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January 31, 2020
Dr Briony Jones
Associate Professor in International Development; Deputy Director of the Warwick Interdisciplinary Research Centre for International Development.
Politics and International Relations Department, University of Warwick
Geneva Peace Week 2019 took place from 4th – 8th December 2019, and in the words of the organisers: “emphasises that each and every person, actor and institution has a role to play in building peace and resolving conflict”. Following the 2017 Geneva Peace Week I reflected on the implications for knowledge of bringing researchers, policy makers and practitioners together. I remain convinced of the benefits and indeed necessity of challenging boundaries between epistemic communities and striving for constructive dialogue between peace makers as broadly conceived. This is of particular pertinence for the fields with which my own work engages: justice, peace, development and human rights. But as I continue to seek dialogue, and to understand the complexities of which this means in practice, I am left wondering what it actually means to claim that “we all have a role to play in peace”.
The oft quoted words from George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm that “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” gives us pause for thought here. I strongly agree that every person, actor and institution has a role to play in building peace. But not all roles are perceived to be equal, and not all people are able to determine their roles equally. It is incumbent on all of us to recognise this and to take it into consideration when designing inclusive collaborations or making claims for, of, and about, peace. In my specialist area of transitional justice, the questions of whose justice and on whose terms currently informs much of the discussion between scholars, practitioners and policy makers. More inclusive programmes are increasingly prioritised, and examples range from the national and diaspora consultations undertaken by the Côte d’Ivoire Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to victim participation at the International Criminal Court and the outreach programme of the International Criminal Court for the Former Yugoslavia. The values which underpin and motivate such programmes are important and echo the raison d’être of Geneva Peace Week.
What is notable however is the framing of inclusion and participation, the way in which ‘locals’ are invited to participate in agendas set by others elsewhere, and how collaborative programmes between the Global North and South are too often not the equal exchange of minds and resources that they are purported to be. I will always remember the words of one of my collaborators when he told me at our first project meeting when we were discussing roles: “we don’t want to just do the translations and collect the data. We want to analyse and to share in the research outputs”. If we believe that we all have a role to play in peace then we need to think more carefully about the following issues, among others of course:
- Narratives of inclusion need to grapple with the ‘deviant’ voice – the individual who does not wish to participate, the institution which acts as a block to reform, the political impasse as peace agreements fail. This deviancy may frustrate the agendas of certain actors but may also illuminate another way of seeing the conflict and responses to it.
- There is not one version of any actor, be it a ‘local’ or ‘international’ and roles are often changing over time and across contexts. The roles that we all play will not be static or easily captured through programming support.
- There is a hierarchy of roles. There is a donor who controls the flow of financial resources, there is a community gatekeeper who controls who can participate in meetings, there are the academics who write about distant places and cultures and puts words in the mouths of their research subjects.