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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Moving forward from the Oxfam scandal

By Hannah Westwell

RAF C17 Lands in Nepal with Vital UK Aid

A DFID staff member supervises the unloading of UK Aid from an aircaft in Kathmundu, Nepal on the 29 April 2015.  Images By Sgt Neil Bryden RAF

Over the past weeks a number of allegations have been raised in the international aid sector. Oxfam remains at the centre of the scandal, with accusations that senior staff hired prostitutes while working overseas and that the charity helped cover it up. The issue, it seems, was not a stand-alone occurrence, with reports of sexual abuse in Haiti in 2011 and Chad in 2006, demonstrating a much deeper problem. Médicins Sans Frontières, Save the Children and the UN all came under fire for similar reasons, being asked to explain the reasons for the repatriation of a number of workers and other claims of inappropriate behaviour.

Of course, the public’s response to the scandal was not small. In the immediate aftermath of these revelations, celebrity ambassadors of Oxfam- Minnie Driver and Desmond Tutu- stepped down and thousands of regular donators cancelled their donations. There was a lot of anger at the situation in which workers had severely abused their power, not just because of the nature and hypocrisy of the abuse but because so much of Oxfam’s income is from the government and public funds.

As the media now reflects on the Oxfam situation and the state of the foreign aid sector more generally, it seems there are two main threads of thought emerging.

Firstly, there is a call to action so that this kind of thing cannot happen in the future. In an article in the Financial Times, Michael Skapinker argues “Oxfam shows we must stop giving NGOs a free pass”. Whilst the ultimate aim of charities is to benefit others, they too are businesses who have to manage their staff and their public image. One of their largest streams of income is public donations, in which thousands of individuals place their trust in an organisation which they believe are doing good. In order to rebuild this trust, Oxfam and other organisations must take action to reassure supporters that there are procedures in place to prevent future misconduct.

Secondly, there is a warning that this issue doesn’t lead to those people that NGOs help missing out. William Hague, writing for The Telegraph, suggests that “The Oxfam scandal should not lead us into the blunder of cutting aid”. There are fears that not only will donations drop but that the scandal will be used politically to reduce the UK aid budget. This fear is shared by Oxfam celebrity ambassador Simon Pegg, who, when questioned about continuing to work with the charity, said “Oxfam is an organisation which helps countless people. I think it would be wrong to hold the entire organisation to account for the actions of a few people, I worry about the people that are going to suffer if everybody abandons this charity”. Ultimately, by giving less money to the charity, or charities generally, people in great need will suffer and we cannot allow this to happen.

Safeguarding needs to become a higher priority within charities working with vulnerable people.

Whilst these two arguments have repeatedly been presented separately, at times in opposition to each other, it seems to me that there is nothing to stop both happening in order to move forward. It is important that we make steps intentionally as the sector tries to learn from and move on from this scandal. We must build a culture where this behaviour isn’t tolerated, but beyond that stricter rules should be put in place which require charities to report cases of misconduct. Safeguarding needs to become a higher priority within charities working with vulnerable people.

There have also been ideas of ways the sector could prevent past offenders getting another job in the sector for instance by having a global register of aid workers. At the same time, we need to continue to give money to those who need it. We may use this time to evaluate who we are giving money to, holding these organisations accountable in making these changes, but in order to ensure the lives of many aren’t affected by the actions of a few, we must continue to give. Overall, the events of the past few weeks have demonstrated the serious need for change in the international aid sector but should also be used as a learning experience so that individuals pay closer attention to the way in which their money is used and in ensuring power is not abused.

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.

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.

amnesty.jpg

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

 

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…

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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.

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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

From Budapest to Pontypridd: A Hungarian refugee’s story after the ’56 Revolution

By Anna Rátkai

In October 1956 a group of university students in Budapest decided to hold a demonstration in the heart of the capital condemning the cruel crushing of the Polish revolution by the Soviet regime. However, the word spread quickly all across the city and the protest evolved into something much more significant than a sympathy march. By a quick turn, the demonstration shifted from a focus on the Poles to the economic hardships and tensions that the communist rule afflicted on Hungary.

In a couple days the students’ march transformed into a full-scale uprising against the Soviet regime. As enthusiastic and resilient the protesters were in the first two weeks, it took only twelve days for the Soviet tanks to fill the city. Budapest endured long days of heavy and bloody fighting. The uprising was cruelly repressed, and some participants had no other choice, but to leave their home country – and many would think that this is the end of their story. However, for many, this was just the beginning.

After the uprising, approximately 200,000 Hungarians decided to flee their home country. It is estimated that 20,000 Hungarians choose the United Kingdom as their second home. After the Second World War the demand for coal was rising, and the Western blockade was extremely willing to accept Eastern Europeans running away from their Soviet enemy. According to Campbell, Hungarians were welcomed as heroes in the UK, and people competed to share their homes with them on the nights of Christmas. As Péter Faragó, a Hungarian refugee recalls, not only the locals were incredibly friendly, but the media was enthusiastic and positive about migrants.

Many Hungarians settled in Wales and started to build a new life here, to which the country gave an immense amount of help. This Hidden History is telling the story of Fülöp Tihamér, a 78 years old Hungarian man who settled in Pontypridd, and his friend Ceri Thompson, a native Welsh who grew up next to him.

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Hungarian refugees lay a wreath at the War Memorial in Cathays Park, Cardiff in 1958

 

During the Hungarian Revolution Tihamér was only 17 years old, but he was still an active participant in the uprising – he and his brother drove back and forth between Budapest and Vienna to bring back medicine from the well-supplied Austrian hospitals for the injured Hungarians. After the revolution was cruelly repressed by the Soviet government, Tihamér had no other choice but to leave Hungary – and his unpredictable travels led him to Wales. Although at his arrival he was warmly welcomed, getting there wasn’t exactly easy:

Tihamér: ‘They forced us to get off from the trains in Győr, at the border. They knew we wanted to leave the country. Once they even turned the train back, and took us back to Budapest. But then we just took the train again. We didn’t give up. And then they told us ‘You can go wherever, but don’t use the train! Trains are controlled!’ So we had no other choice but to walk. We walked from Győr to Eisenstaedt, that’s how we crossed the border.

Interviewer: ‘You walked with all your luggage?’

Tihamér: ‘Luggage?’ – asked laughing – I had a sandwich with me. That’s all I had when I left the country!’

After arriving to Wales, Tihamér, along with another 96 Hungarians started to work in the mines of Hawthorn and Hirwaun. According to him, it was a great help that the Welsh welcomed the Eastern-European refugees with open arms:

Tihamér: ‘They taught us how to live here, but I don’t mean teaching the language. They taught us where to go to dance, where to find the girls, where to have fun. We were very young after all.’

Tihamér also made long-lasting friendships with the other Hungarians and other Polish people who worked together, as well as with the Welsh. His friend, Ceri Thompson also remembers the Eastern European refugees warmly. When asked, how did Ceri become friends with the Hungarian refugees he simply answered:

Ceri: ‘I was working with them, and to me they were just like anybody else. Just because they don’t speak exactly like you do… It didn’t really matter, I mean, even if someone in the beginning thought something along the lines of ‘Oh, these immigrants are taking our jobs’, that thought didn’t seem to last very long. After a while everyone got along. If you are working alongside someone, you know, you are just bound to become friends.’

When asked whether or not Ceri thinks accepting the refugees benefited his tiny town Churchvillage, he said:

Ceri: ‘There is a world-wide trend of becoming a right-wing supporter. It is the fear of what is foreign or unknown to you. And in a way you can understand why, I mean if someone who was blue walked down the streets, everyone would look at them twice. But in places like Churchvillage we are quite used to different nationalities. And every time I meet people from other countries living in Wales, I feel like it enriches the culture, it does! It’d be bloody boring if everyone were from here!’

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Tihamér and his wife

 

Although the opportunity to work laid down the foundation for a safe life for refugees in Wales, and it also led to the creation of many long-lasting friendships, it was not the only factor that helped the Hungarians in settling. Tihamér, during his interview referred to football as a cornerstone of his integration in his new home country:

Tihamér: ‘Right after I arrived I met the Welsh boys from a local football team. They had shoes my size, so they told me to put them on and show them what I can do. That was it. I was in the team. And when we played, everyone played with everyone. We didn’t care about nationalities. Now that we talk about it, I just remembered that I have gotten a mail like a year ago from one of those guys that I played with in the team. He organized a team catch-up in the sports centre here in Churchvillage. We still keep in touch.’

Interviewer: ‘So as soon as you arrived, you could start working, doing sports, making friends, …

Tihamér: ‘And dance! I also started dancing as soon as I was here. It helped a lot to feel at home. That’s how I got to know my wife! One night me and my friends went on a dancing event and I got to know this Welsh girl and you know… in 4 years’ time we were married.

When asked whether Tihamér thinks he would have travelled back to Hungary if he weren’t taken so good care of he answered:

Tihamér: ‘Well, I can’t be sure of that. But what I know is that only 2 of us went back to Hungary. Only 2 of the 96 Hungarians I arrived with. We were welcomed very warmly, and that helped a lot to settle. Not many people needed to go back.’ – remembers Tihamér smiling.

Wales contributed a great deal to the peaceful settlement of those fleeing Eastern Europe in the second half of the twentieth century, and highly benefited from accepting the workforce without which many mines would have had to be shut down. The response to the Hungarian crisis, and the happy memories of a 78 year old man who managed to build a peaceful life around himself with the help of the Welsh locals reminds us all, that a tiny bit of altruism and selflessness might have a life-changing power for the ones in need.