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March 9, 2005

From Conflict to Peace: Lessons from the Frontline debate

Moderator: Tim Phillips
Panellists: Ram Manikkalingam, David Ervine, John Hume, Harriet C. Babbitt
Respondent: Rose Styron

The panel From Conflict to Peace: Lessons from the Frontline highlighted the need for political dialogue, the role of economic development, and the inclusion of civil society actors in situations of sustained conflict. However, the panellists –from places like Sri Lanka, Colombia, Northern Ireland, and El Salvador– warned that the period of transition could also be fraught with new dangers, such as the degeneration of once politically motivated actors into criminal gangs. The panel was organised in cooperation with The Project on Justice in Times of Transition at Harvard University and The Columbia University Center for International Conflict Resolution.


Complete audio of the conference

Transcription / Transcripción

Moderator. Tim Phillips
Thank you for coming. My name is Tim Phillips and I will be moderating this session this morning. I am the co-founder of an organisation called the Project on Justice in Times for Transition. And my other co-founder Wendy Louis is with us as well this morning. And I’d also like to say that I’m a co-founder of the Club of Madrid and I have been involved in this conference from the beginning. And as you will see in front of you, we have a very fascinating group of people here, to talk about what I think is one of the most important themes of this conference. As you know, the theme of this overall summit is democracy, terrorism, and security.

Now, the theme of this particular session this morning is from conflict to peace, lessons learned from the front line. And what we’ve tried to do is bring together some of the most experienced, interesting personalities from countries that have gone through very violent conflicts and also people form outside those countries who have tried to help a process of change and of conflict resolution. And before I introduce our first speaker I would like to give a little bit of a quick background. And if you don’t know who some of these people are, I think that would be very useful. Because that context will hopefully give you a greater appreciation for these individuals.

I will start; I introduced my colleague Wendy Louis, who is also the president of the Foundation for Civil Society. Next to her is a very interesting friend of ours, Joaquín Villalobos. Joaquín was the senior guerrilla commander of the FMLN guerrilla movement in El Salvador. He was considered one of the most brilliant guerrilla strategists of the 20th century in Latin America. In a country of maybe 5 to 6 million people in a guerrilla force of 8,000, they kept a 60,000-person army funded by the United States (unintelligible) and about $12 billion dollars of assistance to defeat this movement, and all that was unsuccessful. So you had a negotiated settlement in El Salvador, and Joaquín Villalobos played a very important role in that. And he also played a very important role in building the guerrilla movement, and I think he brings very interesting insights into this discussion.

Next to Joaquín is John Hume, who most of you will know, he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998 and also one the Gandhi prize. He is one of the great figures of European politics of the 21st century. John founded the Social Democratic Labor Party in Northern Ireland; he was one of the founders of the Civil Rights movement. He was the target of both IRA and Loyalist Paramilitary assassination attempts, and played and absolutely heroic role in bringing the IRA into the peace process. I think John will have a lot of very insightful observations to make.

Next to John is Harriet or Harri Babbitt, who’s from the United States, who had served in very senior positions in the Clinton Administration, as ambassador to the Organisation of American States and a very senior position in the U.S. State Department at a time when a lot of conflicts and the process of democratisation was taking root around the world.

Next to Harri and next to me is another person from Northern Ireland, David Ervine. David is the chief spokesman and one of the founders and leaders of the Progressive Unionist Party in Northern Ireland. The PUP as it’s called is a Loyalist or Protestant political party. David has been an absolutely key figure in the peace process in Northern Ireland in the last decade or more. Prior to that, and David will tell a story, he had served almost a decade in prison for paramilitary activities in the Loyalist communities and has truly become one of the great figures of peace in Northern Ireland in the past decade.

To my left is Ram Manikkalingam from Sri Lanka. Ron is the senior advisor to the President of Sri Lanka on the peace process with the Tamil Tigers. I learned that in the past couple of days that Ron, like our other guests, brings some interesting personal stories to his work. Ron is a Hindu Tamil who advises a Simhala Buddhist president who herself was the target of an assassination attempt of Tamil terrorists or suicide bombers. Her father, I believed, the president of Sri Lanka, was killed by a terrorist and her husband was killed in a terrorist attack. Ron at one point in his useful indiscreet days tried to overthrow the government of Sri Lanka as well. So he brings and interesting experience.

Next to Ron is César Gaviria, who was president of Colombia at a key moment in Colombia’s history when they negotiated with several of the guerrilla movements, including one of the more famous ones, the M-19 movement, whose leader Antonio Navarro Wolf, was actually brought into the government of César Gavira. César then went to become the secretary general for two terms of the Organisation of American States. And he was very involved in trying to work towards resolution of conflicts in the region, most recently in Venezuela.

And last but not least is Rose Styron, who is one of the true pioneers of the human rights movement globally. She had been chair of the Executive Committee of Amnesty International, one of the founders of PEN, and somebody who has been very involved in both human rights and conflict resolution in several countries around the world. Wendy and Rose will be acting as respondents.

With that background, maybe longer than we had hoped for, but I thought it would be very useful to understand the background of these very fascinating person. We had been discussing over the last 24 hours, and for those who have involved in the working booths, these themes and issues of democracy, terrorism, insecurity… I think it’s important to recognise that terrorism did not begin with 9/11 or even with March 11, but there have been countries around the globe that have been dealing with violence. One could get into a very interesting conversation about how do you define terrorism. Is it purely the terrorism of 9/11 and March 11? Or are there other types? Is there a such thing as armed struggle or liberation movements? And what motivates people to take up political violence? And what are the responsibilities of political leaders who want to stop the violence as Yitzhak Rabin once said, you have to make peace with your enemies. So I thought we would start off by the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, John Hume, providing some of his observations and begin the discussion from there.

John Hume
Thank you very much. I must say I’m very pleased to be here this week. I think it’s a very good time to be having the discussions that we’re having this week. Because as I often say, our generation is living through the biggest revolution in the history of the world: a technological, telecommunications, and transport revolution. As the result of that the world is a much smaller place. Our grandparents wouldn’t believe we’re all in this room together, would they? We’re in a much smaller world and therefore we’re in a stronger position to ship backwards. And for that reason I think that one of the major objectives of the major countries of the world today should be to ship a world in which there is no longer any war or conflict. I think that the way of doing that would be of course to have a philosophy for dealing with areas of conflict.

Of course, I know from my own experience, people wouldn’t think this, but it’s actually true if you stop and think about it.

The conflict, no matter where it exists, is always about the same thing even if it’s in different parts of the world. It’s about difference. People are fighting about their difference whether it’s their race, religion, or nationality. And of course, the answer to difference is to respect it, not to fight about it. Difference is an accident of birth, it’s not something we should fight about, it’s something we should respect. But in working to get peace in my own country, I have to admit that I was very strongly inspired by my European experience.

I always tell this story of the first time I went to Strasbourg in 1979 to the European parliament. I went for a walk across the bridge from Strasbourg in France to Kehl in Germany. I stopped in the middle of the bridge and I meditated and I said “Good lord, there’s France and there’s Germany. That’s how close they are.” And as I stood on this bridge, I thought, 30 years ago, at the end of the Second World War, the worst half-century in the history of the world in which 50 million human beings were slaughtered. Who could have dreamt that in the second half of that century, those people could be reunited? Or reunite Europe? Yet they were. It’s the best example of conflict resolution in the history of the whole world; therefore every area in conflict should study how they did it. Which is what I did immediately.

If you look at the three principles at the heart of the European Union, you’ll will find the same three principles at the heart of the agreement in Northern Ireland. And they’re the same three principles that apply to, in my opinion, any area.

Principle #1: Respect for difference. Any conflict, as I’ve already stated, is about difference, whether it’s race, religion, or nationality. And difference is an accident of birth. It’s not something we should be fighting about; it’s something we should be respecting. As I say, respect for difference, when you look at the European institutions, there is total respect for difference. The 2nd principle, then, is that institutions that do that. European Commission, all countries are there. European Parliament, all countries are there. Then the 3rd principle, which is the most important one, is the healing process, instead of waving flags and guns at one another, they work their common interests, socioeconomic development, or as I put it in popular terms “They spilled their sweat together not their blood”. And in doing that, working together on common interests it broke down the barriers of centuries. And the new Europe has evolved and is still evolving.

Look at our agreement in Northern Ireland. The first agreement ever to be endorsed with the people of Ireland as a whole. Overwhelmingly endorsed by the people of Ireland as a whole. Therefore, it is undermining completely the existence of any terrorist organisation, because in dealing with the IRA, I realised that they felt they were acting in the name of the Irish people. No terrorist organisation in either Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland can claim they are acting in the name of the Irish people. Because the people have spoken about as to how they wish to live together, for the first time in history. Therefore it is the duty of all true democrats to implement the will of the people. But it’s the same in Ireland when you look at our agreement you’ll find the same 3 principles as the 3 principles that I mentioned at the heart of the European Union.

Principle #1 Respect for difference. There are 2 basic identities in our community. The protestant people basically regard themselves as British and the Catholic people basically regard themselves as Irish. Both identities are fully respected in the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland.

The 2nd principle are institutions that do that, the same as in the European Union. Our assembly is elected by the system of proportional voting, not first-past-the-post voting. And that ensures that all sectors of the people are fully represented. And people shouldn’t forget that democracy isn’t majority rule. That’s only true in a uniform society. It’s a society where there’s diversity, a system of election should be such, so that diversity is fully represented in the parliament. And proportional voting is the best way of doing that. And then of course when the assembly’s in place, we proportionally elect the government so that the government will then have all sectors of the people represented in the government. And then of course principle #3 will begin.

Waving flags at one another was very common in Northern Ireland. The Unionist people regard themselves as British and the Union Jack was there and the Irish flag was the emblem of the Catholic community. I’ll never my first political lesson when I was 10 years old. The Nationalists were having an election meeting on the streets with their speakers and my father and I were standing there listening to them. I was 10 years old, he was unemployed. And I was getting very emotional with them waving the flag, and he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Never you get involved in that stuff son”. And I said, “Why not Dad?”. And he says, “Never forget that you can’t beat a flag.” Real politics isn’t about flags, it’s about the socioeconomic development of the people. And as I say, once those institutions are in place in Northern Ireland, at last our people for the first time in history will start working together on their common interests –socioeconomic development.

The more that we do that, you will find that in a generation or two, a new Ireland, North and South will have evolved. Because the barriers of distrust of centuries will have broken down. Because the more people work together and live together, the more they realise their common humanity transcends either their nationality or their difference or their religion.

And as I say, that’s the real healing process. But I think that in the modern world, given that it is a smaller world, the major countries of this world, the United States and the European Union, and of course the leaders of the United States should remember occasionally the philosophy of their founding fathers. When you look at that philosophy, and I first learned that when I went to the grave of Abraham Lincoln. There it was written large, and in three words in Latin. It’s the same philosophy as the European Union: E pluribus unum. From many we are one. In other words, the essence of our unity is respect for diversity. And you look at the United States and the diversity of that country. And you look at how the constitution accommodates the enormous diversity of all the different states, etc.

So that’s the philosophy that should be as we enter the new century in a much smaller world. That the major countries of the world should come together. Instead of sending armies to areas of conflict they should send a team of people to promote dialogue on those basic principles. And one great step forward, I’ve proposed this but haven’t been listened to yet, is that the European Union given its example and experience of conflict resolution should now appoint a commissioner backed up by a commission department on for peace and reconciliation. And instead of sending armies to areas of conflict, they should send their team to promote the dialogue on the basic principles.

And let us hope that as we move into the new century that the war in Iraq will be the last war in the history of the world. And we should also be telling leaders of major countries that there never has been a war in the history of the world, in which the vast majority of victims weren’t innocent human beings. Therefore war should never be a method of solving any problem given that that is the case. There should be major means going into other means of solving problems. For example, if people had been told, in order to get rid of Hitler you’ll have to kill 40 million human beings, would they not have thought “Well, we must find some other means of getting rid of him”? And given the modern world we’re in a stronger position to find other means. And therefore I would hope that given that we have a European Union now and the world is getting smaller, if the European Union and the United States got together I believe they could create the basic means of creating a world where there is no longer any conflict or any war. Thank you.

Tim Phillips
Thank you, John. I would like to follow up on what John said with a couple of questions to John. You mentioned some very important things, the importance of respecting differences, the importance of promoting dialogue, which seems to be at the very essence of a democratic state and a democratic culture. Yet when a democracy is in the middle of a conflict with people from within that country, what is the role of a political leader like you to reach out to people in your own community who resort to violence or maybe across the divide?

John Hume
Well, what I did in those circumstances, growing up as I did and being a trained historian, I knew that while I condemned them and opposed them, I knew the reasons that they believed in. The thing to remember about terrorist organisations is that they believe in what they’re doing. Even though the rest of us condemn them and they have traditional reasons. I examined the traditional reasons of the IRA in Ireland, and knowing their traditional reasons, the British and Ireland are defending their own interests by force, and therefore we the Irish have the right to use force to put them out. I privately spoke to Margaret Thatcher and said, “By the way, all we hear ever from British governments about Northern Ireland is that ‘It’s an integral part of the United Kingdom as the majority so wish.’ I said what if the majority wanted Irish unity?” She said, “We’re democrats.” I said, “Well then why don’t you state that”? She said, “Why?” And I said, “You’ll remove the traditional reasons for IRA violence.” She asked me to go and talk with the senior official. And if you read Article 1-C of the Anglo-Irish agreement, you’ll see that Article 1-B “a majority of' the people of' Northern Ireland wish to be in the United Kingdom” but then Article 1-C says “If the majority wish for Irish unity we will legislate for it.” And I come out with a statement that said “The British and I have declared to”, therefore we removed the transitional reason for violence. And I kept on saying that. And eventually I get a secret message from the IRA, “Would I meet them” and I met with them secretly and privately. They said, “You prove what you say is true and we will stop.” So I prepared a proposal, a joint declaration by the two governments, I went to the two Prime Ministers and asked them: “Would you say that if we kept the exchange [...] until we get the final agreement?” That state declaration was made and that led to the end of the violence in Northern Ireland.

In other words, even though we can condemn the terrorist organisations, we should remember that they actually believe in what they are doing. Therefore we should examine their reasons as well, as well as opposing them and taking the next reaction to stop their violence. We should examine the reasons that would evict them and deal with those reasons.

In just one follow up on that; in reaching out to Catholics in Northern Ireland who resorted to violence, did you receive criticism from your own colleagues in the catholic community who never supported violence?

John Hume
At the beginning; I was talking quite secretly and privately because I knew the talks wouldn’t be very popular. Then one day the leader of the other side was seen coming in to my house and one of my neighbours leaked it to the press and the press was covering the secret talks that were taking place and I got massive abuse from most sections of the political community including members of my own party.

I was attacked regularly and I just replied “well, welcome to [...] then, and say what you have to say.” I kept on talking but I was being heavily criticised but that heavy criticism... The two prime ministers they both knew that I was doing all this because I had been informing them, and I asked them to speed up the process and the Downing Street [?] declaration was a declaration that created the ceasefires.

It’s a very interesting [...] because in a sense you exercise true leadership and look beyond party interest to, maybe national interest or saving lives and it seems to me that that is an incredible lesson.

Next, I want to turn to David Ervine. I wonder David; did your colleagues in the loyalist community know that John Hume was reaching out to the IRA and what was your thought about that?

David Ervine
[...] John had never been very popular in the community that I came from and when he fogged the relationship and dialogue with Gerry Adams, it confirmed all of our worst fears. The devil incarnated and that’s what we thought!

Of course we were wrong and the contribution of John to my society is legend and I pay tribute to him for it.

So how can I have a view of him that he is the devil incarnated and then the second day that he is not?

[...] is the basis of what you perceive, of what you understand and what you think about it. There are people in Northern Ireland that, maybe 3% are loyalists. Only 7% of our society lives in mixed conditions. That means that [...] in that respect it’s very easy to misunderstand or perceive that the edge of the bottle has been carried in one [...] or another by people that are only human [...] so to speak.

So, how did the other side, your side, view the conflict in, if you don’t mind me being so blunt, why did you become a parameter?

David Ervine
I think that, it may not please people, but terrorists have to have somewhere to come from. Because when people feel injustice, the practical reality is of course that the tentacles begin to get very deeply whelmed within a community.

[...] through physical force to uproot those tentacles and then you do more damage to the community and then perhaps the government will do more damage to the community and fury the community and guarantee, I think, to make the terrorist even more popular.

It seems to be that my own story is very simple. Two days after my 18th birthday I joined the Ulster volunteer force. I’d always avoided it up to that point becoming involved in the Northern Ireland Troubles, but there were a series of bomb explosions on the 21st July 1972 which we call Bloody Friday. That was my birthday and there was a guy called Robert Ervine that was killed [...] very close by to where I was living. People thought it was me and I thought, “It could have been me.”

At that point I decided that the best way to defence is to attack and I joined the paramilitary organisation or a terrorist organisation, call it what you like.

What I didn’t think of was that if some action by the IRA could inspire me to become a terrorist, then how many of my actions inspired young Catholics to become members of the IRA? I wouldn’t know the answer to that.

What I do know in the cold light of the day and in the process of analysis is that [...] and my first level of analysis was trying to deal. I don’t advocate that you go to jail for reflection but it’s one hell of a good place to reflect.

I said to you [...] in Northern Ireland. I didn’t know any IRA men by then. I got almost surprised when I saw that they looked almost like me and they sounded just like me and they ate the same food that I ate and they were incredibly [...] I know it sounds silly but it was true.

We began to question, in our own minds we began to question, what would our lives be like if we didn’t have this, what I call, [...]? Generation after generation after generation killing each other. Being prepared to explode [...]

It seems to me that we didn’t know the answers but the very fact that we were questioning developed in us a realisation that not only does terrorism have somewhere to come from, that the process of manipulation often in societies exists and generates terrorists.

John gave you a [...] where he thinks all our troubles came from. I use different words but I think they mean very similar.

The core of what all I believe we have experienced in our society, the engine that drives it all, is the concept of superiority over inferiority. Because if, I remember as a kid we used to shout “We are the people”, of course I couldn’t realise 14 years of age that that meant someone else wasn’t the people. This simplicity formula of superiority was contained constantly in the way we lived our lives. That the Protestant community believed that the Catholic community was inheritably fed [...] and that the Catholic community believed that the Protestant community would never get them a place in the sun.

Contained in there is the process of inferiority versus superiority.

It just wouldn’t begin to put your hand across the divide and clearly [...] and we heard that life was not easy for them. It seems to me as soon as you put your hands across the divide you had your ankles bitten by the fundamentalists, the moralists and the purists.

It seems like we only understood how good our propaganda was when we had to talk to the other side. We spent billions dehumanising people we perceived to be dangerous.

We came to one point where I hated, absolutely hated that word, and that word was morality. Morality is one of the biggest single barriers behind which [...] hides.

It’s the one single major obstacle to dialogue to demand, I’ll give you an example [...]are struggling to deal with violent Republicans. We demand that the British government look after our interests. You’ll be surprised that I at 51 years of age that I never known a British Prime Minister that wasn’t disgraced by my community as a betrayer. Look at the logic; we demand that the betrayer looks after our interests, because our own concepts of morality stop us, or we choose to make it stop us deal with the problem that we know we must deal with.

Nobody told us that it was going to be easy and there’s no rule to [...]

But I think that, from my personal point of view, the difference in my community is exceptional and yet there are dissatisfied people, clearly, and there are those who’s expectations was much too high. There were those who sometimes where [...] that had no expectations that we could make a deal at all and became totally opposed [...]

Because the other side could never be genuine, the other side could never be real. The indecency of the other side is what you have to guarantee and every day that the other side hasn’t done something bad just takes us a day closer to the day that they will.

That’s the nature of a divided society with violence at its core. The moment is coming when they are going to do something bad.

Northern Ireland is in deep political crisis as we speak. Bank robberies and murders, you probably have heard of it. But we need to put a caveat on Northern Ireland’s troubled political problem. I contend that the political process and the peace process are not one and the same thing. Whereas the Political Process is in dire trouble the Peace Process is still intact. One fears that the Political Process could and the Peace Process in a greater degree [...] The real caveat is that all of my 51 years I have never known a political crisis that wasn’t also accompanied by structured violence. There’s no structured violence in Northern Ireland today. [...]

Of course I can [...] but nevertheless something has happened to us. We are doing things different and whereas no one told us it was going to be easy, the slow edging towards common purpose is clearly of some significant difference to the everyday life of the people of Northern Ireland

And when you hear all the television’s [...]

John Hume
[...] [...] and makes the problem far more difficult to us all.

Thank you John. I just want to go back to a quick point that David Ervine made, which seems to get a little bitto the essence of the issue of democracy, and violence.

That is you say that you’re looking differently now, that there is a political crisis, but without the structure of violence that so often exists in Northern Ireland. I mean, can you move, what happened that you had 35 years of awful political violence to where you now have politics being played out in a democratic way and not through violence? Has it really changed?

David Ervine
Yes, I think it has changed. You have to remember that when we are talking about the issue of morality, if we had one single overall morality we wouldn’t have a war. We’d try to resolve it [...]. [...]

We deny terrorism legitimacy but as the subculture they have become they have created a legitimacy for themselves. They have their own process of morality and legitimacy to [...] I’ll give you a simple example, easy; someone says to me “That was a terrible thing you did yesterday” and I’d say “Yeah but look what they’re doing to us”. That’s it, that’s all, that’s very simplistic. Forms of justifications that can be generated and created. What we’ve done is creating a series of parameters that are the legitimate way to do things. And it’s a shared concept of legitimacy. We are not very good at it, we will get good at it eventually but we have created those parameters that we both accept.

Some members of my own community get insulted when I say this to you; think about what you’re dealing with. Where I come from has never been normal, whatever normal may be, it has always been, in my opinion, absolutely abnormal. The problem is, if you want to take a society from abnormality to normality you have to do abnormal things to get there. We have released prisoners, let smugglers out from jail early; in fact some of them are in the Parliament in Northern Ireland right now. We have had to do different things differently and we have had to do them in order to change our abnormality towards normality and in order to do that we have had to do abnormal things. We got to think outside the box. There has to be moments in your thinking processes when you get outside the box.

Thank you, David. Next, I’d like to turn to Ram from Sri Lanka and say; based on what you’ve just heard from John Hume and David Ervine, does any of this resonate in Sri Lanka?

Ram Manikkalingam
I feel like we’re all Irish.

Let me start with the comment about the sense of feeling I have about these terrorism and post 9/11 discussions which are probably shared by John and David.

We keep talking about Islam and terrorism and the virgins in heaven and these kind of relationships. I keep trying to contain myself from saying that my people have produced the most suicide killers in the world and in the support of a secular type of nationalism that has nothing to do with religion or Islam.

I think this is a really important point since we are constantly talking about the religious dimension when these are extremely political all these patterns and we need to get beyond and understand the political dimension of it.

It’s also important, because when we talk about suicide killers in particular, that is this sense of horror that you can’t engage or talk to them. In a short sentence, what we are trying to do in Sri Lanka is an experiment; can you negotiate peace with people who use suicide killers? That is the question and we don’t have the answer yet. That is the big question, not only for Sri Lanka but for the whole world.

And we do it every day. The short answer to that question is; I don’t know if we can negotiate peace yet but we know that we can delay war and maybe we can keep delaying for a long, long time and that might be the peace that we can have.

I’d like to say something about morality, picking up on David’s point.

You see this all the time, you can’t negotiate with these people, and you simply cannot talk to them because of what they’ve done.

I think this is a reasonable position because it’s a position of someone who has a certain set of moral rules because of whatever reason they might have. But it’s not a luxury that a Head of State or a government can have. It’s a luxury that an oppositional leader can have, but unless you want endless war you need to talk at some point. That is something where you really don’t have a choice and the question is; what does it mean to talk and what kind of challenges are you facing in talking?

I’d thought I’d focus on two points; the first point is the challenges of the democratic government in the sense of talking to a monotonic, highly militarised, authoritarian paranoid group. What does it mean to deal with these challenges?

The second point is John’s point of social and economical development and the critical role it can play in the conflict.

The challenges of talking to highly militarised, authoritarian and nasty groups are, sometimes I describe it when people ask me what the negotiations with the Tamils are like; the Tamils would say if there’s a document an there’s a comma in the document, “We don’t like that comma, take the comma out.”

So the negotiators will come to the government and say, “They don’t like the comma”. The government then would say, “That is good grammar, why don’t we keep the comma?” then they’d say “You know what they’ve said? If you don’t take the comma out they are going to start the war.” Then it goes “We don’t want to start a war over a comma so you should tell them that they shouldn’t start a war over a comma either.” So the process is kind of very tough negotiations, so at one level they are extremely rigorous and this comes from a notion that they don’t necessarily believe in a deliberate discussion process but they believe in position taking.

Then you have to engage and push it and keep talking and ask; “Why do you want a comma, what is behind this?” That is one of the toughest parts of the negotiations.

On the issue of economic development, I’d thought about starting with a short story of the impact of the Tsunami on the conflict that will help understand the dynamics and the role of economic development.

To talk about something different than my history and your history; the Tsunami struck on December 26 and devastating 2/3 of the country’s coast. It affected as well the Tamil Muslim area.

As soon as the Tsunami struck, it took a while to understand the extent of the destruction and within a couple of days the President appreciated the extent and sent a letter to the Tamil political leaders expressing the condolences over the deaths suffered by their family members, their leaders, their organisations, asking them what the government can do to assist them in dealing with the Tsunami. This was an important breakthrough because the process had been stuck at this point and the President appreciated that he had to do something for them.

The immediate response with a list, a list of things they needed was a very practical request. The President then [...] let’s send these things to you. That was sent in and the following days there was a massive outpouring of assistance, international financial assistance, government to government assistance. The President then immediately said: “This is something we should share with them and ask them what their needs are but it’s also a way of obligating them on the peace process.”

The second letter was sent saying “we have been receiving massive offers of assistance in the last week and we would like to find a way to make sure that an appropriate and significant amount reaches the area of your control” The Tamils immediately responded saying “Can we talk about it?” Then we began a series of confidential negotiations for about a month which then went public after a month about a joint structure for relief and reconstruction for the tsunami affected areas and Tamil Tigers controlled areas. It’s been a remarkable flexibility both on Tamil side and the government side.

So what is the reason for this flexibility that we didn’t have in all the other discussions we had had in areas like nationalism, self determination, etc.?

I’m thinking of three basic factors; the first is that the Tsunami was something that nature did to us, it happened to all of us and it’s not what my people did to your people or your people did to my people. It was this horrible thing from outside that affected all of us and the damage was not about language or culture or this or that but it was about schools, hospitals, homes, fishing and farming, etc.

So the language we could use was a common, mutual language that didn’t get us back into our ghettos but it helped us get out of it. This was one of the crucial things that in the discussions that were unfolding.

The second thing is a practical thing that shouldn’t be underestimated and that is that the backbone of the resources for a domestic fight was seriously affected.

[...] To go to war you need some support. It has to come from somewhere.

[...] That was the second and most important fact.

The third is that both sides have very common objectives: the language of how much destruction took place, how much debt, who died where, but there were no differences about this.

Significant fractions, about a third [...] of the Tigers and another third in areas where Tigers had some influence but not directly controlled by them. They didn’t dispute the numbers [...] [...]

The second very practical issue is that if people had other options they would not go to war. Providing them with other options is helpful and useful in a very pragmatic point of view, not just that [...]

Thirdly, both sides appreciated that this was an opportunity to move the peace process forward and it was an opportunity to do so without getting into the language that had got us stuck, the language of you did this to us and we did this to you.

To do this they both said, the government and the Tigers, this is not a part of the peace process; this is independent and has nothing to do with the peace process and self determination, etc. This is about constructing in the affected Tsunami area. Of course, both sides knew whatever happened here would be the first step to what a future peace process might look like. So currently we are in the process of working on it, we are optimistic about how to make it go forward.

In conclusion I’d like to say two things; one is the issue of getting a language that is neutral, mutual and outside nationalism, ethnicity and so forth. It’s extremely critical to help move something forward. This is the language that everybody shares wherever they come from. That is something nobody can deny, it’s a common interest that we can all share.

The second, in expressions of negotiating with suicide killers is that it’s very uncomfortable. These people have killed more of my friends than anybody else, they have absolutely no values for democratic principles, etc., but you have to believe that they have some humanity because they have started this process of negotiating. [...]

We are talking to them that as we might do to a local politician, talking about building roads and schools.[...] Surprisingly enough, this is a conversation you actually can have with these people, as in our minds are generalised as suicide killers.

Thank you Ram. I just want to bring up a point that you just raised that ties into what John and David mentioned and that is in a sense what David mentioned. What happened in the last decade was that there was a new social space a new culture of share developed in Northern Ireland. If you get past identities or you can also call it morality that you can create an identity that share [...].

My question is; in the process in Sri Lanka [...] is a result of the Tsunami that we are having dialogue on shared experience, how can we build upon that and how you get people to move past this sort of barrier they grew up with [...]?

Ram Manikkalingam
I think you won’t focus on very particular practical issues. [...]. [...] That is probably the most important thing.

I don’t think you want to separate or get beyond identity because sometimes people will resist that and I think John’s plan which was saying to create a space for people where they can express their identity. That’s safe for others and saying you can express your identity this way, and that is important. If you say that you should get beyond the identity of people that resist that.

On the morality question I think that, the way [...] the question is not was is right and wrong or what is true and what is lie but what in morality is right and wrong. I think the question for political morality is different because it’s about how we can live together, it’s a different question. We have to ask a different question. We shouldn’t ask who is right and who is wrong; we should ask “How can we work together?”

If you change that question that will create the kind of space where we can move forward. [...] I don’t think no one is saying I don’t want to talk about how we can live together [...]

Thank you. I’d like to turn next to César Gaviria who as a president of Colombia negotiated with several of the Colombian guerrillas. I guess the first question I have to Cesar is; when you were the democratically elected President of Columbia, did you erode in any of your democratic credentials when you negotiated with the guerrillas?

César Gaviria
No, I don’t think so. After so many decades of civil strike or civil war, there is a lot of legitimacy in Colombia for negotiating. As far as you are able to get peace, Colombians are ready to accept any kind of peace agreement the government of society can make. We were in a kind of civil war in the middle of the last century just between liberalist and conservatives. It’s really difficult to understand but it happened like that, we actually buried 300 000 people in that war. That was going to end by the political agreement in which they shared power for about 20 years. [...] the guerrilla groups and they have stayed there for 60 years. We have had this war and many groups; we have had some Marxists arguing that led them to be quite different so we had different groups, including some indigenous groups.

We had a very authoritarian society; we have changed a lot since 1991 when we had a new constitution. We are open to the respect of human rights we have more democratic institutions. Despite of that we still have a civil war people who want to keep that up. How do they do it? Are they very popular? Do they have a lot of territorial control? How do they... with narco-trafficking? So now we have this complex situation which we are people, we have political fighters which still live in the past with the language of the past, at the same time they are narco-traffickers and commit massacres. On the other side we have paramilitary groups that violate the human rights and are involved in narco-trafficking. In the middle of that we have the 11 September, we have the total end of legitimacy of terrorism and these groups, who are political fighters, they are involved in narco-trafficking, and they are terrorists because all of them are terrorists on both sides. So you have this old panorama of people who are involved in all of these things.

Is Colombia ready to look for peace with all these groups? Yes, and the international community is giving significant support to Colombia to move ahead with this. Colombians accept that there is legitimacy to try to end this process.

Now, how do you find the balance between truth and reconciliation, peace and justice? It's a very complex thing. Why is it complex? Because to find the right amount of those is very, very difficult. It's particularly difficult to detect for the international community and as well for them to detect the people who violates the human rights. How can they receive a lenient link or sentences that are not [...] by any standards? It's difficult. And even for Colombians it's not so easy to see how these people will be deported and go to jail for short periods of time.

But I'd say that even using the anguish that these people are terrorists, because of course they are terrorists, blowing up whole buildings and so on. To be negotiating with them? I think they are ready. Then you'll always find a positive answer in the Colombian society.

Still you can't see a real justification of political violence even though that Colombia is an open society, it's very unfair. As well we have a lot of poverty, just as Mexico and Brazil.

I personally think that even with all the rethinking about political strive and political violence, even with all the change of language and attitude, Colombia is relatively open and ready to go and try to bring those people back to political light and to see the society. This is a very complex situation but I think Colombia is ready to move ahead and bring these people back.

Thank you. You have mentioned earlier [...] I recalled that they attacked a Supreme Court Building in Colombia and killed quite a few judges among others and he ended up serving in your cabinet the question is; can people change? I mean, why did he go from that to serving you?

Cesar Gaviria
Of course people change. Finally you understand how these people went to war and did all these things because when they come to the political life they are modern. They are not radical or extremists, they have a speech that is totally supreme and it's not easy for me to [...] what to do in Colombia.

So I'm really [...] about these people [...] even the people who have to meet in massacre [...] they will be able to live in Colombia.

The real issue in Colombia now is only to deal a country with a system of justice and respect for human rights but also a country that is able to reach the monopoly of violence in the hands of them has been difficult to reach there. And it will last two decades to bring the narco-trafficking as a major factor makes things much more difficult and probably we have achieved [...].

But I think narco-trafficking is make things very, very difficult and obscure [...]. It's not easy to imagine how difficult it is because these roots that are the guerrillas, terrorism and all that have hundreds of millions of dollars of finance and that is for certain, I’m not imagining that. And it’s difficult for this people, and these gangs and groups when they are so powerful, they just find people to work with them in very easy ways [...].

Thank you. Speaking of if people can change; I want to turn next to Joaquín Villalobos. As I mentioned earlier, Joaquín was one of the senior commanders in the FMNL Guerrilla Movement in El Salvador. In the ten years of conflict in El Salvador nearly 75 000 people died and Joaquín was a central player in that conflict and he's sitting with us today and has sat with us on many occasions in such settings.

I think, Joaquín, based on what you have heard, do you have any personal reflections? how do you get people to move from violence to peace and democracy and what is it with your experience? Also, do you think El Salvador, nearly 13 years later, is any different from when the war ended?

(Continued in: From Conflict to Peace: Lessons from the Frontline debate, part 2).


Participants in the Front Conflict to Peace: Lessons from the Frontline debate. From left to right, Joaquín Villalobos, John Hume, Harriet C. Babbit, David Ervine, Tim Phillips (moderator), Ram Manikkalingam, César Gaviria, and Rose Styron. (Photo: Club de Madrid)

David Ervine, leader of the Northern Ireland Progressive Unionist Party, UK, and Tim Phillips, moderator and Co-Founder of the Project on Justice in Times of Transition, in the Front Conflict to Peace: Lessons from the Frontline debate. (Photo: Club de Madrid)
With the collaboration ofSafe Democracy Foundation
Members of the Club de Madrid

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