A Visit of A Lifetime.

By Duke Huang

The experience of visiting a maximum-security prison and a lower-security prison made me realize how important prison abolition movement is. From ending solitary confinement, death penalty, increasing more access to library and legal information, rights to the prisoners to abolishing prisons. Even though it would be almost impossible to abolish prisons now, it is still important to advocate for the prisoners and fighting for their rights. But I do think the end goal should be total prison abolition. If we have much more resources on crime prevention and a culture of being open about emotions and vulnerability, we would not need to spend almost $90 billion dollars on building and maintaining prisons. Moreover, hearing from Lou and the two inmates whom we had a chance to talk to, I believe that change really needs to come from the individuals. Those who are willing to change would use the tools they need to achieve what they hope to achieve, and the current system should provide more resources, such as mental health assistance, arts and crafts, useful skills, to the inmates so that they can get to that point more easily and quickly.

            I still can’t accept the fact that we basically build a city just to house a population that we think shouldn’t be in ours, and in order to not see it, we intentionally build it as far away as possible. I was very unease about the normalization of prisons. I do understand that people who work there treat it as their jobs and take it very seriously. But just say this is a prison, and this is how it works here seems to be a bit irresponsible to me. I appreciate the work the prison staffs have done, but I just wish that on the political and cultural level we would take the issue much more seriously than we are now. 

            Visiting prisons as outsiders can be controversial for all sides. Using the analogy that a prison is like a city, how is it different from us visiting another city as tourists? We visit where they sleep, where they eat, what they eat, where they practice religious beliefs, where they hang out and where they work. Not to mention we have to go through metal detectors and show our ID before going in. I believe that if the goal of the visit is to learn, then we should grab every opportunity we can to learn more about their lives, to experience what they have to go through and hear their own personal stories. Even though we should not normalize prisons, we should also not treat it so differently that we inadvertently disrespect them. 

            Finally, on the topic of guilt. Personally, I feel guilty all the time, and I do think that sometimes it is impeding me from taking actions. I think what Lou said yesterday is very important that we need to transform our remorse into actions. As much as guilt can be useful in making people apologize and recognize their wrongdoings, it doesn’t solve the problem or change the history. What’s been done is done, what could be done is to address the victim’s needs and to prevent the same thing from happening again. And through that, I think we can achieve both peace and justice.

Early Warning / Early Response

By Duke Huang

            Learning about early warning (EW) and early response (ER) was eye opening for me. Because I would like to see conflict being prevented before violence takes place. EW and ER are about empowering local community. We need to hear their needs, acquire local knowledge and provide any skill training they would like to have. One important take away for me was that EW and ER can be implemented anytime during the conflict, which means that the conflict can be stopped anytime as long as there is enough ability and capacity for the community to stop it. When I was learning about Rwanda Genocide, I learned that the Hutus were using radio and to spreading hate speech to indicate whom to kill. They were telling people to cut down the “tall trees” (to tell the Hutus to kill the Tutsis). Now, hopefully, we have the ability and capacity to detect this kind of sign to prevent tragedy from happening again.

            One example of ER Madhawa gave was that they asked children to draw what their community used to look like, and when their parents learn about this, they would be eager to contribute to the map because they wouldn’t want to be left out from the process. When the map is complete, they would ask what kind of change the community members would like to see and implement local knowledge with experts on making the change. I think this is very strategic, not only because children would be happy to involve while the adults might be hesitant at the beginning, but also it is very inclusive of local members and knowledges, which is very sustainable.

            One of the biggest grievances for me during conflict is the violence against civilians. Despite of multiple conventions and international laws that prohibit violence against civilians, the deaths of civilians are still very prevalent in conflict. The use of indiscriminatory weapons, such as air strikes and land mines, are not only inhumane but also creating unnecessary casualties. There has been lots of research done about the use of drone strikes in eliminating extremist groups. They showed that the use is insufficient because the groups are often mixing and intentionally hiding with civilians. I personally cannot agree with the idea of “acceptable loss”, which indicates the casualties that are considered minor or tolerable in military operations. A Chinese proverb captures the essence of this idea: “It’s better to kill a hundred, rather than letting one go.” Whether or not the extremist groups would kill the civilians, I still think it is wrong for US and other countries to send drones and missiles from thousands of miles away from the targets and kill civilians before they could even notice the missiles are coming. It is also fueling the anger of the youth to join the extremist groups.

            Since the conventions and international laws have such limited power in preventing violence against civilians, I believe that EW and ER can be helpful. Some possible suggestions I have include recruiting local response teams to provide immediate support to any air strike. Another one is to engage local community leaders in having dialogue with the extremist groups to prevent them from hiding with civilians to decrease the number of casualties. 

Gender and Peacebuilding

            I have started learning about since I started taking Peace and Justice studies courses at Pace University. Even though gender inequality is briefly talked about in Taiwanese education, it is not a mainstreamed topic as it should be. I learned about gender from talking to my peers who know much more than I do, from teachers who are specialized in women and gender studies and from being in an environment that focuses a lot on gender. As someone who is passionate about gender and peacebuilding, I found that the intersection between the two is very important. From learning about the gender box, I start to think how I am fitting into the box, and how we can deconstruct the box. Moreover, as a peacebuilder, how is my own gender affect my resources, skills, knowledges and accesses. 

            To think about the role of gender in different stages of conflict makes me realize that we shouldn’t think about gender and conflict as two different issues. Gender in early stages of conflict is often affected by male unemployment. During conflict, it is affected by gender-based violence as well as gender role shift because the men are away from home and the women take up the responsibility as the breadwinners. After the violent conflict, gender is affected again by increased gender-based violence because of the grievance of the former combatants. However, there might also be an increase in opportunities and programs that promote gender equality. Gender is an important factor in the decision-making process. There is not only an extremely low rate of women including in the peace-making process, but also a very low rate of programs that advocating for gender equality.

            I really learned a lot by putting myself into a woman peacebuilder’s shoes, realizing the privileges I have as a man and how can I use them to advocate for gender equality within the field of peacebuilding. It is very disheartening for me to learn about the challenges a female peacebuilder has to go through, such as not being taken seriously by the community, threats to their own safety, ill-treatment by their male colleagues and more. However, it was very interesting for me to learn about “strategic invisibility.” How people use their vulnerability and invisibility to their own advantage, such as that women usually generate less suspicion than men. How women rights NGO use their role as mother to negotiate with extremist groups.

            I am actively thinking what my role as a male peacebuilder can do to advocate for gender equality in peacebuilding field as well as the conflict we are working on. I think the first and foremost is still active listening, not just to the people from the community, but also other peacebuilders we are working with. If we are working on a project, it is imperative that I stand by if not behind female peacebuilders and not try to take over the project. At the same time, I should use my own privileges to talk to males who are not willing to talk with female peacebuilders and persuade them to talk with them. Lastly, I want to share that after this session, I try to have my gender lens on with me every day. It allows me to see the deeper analysis of things and be more critical about my own behavior. Most importantly, it helps me to deconstruct the gender box that I had trapped myself in for most of my life.

Decolonizing Peacebuilding

By Duke Huang

            Decolonization for me is like when Neo finds out about the Matrix. Just like Neo has to choose the red or the blue pill, we also have a choice to ignore what colonization has done to us or try to do something about it. I decided to take the “red pill”, which means that I want to decolonize my mind. Just like Morpheus not only liberates Neo from the Matrix and teach him the skills to fight against it, i.e. Agent Smith; Pushpa talked to us about decolonization and teach us how to do our best to decolonize ourselves and the world. I have a thousand more references to the Matrix, but I will stop and focus on what I have learned about decolonization.

            Before learning about decolonization, we learned what colonization is. Colonization is about domination; it is about power. One of the most important ways colonization affect us is through education, it determines what and how we should think. To decolonize our mind is to challenge what we have learned through the colonized education systems. To decolonize our mind is to decentralize our source of knowledge. We need to challenge the idea of having an authority to dictate us what to do and what to say. We need to transform the structure and include people with different knowledge and background.     

             Like peacebuilding and sustainability, decolonization is a goal not an endpoint. There should be people working on different levels to come together to change the structure. We can never undo the harm colonization has done to people, but we can address the needs of those who are harmed and putting their voices in the center of the discussion. We all have important roles in decolonizing our own communities. Sometimes, it is not that people do not want to decolonize themselves, but they do not have the means and agencies to do so. So, to decolonize peacebuilding, we as peacebuilders should not only focus on decolonizing ourselves and our actions, but also assisting the communities we are working with to decolonize themselves. 

            One point about decolonization that I found very important is that decolonizing is not about eradicating western civilization, rather, it is about bringing more people with different experience into the discussion. I think this is not only crucial, but also strategic. I am assuming that there are lots of pushback from western countries about decolonization because they think it means that they are losing their power. However, decolonization still keeps them in center while changing the structure. I do think that there should be an emphasis on the already existing power difference in decolonization. What I mean is that we should not only include more people into the center but addressing the issues and harm that had prevent them from being in the center. 

Restorative Justice in practice

By Duke Huang

            After listening to Cheryl’s story, I have nothing but deep respect for her. Not only for carrying on her life after experiencing such horrific trauma, but also for transforming her grieve into action. Even though I have read and study about restorative justice, I was never quite sure how it’s being experienced and lived. Cheryl put restorative justice into a perspective from a victim, a survivor and an activist. I truly appreciated that she told us much about what happened earlier and later in her life beside the tragedy. Because she allowed us to see the trajectory of her life, and everything that leads to this point. I deeply believe that the choices we have made had contributed to the choices we are making right now. 

            When Cheryl was telling her story, I try to listen as much as I can and not to imagined what would I do if I was in her shoe. Because I realized it does not matter what I would do, but what she has done. My key takeaway from this week is that we should not only listen but listen without judgement and with respect. As peacebuilder it’s important to listen to people from all sides before making our own decisions. To be completely honest, I was not only shocked, but almost hostile to some of the comments that were made during our visit at the Salinas Police Department. However, after Pushpa had explained and walked us through our thought process, I realized how immature I was for being so dismissive to their comments, how it had hindered me from listening to them. If I truly want to be a peacebuilder, I need to act according to my own values, but still be open to other people’s.

            Even though I have read many books on restorative justice, including the Little Book on Restorative Justice by Howard Zehr, it was much more powerful and extraordinary hearing about it from Cheryl. She connected the text with her own experience and emotions and that made me realized how powerful storytelling is and how much effect it can have on everyone.   

            Cheryl also made me think deeply about the relationship between restorative justice and retributive justice. I found it very interesting and disheartening when she told us that all the inmates have learned about restorative justice while the victims have not. Restorative justice needs to be initiated by the victims, so how can they start healing if they don’t even know this kind of process exists. I think that at this point restorative justice still can’t replace retributive justice, but it is definitely a better alternative to a system that doesn’t address the relationship between the victims and perpetrators. 

            As someone who is neither a victim nor a perpetrator, I want to be able to advocate for restorative justice that serves both the victims and perpetrators. I would focus on the needs of the victims while making sure that both of their voices are heard while giving them enough space to feel comfortable to speak about their minds. Avoid pushing the victims to forgive but encouraging them to look at their perpetrators with different perspective. 

Coordination in Humanitarian aid

By Duke Huang

            Ever since learning about the issue of lack of coordination and transparency, I have been thinking about what I can do to counter that. Sometimes, there are enough aid, but because of the way it is being delivered and coordinated, it is distributed terribly. As a result, it not only does not get to those who are in need, but also contribute to the conflict. I found it very interesting that some peacebuilders consider humanitarian aid as an industry, which I agree with, and it’s a huge industry as well. I personally think that since humanitarian aid is an industry with hundreds of billions of dollars spent every, there needs to be regulations of it. Not like Structural Adjustment Program, but regulations to keep humanitarian aid to fall into the wrong hands and being used with ill-intentions. 

            However, as much as we would like to regulate things, they might still be used with bad intentions and fall into the wrong hands. So, I think the coordination, organization and accountability of the humanitarian aid organizations are extremely important to make sure that the aid is delivered to those in need. From visiting Community Alliance for Safety and Peace (CASP) meeting and hearing from the program coordinator and two of the members, I have learned a lot about how coordination between different governmental sectors and non-profit organizations works. The thing that stood out to me is the fact that they are based on sharing value and common goal, instead of interests or money. I think it is very true but hard to put into practice. They also distinguish the difference between ideologies and values, which I haven’t thought much about. But when they said it, I immediately agreed with them. 

            By focusing on the sharing values and common goal, I believe that people can come and work together. What’s better, people can approach the same goal with different approaches, which I think can generate even more creative thinking. I am still thinking whether a central figure for the process is required, I agree with its importance and efficiency. However, I question whether who should be the authority, especially in a post-war context. When the situation is hard to control and people are searching for power and money. 

            I think that the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has very important mission and very ambitious of its goal to bring together humanitarian actors to ensure a coherent response to emergencies. OCHA also ensures there is a framework within which each actor can contribute to the overall response effort. However, because of the lack of transparency of information and willingness for the different sectors to work together, OCHA hasn’t been able to achieve what it sets out to accomplish. I think it’s a shame that NGOs and different sectors are refusing to work with each other because of their funding and ego, and I believe that maybe OCHA should take more responsibility on implementing the its framework for organizations to follow. 

Climate Reparations

By Duke Huang

            I am very interested in the potential of reconciliation and transitional justice. Because it shows our potential goodness and ability to change. However, like other aspect of peacebuilding, reconciliation and transitional justice is ideal on theory, but hard to implement. Especially in countries where people had experienced serious trauma. Sometimes, the questions people might ask are not how we can all get along with each other, but how can I survive for another day and how can I put food on the table. Even though there has not yet been a truth and reconciliation commission that has adequately addressed the socio, economic and political issues that drove the conflict, I believe that we can and will be able to have one. But we would need lots of time and be extremely careful on devising and approach it. 

            On taking reconciliation and transitional justice course at Pace University last spring, I had conducted a research and written a paper about climate reparations framework. The paper is called Climate Reparations 2.0. It’s an updated version of the original framework published byMaxine Burkett, Professor of Law at William S. Richardson School of Law at University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa in 2009. I basically updated and expanded her reparations framework by adding my own literature on reparations and address the gendering dimension of climate change.

            I argued that climate change is not only an environmental and ecology issue, but also a human rights issue. And that developed nations have the responsibility to give reparations to the developing nations for the harm they have done. I argued that we should approach the issue with restorative justice rather than a retributive one, because of the lack of power and commitment in the international institutions. For example, last year the international community had just decided on how they are going to implement the Paris Agreement, which was agreed five years ago. While the scientists are telling us that we only have a decade left before serious and detrimental environmental impact endangering us.

             I believe that apology should be the first step of the reparations. Because it shows that the developed nations recognize the harm they have committed since the Industrial Revolution. It could shift the power differences between the developed and developing nations. Moreover, international community needs to clarify and solidify the status of climate refugees by either including environmental impact to the Geneva Convention or creating a whole new framework to accommodate millions of people who will be affected. Then the developed nations need to assume the responsibility of supporting the developing nations, both monetary and materialistic support. The discussion on how to support developing nations should be led by developing nations and centered around their needs. Developed nations also need to promise to stop the harm by reducing their own carbon emission and invest resources in sustainable technology. 

            Gender aspect of climate change also need to be addressed. Women tend to have more knowledge on the environmental and climate change while they are often impacted by climate change more and left out of the decision-making process. So I argued that women should not only lead the climate reparations process, but also have their voices heard throughout the process.

            I know that it will be very hard to realize this reparations framework, it might take decades to just to get countries to apologize their harm. However, I think this is the only way we can address social, economic, environmental and political aspects of climate change in a just way. 

Working in Delivering Aid

By Duke Huang

            One thing about humanitarian aid that frustrates but excites me the most is our ability to mobilize aid in short amount of time if we set our mind to. In times of crisis, we can generate hundreds of millions of dollars to deliver aid in countries that are in need. However, because of the lack of coordination and transparency, the reality does not rise up to the expectation. Even though I have never been to a place where aid is delivered, I have read and heard from reliable sources that the deliverance of aid can be very problematic and bureaucratic. And for someone who’s interested in work in the field, it posts a very serious dilemma: should I work in the system and work on changes from within? Or should I work from the outside and work on changing policies? 

            If I work from within the field, I would not only have first-hand experience on delivering aid, but also know what should be changed according to my own experience. This gives me the opportunity to understand the situation with an unbiased lens, instead of a report from the INGOs, in which they might try to paint the best picture of themselves. Moreover, it might give me more creditability in asking for change, because I would have personally lived through it. HOWEVER. And I use uppercase for emphasizing the contrast. If I work within the field and try to change from within, I might cause more harm than good to the people I would be working with. Does it mean that I would, in a sense, kill a hundred to save one before the change? Is it worth it? Is it fair for those whom I might kill unintendedly? No. If my objective is to save people, then I probably should not be in the field in the first place. 

            If I work from outside the field, I would avoid the risk of harming people directly because of my action. There are also many organizations around the world that are working on conflict analysis and assessment delivering aid that I can almost put the pieces together like a jigsaw puzzles of different conflicts and different situations. Moreover, most of the decision makers are not working in the field but in offices and conference rooms, so it would be more influential to work on the changes with the decision makers. HOWEVER. I might not be able to see the consequences of the policy I suggested. The consequences might be more detrimental than I would expect. Moreover, I would only receive second handed account and not be able to judge the situation without a third-party bias.  

            For now, I would choose the former. Well knowing that there might be detrimental unintended consequences because of my action. But I believe that I would need to witness and experience the situation before I can make a judgement about what kind of change I want to make. Also, I know that I hate office work and I would never be able to sit in front of a computer from 9-5 and go home and repeat the routine for the rest of my life. I have serious commitment issue, and I strive on busyness and uncertainty. Which is why I think I would be able to work in a conflict situation and deliver aid to those in need and be culturally sensitive. It’s hard to try to come up with a decision right now because of my inexperience, but I should still try both to see which one sticks.

Thoughts on Peacebuilding

By Duke Huang

Even though I know that I want to work in the field of peacebuilding, I never quite understood what it meant. Luckily, because of the amazing lecturers that have been teaching us, I now understand what peacebuilding means and what its goal is. The definition itself, peacebuilding creates setting in society upon where peace is built, amazes me that how ambitious the goal is. However, as ambitious as the goal might sound like, I do think it is achievable. Why? Because I believe that, and I say this with strong skepticism, people are inherently peaceful. Some might consider that to be too optimistic or even naïve. But I think that if we, as peacebuilder cannot be optimistic about the future, how can we bring positive change to the places where we are working in. 

            I always have had trouble being optimistic about the world. I will not deny that I had some dark thoughts about the humanity in the past. But because I had friends who guided me to see the world with a different perspective, I have since then believed that we still have the ability to change, however hard it might be. Two concrete examples: we stopped the prefoliation of blood diamonds and anti-personnel mines. To stop them would be unimaginable decades earlier, and now we all agree that they should be banned. I think most people share similar experience, especially those who are involved in conflict. Sometimes, we just need other people to show us other perspectives. Now, I am over- simplifying peacebuilding, but for me peacebuilding should build on opened conversation and understanding of other’s point of view.

             Now, as someone who is interested in learning and being a peacebuilder in conflict society, I want to do as little harm as I can. Even though I know that I would bring impact to the context once I enter it as a third party. I found the rules of the third-party role to be extremely helpful. Just the distribution of responsibility of peacebuilder itself makes me realized that peacebuilding requires different people coming from different backgrounds with different skill sets to solve different problems at the different stages of the conflict, but somehow weaving all these differences together. I want to start my career as a humanitarian aid worker who are cultural sensitivity and working toward peacebuilding. 

            After few days of the program, I am now skeptic about any possible solution there is for a conflict, especially if it sounds too good to be true. I am glad now I am critical about the issues because I understand that there are layers of different issue under the what can see. However, it sometimes blocks me, or even robs me of joy the fact that we actually find solution to a crisis. Just like any other things, I need to use my judgement moderately. Or I just need to be critical about my own criticality to understand the local conflict context. This has been an exciting spiritual journey, and I am excited about where it will lead me to.

Improvement of treatment of perpetrators after conflict

By Duke Huang

Suspects await their turn in front of a gacaca court Reuters photographer

In the realm of peacebuilding, I think what we need to improve the most is our treatment to the actors or perpetrators of the conflict during post-conflict period. They are often deprived of social, economic opportunities if they were not tried and incarcerated for the actions they have committed during the conflict. Their grievance and sense of powerlessness are often the drive to continue the conflict. I am not condoning their actions during the conflict, nor am I thinking that they shouldn’t be responsible for their actions. However, our current treatment to them has not only proven useless, but also exacerbating the conflict. I don’t have the definitive answer to what we should do with the perpetrators after the conflict, but I believe that we should prioritize the reconciliation and improvement of social and economic situation between the victims and perpetrators. 

I have studied the reconciliation and transitional justice in Rwanda and South Africa. I am not sure if they were the correct route for these two countries to face their own trauma, but they were certainly the best route available at the time. Even though, there are still underlying social, economic and political issues dividing the people to this day, the truth and reconciliation commissions certainly provided a platform for people to discuss their pain and grievances, for both the victims and perpetrators.

It is certainly hard for the victims to accept that the perpetrators might not receive the retribution the victims are expecting. However, we need to consider the fact that retributive justice would not necessarily deter people from committing the atrocity nor would it help the victims to heal their pain. Fearing being incarcerated, the perpetrators might start a coup or continue commit atrocity.

I personally don’t have experience of peacebuilding, but I believe that the SPP at MIIS can provide me the skills and knowledge I need to tackle the issue of the treatment of actors and perpetrators of the conflict. 

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