Mar
22nd
Sun
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CLOSING REMARKS

JORGE VEGA

Before this conference, I would never have imagined that I would sit down next to a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and talk to him, let alone fist bump him goodbye like me and my friends do. Alas, this was no ordinary Nobel Prize winner – is there such thing as an ordinary Nobel Prize winner? -  and a man who’s quick wit and even quicker sense of humor would definitely assure him a spot in my Friday nights.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, one of the key figures in organizing a peaceful movement that ultimately brought down the Apartheid system in South Africa, took the stage to offer the closing remarks on the Reconciliation Forum. It was the perfect ending to our program; after all, and as he remarked to the audience, South Africa was able to go from an oppressive and divisive system to a state concerned with unity and equality in a surprisingly peaceful way. “Instead of that bloodbath [everyone predicted], we saw those long lines of people waiting to vote in a democratic election,” he observed. The key, he contended, was putting constant pressure on all side to forgive and reconcile, something facilitated by the fact that “most people want to be happy, make amends.” Citing South Africa as an example, he dismissed the idea that there can be a path out of conflict that eschews forgiveness and reconciliation. “Let me let you in on a little secret: there is no way you’ll ever find true peace and stability through the barrel of a gun.” Ultimately, he remarked, it lies in our individual responsibility to seek out reconciliation.

The past few days showcased powerful examples of the worst and the best humanity offers, the perceptions of the actions of man torn between that of an insensible beast and a courageous being. In fact, for those of us in the hall, the stories and images – I suggest you visit www.jamesnachtwey.com to see for yourself -  of horror were almost countered by equally powerful stories of redemption and reconciliation. If we came away with a message, it was that individually we do have the capacity to work towards change: as businessmen, students, academics and other professionals, we find ourselves in positions where our actions can have concrete repercussions. These actions can be positive or negative, the latter just by choosing to do nothing.

If you had a chance to bring reconciliation to the world, would you do it? Well my friend, we do have that chance.

I thank the organizers of the ABC Reconciliation Forum, as well as the many other attendees that made this a noteworthy event.

You can contact me at: jav37@georgetown.edu or at  ongoodideas.wordpress.com .

Mar
21st
Sat
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NEVER AGAIN

JORGE VEGA

Mark Twain once said “It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.” Twain was right, truth sometimes does not make sense, and reality sometimes is so fantastic it sounds unbeliavable. For speakers in today’s panel on “Closing the chapter of Genocide,” the truth has not made sense, and their experiences have indeed been unbelievable. In the group moderated by John Heffernan , director of the Genocide Prevention Initiative of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, we had Africa expert John Prendergast, Co-Chair of the ENOUGH Project and onetime NSC advisor, Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager whose story inspired the film ‘Hotel Rwanda,’ and Manute Bol, who came from a tribe in South Sudan to play in the NBA, later spending all of his fortune on Darfur related causes. Indeed, how can truth make sense when they have seen fellow men commit such atrocities?

Recounting the events during the Rwandan genocide, Paul Rusesabagina remembers sitting near the open pit where some family members lay dead, and feeling the saddest he’s felt in his life. Even more, he told the audience of his disappointment with the international community and the government, who literally stood back and let this happened. Mr. Bol, his once broad smile now supplanted by a stoic look, expressed similar frustration in having warned about the extremist Muslim ideology and its application through violent policies towards Darfurians years ago. “Why people are not listening to us?” he remembers asking in the face of such crimes. Mr. Prendergast continued the conversation by enumerating the steps he thought necessary to foster reconciliation after a conflict. He stressed that any plan should revolve around establishing policies of restitution and accountability “to support coexistence for people that have been divided.” In fact, even for people that have witnessed horrible events such as the Rwandan Genocide and the ongoing conflict in Darfur, the future holds much optimism for reconciliation between victims and perpetrators. Mr. Bol, whose Ring True Foundation has funded the establishment of schools in Darfur, said he was confident that people could be educated “for living together, coexisting.” All speakers agreed that reconciliation should be the principal theme in any post-conflict engagement by both state and civil society. “If our wish is to rebuild our nation, and build a future for other generations, forgiveness must be a rule,” said Mr. Rusesabagina.

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Reconciliation in the MIDDLE EAST

JORGE VEGA

The Middle East is perhaps the region of utmost priority for policy makers in the international arena today. But in the motor of geopolitical resolution in the area, the Israeli / Palestinian conflict is a wrench that needs to be removed.  For the speakers in the session titled ‘Closing the chapter on the Middle East,’ if there is a time to do it, it is now.

Daniel Eilemberg, US Editor of PODER Magazine, moderated the panel comprised of James Zogby, head of the Arab American Institute, Martin Indyk ,  former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Itamar Rabinovich , Ex-President of Tel-Aviv University and former Israeli ambassador to the United States. The dialogue was rich and covered most of the factors involved in solving this conflict. Mr. Eilemberg started by asking about the validity of the two-state solution. “It iS the only way to go,” declared Mr. Rabinovich, with Mr. Zogby affirming after that “for Palestinians it means survival.” Moving on to the nature of the deal itself, Mr. Zogby noted that negotiation must start with both side willing to find a concrete solution. “Both sides have to say yes, without but,” he explained. Mr. Indyk noted that the process is complicated by the fact that there is “a large gap today between that common aspiration and the realities on the ground“ such as continuous settlement activity and deep division between the Palestinian leadership  “There is reciprocal doubt on both sides,” he continued “ about the capabilities of the other side to hold up their part of the agreement.” In asking the speakers about the other factors affecting resolution, Mr. Eilemberg referenced Syria as a possible wildcard. Mr. Rabinovich answered that “in the 90s, it was clear that the underlying formula was territories for peace,” that has changed to include countries like Syria, Iraq, and of course Iran as influencing the dynamic between Israel and Palestinians.

All the speakers agreed that it was the ideal time to start a serious peace process, both because the election of Barack Obama offers strong leadership from the U.S. that can be effective in the region, and because no more time can be wasted in what some speakers saw as a dangerous ‘dragging of feet’ that frustrates the goodwill of those involved.  For example, Mr. Zogby indicated that “Hamas grows to the extent people feel angry, and feel that the institutions serving them have failed.”  Mr. Indyk  on his part warned of the increasing permanence of the religious dimension; “what was nationalist conflict, Zionist vs. Palestinian territorial claims, “ he said runs the risk of turning into a considerable religious matter that is harder to resolve.

An interesting claim during the conversation was put forward by Mr. Zogby, who said that during the recent Gaza incursion “there were some pathologies running on both sides,” pathology something he defined as self-assuring bad behavior that can’t stop itself. Although the speakers spoke little of the actual attitudes and feelings of civil society in both sides, I would argue that the single greatest threat to a lag in resolving this conflict is the pathologies settling down on younger generations in both societies. To be born in violence, mistrusting and hating the ‘other side,’ is a dangerous setting that becomes more problematic the longer it is allowed to run. Concrete walls are easy to demolish, but as we have learned, it takes a much more concerted effort to bring down the walls of hate. Some may point out that this conflict has gone on for thousands of years, and the pathologies are already there. While technically true, it is hard to argue that the pathologies run so deep, considering the relative peaceful history of coexistence of Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the region. The conflict today is from recent memory, but continues to degrade into irreversibility. If it dates back thousands of years, who knows; if we don’t resolve it now, it may very well last that long into the future.

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BUSINESS AND PEACE

EMILY GOULDING

Steve Killelea of Integrated Research Ltd started off the “Leveraging Profits Through Business, Peace, and Reconciliation” panel with the following statement: “We really don’t know that much about the relationship between business and peace.” In the day-to-day operations of how to run a business vs. how to run a government, more is known about fairness in government than it is about fairness in business. The panel - which consisted of Farooq Kathwari, CEO of Ethan Allen Interiors Inc., Frederick Barton, Senior Advisor Adviser in the CSIS International Security Program, and Georg Kell, head of the United Nations Global Compact - drove home one concept: war is a business.

The transfer of arms, resources, people, and outcomes drive dollars as much as peacetime consumption does. Likewise, consumption-based businesses are active during conflict as they are during peacetime. “A good test is to look at the beer factories…if the beer-factory is not working, you are in one serious conflict.” There is no easy solution – they mentioned that for developing countries with limited resources, the fiscal turnicut that is divestment can make the life of low-income citizens even harder.

However, the panel emphasized that conflict has a high transaction price. (Death and sorrow are guaranteed returns on investment.) Kathwari offered a couple of ending points of reflection: 1) that businesses, as the growth generators in a society, should set the right precedents in terms of labor standards and transparent governance, and 2) that “the voice of businesses on the ground as a force of peace has not been taken advantage of completely as of yet.”

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The Power of Images, JAMES NACHTWEY

KATHERINE VENEGAS

“The Power of Images,” presented by James Nachtwey, is a memorable pictorial tour of the past 25 years of world conflict and disease. His photos are heavy, difficult to see at times. I can’t imagine standing behind the camera lens and snapping these images, or the courage it takes to risk one’s self to bring a war torn world to life. Nachtwey sees his work as a responsibility to represent the truth. He says that he came of age in America during wartime, when politicians and photographers told very different stories of Vietnam. He says, “Then, as now, I believed the photographers.”

His work documents war, crimes against humanity, starvation, and global health crises like AIDS and tuberculosis. He shows images from Northern Ireland, El Salvador, Lebanon, and Romania. In Somalia he documented what he calls, “the oldest and most primitive weapon of mass destruction”: starvation. Black-skinned skeletons with wide eyes gaze intently in bold black and white. Next we see Serbia, where dead bodies are taken by dump truck for disposal. The day after witnessing Nelson Mandela’s inspiring assent to President in South Africa, Nachtwey arrived in Rwanda. The pictured mass grave of crumpled matchstick limbs intertwined helps me instantly understand Nachtwey as he says, “It was like jumping off a cliff and landing in hell.” He says his great challenge as a journalist has been learning to control his anger and focus it into his work. He counts himself lucky to have witnessed deep love between families and communities through his career. He says that medical science and politics should be at the service of humanity to reinforce the immense power of love. His photography communicates his passion and also his principle, while its power to move an audience reflects off each face in somber rapture in the seats around me.

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu: Closing Remarks

KATHERINE VENEGAS

Archbishop Desmond Tutu closed the forum with a celebration of reconciliation’s success stories, including the commendable work of the men and women participating these past few days.  Tutu told the South African story, noting how close the country came to violence. “But wonder of wonders,” he said, “instead of that bloodbath, we saw lines of South Africans going to vote for the first time.” He recalled the Immorality Act, banning blacks and whites from having interracial relationships. Now that’s changed, and he says lightly, “So far as I have been able to make out the sky is still firmly in place.” He credits Nelson Mandela and his incredible magnanimity for the peaceful democracy that was born out of apartheid. That victory serves as a powerful example to the world’s warring peoples that, as Tutu puts it, “An enemy is a friend waiting to be made.”

Tutu poses the key question now, “When are we going to learn that ultimately, ultimately you have to sit down and negotiate?” The past days have shown that reconciliation can only be achieved through meaningful dialogue, and lasting peace does require real reconciliation. Tutu leans playfully toward the microphone, and shares a little secret with us. “There is no way that you will ever find true peace and stability with the barrel of a gun.” Peace asks us first to face our own essence, own our emotions should be channeled to positive ends. We begin to reconcile from within. Perfectly, Tutu suggests that each of us “be an oasis of peace, an oasis of serenity.” Our generation must face and resolve the many conflicts threatening our world. In closing Tutu reinforces our power to affect change, and the urgency of our responsibility, saying “you can make a difference and God has got no one but you.”

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TED SORENSEN, CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS

KATHERINE VENEGAS

Ted Sorensen, Counsel to John F. Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis, took the stage led by an assistant. His personality and storytelling style put his audience immediately at ease. He quickly explained that he is blind, adding with a grin, “Last year I had more vision than the president of the United States.” He and JFK certainly had more vision than many world leaders when the Cuban Missile Crisis challenged their young administration. When the US discovered that the USSR had secret nuclear weapons in Cuba, Kennedy responded directly to the Cubans, establishing a quarantine that still allowed food, fuel and medicine to reach the island. He was willing to dialogue with the Russians, communicating with Nikita Khrushchev to try and reach a peaceful solution. His measured responses avoid nuclear conflict over what are remembered as the most dangerous thirteen days in American history.

Kennedy’s response proves his preference for reconciliation over war. Eventually the USSR announced that they would pull the missiles out of Cuba under UN supervision. Later, in his commencement address at American University, Kennedy called for reconciliation. Sorensen quotes Kennedy’s words, “’In the final analysis,’ he said, ‘we all inhabit the same planet, we all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children’s future, and we are all mortal.’” Some allege that those who organized the assassination of JFK wanted to stop him from reconciling with the USSR and China. Sorensen’s sense of pride and hope in America fills the room and he insists that, “If that was the motive of those who killed the two Kennedys and Dr. King, they failed.” We as Americans must continually defend the ideal that Kennedy’s legacy embraces, that our greatest aim must be lasting peace.

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NEVER AGAIN

KATHERINE VENEGAS

“Never again. “ It was said after the Holocaust, after Rwanda, and yet we’re still in the midst of genocide today in Darfur. In a discussion titled, “Closing the chapter on genocide,” panelists described the methods of reconciliation that can effectively prevent further loss of life.  Rwandan Paul Rusesabagina, hotel manager who inspired the film Hotel Rwanda, explained how he kept each guest safe through crisis, later to find much of his own family dead. In 2005 he created the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation helping women and children recover from the violence. To better aid his country, he has now begun work on the Truth and Reconciliation Committee for Rwanda. Though the war is over, he firmly believes that a lasting peace is only possible if Rwanda experiences true forgiveness.

To his left sits Manute Bol. Nearly twice Rusesabagina’s height, former NBA star Bol is impossibly tall and angular and surprisingly soft spoken. He has lost over 200 family members to the violence in Sudan.  His frustration is clear as he recounts the unwillingness of the international community to help his countrymen. Years ago he approached the UN for help to no avail. “We were talking about genocide in the southern Sudan, nobody would listen to us,” he remembers. Last year he returned home for the first time since 1982 and committed himself to building schools in southern Sudan, urging that education is integral to reuniting the country.

John Prendergast, Co-Chair of the ENOUGH project, balanced these personal stories with an expert assessment of just what is takes to effectively achieve reconciliation. His ten steps include a reintegration of security forces as local protectors rather than abusers, successful elections, free press allowing expressions of dissent, and the promotion of women’s rights as human rights. The large scope of his plan makes its success uncertain and requires the full engagement of a government committed to peace. This panel offers two main paths to national peace, the first by concerned individuals working for grassroots change, and the second by state-level action. No doubt both avenues must be continually explored so that the horrors of genocide may never again threaten our world.

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Session on Children

KATHERINE VENEGAS

    Slavery survivor Francis Bok ambles his slight, angular frame to his seat on stage, followed by Azcarraga and the shorter, smiling Ishmael Beah of Sierra Leon. Bok has a peaceful affect and speaks calmly and articulately as he recalls the day, at age seven, that he left with a neighbor girl for the market and never made it home. Captured by North Sudanese militia, he was forced into slavery, caring for cattle and sleeping among them. After ten years and two failed attempts, he escaped running through the bush and eventually reached Cairo in 1998. A year and half later, with UN support, he was granted permission to enter the United States. His mission is to bring help to Sudan where genocide and corruption corrode attempts at peace. Of the people in Darfur, he says, “They are there waiting for us. Kids lie awake and wonder who will come and free them.”

    Ishmael Beah no doubt wondered that very thing as a child soldier in Sierra Leon. He recalls life before the war as “simple and remarkable,” when he read Shakespeare and learned about culture. But when war killed his whole family, he sought refuge at a nearby military base, where he faced the choice either to fight or to be killed. He says that surviving each day in a war requires other people to die on your behalf. Later, rescued by UNICEF, he felt that Americans didn’t understand the nature of violence, how child soldiers and their commanders alike had necessarily lost themselves to survive.  “We all have the capacity to lose our humanity if circumstances force us to do so,” he says. Reconciliation efforts must recognize this human aspect of war, the human face of conflict to which is a testament. In this light, the consequences of war should be deeply felt by all of us. Beah’s main message to Americans concerning conflict in Africa is that, “It is not far away, and it’s everyone’s problem.” Because in the end, as he says, “our humanity is the same.”

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu: Closing Remarks

STUART COFFEY

Archbishop Desmond Tutu closed the conference with some closing
remarks and a few stories. Firstly, he stated, that “You need a
passionate and undying commitment to achieve what is just.”  One of
the first just moments that he experienced was when he was able to
vote in South Africa at the ripe age of sixty-three. Without passion
and commitment, the fight for justice in South Africa would have never
been reached. He stated that after Apartheid, the international
community held their breaths for something terrible to happen.
Contrary to popular belief, people were actually coming together—the
sky had not fallen. Archbishop Tutu noted that South Africa was
successful at reconciliation because the country was inspired by a man
who was not consumed by bitterness and anger but wanted all South
Africans to live together in peace. The man that Archbishop Tutu spoke
about was non-other than the great Nelson Mandela—a man who represents
the essence of reconciliation. Tutu stated that “Enemies are friends
waiting to be made because ultimately you are going to have to sit
down and talk. If peace and reconciliation happened in South Africa
why can it not happen anywhere else? There is no way you will ever
find peace and stability from the barrel of a gun.” Tutu then reminded
everyone listening that they are commendable beings and purveyors of
peace. “We must be an oasis of peace and serenity,” he said quietly
with his signature giggle, before leaving the stage. It was a truly
inspiring way to end these memorable last few days. It has truly been
an honor to be in the presence of such amazing people at a conference
that is a defining point in my life. I hold onto the feeling of Ubuntu
and may we all do the same.