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

 

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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.

Annual Law Lecture: Christine Chinkin: Violence Against Women and the Istanbul Convention

By Georgia Marks

On 3 May 2018, the Welsh Centre for International Affairs held their Annual Law Lecture at the Temple of Peace. This lecture looked at the violence women face and discussed potential solutions, both within Wales and worldwide, with particular focus on the Istanbul Convention.

The event began with a speech by Jeremy Miles, AM for Neath and Counsel General for Wales, who gave us a background on how the Welsh Government was committed to tackling all forms of violence against women. This can be shown, he said, by the introduction of the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, which aims to improve the Public Sector response in Wales to gender based violence. This commitment is further reinforced by the National Strategy on Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence which was published in November 2016, and the Delivery Framework which is still in development. With regards to implementing the Act, Miles drew particular attention to the “Ask and Act” training carried out on over 70,000 employers of the Public Sector. The training aims to encourage an open dialogue for people to share their experiences so that this violence can be stopped. I think this training is a proactive and welcome addition to any campaign, but particularly one surrounding violence, as raising awareness on such prevalent issues will help form a united front in order to try and prevent such violence in the future. However, of course, given the delicate subject matter it is crucial that we approach this with sensitivity.

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Live Fear Free website

Miles then touched upon events surrounding gender-based violence awareness happening in Wales, of particular note was the “Don’t be a bystander” campaign which reinforced the importance of positive intervention and the Live Fear Free guidance available online. This campaign has been circulating throughout Wales and yet again reiterates the active role we, as members of society, must play. This is true- change does not happen if people remain passive and being fully educated is all part of the process.

Miles then went on to introduce Christine Chinkin, and provided us with a little bit of her background. Christine Chinkin, FBA, is an Emerita Professor of International Law and Director of the Centre on Women, Peace and Security at the London School of Economics. Also, together with Hilary Charlesworth, she won the American Society of International Law, 2005 Goler T. Butcher Medal ‘for outstanding contribution to the development or effective realization of international human rights law.’ Her academic work has taken her worldwide, she is a renowned feminist and an expert in post-conflict resolution. This puts her in good stead to comment on the issue of violence against women as she is an expert in her field.

Chinkin

Professor Christine Chinkin

Christine Chinkin took to the podium and began her speech by explaining the Istanbul Convention and how it addresses crime against women. She started off by expressing the view of the UN that gender based violence is a pandemic. She then went on to list some statistics: ¼-1/5 of women have experienced sexual violence; 15-20% of women have been in an abusive relationship; and 26% of women and 15% of men aged 16-59 have experienced some form of violence. The period of most heightened vulnerability, Chinkin stated, is on separation.

A task force was set up to assess the impact on women which concluded that this violence reduces women’s productivity and lowers their overall educational development. The task force also stated that there was a clear need for a European wide convention, which is now the Istanbul Convention. Chinkin emphasised that this Convention was not negotiated in a vacuum, it was built upon a normative standard, with the idea of bringing violence against women into the discourse of human rights. This appears to be positive, as a Convention must reflect the needs of society, so it is quite right that a rigorous negotiation process was carried out to ensure that the Convention provided well rounded protection.

Chinkin then went on to establish violence against women in the background on international law, and gave us the history surrounding the creation of the Istanbul Convention in 2011. She stated that originally human rights advocates criticised the Convention on the Elimination on All Forms of Discrimination against Women 1979 (1979 Convention) due to the fact that in reality state action fails to address violence against women and by non-state actors. This focus on state agents is a problem, Chinkin stated, due to the fact that the statistics that she gave above concerned violence carried out by non-state actors, which is a major societal issue. However, it is worth noting that Article 2(e) of the 1979 Convention committed to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organization or enterprise. This horizontal application (private individual against another private individual) of Human Rights Law, which moves away from the classic human rights framework (which is vertical and focuses on violations of the individual by the state). Subsequent recommendations were made, by the General Assembly and in the Beijing Conference which both regarded violence against women as a concern. Chinkin established that the need to target gender based violence was only expressed in soft law form (in the shape of opinions and reports) at that point. The judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) had to read issues of violence against women into their judgments as there was no legally binding instrument to refer to. The only legally binding instruments were regional, so the Treaties in the Americas and Africa. Therefore, Chinkin noted, Europe was lacking behind. As a result of the uncertainties of the scope of obligations, the Istanbul Convention was adopted in 2011, of which 30 states are party to it.

Chinkin then went on to establish why the Istanbul Convention is so important. First and foremost, it is a hybrid convention that brings human rights and domestic law into the Convention in an innovative way. The human rights Treaty locates violence against women within the family, community and state. The Treaty sets out state’s both the state’s negative obligation (to refrain from acting in a way that will contribute to the issues of violence against women) and positive obligation (to provide a legal and social framework through active measures). This requires compensation through reparations and provides a monitoring body for the Council of Europe. Importantly it is applicable in conflict and in peace. In terms of the criminal law element, the Convention incorporates legislative change domestically. Violence against women is not exactly an international crime, so within an international treaty there is a need to identify specific crimes within the rubric of violence against women. Importantly, criminal law incorporates specificity in comparison with human rights. This was one of the most important parts of Chinkin’s speech as what appeared to be lacking previously within the law was resolved by incorporating everything into a fused system, which can be positively viewed as providing a larger scale of protection to women.

The hybrid system meant that a lot of time was spent within the drafting process on deciding which crimes come within the Convention. Chinkin expressed that by bringing crimes within the concept of violence against women adds coherence, resolving the original uncertainty of what constituted such violence. The crimes that were discussed were regarded by some as social problems as opposed to criminal, but now crimes such as economic and psychological harm, stalking and sexual violence come within the Istanbul Convention and gives the first legal definitions of these crimes. At the end of the event, a member of the audience commented on the Islamophobia in relation to violence against women that is prevalent in today’s society and asked the speakers’ view of whether this should come under criminal law. Chinkin answered with the conclusion that it should be criminalised. The behaviour that the member of the audience described comes within the Convention and should be recognised as unacceptable. However, there are always others ways of accountability as criminalisation might not be appropriate in all circumstances. This is true, every response to a certain abuse must be tailored.

Chinkin remarked that during negotiations, there was particular debate surrounding whether the crimes would be defined in light of men’s perceptions, or by women’s experiences. However, the focus was on that of the victim in definitions. I think this is crucial to the Convention as the opposite conclusion could have easily led to the isolation and hostility towards women of which the Convention was supposed to protect. Importantly, the speaker stated that there are no defences on justification for violence against women for reasons such as culture or custom. Chinkin also noted that State parties are required to undertake assessment and management of risk of the overall social environment whilst also looking at the appropriate measures for individual women. In this sense, the speaker points out, the convention has a holistic and practical approach. This is a positive aspect of the Convention as it is important to place the Convention within the relevant society so that it can be at its most effective. In particular, Chinkin drew attention to the holistic approach of the Council of Europe of the 4 Ps: prevention of violence against women, protection, provision of services and participation of women in policy. However, the speaker also mentioned an extra P: integrated government policy. Therefore, the Convention brought together standards into a legally binding instrument. Such an instrument requires both pre-emptive and protective measures as well as accountability. The Convention builds on international law and supplements, whilst also recognising violence as a serious crime and within the problem of social hierarchy. When asked to give the audience a flavour of the impact of the Istanbul Convention and the difference it will make to women, Chinkin answered by stating that the Convention was the first step and particularly that actions that will bring in laws are important. There needs to be a holistic approach with reference to the CEDAW reports. Importantly, however, now there is a level of awareness surrounding these issues in most states.

Chinkin then went on to talk about the tensions within the negotiation stage of the Convention. These negotiations, she said, were not straightforward, particularly because the delegates were not human rights experts, but were more experienced in the field of criminal law. They did not understand human rights instruments nor which Conventions states were party to. There was a priority, however, to ensure that the language in The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was kept. Chinkin expressed that the major issue within the negotiations was rooted in gender, in particular the definition of gender. It was argued, she said, that domestic violence is not gender based, and that the issue was regarded as social rather than legal. However, Chinkin argued, this contention was wrong as violence is disproportionate against women. She further argued that all children should be educated with comprehensive sexuality education, however, this in regards to gender sensitive policy is contentious as there are freedom of expression problems. For example, Croatia made an interpretive statement that there is no requirement for gender ideology. At the end of the talks, a member of the audience mentioned Chinkin’s reference to how gender ideology is used and misused and asked her to elaborate. Chinkin expressed that in terms of misuse, gender is becoming a code word for sexual identity and any mention was viewed as an attempt to bring rights around such identity, for example in the Columbia Peace Process gender was used to refer to family, homosexuality and gender identity. She went on to emphasise that this misinterpretation was beginning to spread and the further difficulties in trying to undo.

The most controversial definition given was within the context of domestic violence, which is defined as gender neutral, which in turn makes it inappropriate to have a woman specific convention. However, Chinkin established that a compromise was reached by providing a definition of gender neutral that is encouraged to all but with a particular focus on women. The Former Special Rapporteur stated that violence against men occurs but has less impact and is not grounded in structural discrimination, thus, to give the two issues the same treatment and resources would ignore reality whilst also ignoring the systematic nature of violence against women. This view has merit and appears to be a particular issue as if their resources are the same, Chinkin stated, that this would not be balanced in reality. Violence against everyone, she said, is important but the treatment needs to be adjusted, rather than having a one size fits all approach. This is a valid response which recognises violence generally while tailoring the treatment to fit with the reality, thus fully utilising all resources in an appropriate way.

Chinkin then continued her speech by looking at the United Kingdom’s role in the Convention. She said that the UK government would be a prominent country to become party, but they took a passive role, signing the Convention in June 2012 but having not ratified the Treaty yet. However, the UK are party to CEDAW and the Treaty of Rights Against the Child, as well as adopting some of the measures already contained in the Convention, such as criminalising forced marriage. The UK claims that it cannot ratify until all domestic law is amended. However, Chinkin noted, the UK exercises extraterritorial jurisdiction, so should it really be that difficult to ratify the Convention?

The speaker then established whether we have a global treaty to combat violence against women. The Former Special Rapporteur claimed that there was no such treaty. However, Chinkin noted, the Istanbul Convention would be a good model for such a treaty. There is potential for the Istanbul Convention to be universal, but no state outside of the Council of Europe is party to it. In this sense then, she said, the Convention being universalised would be problematic as it is European. Additionally though, CEDAW was updated through soft law in 1992; over 25 years of practice has endorsed the interpretation that the prohibition of violence against women has evolved into custom, which may remove the need for a global treaty. As a general recommendation, Chinkin suggested that violence against women in all spaces should be emphasised and that different legal responses should be devised. For example, the approach for disabled women who have undergone medical procedures without their consent should be different from looking at women’s vulnerability through immigration. Chinkin then established that a global treaty could have a large impact but could lead to dilution of what we already have. Having a global treaty would appear to have merit in building on well established custom, however, if countries have not signed the Istanbul Convention outside of the Council of Europe, would they be likely to ratify a global treaty? For now it seems that custom is the strongest route to globalising the approach to.

Chinkin concluded her speech by expressing that there is enough in the Convention to provide a framework, but it needs to be applied with resources and kept in review. The evolution of the Istanbul Convention should be with reference to CEDAW. She finished by stating that if the UK government became a party it would be of strength to the Convention.

Chinkin’s speech had many valid points, in particular that the Convention should keep up to date with reality. In this sense then, there is a push towards the Convention being a living instrument that is flexible to meet the needs of an evolving society. This idea should be welcomed.

The Chair of the event, Jackie Jones, Professor of Feminist Legal Studies at the University of the West of England, then came to the podium to speak about the UK and Wales’ response to violence against women. Jones started off by stating that there is a continued call for a global treaty for violence against women and girls. In regards to the UK’s response, they have taken a back seat role, having never nominated someone to CEDAW and are only finally considering doing so now. Jones rightly stated that from this it seems that the UK is not a leader in gender equality. Nevertheless, Jones established that the UK has done good work but more could be done, for example, ratifying the Istanbul Convention is just one thing that it could do. The issue of having to amend their domestic legislation is not a good enough reason not to ratify given their powers of extraterritoriality.

Jones then drew particular attention to Wales, which she said has proven to be good for normative instruments. However, she reiterated that there is always more to do, particularly within the pushbacks about gender in the making of legislation. Nevertheless, the 2015 Act in Wales, she said, is what due diligence looks like. It is also worth noting that the funding for these Welsh policies are coming from Westminster, which shows that Wales are prioritising the protection of women and that the money isn’t just coming from thin air. This point is of particular importance as it shows that Wales appears to be a lot more active than the UK in general but also this is a good thing as it could push the UK to be a leader of gender equality. The Istanbul Convention, she says, has added value in Wales, as putting a human rights perspective within criminal law is really important. Jones expressed that a lot of provisions were already there but more is needed, such as specialist measures and services because of need, for example FGM clinics. However, in the Q&A session after the event, the view was expressed within the audience that Wales have created effective policies but that she disagreed with the criminalisation of female genital mutilation and the introduction of the clinic. How is it effective, she said, if people are being stigmatised? In her response, Jones likened FGM to arranged marriage in that both should, and are, criminalised. She viewed the criminalisation as justified, however there were no successful prosecutions yet. Chinkin added to the debate by saying that human rights have to be crafted and put into effect in consultation. The top-down approach will not work, she said, as although we need normative standards we also need to include a bigger level of consultation. This idea of consultation appeared to be desirable in the context that the individual was referring to. Both of these responses are valid but it looks to be beneficial if the solution is to combine these views: FGM is a clear human rights abuse but consultation may be needed to try and work around the stigmatisation of the criminalisation in these cultural communities.

Jones concluded by reiterating the importance of the 2015 Act in Wales but that there is always more to do in the realm of violence against women.

Overall, this event provided the audience with a well-informed discussion on how the issue of violence against women is being dealt with both here in Wales and across Europe. This issue seems prevalent everywhere, which is why it seems a shame that the UK are not at the forefront of the debate. However, it seems hopeful that Wales’ commitment to eradicating violence against women will set an example for the rest of the UK. In regards to the Istanbul Convention, it appears to be having a positive impact in at least raising awareness to the issues discussed whilst also providing a newly legal platform which will hopefully pave the way for progress in this area.

Women to Women for Peace – Exchange between Cuba, the US and Wales‘, 1998-2001

Kathyrn Evans

Women to Women for Peace’ – The Mission

The mission statement of Women to Women for Peace (W2W4P) was “World Peace will come through the will of ordinary people like yourselves”. This encapsulates in a nutshell why the organisation – founded in 1984 – enjoyed thirty years of success.

“No young mother in this country or any other wants her son to go and kill the sons of other young mothers and I believe that if inter-visitations were arranged between parties of young mothers from Britain … and from other countries who chose to join in, bridges of understanding could be built … as a REAL contribution to world peace”

 

Lucy Behenna, founder of Mothers for Peace (later became W2W4P).

This was a powerfully motivated group of people who came together to build bridges between people from countries which have contrasting and conflicting political, philosophical, cultural and religious interests. The aim was to promote the message that war was not the answer to resolving conflict by supporting intercultural understanding on a transnational level. W2W4P had numerous highlights throughout their duration as a non-profit organisation that accentuate their success as an international solidarity movement. I will illuminate some highlights over the course of two articles about the South West and Wales group of W2W4P who achieved undoubtable success for peacekeeping from Wales to Cuba, America, Israel and Palestine, starting with their achievements in Cuba and America.

Why you need to know about Women to Women for Peace

It is my hope that when you read the articles I have written on the inspirational work of Women to Women for Peace, you will feel the same as I felt; that there are lessons to take away and how vital it is to have international solidarity movements. The work of W2W4P has left me feeling proud of Wales for being part of an amazing peacemaking organisation that strove for pacifism internationally as well as locally; they brought solidarity to our front doors. I feel positive that there is always something an individual or collective group can do to reach out and show support to other countries in distress. I am also questioning whether we are lacking this sense of solidarity and peacemaking now, which I evaluate further in a second article. I have had an uncomfortable realisation that many issues addressed over the course of these articles can be directly related to today’s struggles (inequality, discrimination, oppression, exploitation to name a few). Perhaps we are led to think about more conflicts going on around the world but we may be doing less to help now, than we were in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It is my pleasure to take you through some major turning points and highlights of W2W4P. I want to draw upon their links to Wales, explain what they stood for and to take some lessons from this organisation in the hope that you too are inspired to keep fighting to make a difference.

Women to Women for Peace visit Cuba, 1998

 

In 1998, four delegates of W2W4P (including a Welsh representative) were given the opportunity to travel to Cuba for the ‘International Independence, Sovereignty and Peace’ conference. There were roughly 3,000 women from 75 countries present and they were all women from dramatically diverse circumstances. This represents an amazing collaboration of peace organisations across the globe who were all striving for the same goal; peace. This was a chance to build bridges with other organisations worldwide and such links were made with peace workers from Brazil, Cyprus, US, Italy, Cuba, Ireland and many more. There were many positive far-reaching consequences from the experience; strong networks were built on cooperation and it showed that international solidarity can counteract powerful negative influences.

A highlight of the Cuba visit was a speech from Fidel Castro. In his speech he passionately explained his world view – that the world’s preoccupation with profit was at the cost of humanity … for the sake of the global economy. This statement rang alarm bells for me as it seems there are parallels with our situation in 2018, hence my view that we need a resurgence of a group such as W2W4P.

Women from Cuba and America visit Wales, 2001
The most successful outcome of the W2W4P visit to Cuba in ‘98 was the building of friendships with women from Cuba and America; this led to a reunion in Wales in 2001. W2W4P were eager to raise further, real awareness of the Cuban situation because they had witnessed first-hand the extent of the suffering that Cuba was enduring because of the blockade imposed by America; far more than had ever been published by the media. The ladies from the peacemaking organisations across the three countries all sought this opportunity to develop closer and stronger relations with each other, to deepen the understanding of the situations in each country and to bring awareness to Wales about the injustice of the American Blockade. It was the perfect opportunity for the ladies of Cuba and America, two conflicting countries, to tell their official and unofficial story of the US blockade as a method of spreading the message and fighting for peace. It was quite special to have women from Cuba and America over to Wales to enjoy and appreciate our city of Cardiff, vibrantly multicultural and home to fascinating buildings such as the Temple of Peace.

Veronica Alvarez, of the Cuban peacemaking organisation that visited was warmed by the kindness and concern of W2W4P because it showed a humbling sign of solidarity, that other countries and people care for peace in societies other than their own. One of the American visitors Robin Melavalin had some encouraging words about W2W4P; that they were impressive and showed an excellent model for peacemaking. Robin was able to meet people from Cuba in a neutral country and have time to get to know them. It really helped build bridges, relations and gain a key understanding of an array of perspectives on international issues confronting them.

Lessons we should take away from Women to Women for Peace movements
The W2W4P delegates who attended the conference in Cuba witnessed a multiracial society with no visible signs of prejudice or discrimination. This ought to be a lesson that many countries and communities today could take away with them. Cuban citizens also held a political and economic view about the blockade which was very reasoned and factual; the people showed no signs of aggression or bitterness towards their political oppressor America; another lesson that some nations could learn.

The ladies from W2W4P who spent time in Cuba noticed that partly because of the blockade Cuban streets were visibly deteriorating and crumbling due to lack of resources and materials, yet the atmosphere was still vibrant with a huge amount of culture that was itching to be shared. It was moving to experience a country who was suffering terribly but who still stood strong, where people were passionate and proud to be who they were. Isn’t this the kind of lens through which we need to look at Palestine, Iraq, Yemen or Afghanistan, for example? Each have their own cultural and political background yet are under immense pressure to conform to a particular version of democracy. The work of W2W4P brings me to the daunting conclusion that we still don’t seem to be capable or accepting a multi-faceted world.

One thing that is apparent here is that media has a powerful influence over international conflicts and issues, by promoting often superficial views. W2W4P’s visit to Cuba, and the return visit to Wales made it possible to witness and understand the true impact of the American blockade – aspects that weren’t seen in the media. What Cuba and America’s differences came down to and what we still witness today is that they have different political systems, a different ideology and different priorities which is part and parcel of a multipolar world. The government and organisations in Cuba were able to create solidarity with organisations across the globe, and it is in my belief that every country still needs to fight for this. Today, we are still witnessing vicious cycles of exploitation and suffering and although peace may be unattainable to many, the situation could still be improved. The first step is perhaps to create awareness, as is shown in the story of W2W4P.

For more information and stories from the Women to Women for Peace successes, please read my other article about the time when women from Israel and Palestine came to visit Wales!

Sources:
Mothers for Peace report on International Encounter of Solidarity among Women: Havana, Cuba – April 1998.
Jane Harries, ‘Pesar de todo…’, The Friend, 31 July 1998.
Emma James, ‘Mothers rise above the arguments of nations’, The Western Mail. 22 August 2001.
Sheila Ward, ‘A Most Remarkable Old Lady: Mother For Peace: Lucy Behenna’, Quaker Home Service, London, 1989

Women to Women for Peace – Building Bridges between Israelis and Palestinians in Wales, 2004

Kathyrn Evans

‘Women to Women for Peace’ – The Mission

The mission statement of Women to Women for Peace (W2W4P): “World Peace will come through the will of ordinary people like yourselves” encapsulates the vision behind the founding of the organisation in 1984:

“No young mother in this country or any other wants her son to go and kill the sons of other young mothers and I believe that if inter-visitations were arranged between parties of young mothers from Britain … and from other countries who chose to join in, bridges of understanding could be built … as a REAL contribution to world peace”

Lucy Behenna, founder of Mothers for Peace (later became W2W4P).

The organisation consisted of a group of likeminded people who came together to build bridges between people from countries which have contrasting and conflicting political, philosophical, cultural and religious interests. W2W4P had numerous highlights during their thirty-year history as a non-profit organisation working for international solidarity.

Why you need to know about Women to Women for Peace

I hope that once you’ve read my articles you feel the same as I felt; that there are lessons to take away and how vital it is to have international solidarity movements. The work of W2W4P has left me feeling proud of Wales for being part of an amazing peacemaking organisation dedicated towards pacifism internationally as well as locally, bringing solidarity to our front doors. I feel positive that there is always something an individual or collective group can do to reach out and show support to other countries in distress.

Jane Harries, who was a member of W2W4P for over 20 years, said:

“It is difficult to gauge the impact that W2W4P had on my life and that of my family for many years.  When our children were small we opened our home to a variety of extraordinary peace women.  There was Marina, who traipsed all the way from Moscow to Bridgend on the train, bearing traditional Russian ornaments which still grace our living room.  Then there were the women from the former East Germany who were part of the street protests in Dresden which started the decline of the DDR and led to German unification. 

As our children grew I was able to travel further afield and play an active role in visits that helped to break down prejudices and stereotypes between women from countries in conflict: Cuba and America; Israel and Palestine.  Thus W2W4P was able to contribute to building bridges of understanding and to help create networks focused on creating peaceful relationships. 

Even today when in Israel and Palestine I visit my dear friends Hanna (Israeli) and Violette (Palestinian).  They are both still working for peace – for a solution based on justice and mutual respect for both peoples.  I admire them greatly, and am grateful to W2W4P for the opportunity to get to know them and to support them in their vision.”

A successful example of W2W4P’s success in building bridges between people with contrasting values and beliefs happened in 2004 when 8 women from peace organisations from Israel and Palestine came on a joint visit to the UK, including Cardiff, Wales (where they spoke at The Temple of Peace). I would like to invite readers to explore the motives and outcomes of such an important visit, and to learn more about international solidarity in action.

Israeli and Palestinian women from peace organisations visit Wales, 2004

Aims of Visit

I have summarised below the aims of the Israel Palestine visit to show how these aims are relevant for today’s world which is characterised by ongoing international conflicts.  The story of the visit shows how a small group of dedicated individuals can make a positive difference:

  • To help build up a network of support for women and families in Israel and Palestine (two conflicting countries).
  • To raise public awareness:
    • Promote a more accurate international awareness regarding identity and presence.
    • The need to keep getting the message out so people will feel galvanised into activity out of conviction, not sympathy.
  • To engage in a mix of formal and informal meetings with the public, politicians, influential audiences and the media to promote awareness of the subject.
  • To help change how the conflict is framed:
    • For it not to be seen as solely a security problem .
    • Strong emphasis on occupation, inequalities, values and human rights.
    • Positive international intervention!
  • To break down international barriers and break through stereotypes, which are so often a big factor in conflict and crisis.
  • To promote a vision of peace and solidarity, and how it is possible through the will of ordinary people.
  • The opportunity for all members to meet in a neutral safe place:
    • To establish a real nucleus of friendship.
    • To work on existence and existing identities.
  • To develop a spirituality based on justice, peace, nonviolence, liberation and reconciliation for different national and faith communities.
  • To give the women a public platform, so their voice can be heard by the media, politicians and many other influential members of public.

Outcomes

Overall the visit was extremely successful. It was noted that the women from Israel and Palestine were brave, committed and shared the same hopes and concerns as women and families in Wales. Although they came from countries experiencing bitter conflict, the ability to meet and share their realities in a neutral safe space, enabled the women to develop a warm and affectionate relationship.  They fed back to members of W2W4P that they found the visit to the United Kingdom a positive experience and wished to continue their cooperation in the future. The visit encouraged a more informed understanding of the ways people were working for peace in the region. It was endearing that the women felt heartened and impressed by the level of support they were greeted with in Wales and England; they felt people’s concern for their respective communities, and for their work for peace under difficult circumstances.

The Israeli and Palestinian women returned home with a vision for the future.  They had gained inspiration from their visit and were able to formulate new ideas about how to move forward in their fight for peace and how people in the UK could support them in this. On returning home, they were able to organise joint initiatives and to meet in Jerusalem – building on the positive relationship that was made possible through the work of W2W4P.

The all important lessons of solidarity from Women to Women for Peace

Over its 30 year existence, the work and experience of W2W4P was tremendously valuable and rewarding. A lot can be achieved if we allow it to happen. The results from international solidarity movements can only be positive.  There is so much to learn beyond our borders and re-creating an organisation like Women to Women for Peace could allow us to make a positive contribution to peace in conflicting countries.

The motivation and dedication of members of W2W4P represents a desire for peace and friendship that can expand over oceans and cross national boundaries. It’s difficult to actually put into words how W2W4P held such inspirational and influential links to Wales in their fight for peace for thirty years. As an individual I am certainly proud of their achievements and want their successes to be heard.

What W2W4P has shown is how barriers and walls only perpetuate stereotypes, myths and fears; it is what the root of conflicts come down to. W2W4P’s motivation and passion have helped me to recognise what we have in common; Lucy Behenna, the co-founder of W2W4P in 1984 (originally called Mothers for Peace) states:

“Mother love is one of the greatest powers and it’s universal. Mothers of all creeds and colours, religions and no religions, whatever government they are under, desire the best for their children and I thought that great link between mothers we might use to help break down a little of the fear and mistrust.”

Lucy had “instinctively tapped into the most powerful peacemaking power in the world” and we need it back again!

For more information and stories from the Women to Women for Peace successes, please read my other article on their visit to Cuba and the time when women from Cuba and America came to Wales

Sources:

  • Sheila Ward, ‘A Most Remarkable Old Lady: Mother For Peace: Lucy Behenna’, Quaker Home Service, London, 1989
  • Women to Women for Peace Newsletter, October 2004
  • Women to Women for Peace Evaluation Forms
  • Women to Women for Peace Itineraries
  • Women to Women for Peace Meeting Agendas
  • Plaid Cymru press release October 2004, Jill Evans MEP.
  • Women to Women for Peace report and background statement, September 2004
  • Jane Harries, ‘Report of a Visit by Palestinian and Israeli Women to the UK – October 2004’. October 2004.

Volunteers run successful Human Library Festival

By project volunteer Anna Ratkai

On 25 November over 250 people attended the Human Library Festival at the Temple of Peace, Cardiff organised by young volunteers from the Welsh Centre for International Affairs and refugee volunteers from Oasis Cardiff.

Eritrean coffee

Volunteer Osman’s Eritrean coffee draws a crowd

Attendees had the chance to explore all the interesting activities provided by organisations such as Stand up to Racism and The Welsh Refugee Council; listen to all the great musicians performing throughout the event; and try traditional dishes and sweets from around the world. So what is a Human Library Festival?

A Human Library is just like an ordinary library, however, in this case the books are replaced with people, who are happy to share their life stories with anyone interested. Our Human Library Festival featured books who had stories to tell about immigration and asylum-seeking in Wales, human rights issues and integration. For instance Amanda Morris talked about being a feminist who wears an Islamic headscarf; Paul Battenbbough chatted about what it is like to teach music in Oasis Refugee Center and Gareth Bonello explained how he has been campaigning for Human Rights through music.

The vibrant Library featured 12 Human Books who couldn’t have been any busier talking to the curious and engaged audiences

Engaging stories from human books

who left very positive feedback. A politics student from Cardiff University said he has learnt a lot about Human Rights and immigration related issues though these conversations, another attendee wrote this on the Library’s white board: “It was great to hear some inspirational stories. I must do more to support migrants and learn from them!”. It wasn’t only the audience that benefited from the event. The event was organised by young volunteers and asylum-seekers themselves, who enjoyed working together, building skills and becoming friends in the process.

The Human Library Festival also set up a Market Place in the stunning Marble Hall of the Temple of Peace. This Market Place hosted organizations who came along to represent their work as well as to engage the attendees in activities

Fantastic music at the event

related to integration and Human Rights. For instance, one such organization, People & Planet called the attention to the unjust distribution of economic benefits and their environmental costs in the world.

 

Food played a central role during the event – people had the chance to try different nations’ traditional dishes and sweets, while the Eritrean stall also gave the chance to explore coffee-making traditions and have a nice hot and refreshing traditionally prepared Eritrean cup of coffee! Sudanese curry, Turkish sweets, Omani dessert, Lebanese finger food and much more was served some of which was kindly donated by local City Road restaurants Deli Fuego, Al Wali, Saray and Mezze Luna.

BBC Radio Wales interviewed two volunteers of the project, listen to the interview here:

Celebrating Sudan at with Sudanese volunteers from Oasis

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09g655c (time code: 2:13:13 – 2:18:15).

Also, Journalism student Sagnik came along to the event and and was inspired to make this video.

Check out our Flickr account as well to see pictures of the event.

Many of the Human Books said they’d be more than happy to share their stories in the future, and many attendees inquired about the next Human Library event.

Thank you to People’s Postcode Trust, entirely funded by players of People’s Postcode Lottery for funding the event.

The Refugee Miner with ‘Nine Lives’: in honour of Joe Lisak (1926-1999)

Volunteer Jacquie Lisak tells the story of how her father-in-law came from Poland to Wales and cheated death more than once along the way…

Wedding.jpg

Joe and Lorna’s Wedding Day in Lllanbradach on 7th August 1950

 

In 1939, Poland faced the twin horrors of invasion from the west by Nazi Germany, and invasion from the east by the Soviet Union, culminating in one of the darkest, bloodiest and most devastating periods of the 2nd World War. Hitler ordered his commanders to kill, ‘without pity or mercy, all men, women and children of Polish descent or language’ [1] while Heinrich Himmler expressed this, perhaps, more chillingly, in 1940, when he stated ‘all poles will disappear from this world,’ describing the ‘elimination’ of the Polish people as Germany’s ‘chief task’ [2]. Subsequently, the Poles witnessed the horrors of the concentration camp and forced labour camps. Overall, almost 18 per cent of the Polish population or 6 million, half of whom were non-Jewish, were killed in a reign of terror that saw forced evictions, enslavement and mass executions. The Soviet terror unleashed in the east brought yet more horror and cruelty, for both the Nazis and the Soviets were equally intent on destroying Poland’s culture and subjugating its people. A ‘Reign of Terror’ was unleashed under Soviet Union rule in which mass executions, imprisonments and deportations thrived. Anyone, deemed guilty, of ‘crimes against the revolution’ or ‘counter revolutionary activity’, defined as, any pre-war service to the Polish State, could face arrest. Indeed, for the Poles, the end of the war brought no return to justice or prosperity. Instead, new forms of oppression, trauma and injustice flourished under continued Soviet rule [3].

It was against this background that Ignacy ‘Joe’ Lisak from Krzeczow, East Poland fled his homeland and found refuge in the UK. His links with the Polish resistance and his close alliance with activist, Wladyslaw Galka, led to a warning by the local Chief of Police that he faced joining Galka in prison with the inevitable threats of execution, which that might entail. Galka was imprisoned twice, facing execution on two occasions and spent many years in solitary confinement. It seems fairly certain that a similar fate would have awaited Joe, had he not fled. Yet, this was not the first occasion where Joe escaped possible death.

As a young boy Joe was among a group of children playing by the river. They found a box containing a number of small objects, which to their delight, when thrown in to the water, erupted, creating spectacular watery displays. They played happily with these objects, seemingly unaware of the dangers posed by the lethal explosives they had found. Joe left his companions early that day, as by some stroke of good fortune, he had promised to run an errand for his mother. Sadly, his playmates were never to return home and were reported deceased the following day.

Teenager.jpg

 Joe pictured as a teenager, back right, with family

 

Joe’s escape from Poland was a dangerous and difficult one. Like many refugees, much of his journey was made on foot and under cover of great forests. Joe mentioned one detail about his journey, which was quite funny, saying, that after crossing the border in to Czechoslovakia, by foot, he took a wrong turn and ended up back in Poland! On another occasion, he and a companion were confronted by soldiers who questioned their whereabouts. It was important to think quickly and to stifle any outer expressions of fear, to avoid suspicion, so they explained that they had lost their way after attending a house party and asked for directions. Luckily, they were left to continue their journey, without raising further doubt. Joe was never one to discuss this period of his past, often, with his family, whether this was because there were many memories that he would prefer to avoid, or whether he did not wish to burden his family with such memories is unclear. One particular story from his past emerged a number of times when relaxing on weekends, with a glass of beer or his favourite, vodka, he, sometimes, alluded to an incident in the forest where he and his companion faced capture by two Soviet Soldiers. He would mime, with his hand, the pulling of a trigger and speak of burying one of the soldiers, saying that the other soldier escaped. Joe and his companion continued to travel onward, but remained ever fearful of discovery.

Document.jpg

Joe’s Certificate of Registration issued to refugees under the Aliens Order 1920

Joe’s Certificate of Registration issued under the Aliens Order 1920 confirms that he arrived in the U.K on the 5th of March 1948 and gained employment on the 7th of May with the National Coal Board in South Wales, where after the second world War, demand for coal was high and there was an urgent need for coal miners. The vast influx of refugees from Europe provided an ideal source of recruitment. However, refugees were not always welcomed, facing opposition from locals, ‘partly from ignorance and partly from fear of unemployment’ [4]. Indeed, the National Union of Miners (NUM) stated that they opposed, ‘the employment of Poles and displaced persons in British mines’ [5]. However, Joe and his Polish friends encountered little hostility in their local communities and settled in well. In fact, the only person who was ever heard to tell Joe to, ‘get back to Poland, you bloody foreigner’, was his wife Lorna, during the occasional argument, something which his children would laugh about, as it was clear that she loved him very much and didn’t really mean it. On arriving in Wales, Joe obtained lodgings at various addresses locally, including at the Miners Hostel in Ystrad Mynach which housed a large number of European Refugees, many of whom would forge strong bonds, becoming life-long friends. Later when they had settled or married, they would often gather at each others’ homes to eat, drink – vodka being a popular choice, play cards, talk and laugh. It was while lodged at Ystrad Mynach Hostel that Joe met Lorna, from the nearby village of Llanbradach where they would eventually set up home. They were married on the 7th August 1950 and later had six children and 12 grandchildren, including one step grandchild.

Miners Hostel.jpg

Joe, pictured with other refugee miners at Ystrad Mynach Miners Hostel, – lying down at the front, posing with a pipe borrowed from a friend.

In October 1952, four years after his arrival in the U.K, Joe faced another brush with death while working at Bedwas Colliery when there was an explosion. Ambulance man, Evan Williams, described how he found Joe as follows:

‘One man lay back in the manhole. He was a big Pole named Lisak. He must have been working stripped to the waist. The skin was stripped off his body in sheets. His arms, hands and face had been burned. What could I do for him? I didn’t have half enough stuff. I covered him over with coats as he was, and encouraged him to keep still, as I would send him out first’ [6].

One person was killed, and 20 others were injured that day. Joe had severe burns from the waist upwards, including his face and his ears. Although, he retained his hearing after the accident, little remained of his actual ears. Joe spent many months in hospital, enduring operations and skin grafts. Yet, I never noticed his injuries, until I forced myself years later to take a closer look; I believe my failure to notice these things was because his personality and sheer character eclipsed them. After a long period in hospital, Joe returned to work in the mines but did not settle. He became a painter and decorator, his family continued to grow and he eventually travelled to Poland with them for many happy holidays. His children, have many fond memories of him, among them, his, sometimes, very poetic turn of phrase. He once likened his blonde blue-eyed grandson, Daniel, to an ‘angel’ who had come to visit him. On another occasion, his daughter Cheryl was standing by the half open back door that led to the garden. She was smoking a cigarette under the fading evening sunshine. The combination of smoke, reflected light and shadow, falling on her long blonde hair, led him to comment, ‘You look like an angel in a golden cage.’

In his later years, Joe became a school Caretaker at the local primary school. Indeed, he is still remembered by ex-students as ‘kind’ and ‘funny’. Joe survived a stroke but eventually died after contracting a hospital bug at the age of 72. My overriding memory of Joe, is of a man of great character and charm, of smiles and laughter, of a mop of curly white hair and a deep Polish accent, of someone who is remembered with great affection by his family, and all those who knew him.

Older Joe.jpg

Joe as I remember him, pictured outside his home in Llanbradach

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Many thanks to the Lisak family for sharing their memories of Joe.

NOTES AND REFERENCES

[1] Holocaust Forgotten website http://www.holocaustforgotten.com/poland.htm

[2] ibid.,

[3] Anne Applebaum in New Republic, December 20, 2012 http://www.newrepublic.com/article/111235/evil-after-evil

[4] Ceri Thompson in Glo/Coal, https://museum.wales/media/4619/glo-allpoles.pdf

[5] ibid.,

[6] Durham Mining Museum website http://www.dmm.org.uk/ukreport/9019-03.htm