Tag Archives: Kosovo

Burmese Officials, Civic Leaders Examine Challenges of Transition

30 Apr

Leanne, me and Susie in front of a chart that an amazing group of youth created on their own initiative during one of the working sessions. We had a mind map in English of all the components of a justice and security system. The innovative group recreated the chart and translated it into Burmese. We carried the chart all over Burma to use at other workshops.

Here is a piece that a colleague and I wrote on Burma’s transition and my recent trip to the country to meet with officials and civil society to discuss the rule of law issues.  It was an inspiring trip and despite the challenges faced in the present and future, there were so many people who hold a positive vision for the country that transcends Burma’s past. (I am cross-posting this piece as it first appeared on the website of the United States Institute of Peace at http://www.usip.org/in-the-field/burmese-officials-civic-leaders-examine-challenges-transition)

Burmese Officials, Civic Leaders Examine Challenges of Transition

By Colette Rausch and Viola Gienger

April 22, 2013

A recent two-day U.S. Institute of Peace workshop in the southern Burmese capital of Mon State, Mawlamyaing, was intended to be a discussion of the rule-of-law and mechanisms to promote it amid the country’s rapid transition. But the occasion also illustrated some of the very fundamental questions that bewilder national, state and local officials and civil society leaders in environments of such rapid political and economic change.

USIP began to engage with counterparts in Burma more than a year ago, following the U.S. Government’s move to renew direct engagement with the country after decades of isolation and sanctions that followed the military regime’s 1988 crackdown on the democratic opposition. USIP’s engagement started with unofficial discussions to strengthen relations between the two countries. This track 2 dialogue was in partnership with the Asia Society and Blue Moon Fund. Government legal advisers from the capital Naypyitaw also have come to Washington D.C. to discuss the way forward for their country, and civil society as well as government representatives have attended courses at USIP’s Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding. USIP’s Burma Team also works with civil society, particularly the religious and media sectors.  The February/March visit to the country this year also included two one-day workshops in Shan state, the Mawlamyaing workshop, as well as other meetings and discussions with government and nongovernment actors.

In the two-day workshop, the presenters were Colette Rausch, director of the Institute’s Rule of Law Center of Innovation; Susan Hayward, a senior program officer in USIP’s Center of Innovation for Religion and Peacemaking; and Leanne McKay, an independent consultant in rule of law.

More than 60 participants flooded to the February 16-17 course from Mon and Karen States, twice the number planned, but with so much interest, USIP felt it had to meet the need. The participants included a range of actors: state parliamentarians, police, judges, lawyers, academics, youth, journalists, and civil society activists. The participants’ active engagement in the group work and discussion similarly demonstrated the intense and genuine level of interest across all sectors on issues regarding the rule of law.

The aims of the workshop were to define rule of law as a concept and a practical end-state; describe how it relates to other concepts of justice, security, human rights, conflict and peacebuilding; help the participants identify both institutional and community-driven responses to rule-of-law issues in their context; and design strategic responses that would promote rule of law in Burma.

But as so often happens in cases of transition, discussions veer from those specific points to the broader context and underlying functioning of a whole society.

During breaks and over dinner in particular, the questions came tumbling out:

What happens when you feel national security is threatened and you need to take action that some might see as violating rights?

How do you balance law and order with rights and citizens’ concerns?

What do you do when some people in a country think they are above the law?

How did Kosovo deal with these issues? What are people in Libya doing about them now?

The thoughtful questions dug deep for answers. Participants were particularly eager to hear about the experience of establishing and strengthening democracy within the United States. They asked about the dilemmas and debates between national security and civil liberties the U.S. experienced in the years after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon, that also included the crash of another hijacked flight in a field in Pennsylvania. Debates that, to some extent, continue even today.

The participants also worried about the accountability of big companies in their country as economic sanctions are lifted and more transnational businesses enter the scene.  They asked how the U.S. handles such situations. They didn’t pull punches on sensitive questions – they’d heard of the Ku Klux Klan and asked if it was still active. They asked about corruption and greed in our country, and what Americans do about it.

They were the kinds of questions that are impossible to duck, especially when the credibility of a training in rule-of-law rests on openness and transparency. Their willingness to probe deeply seemed to reflect a level of trust and a feeling that this was a safe space where they could express their concerns.

They seemed to understand our explanation that democracy is a dance — an ongoing process that constantly reinvents itself, hopefully improves itself, around fundamental principles. That in the U.S., the democratic system is not perfect, but reflects the human beings who constitute it, with all their prejudices, weaknesses, aspirations, and convictions. And for this reason, establishing the rule of law begins with each person recognizing and fulfilling their own rights and responsibilities.

The discussions provided a reminder that such a workshop is often simply a vehicle for looking at the broader context of a transition. It’s easy to jump right into a discussion of systems, when a more effective approach for the creation of sustainable peace is to reflect first on the root causes and drivers of the conflict.

The good news, as one of the participants pointed out, is that two years ago, they couldn’t even have had that discussion. Now, another said, it is time to begin the dialogue in order to understand one another and together build a peaceful future.


Reflections on the Ten Year Anniversary of September 11

11 Sep

In memory and honor of everyone who lost their lives from 9/11, their families, and those who have lost their lives, and their families, over the past ten years in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Many around the world reflect on where they were on September 11th. On this ten year anniversary, reflection on that day in 2001 and the decade since has prompted much introspection.  For me, it has re-doubled my focus on and passion for my peacebuilding work. Our only hope for a future, and that of our children, is where peace is front and center. Where we are not afraid to call ourselves peacebuilders. Where the word peace is not seen as a “dirty word in Washington foreign-policy circles, ” as a recent Washington Post article mentioned.  Where we work to bridge our divisions. Where we do not allow fear of “the other” or perceived differences to stoke violence.  Where the fundamental values upon which our country was founded, prevail.  I have faith that our country will come together in unity and model the type of governance that we promote around the world.  That we will walk our talk.

I was in Kosovo on September 11, 2001.  I had been working with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) for the past year.

Ironically, on September 10, 2001, I had been offered and accepted a job with the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington, DC. After living and working in a country emerging from war, struggling with witnessing the trauma, experiencing the shaking of my house due to a bomb that had gone off downtown and worrying about the war starting again due to squirmishes at the Macedonian border, I was ready to return home. I had been in Bosnia before Kosovo and the experiences were taking a toll on me as I tended then to take on the energies and pain of an environment. I had not learned strategies on how to deal with the trauma. Further, I did not feel I had the right to be troubled as I had not been subjected to the atrocities of war that those in Bosnia and Kosovo had.

On September 10, I vividly remember feeling relief that I would be returning to a peaceful United States. With a sense of calm and relaxation that I had not felt since I arrived in Kosovo, I had visions of walking down the tree-lined Connecticut Avenue, NW down from Woodley Park, where I would be staying.  Less than 24 hours later, all this would change.

I was in my office in the OSCE building on the phone with a friend from the United States.  We were chatting when he stopped and said that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. At first I was confused and we discussed it perhaps being a small plane that had an accident. As I hung up, a staff member came running in to get me and we went to the media department and gathered with others around the TV. I was stunned. I was numb. I watched the news in horror. When I heard the report that a bomb had gone off at the State Department, (a report that we learned later was not true), I lost it. I walked back to my office, shut the door, put my head down and sobbed.

I knew, at that moment, that life as we knew it was over. Everything had changed. My next thought was that my new job, at a peace institute, was likely to be no more.  We were at war, I thought. Where would the peace institute be in this new order?  Then I worried that what we saw in Kosovo at the time, a fight to balance human rights and security in relation to unlawful detentions,  would come to my own country. I remember that fear so clearly. At that moment, I felt that the pain and struggle I witnessed in Kosovo, would now be part of my own experience in my own country.

So on this tenth anniversary, I dug through my records to find any words that I might have written back then. My heart warms when I recall the outpouring of support that I received from my Kosovar and other international colleagues from around the world.

I found the following three e-mails:

E-mail to a American colleague  who had just e-mailed me to tell me to watch CNN,  just after the twin towers fell.

September 11, 2001

-- Colette Rausch wrote:
> I am so very very sad.   I expect that we will be
> engaged in a war.  The
> response to this will be nothing short of that, I
> fear.  I don't know what to
> say, really.  What to do, even.  Stay here???

E-mail to a family member who was checking in to see how I was doing.

September 12, 2001

I am doing okay. It is strange. On Monday, I got a job offer. I wasn’t planning on working right way when I got back as I just really needed to take time and reflect having been here. But then I heard about a position at the United States Institute for Peace where people I know are working on projects related to what i am doing (rebuilding judicial systems in war torn countries, post conflict). So, it sounded perfect and like closure and continuation of what I am doing. I . . . . got the offer on Monday. I was so excited. You know what I thought? I thought how relieved and happy I was that I was going to the security of the US, walking around D.C. and having a break from all the war and destruction and what people do to each other that I have been around for the past three years. I was finally ready to come home having felt like I had completed what I set out to do here three years ago. Then Tuesday. Quite ironic. Then where I will be working, a peace institute.

Anyway, everyone here is very down, like in the US. But different in that they are from Europe and have witnessed war on their land and they are generally quite somber. The Kosovars held peace marches with candles and American flags and posters that said “America, we are with you.” They look at us as the country that saved them and they were quite upset by what happened. In the US, I see there is a resolve and desire to fight back. Among Americans here, we are feeling even more American and patriotic. I completely understand and agree but having seen what happens, I hope that our country doesn’t let hate take over or go too far where we act out against Arab Americans in our country (as I have seen where mosques are attacked) or others just because they are Arab Americans. I also hope that our response is measured. We cannot allow ourselves to lose our humanity in this.

Anyway, I plan to arrive back in D.C. on Friday, 5 October. I am waiting to get flight information. I hope I can get back. Right now, many of my colleagues are stranded over here trying to get back to the US. Again, an irony. We have been so used to travel difficulties due to the war in Macedonia where the borders close, etc. and it takes some doing to get out of here. When the war started, I got stuck in Macedonia when the border closed and had to talk my way onto a military helicopter to get me back to Kosovo. Never thought I would have the problem at the other end, trying to get back IN the US. Just never thought. Well, on the bright side, I have learned many lessons here and may end up needing them now in the US. Glad to hear you are fine. Thanks again for the note. I will see you all soon. Love you all. Love, Colette


e-mail to a Slovenian friend and colleague

September 17, 2001

re: Shock and Sorrow Thanks so much for your note. What a terrible week it has been. My family and friends are safe. I was just so shocked and then found myself feeling so incredibly American. It was really something to realise that being an American is at my core. Having something like this happen strikes a cord and makes one start singing the Star Spangled Banner, God Bless America and wave our flag. I share your concerns about the aftermath and our country’s response. We must take care as history has shown on so many levels that knee jerk responses just create larger problems. We must take care that we hold fast to the notions that [we] hold dear. Thanks again for your support. Colette

Powering on through the Dust

22 Mar

Strange weather!  Although it is downright spring like right now, this morning was a different story.  Around 6 am, a storm flew through, bringing pounding rain and then hail.  It lasted only about 30 minutes but left in its wake a carpet of little red buds of some type from the trees.  I surveyed the cold frame to see how the lettuce fared since I had opened up the top of the cold frame to let air circulate given the warming temperatures the past few days.   All lettuce seedlings accounted for, although one looked a bit flat.  Not sure if it was from the hail or the previous squirrel attack.   I also checked out the three terra cotta pots where I had planted lettuce seeds.  Woo hoo!  A bed of sprouts greeted me.  It never ceases to amaze me how soil, a seed and water can create a seedling.  Then add sun, and poof!  You have a full grown plant that can feed and nourish us.

On the inside front, the Hagrid proof set up is working!  This would be set my fourth set up.   The cage idea was perfect.  Unfortunately, the cage we had (see photo of set up #3) was not large enough to hold all my seed and seedling pots.  So my mother in law loaned to me a very large cage that she had (see photo of set up #4).   It is perfect!!  My tomato seedlings are happily growing and love the grow light. My eggplant seedlings just started to sprout this weekend.  I am a bit concerned about the pepper seedlings.  No sightings yet.  Not sure what is up with that.  I am new to planting pepper seeds so will wait it out a bit before planting more or, perish the thought, buying the seedlings from the nursery.

On the peace front, today was the first day in our new building.  Wow.  For well over a decade, we were sharing space in the National Restaurant Association building.  Finally, thanks to Congress who appropriated funds, we have a symbol on the Mall as a testament to our American values and our commitment to peace.   In the back of many of our minds, however, as we moved into the building, is the specter of politics and whether the American values set forth by our country’s founders will prevail over personal agendas and short-sided political gain.  With the attack on our budget and our very existence and contribution, it takes everything we have to tune this out and focus on the mission that we all are passionate about.  The mission of preventing and resolving conflict.   But it only takes us to look at what is going around in the world, with so many conflicts and so many people yearning for democratic changes — to know that we are truly needed.  It helps to know that our many friends (from all quarters:  the military, peacebuilding community, diplomats, civil society and more) are coming out in our support.  

Amazing women of Huanta, Peru

I think of the widows that I recently interviewed in Kosovo and Peru and the atrocities that they suffered.  I think of the soldiers I met in Guatemala and how they yearn for a time when they can be protectors of society as a whole and not to a limited few in charge.  I think of youth that I interviewed in Nicaragua and Nepal and their hope (no demand) for a just and equitable future.  I see them all in my mind’s eye and know that with what they have been through in their lives, this little bit of turbulence in mine, is nothing.   It gives me strength to fight on.   In the words of my seven year old just this morning, “When dismay comes with the dusk, you must power on through the dust.”   And that I will.

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