Volunteer Stories: From Amnesty International to Wales for Peace

Emily Blower is a Wales for Peace Volunteer and Amnesty International Member.  Originally from London, Emily is used to activism being quite visible and she is looking forward to uncovering what activism looks like in North Wales.

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The non-profit organisation, founded in 1961 by the London lawyer Peter Benenson. It was a reaction to two Portuguese students who were jailed for seven years for ‘illegally’ toasting to liberty. This news story, like many others, did not make headlines but it did provoke disdain within Benenson. Even worse was the fact that there were not any opportunities within the community to act on this emotion in attempt to make a change.

‘Open your newspaper any day of the week and you will find a story from somewhere of someone being imprisoned, tortured or executed because his opinions or religion are unacceptable to his government … The newspaper reader feels a sickening sense of impotence. Yet if these feelings of disgust could be united into common action, something effective could be done’

In founding Amnesty International (AI), Benenson has provided people with the chance to unite and act upon what was being previously pushed aside. Fifty years later and Amnesty International has developed into one of the world’s main organisations to battle against abuses of human rights.

There are many reasons why I became a member of Amnesty International, but the most significant factor is that Amnesty is completely separate from political and corporate sectors of work. This gives AI the ability to act without going through the government such as to put pressure upon international governments if they don’t abide by human rights. By having this freedom, AI have their own standards and policies that don’t alternate for any political or economic reason. They hold a clear set of goals and policies that won’t differ if an alternative party were in power or for financial gain. These are the reasons why I firstly became a member.

I re-joined AI due to the growing refugee crisis. I became aware of the extent of the growing refugee problem through an online source, however, I was shocked when there wasn’t any acknowledgment of this on the news and even worse, that this problem was being ignored by our own  UK Government. AI works closely with refugees. From this, I knew that AI was the right organisation as they portrayed the whole picture but there was also a discussion on how we can all unite to change this.

This is also why I am volunteering for Wales for Peace, there are many ordinary people within Wales who share this international solidarity. To discover the fundamental hidden stories of Wales in terms of international solidarity would create a rich history of ordinary people coming together to create something positive and changing. This is important as typically the hidden histories of ordinary people aren’t presented within the media because they are lacking a household name. However, their stories are important; as a united effort Wales has shown support to international topics to lead to a change.

Listed below are reasons why many people, such as myself, have become a member of Amnesty International.

1. Independent Organisation

AI is a non-governmental organisation that acts to end the abuse of human rights. They demand this through gaining justice, dignity and truth for those whom human rights have been breached. Amnesty International isn’t linked with any other organisation, this includes governments, religions and companies. This is good because it gives them more freedom to put pressure on governments, in terms of letters and protests, to stop restricting the rights of people without causing any political, economic or religious outcry. This is important as potential it could prevent the work of AI. Because they are an independent organisation, the criticism from leaders Idi Amin, Ayatollah combined with the Chinese Communist Party would cause enough of a stir for other organisations to stop Amnesty International. Successively through the past 50 years, Amnesty has for gained global political influence. Amnesty’s lobbying led to the UK government passing the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings in 2008, and more recently agreeing to make women’s rights in Afghanistan.

2. Long term Project with clear aim

Through not being linked to a corporate and governmental organisation they have complete independence to act accordingly to their policies, which is listed as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A core principle of Amnesty is a focus on prisoners of conscience. This is a person is detained for expressing any opinion that isn’t the same as the people in power. There are also another 5 main other objectives that Amnesty deals with the rights of women, children, minorities and indigenous rights, ending torture practices, the abolition of the death penalty, the rights of refugees and protection of human objectivity. By having these clear principles, they appeal almost universally and this gains a lot of support and awareness for Amnesty. This ultimately leads to making a difference, whether its just for one person or for a community they have been successful in the long run. Over the past several years they have achieved to secure an international Arms Trade Treaty in 2013, the International Criminal Court in 2002, and a global convention against torture in 1984. Amnesty International tackle difficult and complex issues that aren’t ‘quick wins’, year on year they campaigned for human rights in Burma and in the last 12 months of 2015 hundreds of political prisoners have been freed.

3. Evokes ordinary people worldwide to unite to make a change for the better of human development

By the creation of AI people can unite and express an act of international solitude. Through their 7 million memberships there are various roles within the organisation which enables all types of people to act as a way of international solidarity. There is a wide spectrum of AI supporters, varying from ordinary people to celebrities such as Eddie Izzard, Madonna to international Amnesty supporters such as Desmond Tutu and Malala Yousafzai to ordinary people, like me. However, who you are doesn’t matter when we can all strive together to stop future injustices from happening again.

With activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries, AI has been able to investigate, mobilise and change societies for better human development and security. Using their memberships and donations they have industrialised into the world’s largest pressure group allowing them to contact governments, organise protests and publicise human rights abuses in the media.

4. Campaign has proven to work

Amnesty is one of the world’s most influential, non-governmental organisations with a track record of success. Their campaigning work has been proved to be successfully through the use of their members

AI act in different ways. For instance, the form of protesting and petitioning. This has been proved to be effective. They successfully pressured Shell to pay out over Niger Delta oil spills in 2008 and 2009. After two years of pressure and letter writing of Amnesty supporters, Myanmar’s community leader Dr Tun Aung was released in January after being imprisoned for trying to calm down a crowd of riots in 2012. There has been various stories of successful campaigning from Amnesty which has caused significant changes to individuals worldwide.

5. Extensive research that is trust worthy

AI’s research is underpinned in the field but having first witnesses accounts and survivors testimonies with forensic data by using tools satellite images where possibly. They also cross check their research with other network resources and experts to make sure it is watertight. Their research is even valuable for external use, such as international bodies like the United Nations, media reporters and investigators as well as other campaigning and human right organisations. By having trust-worthy sources, people can start to grasp the truth behind these societies. This isn’t possible without AI as traditionally our mainstream medias tend to be biased and therefore they arguably showcase evidence in favour to their own belief such as the BBC and Gaza. Through AI, people can explore this watertight evidence and research and come to their own conclusions.

By being born in London, there are more open opportunities to protests which are publicly shown acts of international solidarity. They are traditionally broadcast throughout the online community and local newspapers This is normally where they gain their mass support.

Since moving to Bangor in North Wales, I have found that this type of action wasn’t as publicly displayed or spoke about among the community. This doesn’t mean that there wasn’t any act of international solidarity, it was just underrepresented and hidden from the community. Wales has had a long track history of supporting international countries by protesting or gathering support for the cause. Therefore, by complying Wales hidden histories of acts of international solidarity, it has allowed this rich history to be rediscovered and illustrated back to the community to inspire future generations. These hidden histories will be interviews from ordinary people in Wales and what they believe ‘international solidarity’ means to them personally and what acts of solidarity they have accomplished in the Welsh community. It is crucial to discover the hidden histories of ordinary people.

References:

Peter Benenson. (28 May. 2011) “The Forgotten Prisoners”. The Observer

 

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Having difficult conversations about/with migrants

by Mailys Andre

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At a Refugee Conference held last month, attention was drawn to having conversations with migrants or those who think differently to ourselves.  Below are the recommendations provided by HOPE not hate Cymru.

When having a difficult conversation with a migrant or asylum seeker, try to use the ‘listening wheel’:

  1. Open questions : How? What? Where? Who? Why?
  2. Summarising : A summary helps to show the individual that you have listened and understood their circumstances and their feelings.
  3. Reflecting : Repeating back a word or phrase encourage the individual to carry on and expand
  4. Clarifying : Sometimes an individual may gloss over an important point. By exploring these areas further we can help them clarify these points for themselves.
  5. Short Words of Encouragement: The person may need help to go on their story — use words like ‘yes’ or ‘go on’.
  6. Reacting : We need to show that we have understood the situation by reacting to it — “That sounds like it is very difficult”.

Don’t forget :

  1. Story/narrative is powerful (inspire people)
  2. Try to change the dynamic of your conversation (listen, question…)

What if you are facing the opposition?

Ask agitating questions such as :

  1. Has this happened to you before?
  2. What make you believe that?
  3. What makes you angry? (This involves a conscious question with conscious pause)

Try “Empathetic listening”:

  1. This should be your instinct.
  2. Be genuine.
  3. Engage with the person behind the opinion.

You can find out more about HOPE not hate and its current research here.

Gareth Owens’ Advice for Humanitarian Aid Work

On Tuesday 21st March, the Welsh Centre for International Affairs and Hub Cymru Africa hosted an evening with Gareth Owens, Humanitarian Director at Save the Children. We have created a short summary of Gareth’s advice for pursuing a career in humanitarian aid that we hope you will find useful.

With Gareth’s educational background in civil engineering, he made clear that you don’t need to physically train in humanitarian work, rather you can get involved from any career angle.

Working in humanitarian aid is not glamorous and it involves dealing with a lot of raw emotions and different people. It is not for everyone but is best viewed as a selfish job. You will be away from home for months at a time, often in very dangerous places so must understand the worries your family back home will have.

Passion and persistence are key! The more passionate about something you are the greater chance you have of seeing it through and making change happen.

Gareth Owens 21st March

Continually possessing a good character where you don’t let things get personal is important.
If you’re a difficult person this is not the job for you, you must be humble and energetic as well as being able to embrace different cultures and share compassion for the people whom you are helping.

Gender does play different roles when working in humanitarian aid, sometimes you will work in countries that are uncomfortable for women and at other times being a woman can be an advantage.

Speaking additional languages is always a bonus, especially French and Arabic as these are most widely spoken in developing countries.

Try to volunteer in your home country if you are starting out; there are many refugees now here in Britain and charities are always looking for help.

Also, volunteer projects abroad are good. The more you can get on your CV from little projects like these, the better chance you have at making contacts and stumbling onto your big break.
You may find it takes several years working on little projects here and there before you manage to go abroad and help on the big disasters.

If you are interesting in volunteering with the WCIA, see our website for further details about how you can get involved   http://www.wcia.org.uk/volunteer.html

Dolen Cymru Hidden History

By Clemence Junot

In December 2013, my family and I took a trip to South Africa. As she was reading a travel guide to plan the trip, my mother came across a few pages on Lesotho, a small and high (the whole state lies entirely above 1,000 metres) country land-locked in South Africa. This name rung a bell. She remembered playing Trivial Pursuit when she was young, and that one question no one ever seemed to get the answer to: “what is the capital of Lesotho?”. Having found out that was Maseru, the next step, she thought, was to go explore the rest of Lesotho. We thus went a few days in Lesotho, getting there by the infamous Sani Pass, a notoriously dangerous road. After a series of winding twists, hairpins, plunging drops, we got to Lesotho and spent a few days in a small village called Molumong. Needless to say, the trip was very enriching, the people of Lesotho were extremely welcoming, and the scenery mind-blowing. We visited a primary school in this town, which we had brought paper, pens and books for. Little did I know, the Molumong Primary School was actually one of the 34 Sesotho (the people of Lesotho) schools the charity School Aid and Dolen Cymru picked to send a consignment of books to. And little did I know, two years later, I would end up leaving France to study in Wales, a country that had established the first country to country link with Lesotho.

Dolen Cymru (the Wales-Lesotho link) began back in 1985, at a time where the idea of twinning countries was a very novel concept. The key motivation of its founders was then to “enable Wales to look out and encourage its understanding of the developing world”, to link communities at a grass-roots level and bridge a gulf in understanding. Thirty-two years later, Dolen Cymru still maintains these links. Exchanges and partnerships were created in a wide range of areas. These include between schools, churches, women’s organizations and even choirs. A significant health portfolio was also put in place, as well as a teacher placement program.

In order to understand Dolen-Cymru, the Wales-Lesotho link, and grasp the reasons why that link has proved so strong, one must first look at its origins and at its founding principles. People familiar with Dolen Cymru will claim that the greatest strength of the link was its capacity to see everyone on an equal footing and develop links between people and their communities rather than between governments. This is reflected in the story behind the creation of Dolen Cymru, a story of human to human relations, and a story of the quest for peace. One of the ways it can be told is through the experience of Dr. Iwan Carl Clowes, the founder, first chair and now Life President of Dolen Cymru.

Carl Iwan Clowes and the origins of the idea

The idea of a nation-to-nation link finds its origins in Carl Clowes’ experience of establishing himself as an oncologist within a rural practice in North-West Wales after graduating. At the time, the employment opportunities were low, the area was low in morale and Carl Clowes witnessed a community in decline and wished to act upon it. With time, he began to ask himself “how can I formulate my thought into something more constructive, [more] positive?”. While on a 2-year postgraduate course at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, he came across many people involved in countries all over the world and began to understand more about international health and development. He then furthered his understanding by reading WHO bulletins. As his awareness of the problems encountered by Least Developed Countries (LDCs) was increasing, his frustration was also growing: “It was not clear to me what Wales’ role was in any of this work”, he recalls. “Wales is very good at looking at its culture, its history, its tradition, but what could we do in terms of reaching out to the rest of the world?”. His first attempt to answer that question was an article in Y Faner in 1982 in which he suggested Wales could adopt one of the LDCs as a twinned country for assistance, adding Wales could well benefit from such a permanent relationship in terms of developing understanding.

Shortly after, he attended a conference on the topic of Wales’ role in the context of the World. Two points of views clashed. One side argued that Wales was part of the UK should thus only act if the UK got involved in international development. On the other hand, people amongst Carl Clowes, argued Wales needed to act independently, make its own voice heard to achieve its rightful role in the world. There, Carl Clowes presented his idea of country-to-country link which took hold, and gradually gained strength. Many dialogues followed and a steering committee was eventually put in place to develop the idea further. The first step, of course, was to choose country to twin with.

The ideal twin: Lesotho

Through the media, the people of Wales were consulted on most appropriate LDCs with which to twin and have a permanent relationship with. A lot of passionate letters flowed in and Botswana, Malawi, Tanzania, Lesotho were eventually shortlisted by the Dolen Cymru Committee. Lesotho was finally chosen because of its similarities to Wales in terms of size (both small), geography (mountainous), population (at the time 2-3 million). Both countries also share a mining tradition, bilingualism, and a love of choral singing. Moreover, Lesotho already had civil society bodies and organisations which would make it easier for people in Wales to link with the Sesotho communities. The similarities were sufficient to begin to approach the people of Lesotho. With the help of Owen Griffiths, former British High Commissioner in Lesotho, Bishop Graham Chadwick, priest in Lesotho for 16 years, O T Sefako, the High commissioner of Lesotho in London and many others, the Dolen Cymru team established contact with the government of Lesotho. At the time, the apartheid era was not over, and Lesotho was known around the globe as an island of peace in the middle of South-Africa where members of the African National Congress (ANC) could take refuge. Consequently, a large number of countries identified with Lesotho and supported it, making it the most aided country by capita in the world at the time. However, as Paul Williams, first secretary of Dolen Cymru highlights, “Most [aid] projects are, by their nature, short term. Experts come and go, their reports sadly often gathering dust. So a much longer term approach was needed”. This is what the intention of Dolen Cymru was: it aimed to develop an equitable and lasting relationship with both partners having equality within that relationship, as much as that was possible with one country having greater material means than the other. This approach was so original that “I think it fair to say that when our approach was first made, there was cynicism in corridors in Lesotho that it was another ‘aid organization’ wanting to get involved” recalls Carl Clowes. Dolen Cymru would have to prove its intentions were genuine.

The founding principles and aims of Dolen Cymru

As soon as the Wales-Lesotho link was established, several principles were drafted, differentiating it from the type of relationships between the global North and the global South which were usually seen in the 1980s. First, the link had to be, as far as possible, an equitable relationship, with both Wales and Lesotho benefiting and contributing. This principle would not be easy to maintain in practice because of the inequalities of the two countries in terms of resources, but nevertheless proved to be fulfilled over the years. Second, understanding and friendship should be the building blocks of the link, whereas material and financial aid would only play a part when it arose naturally over time out of the friendship made and the real understanding gained. Understanding was to come first, and involved learning about the development problems of Lesotho, but also its natural and cultural characteristics, its strengths per se. “For Wales, there should be great educational value in focusing on one nation, understanding its ambitions, noting the options available to its leaders regarding paths to development, appreciating the practical difficulties of implementing plans, sympathising with their anxiety that fundamental national values should not be undermined in the process” highlights Geraint Thomas in his set of Guidelines for Linking. Out of this understanding would eventually come friendship and involvement, then collaboration where links initiated by individuals, communities and organisations, both in Wales and in Lesotho led to common action in a particular sphere. So Dolen Cymru would not go into Lesotho with its own agenda but rather becomes involved in work based on need assessment.

One of the central feature of the link is that it was to be set at grass-roots, community level. Two very positive effects come out of this. Firstly, it makes the link sustainable and lasting. As highlighted by Carl Clowes, “Governments come and governments go, but people and communities remain throughout changing political allegiances. Thus, developing links between communities, could be more permanent than relying on governments to develop these bridges”. Second, encouraging learning from one another, promoting the capacity of one activity to potentiate another through the joint understanding and friendship and engaging in meaningful debates at a personal level could be considered as a new, peaceful way of doing international relations. In the words of Carl Clowes, “confrontational policies can never be the answer if we are to secure world peace and justice. Developing understanding between our various communities, however, can”.

 

Foreign Languages

Anglophone privilege, or handicap, and the world-opening effect of bilingualism

By Anna Lockwood

Globalisation has fundamentally changed the place of foreign languages in our lives forever. But what does this mean for British people who place as the worst in Europe at learning foreign languages? The reason is relatively simple: for brits who wish to work and spend their lives on this island, foreign languages carry no utility. But could the consequences run deeper? The disappearance of welsh is a dire shame to say the least and a very real danger to some. This relates to the argument I want to make in this post that languages are not just valuable for their utility but valuable in themselves.

English is without doubt the language of business and global affairs. This fact motivates millions each year to improve their English in pursuit of career goals and internationalism. Meanwhile, the reasons for monolinguals to pick up another language are numerous. Foreign languages are inherently linked with an interest in global affairs- they create international bonds and require and promote connection and empathy with other national identities.

Through language we express our relationship with the world around us. The amazing ability of humans to express thoughts with such detail in such a diverse number of ways is inherently linked to our equally incredible ability to form bonds with one another. It is essentially what makes us human.

The privilege of having English as a native language is clear. Many of us manage to travel and live without knowing a second language, but this comes at both an internal and external price. We lose the gift multilingualism could have given us, and externally, our human relations are damaged by arrogantly expecting the rest of mankind to communicate in a way that benefits us the most. The linguistic sacrifice is always on the other side, and because language is such a big part of who we are, what we really do is say, who I am is more important than who you are, and what I have to say is more important than what you have to say.

I have become convinced that a dangerous assumption exists in Anglophone countries that languages are ‘just not for us’. That we are wired to be terrible at languages, cast forever into the corner of the classroom to be unfairly hounded by an aggressive German teacher who continuously overestimates, over-commands, and just doesn’t understand that language is not for us. I would like to argue that this position is not just unfortunate or lazy but fundamentally detrimental.

So why are we so bad at languages? As someone who overcame this, I believe I know the answer. We treat foreign language as just another subject. A category of information to be banged into your head word by word until you can temporarily reproduce it on paper. But language is not a category and when treated as such this is the result you have- a nation of people that hesitantly stammer bonjour un café s’il-vous-plaît on command. Your second language does not exist inside a box inside your life but runs parallel and in complete correspondence to your life. Your life can equally be expressed in your second language as in your first, and this is an amazing thing to realise. They say there have been cases where brain damage has caused people to completely lose their first language but remembered their second fully. When pursuing a second language seriously, it is essential that you treat this kind of rarity as likely. In the later stages of learning a language it is not about how much of it you speak, but how little of your first language you speak. I would now like to address any young people considering a linguistic year abroad. I cannot convey how useless moving abroad can be for language learning if you continue to use English. If you truly want to learn Spanish, find a job where you are forced to speak Spanish, set all your devices into Spanish including Netflix, make Spanish-speaking friends, surround yourself with Spanish-speaking people. Temporarily cut English out of your life as much as you can.

Of course, moving abroad is not an option for many, but what I’d like to argue is that having a minimum awareness and respect for other languages is deeply intertwined with gaining an interest and understanding for other cultures. The problems that Wales faces in struggling to keep alive its native language, encouraging its youth to branch out to foreign languages, and promoting a deep-set curiosity in global affairs are essentially the same problem that needs to be addressed collectively.

Environmental concerns at the 2018 World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting

By Ana Alexandrescu 

There is no secret to anyone that the environment is increasingly gaining centre stage in the world’s security issues. As the Global Risk Report shows, four of the top five risks with the biggest impact in the near future are environmental issues. This sounds alarming but not hard to believe given the events we witnessed over the course of last year or the predictions that environmental agencies make for the future.

The World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting took place last month in Davos and environmental concerns were not absent. The agenda spanned from the protection of elephants and clean energy transition to the reinventing of waste as a resource and geospatial technology’s impact on our planet. Here are some of the most important things to be taken away from the event:

The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the Global Risks Report, enforcing the idea that climate change is the biggest threat to civilization and calling to action; the feeling that previous leaders have failed and that the next three years are a time for decision makers to redeem themselves were a young climate campaigner’s message; French president Emmanuel Macron declared that coal-fired power stations in France will be shut down in the next few years and climate change will be one of his pillars for economic reform. Other participants from different groups announced the actions they would take to combat climate change, including insurance companies divesting from coal projects.

On a similar but more local note with regard to divesting, if you live in Cardiff or the surrounding area you might be aware there is a campaign aimed at making Cardiff University divest from fossil fuel companies as currently some of its endowment fund is invested in these. Many students and student led societies have been vocal in supporting this campaign and last March saw the University’s final decision on the matter. It is hoped to see a shift towards renewable energy sources and an accelerated fight against climate change and environmental degradation.

Going back to Davos and environmental friendly memorable moments, the American delegation argued that Donald Trump is an “only man in this parade” against action on climate change and that 40% of the US economy, represented by 15 member states of the US Climate Alliance, continues to be committed to the Paris agreement. Regarding the oceans, The Friends of Ocean Action partnership was launched, a global action reuniting experts and leaders working towards the protection of oceans in order to meet the Sustainable Development Goal 14 on oceans.

Overall, there is a universal feeling that we are at a critical point in addressing and solving environmental challenges and time is quite pressing. This year more than ever sees hope lying with the leaders and their decisions and further steps.

 

Friends of Monze: a grass-roots charity supported by Hub Cymru Africa

By Sumayah Hussain 

A very well-established link is highlighted by the work of Friends of Monze.

This charity works in the town of Monze, southern Zambia. UNESCO, and the global education community, identify education as Sustainable Development Goal 4. Hence why Friends of Monze builds schools and provides equipment to help with education including books, computers, school gardens, water and menstrual hygiene. Friends of Monze have recently started to promote women’s rights and raise awareness of gender-based violence issues. The organization trains women and to teach others about these issues using the local traditional method of teaching using drama.

Deana Owen, the Chair of Friends of Monze, has a very inspiring story of her own. Deana travelled to Zambia to work as a nurse in a maternity ward when she was 23. Later, when she retired, she saw an advert for volunteers in Zambia in the Big Issue, and she was reminded of her time there.

“Many of the children I met were AIDS orphans being cared for by grandparents or foster mothers. They had so little yet took these children in and did their best to feed them and give them shelter.” Seeing this had such an impact on her. Deana worked with others to set up the charity Friends of Monze.I asked Deana a few questions regarding education in Zambia:

What are the barriers stopping children from attending school?

In Zambia poverty is stopping children attending school, it is difficult for poor families to afford school fees, uniforms and books. 17.8% of the poorest 20% of children attend school compared to 78.9% of the richest children 20% of children.
This is why Friends of Monze is helping schools generate an income by growing food in permaculture school gardens. Poor children are able to work in the school garden provided by Hub Cymru Africa instead of paying school fees.

Are the circumstances worse for young girls regarding accessing education?

Educated girls are more likely to marry later and have fewer children, who in turn will be more likely to survive and to be better nourished and educated. This is why girls’ education has been given a high priority in Zambia. By law in Zambia equal numbers of boys and girls are enrolled in schools however by Grade 12 only about 35% of pupils are girls. There are many barriers for girls in accessing education, including poverty and inadequate sanitary facilities. Friends of Monze are providing schools with menstrual health education and washable reusable sanitary pads made in Monze.

Is there a different focus to education in Zambia, compared to Wales? What are the benefits of a partnership link?

Children study abroad range of subjects. They learn in the local languages for the first 4 years then subjects are taught in English. Schools in Zambia have football and other sports clubs, Water Sanitation and Hygiene clubs and learn to traditional dance and drumming.

Links between schools are a good starting point for children to be able to learn about and understand each other. Teachers in Zambia who have visited schools in the UK as part of the British Council program have been keen to tell Deana they have learned a lot from even a two- or three-week visit. There is a lot to learn in both countries about the causes of inequality in the world, through a knowledge of history, geography, economics, politics etc.

 

Justice Committees: Opening the dialogue on Truth Commissions

By Ryan Lewis 

On the 24th of March, Aberaid, a charity who aims to home Syrian refugees fleeing the bloodshed and heartache of their home country, hosted their successful ‘Mid-Wales meets the Middle East’ event in the university town of Aberystwyth. The event brought the unlikely pairing of Welsh and Syrian culture in a blending that seemed harmonious in its goal for peace and friendship. The music and laughter could almost make you forget the tragedies and suffering that linger beyond the event.

The warm smiles of volunteers, refugees and supporters all covered the frustrations and disappointment at not only the government but the international community. the feeling that the government were not doing enough was common. Considering that Britain took in 200,000 refugees at the start of the first world war, Britain today has only taken over 10,000 Syrian refugees. While debates are ongoing as to whether the UK can cope with more refugees or if the UK is simply neglecting its responsibilities as a first world nation. There are other issues at play: one being overlooked-justice.

It can be hard to think of justice so early. After all, justice is served after the crime has been committed, and the crimes in Syria are still continuing seven years after conflict broke out. With no sign of peace, it might even feel wrong to begin considering justice when more immediate concerns need to be dealt with like shelter and food for the people forced to flee their homes. But it’s our duty as people, and as a country as privileged as Wales to think of the past, present and future. Not just for our own country but for other countries too. justice, and post-conflict intervention should be considered now for a more well-developed plan for the survivability of Syria. In the past the international community has been underprepared and become overwhelmed in handling post-conflict states, particularly in its delivery of justice. It cannot be argued that courts are a fundamental mechanism for justice; justice goes far beyond a court room. The International Criminal Tribunals of Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia (ICTR and ICTY) are both examples of the international community’s active response to bring justice for post-conflict states and no doubt a similar court will be set up for Syria, but more needs to be done.

One approach overlooked by the international communities is Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. Truth Commissions are established to create dialog between all sides, while still allowing accountability for crimes to be recognised. Offenders can come forward to tell their stories, not just their crimes which allow for the victims to gain better understanding of the experiences they were put through. Some say truth commissions trade justice for truth, that only courts can deliver true justice, but this is not the case. Punishment can create order, but I question if it brings justice wholeheartedly. While the international community might be satisfied, what about the victims? Studies have shown that truth commissions have provided better satisfaction for justice and healing than courts for victims (Waldof, 2006). Truth commissions allow for dialog. They allow for those most affected the opportunity to talk about their suffering and experiences and to form a singular ‘memory’ of events. These break down the ‘them vs. us’ mentality that lingers after post-conflict. This allows tensions between the opposing sides to continue. In turn a higher risk of conflict to break out again occurs. Truth commissions focus on the victims, not the offenders and this approach has provided the comfort of truth needed to heal. truth allows victims to understand why crimes against them and their loved ones were committed, it allows them to understand the other side. This was the case for Jean-Baptiste Ntakirutimana. He visited his mother’s killer, to understand why anyone would kill his mother. Turikunkiko explained that he did her because no one else dares. She was too nice to kill even in a genocide. Except Turikunkiko wanted to loot her. He went into detail in how he killed her while the grieving son listened on. The prisoner thought Ntakirutamana wanted to kill him as justice for his mother. To his surprise Ntakirutimana extended forgiveness. Both men were given the opportunity to heal because of truth. Courts focus on the crimes, which is exactly what they should do, but a true narrative could never be given in the way truth commissions allow.

While at the event in Aberystwyth and seeing the refugees smile I wondered what they want, and it seemed what they wanted was not international courts. They want truth. They want to go back home and find their families or bury their loved ones. Most importantly they want an end to the war. it is something we should be planning. Syria needs to be rebuilt. Cities upon cities destroyed by one of the most brutal civil wars in history. Whole families killed and many more ripped apart, fleeing in any direction they can. The Syrian people, who have seen more suffering than we can even imagine only want to go home and rebuild. Most do not seek retribution but restoration. It’s probably hard for an observer to imagine not wanting revenge if the shoe was on the other foot but is what many refugees want.

Europe forgets this. Europe will respond with an International Criminal Tribunal of Syria and it will do good. But Europe needs to see retribution and restorative justice as equals and one cannot succeed as well without the other. Large-scale crimes need a large-scale approach with multiple responses by the courts, truth commissions and by traditional justice approaches from Syrian culture. In Rwanda, the truth commission, called the Gacaca Courts, were only implemented because the backlog for the ICTR became overwhelming. It was a secondary response despite its evident success for conviction rates compared to the ICTR, who after years of trials only 93 people were indicted.

It is time that the international community’s responses are planned and well-thought out, catering to the needs of not just the international community’s desire for retributive justice and order, but for the victims needs for healing and rebuilding. To victims, justice can be found in truth, but more importantly they want to go home. Wales has generally shown a positive response to refugees and the bonds created between Syrian refugees and the locals of Wales will resonate when the Syrian people find stability in their homeland. The Syrian victims will need a voice when conflict ends as to what they need in terms of justice, rebuilding and recovery. Wales can be that voice. Wales can be the voice to fight for truth commissions along with courts. Wales has a responsibility to speak for the interests of the Syrian population within its borders and beyond. With no money or position, Syrian refugees have no voice. They talk through those who help them such as charities. It is the responsibility of states who are able to help to do just that. The chaotic period after conflict will not help refugees who want to return to Syria to rebuild if Wales and other countries to stand behind Syrian refugees in their goal for stability. Refugees do not want to wait two years for international courts to take its first case like The International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda. A planned response is needed now, and it needs to be inclusive to the victims.

Seeing Syrian refugees express their culture and wanting to share this with the locals of Aberystwyth made me see just how vibrant and joyful life can be and why we should be doing more for refugees in Wales and across the world. But more importantly, the event made me realise just how ordinary refugees are in the sense that they want exactly what everyone else wants: To go home at the end of the day to their loved ones. This process is only going to be delayed unless the international community plans for post-conflict Syria now.

References:
Economics Help: https://www.economicshelp.org/blog/7/trade/the-rise-of-globalisation/
International Center for Transitional Justice: https://www.ictj.org/gallery-items/truth-commissions
International Encyclopaedia of the First World War: https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/refugees_belgium
Refugee Council: https://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/20facts
United Nations Mechanisms for Criminal Tribunals: http://unictr.unmict.org/en/tribunal
Waldorf, L, (2006), Mass Justice for Mass Atrocity: Rethinking Local Justice as Transitional Justice, Temple Law Review, 79 (1), pp. 1-88

 

A forgotten Crises: Pro-gun arguments and the evidence against them

By Emily Withers

Following the recent shooting in Parkland, Florida, the world is yet again talking about gun control. 17 people lost their lives to a single shooter on Wednesday 14th February 2018, at Douglas High School, which is not as shocking of a sentence as it should be. Debates in the following weeks have, understandably, been emotionally driven, and can sometimes be lost beneath tears and shouting. This blog post will highlight some of the key arguments against gun control and how they are often disproved by simply looking at the evidence.

Claim 1: Mental illness is the main reason for mass shootings, not gun ownership

This argument is a popular one for conservative lobbyists and NRA members alike. In particular, NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch likes to deflect serious questions about controls and new laws by suggesting that mental illness is the only reason why people commit mass shootings. In fact, using this argument merely dismisses the need for further debate. A study in 2015 found that in the decade ending in 2010, less than 5% of all mass shooting events in America were committed by someone with a diagnosed mental illness, despite 1 in 5 Americans living with one. While it is important that mental health services are improved in America, this is not what is being suggested, with conservative commentators instead using lexis which indirectly labels all mentally ill people as ‘crazy’. If indeed this was a mental health problem, which evidence suggests it is not, then should the President be calling the Parkland shooter a “Sicko”? We should instead be debating for more detailed background checks and mental health assessments for prospective gun owners. This argument, then, is not a genuine one. The facts speak for themselves; most mass shootings are not committed by mentally ill individuals, and when they are, the debate is never about how to control their access to weapons.

Claim 2: If guns were banned, only criminals would own them, and more deaths would occur

This claim runs on the assumption that civilian ownership can be helpful in the event of a mass shooting. In the thirty years leading up to 2009, not a single mass shooting was stopped or prevented by intervention from an armed civilian. In one instance, a civilian pursued, shot and killed a shooter, but this was only after the shooting had ceased. Now that we know this assumption is based on no factual evidence, why can’t the US ban guns? Conservative arguments often suggest that if gun ownership became illegal, only law-abiding citizens would hand their guns into the government during a gun amnesty. This would leave only criminals with guns, leading to an increase in mass-shooting events and no way to defend yourself in an attack. To approach this argument, we must look at case studies where other countries have imposed similar systems.

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In the UK in 1996, 16 primary school children and their teacher were killed when a single man used his legally owned handguns to shoot at five and six-year-old children in Dunblane, Scotland. Immediately, there was a debate on new legislation and, ultimately, a ban on guns implemented in 1997. Since then, there has not been a single school shooting, and only one mass shooting event, in 2010. Every year since 1997, there have been fewer than 10 gun deaths in Scotland, where the Dunblane shooting took place, indicating that fears about an increase in use after a ban are unfounded in this case.

Australia’s situation is more similar to the US in terms of attitudes towards gun ownership. For many, having a gun was an essential part of life in the bush, but this did not stop changes in legislation after the Port Arthur massacre in April 1996. 35 people were killed and 23 injured by a lone individual. At the time, there were no restrictions on guns other than handguns, but just two weeks after the shooting, debates were already taking place. The same year, Australia passed a law restricting the ownership of all guns and enforcing the use of firearms licenses. There was also a national buyback policy for anyone who had guns which did not comply with new legislation, which gave civilians motivation to comply. Since the new legislation in 1996, there has not been a single mass shooting event in Australia.

Claim 3: New gun controls would impose on the Second Amendment rights of the American people

Looking at this statement, we must look at the Amendment itself. The phrase in question is “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” and was implemented in 1791. At this time, the guns used were not semi-automatic weapons with the ability to kill a large group of people at once. Would it really be an infringement of constitutional rights if guns were limited to safer, less destructive, single-fire weapons? This would still be interpreted as ‘bearing arms’, and so would arguably still be fulfilling the Second Amendment rights that lobbyists are so attached to. In addition, we must consider whether the Second Amendment is something that modern Americans should be proud of. It was added to the US constitution over 70 years before slavery was made illegal, at a time where women were treated as their husbands’ property and had no right to vote or express a political opinion. As we can all agree that the American beliefs on race and gender were wrong at this time, why can we not agree the same about the right to carry a gun? Indeed, it may be true that the Second Amendment is being misunderstood altogether. There were several regulations on gun control in the decades following the Bill of Rights. Gun owners had to go to ‘mandatory musters’ where guns would be inspected, and there were regular door-to-door surveys wherein guns were logged. The idea of the Second Amendment was to promote the safety of the American people, not simply allow everyone to own whichever gun they like. The Amendment itself asks for a ‘well-regulated Militia’, which at the time included civilian gun ownership. Supporters of the NRA should now understand that in order for the US government to serve the constitutional rights of its citizens, there must be strong, clear legislation on the types of guns which are allowed to be owned, and by who. Unfortunately for gun fanatics, complying with the Second Amendment does not allow for ordinary citizens to own and use assault rifles; there is no reason that this is appropriate or safe.

Claim 4: Arming more people will prevent mass shootings

With a surge in support after President Trump suggested arming teachers would prevent school shootings, this claim is resurfacing with more determination than ever before. As it was first debated and rejected in the 1920s, we can look to some of the suggestions about gun control from this decade to tackle this issue. There was much pressure on the government at the time, from gun enthusiasts and some media sources, to increase the number of people who could carry concealed weapons, and to take a back seat when it came to strict regulations. This idea was swiftly rejected by lawmakers and the majority of the public, and ‘may issue’ carry laws were implemented instead. These laws made it harder to carry a concealed weapon, as the state may issue you a permit to carry a concealed weapon, even after fulfilling basic requirements. These laws, first seen in the 19th-Century, were so widely accepted that even gun advocates found them reasonable. Up to the 1980s, the NRA themselves did not support the right of every American citizen to carry a concealed weapon, promoting the idea that only those individuals for whom it was necessary to carry a concealed weapon should be granted state approval to do so. So where did the general consensus take such a dramatic U-turn? Lobbyists gained power and money from the mid-1980s in the USA, and so have been able to influence the media and the government. By pumping 30.3 million dollars into Trump, the NRA gained political influence.  So, Trump’s suggestion to arm teachers should not be surprising. But would it work?

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A bill set into motion in Florida on 3rd March 2018 suggests arming highly trained individuals within schools, who would then act as a protector in the case of an attack. Supporters may argue the famous ‘good guy with a gun’ logic can be applied here, and that teachers would use their guns solely for the protection of their students. But what happens when a teacher snaps? We must consider the implications of arming teachers, an overworked group who are often loaded with stress and paperwork. Just two weeks after the Parkland shooting, Jesse Davidson, a teacher from Dalton Hugh School barricaded himself in a classroom and unloaded a shot. Fortunately, Davidson was alone in the room and there were no injuries, but we must ponder just how much worse this situation could have been. Student safety will not be increased by guaranteeing a weapon in the classroom. It certainly will not prevent school shootings. Indeed, in the case of the Parkland shooting, an armed security officer was present at the school but did not enter and address the shooter. This was an individual who had over 30 years’ experience as a sheriff’s deputy, but in the moment could not bring himself to enter a live shooting scenario. This situation helps to place emphasis on the role of human emotions and natural responses in life-threatening scenarios. So why would arming teachers, whose jobs are not remotely related to armed security, help prevent school shootings?

Conclusions

While it is clear that a calm and civilized debate must occur in the US over gun control, it is also clear that some arguments already put forward are not supported by evidence. It is imperative that any measures implemented consider evidence-based arguments and previous research and case studies. After assessing some of the loudest claims about gun control, it is clear that more guns are not the answer. Whether it be teacher or civilians with concealed handguns, more bullets and more adrenaline-fueled firing will not have positive effects on US citizens, particularly the only people guaranteed to be unarmed: innocent children.

Fairtrade Wales: A global partnership

By Sumayah Hussain

I met Jan Tucker of the Fairtrade shop Fair Do’s/ Siopa Teg at the International Development summit. It was the colorful display of Fairtrade goods that drew me to her stall. I’ve been buying Fair Trade for 10 years and I have a huge amount of respect for the core principles of Fairtrade. It is only correct in my opinion that the farmers and workers who are working so hard to produce the everyday things that we love are given a fair deal.

As part of writing this blog, I chose to visit the shop in Canton, Cardiff where Jan told me a little more about the shop, and Fair Trade. According to Jan, chocolate and pure natural soap are the best-selling items. There are shelves of delicious ethical treats to choose from!
For the last three years, Fair do’s have received a small grant from Hub Cymru Africa to support their work.
She also said: “Fairtrade is important, as it pays people a fair amount of money. It’s a way in which consumers in countries like Wales can make a small switch in their shopping habits to support some of the world’s most vulnerable people.”

We then discussed the confusion that comes from having different Fairtrade marks, and the recent shift by Sainsbury’s from Fairtrade certified tea to their own in-house label: ‘fairly traded’. Jan is fearful that the changes from people like Sainsbury’s as well as issues such as Brexit means that the future for Fairtrade is not so straightforward. She is still optimistic, however. She talks of people genuinely trusting the Fairtrade Mark, and that is does ensure a fair deal for farmers and workers across the world.

Jan was kind enough to answer some of my further questions:

Why is Fairtrade important?

It is important because we pay the people the right amount. It is a way to support vulnerable people in poor areas in the world. It is understood by many people e.g. supermarkets as well as politicians.

With so many Fairtrade logos how do customers know the difference between each certification?

Fairtrade means that the item is independently verified. The World Trade Organization has long lengthy agreements which covers Fairtrade.

How does your shop affect the lives of people living in a under developed country?

There are 5 different areas which the shop is linked with. Products are currently imported directly from a shop in Egypt which is part of British Association for Fair Trade Shops.

How do you know the income from the product will go to the farmers and not a middle man?

People do genuinely trust the Fairtrade mark. For example, Palestinian oil producers meet annually during Fairtrade fortnight, so workers at the shop can also link up with them during this time.

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Fairtrade is a part of Wales’s modern history of International Solidarity. In 2018, Wales celebrates its 10th anniversary as a Fairtrade Nation. A time where schools, governments, businesses, places of worships, universities and communities have supported farmers and workers across the world through Fairtrade.