develop more efficient and beneficial products to tackling climate change and also place a value on nature.

Opponents argue that environment has an inherent value that does not involve economic terms of markets and business. In addition, they further state that nature holds dignity and needs to be viewed through value-based outlook. However, it is important to understand and acknowledge that the world we live in is market-based and if this economic structure can provide us a solution to tackling environmental crisis, then I do not see why we shouldn’t invest in these ideas.


International Justice and The Principle of Complementarity

August 10, 2015

The last week of lectures and activities were in all in one way or another related to justice, reconciliation and restoration. Approaching these subjects from so many different angles naturally made me reflect on my own experience that I had with the ICC last fall.The world of international justice was in all honesty a complete mystery for me upon starting my internship with the Coalition for the ICC (CICC) in their Hague secretariat. I’d had a few classes in international politics and global governance where the institution had been brought up but it was mostly spoken about in broad terms. The very usual critique of it as being ineffective and “a European court for African leaders” was not uncommon throughout those class discussions. The idea of an institution with the mission of furthering something like accountability for state leaders in an anarchical international reality indeed seemed like an enterprise with more challenges than opportunities going for it.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is as most of you already know the first permanent international judicial body with the capacity of trying individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes guided by the crucial principle of complementarity. Individuals can thus only be tried when national courts are unable or unwilling to do so. By working with the CICC I got the opportunity to jump head first into studying the way ICC’s civil society representation is dealing with all of the problematique related to the operation of the court. The CICC includes 2,500 civil society organizations in 150 different countries working in partnership to strengthen international cooperation with the ICC; ensure that the Court is fair, effective and independent; make justice both visible and universal; and advance stronger national laws that deliver justice to victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

The main actors in the ensuring the continuous function of the Court is of course the staff, such as the judges, prosecutors and attorneys, but equally importantly – and perhaps more fundamentally, the state actors. The state actors and their diplomatic representations in The Hague are providing the funding for the Court on a voluntary basis. The agreements about who should pay what, when, is constantly discussed and the Court has dealt with an actual decrease in funding the past few years despite an increasing case load and calls for investigations. A lot of the critique I see regarding the effectiveness and operation of the Court is directly related to the funds available and how it shapes the programs and outreach that the Court staff can engage in.

Civil society is, together with a surprisingly small number of states and the Court staff, the main drivers in ensuring sufficient funding for the Court and an absolutely crucial link between state actors, the Court and communities around the world. I was amazed in seeing how much of the work that is being carried out and advocated for by the Court and civil society was not about putting people on trial, but instead concerned with the crucial component of complementarity. There is a great deal of awareness amongst all actors, even including the states, that complementarity is the key to any way of bringing about international justice with legal means. I think that I by working with the ICC realized how multifaceted this kind of approach has to be – and that the judicial aspect of international justice is only a small part of it.

Many trials in The Hague were causing reactions in societies hundred and hundred miles away, and the controversy regarding the imprisonment of leaders who in many people’s eyes are legitimate is never going to be unproblematic. The lectures we had last week made me thin even more critically about this and in fact, commit even more to the idea of complementarity. I actually think, despite the in most cases very impressive work of the Court in community outreach and national capacity building, that the ICC and civil society must be more sensitive to the cultural and political context in which they are getting involved in. A trial in The Hague might be able to bring forward an important set of narratives and some sort of justice to certain groups, but it can never fully heal societies and bring about reconciliation at the national level.

I will continue to believe that the ICC serves a purpose in bringing about the end of impunity through a higher level of accountability in our, frankly speaking chaotic world order, but it can, and should never be resorted to as the only solution. National capacity building, context based reconciliation efforts and trauma healing should be a part of the dialogue to a much greater extent than what we usually talk about in IR circles today.

The Tug of War Between Macro and Micro – Part I

August 9, 2015

I’ve been egging to write this blog post for longer than a week now. Unfortunately, an airline (not to be named) has lost my luggage for a while so I wasn’t able to access my laptop, but salvation is finally upon me. Anyway, here it goes.

The words macro and micro describe the lens used by social scientists to look at different issues and themes in various fields of study. Someone might suggest that the best example to discern the meaning of these two words would be to ask Economists, but let’s no go down that road. Instead, let’s take healthcare. Dealing with a macro issue would entail, for instance, passing a law addressing high medical expenses. A micro approach would be providing legal aid to a single mother who was ripped off by her insurance company due to the lack of oversight. What’s important to recognize is that each of these issues could also be addressed from the other lens. For instance, there could be a crowdfunding campaign (micro) to help cover someone’s insanely large medical bill or there could be a proposal for a law that creates an oversight mechanism (macro). These examples were an over simplification but they get the point across.

The mere fact that every single issue has a macro and micro layer (and a bunch of others in between) means that there are many different ways to divert blame for the various issues that plague our society. This is the issue I struggled with while visiting the Salinas Police Department where Chief Kelly McMillin spent the afternoon talking with us about the issues that surround law enforcement at a national level but also in Salinas.

One of the issues we talked about was the disproportionate incarceration rates of men of color. As I expected, Chief McMillin attributed these to the fact that poverty correlates with crime and that in the US, the poorest people are generally black or Latino. The solution then would be to reduce poverty in general but also reduce relative poverty of the marginalized minorities. This makes perfect sense and has a lot of truth to it, but blaming this entirely on the “macro” issue is unfair. At the end of the day, cannabis use is estimated to be the same among African Americans and white Americans. However, the majority of those behind bars for pot-use nationwide are black. You could go ahead blame the criminal justice system and say that it’s just the judges who are discriminating. But if discrimination is so common among judges, then I don’t see how Police Officers would have a better moral judgement. Chief McMillin was convinced that his department does not engage in any sort of  discrimination. He would even argue that the numbers prove it. What he means by “numbers” is the fact that the number reported incidents (ex. arrests) of black and Latino men are proportional to that of Salinas’s demographics and are encompassed in the margin of error. The issue however lies in the unreported actions. For instance Officers do not have to report every single traffic stop they do and report the race of the driver. It’s important to keep in mind that officers have abundant reasons that can be hard to refute when stopping someone like “you were tailgating too close” or “your car matches a description of a car on file; we need to run the numbers”.

I am by no means trying to point the blame at anyone, quite the contrary; I think that issues like racism and racial privileges are so entrenched in American society that diverting the fault to only one layer would be foolish. In a couple of days, I am going to write another blog post that looks at this “tug of war” from a different, yet just as interesting angle.

Arrival to the Mount Madonna Center

August 9, 2015

IMG_7727As we came up the windy path to the center, my car sickness quickly subsided as we entered the gates into this heavenly place in the mountains: we are lucky enough to call this home for the next 5 days.

Of course, we all made the connection quickly: to study peacebuilding and discuss the topics that we are, it is only right that we do so in a peaceful place. So, as you can imagine, the shift from room 220 in the McCone building (as nice as it is) to THIS was quite an easy transition. Surrounded by tall Redwoods and a small lake, Mount Madonna is the definition of “peaceful” and I think once we all move beyond the initial awe that forces its way out of each of us in the form of a smile, I believe we will indeed be able to have a very productive final week of the Summer Peacebuilding Program.

The Mount Madonna Center boasts many self-soothing activities, including various hiking trails, yoga class, and it’s very own temple. Needless to say that this week, we will all have a chance to create our own internal peace with the hope that maximum output is achieved while maintaining our sanity.

A day in South Africa…

August 9, 2015

Dr. Christopher Mitchell’s two-day lecture on the topics of reconciliation, restoration, restitution and translation justice was very informative and valuable. I learned the impacts of these processes on the different parts of the world which previously encountered episodes of war and violence. The lecture also gave me the right tools to reflect on my personal experience in post apartheid South Africa. Having lived in Swaziland for seven years I have had several opportunities to visit South Africa. Mandela’s work towards reconciliation has transformed South Africa from racial apartheid to democratic majority rule. His fight against racial oppression has always inspired me and I was fortunate enough to visit his cell in Robben Island, South Africa, where he was imprisoned for 27 years.

In my first few visits to South Africa, I was disappointed to witness several forms of segregation based on race. The experiences I had there made me disillusioned about unity in South Africa despite Mandela’s and Steve Biko’s work towards empowering black people and unifying the country. I realized that there were still loopholes and doubts based on the results of reconciliation efforts after the apartheid.

The first time I personally felt discriminated against because of my race was during a weekend in 2006. My class was taken to a game resort for a weekend retreat in Nelspruit, South Africa. Nelspruit is a small town populated predominantly by white people. On the trip, all the students were black, except one of my classmates. We all wanted to go for a swim after we realized how hot it was when we arrived in Nelspruit. When we went to the swimming pool, all the people in the pool were white. A few of my friends immediately jumped in the pool, and what I saw a few minutes after was shocking. All the white people in the pool suddenly started moving to one side, away from where my friends were. Additionally, all the white people inside the pool were also staring at some of us who were outside of the pool. I felt disturbed. I did not know what to do about the white people’s reaction. Gradually, I began to ignore everything, and jumped into the swimming pool. That day was the first time I felt like a minority, and I felt like the white people were looking down on me. I could not swim to the other side of the pool; although there were no physical boundaries to see, I could feel the invisible wall. This made me realize that although there had been an official agreement to end Apartheid in South Africa, the real change of ensuring reintegration of all factions of society in the day-to-day life needs to be worked upon. This requires greater public dialogue and greater focus on ensuring that two people who used to once hate each other can now live in cooperation and encourage greater social engagement with one another.

I stayed a total of seven years in Swaziland, and I made a lot of friends–one of whom became more than a friend, a family member. Rosa Brittain Walker is a white South African whom I studied with, while in Swaziland. After we became friends, her parents became my host family, and I started going to South Africa frequently for holiday breaks. A lot of people would often stare at me when I dined out with her family in restaurants and hotels. Regardless of these issues, many cultural beliefs and values were shared between Rosa’s family and myself over the years. The relationship I have with Britt’s family gave me hope that segregation can be alleviated through integration and reconciliation in South Africa is still a work in progress moving towards the right direction.

Finding truth about the search for truth

August 9, 2015

Dr. Mitchell’s talks with us about reconciliation and transitional justice were quite moving. I quickly found myself curious and then a bit determined to learn more about the process of reconciliation in a post-agreement environment. Through several case studies of violent conflicts, I kept on looking for some sort of “formula,” like a “how-to” guide to reconciliation. What kind of compensation is necessary? What are the first steps? While Dr. Mitchell demonstrated to us several principles and components of reconciliation, I finally grasped that there is no one-size-fits-all for this delicate process.

This is why learning about cases of reconciliation is important. Each one has its successes that help people heal and shortcomings which are to be taken as lessons for us as we move forward. The story of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa is very powerful. I was struck by how hearing the truth from victims, even through a video documentary and thousands of miles away from where it occurred, impacted me. I can only imagine how it affected the victims and people of South Africa. It is a lesson of a collective journey for truth.

I also found interesting the community aspect of reconciliation in the case of East Timor. They used traditional forms of conflict resolution to hear truth from both victims and perpetrators. Afterwards, perpetrators were rehabilitated in a way via community work. This fostered reintegration and healing of the community. I think the world can learn from such practices. Their view the perpetrators was that of human beings.

I question how I can foster groups to reconcile and heal using whatever culturally appropriate norms work best.

Fair Trade Cocaine.

August 8, 2015

Earlier in the program, Paolina commented briefly on the impact of Reagan’s “War on Drugs.” Her comment made me consider how we think and talk about distribution and purchasing power of drugs. Typically, one hears about those that are distributing and selling drugs and associated violence, but we often forget about those that purchase and use drugs—those that create demand. This situation is clearly illustrated by Flip Kiran Singh Sirah in his slam poetry rendition of “There’s no such thing as Fair Trade Cocaine” (watch at It’s about the connections between people and trade and the relationships, interconnection, and potential violence that results. We are all involved. We are all connected.

Rebuilding the Vanquished: Memorialisation as meaningful Restorative Justice

August 7, 2015

Dr. Christopher Mitchell, a renowned historian and voice of influence in the scholarship on reconciliation, in our session on reconciliation warned us that no one says that this is going to be easy. He soberly and impactfully regaled us with long and painful tales of unimaginable horror, before prompting us to think about substantial efforts to reconcile. This led us down many dark corridors in theories on how to rebuild societies and polities in the wake of intense violence and hatred. For two days straight the participants of the Summer Peacebuilding Program wrestled with various notions of reconciliation, and the meanings within the term.

Dr. Mitchell’s sessions provokes deep thought and emotive debate. This is not only owing to his teaching style or our various interdisciplinary backgrounds, but because reconciliation is a loaded term. Reconciliation takes almost countless forms, and meaningful reconciliation is something that is highly subjective; highly dependent upon the situation and the affected population. Indeed, volumes of journals and books could be produced on the issue of how best to reconcile and under what conditions, but in an attempt to provide meaningful analysis, this post will only confront one issue with reconciliation: the issue of restoration for those who have lost what they cannot regain.

Dr. Mitchell pointed out to us that in any reconciliation effort, restorative justice included, victims certainly need to be cared for, but that perpetrators of violence need to be accounted for. I reckon that with our human instincts and justice-oriented viewpoints in mind, few of us would disagree. Indeed, restoration doesn’t always have to be taxing for perpetrators and authorities to acknowledge. Properties can be restored, artwork can be restored, and so on. But when the physically intangible is vanquished, how can restoration be meaningful? That is, when human existence is damaged, impaired or lost altogether, what can be done to restore it? To but it crudely, landmine victims cannot grow their original limbs back, rape victims can’t be unraped, and victims of bloody massacres cannot be resurrected, and trauma cannot be forgotten. Yet while peacebuilders and apologetic perpetrators alike cannot replace the irreplaceable, there is room to repair damage and heal wounds.

Financial compensation has been said to be insulting, and apologies can be seen as insincere, but there is much to be said within the field of restorative justice for memorialisation, and it certainly goes a long way. Whether it takes the form of physical memorials, days of remembrance, bursaries and scholarships or honours for victims, there are many purported benefits of the memorialisation approach. The establishment of any form of memorialisation can be comforting to victims in that they can be reassured that their plight will not be forgotten and some fear that violence may recur can be quelled, for memorialisation often represents lessons learned from violence. It is also an important form of acknowledgement by figures of authority that wrongs were committed and can be more tangible than a verbal apology. It also permits a physical space to grieve, and promotes an idea of collective memory and collective mourning, not only for lives lost, but for the suffering caused by violence.

Memorialisation is a deeply humane effort at restorative justice, but it is effective memorialisation too often faces obstacles, namely from perpetrators of violence. When there is insufficient acknowledgement of past wrongs, memory becomes not collective but contested, and memorialisation becomes not unifying but political. A good example of this is the Serbian government’s continuing refusal to recognise the genocide of Bosniak Muslims at Srebrenica, and the impact that has had on what are intended to be peaceful memorial ceremonies, but as recently as this year, have been interrupted by disturbances. The memorialisation of the Srebrenica genocide is a good example of how when memorialisation becomes politicised, conflicted parties do not become reconciled meaningfully, as those who establish such memorials would intend, but rather conflict itself becomes encouraged, and the goalposts tighten in the pursuit for peace.

This explains why there should be a role for the perpetrators of violence in the memorialisation process. This is in the interest of the perpetrator if the perpetrator has retained a position of power either domestically or internationally, (as is the case with the Serbian government, to employ the Srebrenica example once more), for when a perpetrator does not acknowledge a wrongdoing of any nature for which it is widely deemed responsible, it damages its own legitimacy.

Much more can be said about the establishment of meaningful restorative justice through memorialisation, but I argue that prior to, or perhaps coupled with restorative justice must come independent truth commissions. This is because memorials are deeply meaningful to their victims, and that meaning may be compromised if the horrors that brought about the need to remember are not brought to light. Hence, the truth is needed, and it needs to be presented to the public in a way that is not only thorough, but irrefutable. What we have learned from Dr. Mitchell is that truth commissions need to satisfy victims and expose perpetrators, in a dignified manner, but that when a harsh light is shed upon the truth, it exposes more for us to remember, and enhances the credibility of memorials, and firmly establishes an objective and virtuous collective memory, offering more tools for a meaningful restorative justice. After all, reconciliation cannot be built on mysteries and falsehood.


Advocacy and Accompaniment of Lasting Peace

August 6, 2015

A lot of people in our class have blogged about our couple days of focusing on gang violence in the local area. I believe that the visit to the Salinas Valley State Prison plus our talks with Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin and those about Ceasefire brought out a lot of emotions and opinions about our whole criminal justice system and gangs in our society.

First of all, for me these all were eye-opening experiences. I grew up in a place where gang violence did not exist and therefore my exposure to the culture of gangs was limited to television and media. I did not consider myself as someone oblivious to the existence to such violence, but seeing the actors involved in such things struck a certain cord.

Julie Reynolds was ever so informative while talking about her work as a journalist, and her knowledge in general about gang violence in Salinas was impressive. She is the type of person I want to aspire to be like. Her work as a journalist/activist is centered on the human condition of individuals involved in gang violence. During our interactions with her, I was reminded vividly of our earlier Skype session with Father Cedric Prakash. In speaking about peacebuilding, he stated the importance of knowing the facts, but also that knowing the facts is not enough. This is where advocacy and accompaniment come in. Julie embodies all of this. As a journalist she has shown her skills at finding out the facts. And in addition she has taken a stance and personally been at the sides of those, such as Willie Stokes, who are making a positive change. It is people like Julie who are the agents for fostering lasting peace.

Memorials and Conflict.

August 6, 2015

On Monday, August 3, 2015, Dr. Susan Hirsch wrapped up her morning discussion on “Justice and Law in Post-conflict Setting” with memorialization. Memorials are one way to remember an event and/or conflict, especially if justice has not been addressed by society. However the process of creating a memorial can cause conflict within various associated groups—from the survivors, to the public, to the government. The documentary “Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision” by PBS examines Maya Lin’s design of the “Vietnam Veterans Memorial” and the conflict that arose around her proposal.

When Maya Lin’s design was selected by a national design competition, many felt that her design proposal was too abstract, not representative of the veterans, and there was opposition to its construction. (Maya was a Yale University architecture student when she won the competition with a design concept of a V-shaped wall representing a wound in the landscape. Rumor is that her professor gave her a “B” on this design.) Thankfully, her design was built with only a few additions (an American flag and two sculptures, which she herself opposed, but were added nonetheless).

I would recommend watching the documentary, which helps to explain the process of designing a memorial for a national competition and why Maya Lin’s design proposal was so controversial. And how, most importantly, in the end, the memorial represented (and continues to represent) a larger process of trauma, peacebuilding, and healing.