Tag Archives: Libya

Awkward: Explaining Dialogue in Libya Amid U.S. Government Shutdown

29 Oct
DSC09847

Graffiti art along a wall in Tripoli

I am cross-posting a blog that I wrote with a colleague on our recent trip to Libya.  The blog appeared on the United States Institute of Peace website as part of their “Olive Branch” blog series.

Here is the original linkhttp://www.usip.org/olivebranch/awkward-explaining-dialogue-in-libya-amid-us-government-shutdown

Monday, October 28, 2013
By: Colette Rausch and Christina Murtaugh
It was Oct. 1, and we were midway through an 11-day visit to Libya. Our intent was to nurture the development of rule of law by guiding civic and business leaders, government officials, militia fighters, police, judges, young people and even artists through Justice and Security Dialogues. The process empowers communities to create a forum where they can bridge differences and make progress establishing security and justice among all those involved.

And then the U.S. government shut down.

In Libya, representing the U.S. Institute of Peace, an independent, nonpartisan organization funded by Congress, we couldn’t – and wouldn’t – take sides. But the questions started coming: how can the United States government, often seen as a template for democracy, shut down and stop its work? Even with all the chaos, violence, and lack of full central government control, we were told, the Libyan government had not ceased its work.

We were also faced with explaining the premise of the dialogues — that communities need to meet and discuss issues to build a peaceful, democratic society — all while our own government appeared to be taking the opposite route. Negotiations in the U.S. Congress, one of the most-admired deliberative institutions in the world, had broken down so severely that federal budget authority lapsed, forcing many government offices to shut their doors and furlough some 800,000 workers.

With the implicit hit to our credibility as facilitators and supportive partners, we felt we had to take a step back and reinvest in building trust.

First, some background. USIP and its Rule of Law program have been engaged in Libya since soon after the ouster of Libya’s longtime dictator, Muammar Gadhafi, in 2011. The program engages in a variety of work, including research, workshops, and the dialogues, to help Libya address the many security issues that hamper its emergence from violent revolution and its transition to an entirely new system based on the rule of law.

USIP specialists have criss-crossed much of Libya traveling to the cities hit hardest by the revolution, to remote corners ignored for decades by Gaddafi, and to the various borders with Libya’s neighbors, assessing the country’s prisons, researching intricate challenges of justice and security and offering other expertise wherever we are welcome.  Our colleagues have braved firefights and a car bombing and we put ourselves at risk for the cause of peace as a matter of necessity.  Developing contacts, trust and engagement in such an unstable environment is a long, arduous and sometimes dangerous process that requires no small measure of finesse, diplomacy, risk-taking and determination on both sides.

So it’s not hard to imagine the puzzlement and frustration of our Libyan colleagues when they learned that other USIP counterparts who had been furloughed back in Washington were prohibited by law from replying to e-mail or otherwise engaging in an official capacity while our government was shut down.  The two of us had been exempted for the work we were doing in the field. By being there, we were able to explain the unanswered e-mails and maintain the constant contact and relationship-building required to make peacebuilding work.

In perhaps a reverse irony, our own government’s challenges ultimately provided us a valuable point of entry for our discussions around Justice and Security Dialogues in Libya.

In one dialogue, a town elder walked us through a document that he and others in his shura council had developed with considerable thought and deliberation.  But as he presented it, others in the room began to fidget and show signs of unease.  The confidence displayed by the presenter was in sharp contrast to some of the others around the table.  So we asked the speaker to pause as we asked the others about their discomfort.

“We have not seen this document before,” said one of the youths at the table.  The elder insisted everyone had been consulted and that he had addressed everybody’s needs. But then another participant said that he also had not been consulted.

What we were experiencing was a microcosm of difficulties facing societies and countries the world over.  No matter how well-drafted a law or even a constitution may be, at the end of the day, whether people will follow it often depends on whether they feel “ownership.”   Until then, it is just words on paper.  We have seen many occasions where groups criticize their country’s existing constitution, but what they are really saying is they don’t feel it reflects their own ideas and aspirations.

In this group, while everyone agreed that the document was thorough and well thought-out, the process used to develop it was not fully transparent, nor did the process involve all different groups in the community. The elders, meanwhile, felt it was their traditional role to provide such guidance. Moreover, many in the room felt they had been waiting for security for over two years, and opening up the process would delay any potential progress. In the end, people saw the need to include the other elements of their society to ensure buy-in and ownership. They would need to find a way to balance this without having to start anew.

Through dialogue, this small group of elders, youth, police, artists, business professionals and others experienced the challenges and benefits of the kind of inclusive process that makes a democracy work. We couldn’t help but think it was a lesson far too often overlooked back home.

Colette Rausch is USIP’s associate vice president for governance, law and society. Christina Murtaugh is a USIP program officer for rule of law.

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Eleven Days in Libya: The Peacebuilding Roller Coaster

12 Oct
Graffiti art in Tripoli, Libya. The city sponsored artists to create art on each panel of the wall.

Graffiti art in Tripoli, Libya. The city sponsored artists to create art on each panel of a retaining wall along a road coming into Tripoli.

Having lived and worked in multiple war-affected countries, I have grown used to the inevitable ups and downs of transitions from war to more peaceful countries.  I use the term “more” because the reality is that just because active conflict may end, transitions are fraught with continued instability, often for years if not decades to come.  Libya is no different.

After the fall of the Gadaffi regime in 2011, Libya, like many transitional countries, has struggled to establish a just and secure state.   Militia members, who may or may not have fought in the revolution, are loath to relinquish the power they have secured and the weapons that they feel keep them safe from a variety of threats, including other armed groups competing for power, those seeking to settle scores, even common criminals.  The central government itself is struggling to establish functional institutions based on principles of accountability, transparency, inclusion and justice where none existed before the revolution.  No easy feat — even in stable environments.  But doing so in Libya, with trauma from the conflict still so fresh in the minds of Libyans, pre-existing and factitious divisions that span decades, sometimes centuries, combined with the legacy of the Gaddafi-era scare tactics — is a much higher hurdle to overcome.

We had come to Libya to work with our Libyan colleagues as part of the United States Institute of Peace’s (USIP) ongoing justice and security dialogues, bringing together police, local government, elders, doctors, engineers, professors, militia, youth and others who make up the fabric of Libyan society, to discuss justice and security challenges and find ways to work together to address them.  In order to really understand the immense challenges ahead for this fledgling new nation, as well as the tremendous potential that exist in Libya, all one needs to do is follow our travelogue:

DSC09831 Day 1 – Landing in Tripoli

As wheels touched down in Tripoli, so began my third trip to the Libyan capitol since the revolution ended.  My first visit came shortly after the fighting to oust Libyan dictator Gadaffi had ended, and the new transitional government sought to avoid, or at least gird for, the many pitfalls that often follow such violence. Between my own visits, my colleagues have been in and out of Libya multiple times, providing as close to an uninterrupted presence and continuity as possible in the face of limited budgets and resources.

As we drove from the airport, I noticed some minimal upgrades in security that had been made since my last visit.  Upon arriving at our hotel – off the beaten path and far from the center of the city – I was surprised to discover what could only be described as an oasis. Here, lush green grass, palm trees, and a hospitable staff made a convincing argument Tripoli was slowly regaining its feet, compared to my earlier visits. There was not the usual din of noise around us, but an unexpected quiet, complemented with a tranquil serene surrounding. Under different circumstances, I am confident this was a place I could come to relax.

As we met up with colleagues and poured over our schedule and agenda for the coming eleven days, we set off for the hotel’s dinner – an outside barbeque on this particular evening. As we began our meal, the silence and serenity was interrupted by gunfire just beyond the compound walls.   Gunfire is not an uncommon phenomenon on these trips. In fact, during my first trip to Tripoli, a full-fledged rocket propelled grenade battle erupted down the street from my hotel.   But you can always measure what your own level of alertness needs to be by judging how those who experience such events daily react, and since no one else at our dinner seemed overly concerned, we went on eating. But then there was a loud, unsettling “boom.”  At this point, a number of people stopped what they were doing and turned toward the blast – including the wait staff.  After one more blast, we were all alert and silent.  Then the familiar crackling sounds of fireworks followed, and we all let out a visible sigh of relief. It never fails to amuse me that countries the world over, having so recently experienced the brutality of war, still prefer fireworks and gunfire to celebrate everything from weddings to weekends, or just letting off steam.

DSC09841Day 2 – The city I remember and the signs of progress

The second day, we moved from the calm oasis on the outskirts of the city into a hotel that could accommodate our full group. It was in the heart of Tripoli, and driving in I saw the sites I remember from my previous trips – the Mediterranean Sea, Tripoli Towers, the Old City and its Ottoman Empire Walls, pock marked with the destruction of current generation ordinance. As we drove into the city, the one major change was the Tuesday Market roundabout. There were four very orderly and well coordinated checkpoints set up – staffed by different security personnel (some in standard police uniforms, others in green fatigues, some in black uniforms, with vehicles parked to their side including everything from standard police cars to small pick up trucks  (“technicals”) mounted with Russian-made DShKM 12.7 heavy machine guns.)  As we drove through one, there were about 4 “lanes” in which officers were inspecting cars as they drove by. At first, it seemed like they must be looking for illegal armed groups or others that might cause harm, but as we drove through our lane, cars were being pulled over for a myriad of violations – improper or no license plates, illegally tinted windows, etc. And not only were these cars being pulled over, the police were issuing tickets. After two years, this is a clear indication that, in the capital city at least, police were carrying out policing functions beyond filing paperwork. These small signs indicate that the security apparatus is beginning to chip away at the lack of state control – even if just a small chip.

DSC09853Day 3 – Into a lion’s den?

On the third day of the trip, we were driving to another town to host the pilot Justice and Security Dialogue (JSD). The event would last two days, and was the culmination of my colleague Christina Murtaugh’s month long planning.  On the way, I was pleasantly surprised to see a traffic cop in a immaculate white uniform, with cap on head, directing traffic in a most professional way, with all the drivers obediently honoring his instructions. Then came the first hiccup.

We got an urgent call from our Libyan colleague who suggested we contact him upon reaching the outskirts of the town.  He informed us that the main highways had been shut down. He didn’t give a lot of details, but as we neared the town, we saw his car waiting for us.  We followed him as he wove his way into the town center through back roads and side streets. We learned that the main highway had been blocked by a local militia that had been battling a rival over the past month, resulting in numerous casualties on both sides, as well as a number of prisoners being taken.

The militia in question was blocking the highway to protest reports that the neighboring militia had reneged on a tentative peace agreement forged by the two adversaries that stipulated each would release their respective prisoners, while only their own side had followed through on the agreement.

Eventually, we arrived at the location where we were to conduct our meeting only to find trucks and cars lined up on either side of the road for more than a mile and the entrance to the location blocked.  Despite the backlog of vehicles and barred gate, everything appeared calm on the surface as Libyan Shield (former militia members that are now part of the Ministry of Defense) were milling about the entrance. Libya Shield had also been serving as de facto peacekeepers between the two squabbling militias I mentioned earlier.   So we cautiously made our way to a back entrance and entered the location. We learned that this protest was the result of yet another local militia wanting local companies to employ them.

With our own adrenaline piqued after such an arduous commute, we openly questioned whether it would be possible to get such desperate and divided groups to join us at the table to initiate discussions around these and much more pressing justice and security challenges.

Our own unease aside, the palpable tension seemed to provide the ideal backdrop for substantial progress.  In fact, rather than the traditional platitudes and niceties – a part of the cultural fabric of Libya in which they take great pride in being gracious hosts and making each visitor feel at ease and welcome – each participant talked openly and honestly about the severity of their challenges, the extent of their differences and each’s understanding of the root causes. This transparency and honesty is an essential and necessary ingredient toward establishing real and constructive dialogue and finding solutions that will actually improve the situation, but usually takes time to foster.  The fact all the tension was already on the table at the outset gave us hope as we left the first day.

DSC09842Day 4 – Landing on a high note

On the second day of our dialogue, all the of the overt symptoms of the immediate security challenges were gone – negotiations the previous evening ended the road blocks, and the militia, blockading the location where we were holding our meeting, had sufficiently made their point known with their protest the previous morning and were nowhere to be seen. We came into the dialogue with renewed spirit – day two was about finding solutions to the difficult challenges aired in day one. The participants made significant headway, and by the end of the day there were a number of constructive solutions. The participants had agreed on a short-term roadmap, selecting one idea to begin working on as a test of their collaboration. And they had selected a steering group in which to drive their work. But most of all, we had grown close to this group, seeing the real struggles they are dealing with in bringing justice and security to this small corner of Libya. By the culmination of the two-day dialogue, we were confident that seeds to real partnership had been planted, and the mechanisms in place to ensure they developed fruit.

DSC09855Day 5 & 6 – Seeing the future of Libya

After the JSD sessions, we returned to Tripoli. As we drove back to the capitol city, we had opportunity to reflect on the experiences the two days prior.  While encountering roads blocked by various militias on separate occasions, it would be easy to feel disheartened.  But the fact that, in both cases, the militias had chosen peaceful protest and civil disobedience over brute force was actually an encouraging sign that perhaps slowly but surely even the militias are evolving toward rule of law over rule of the gun.

That afternoon our sense of encouragement was further bolstered as we conducted a workshop with a group of youth on facilitation skills.    This group of five – from every corner of Libya – energized my colleagues and myself with their enthusiasm, dedication and inventiveness. These youth put in hard work over the first two days of our training, epitomizing the raw leadership, ingenuity, and work ethic that permeates the Libyan society through and through. Of course, all these positives come with the unanswered question – how to harness the youth’s exuberance, idealism and raw abilities to promote lasting peace and prosperity throughout all of Libya?

DSC09836Day 6 into Day 7 – The coming storm

On our sixth day in Libya (the second of youth facilitation in Tripoli), word came down in the early evening that the Russian Embassy, just blocks away from our training, had come under sustained attack by a group of armed men, who had breached the embassy grounds.

As seemed to be a theme throughout our dialogues, the reasoning for the attack was far ranging and often contradictory.  The one consistency in the story was that a Russian woman, unattached to the embassy, had killed a prominent Libyan revolutionary.  Some said she was the man’s wife, while others insisted she was a pro Gadaffi loyalist.  No one in the embassy was hurt while two of the attackers reportedly were killed.

Three a.m. the next morning, I was startled awake by gunfire followed by explosions.  Unlike the “celebratory” fire I heard on my first night in Libya, this was clearly different, clearly a firefight. It ended after about five to ten minutes and the night calm returned.  Sleep, on the other hand, was not quite as resilient.  Later that morning I would learn that there had been an exchange of gunfire on the street of one of our youth participants. She said she had been awoken when the windows of her home began to rattle with each fusillade. She said she was instantly taken back to 2011 and the war in Benghazi.  Later we learned, although, like many things in Libya, one can never know for sure, that it was a battle between two rival groups, either drunk or on drugs. Sadly, like many societies coming out of conflict, the drug and alcohol trade and organized crime in Libya have been very quick to exploit any security shortcoming the moment it materialized.

DSC09830Day 8 – Just another weekend in Libya

Day 8 of the trip coincided with the start to the weekend in Libya. With the groups and motivations behind the assault on the Russian embassy still unknown, we felt it best to keep a low profile as the situation became clearer. As reports on the Russian embassy attack trickled in, news of a series of assassinations earlier in the week of former and current security personnel in the eastern part of Libya, around Benghazi, added to our general unease.

A few days earlier, a naval officer and his eight-year-old son were killed as the man took his son to school.  Earlier in the week three army officers had been killed.  (Other assassinations were to follow, including the killing of a senior retired police officer two days later, on Saturday.  Then on Sunday, a Colonel in the Libyan Air Force was murdered.) Our colleagues have told us – this is what they have now come to expect.  Very targeted attacks on individuals that have a symbolic message as well. After all of this bad news, we were hoping our ninth day would bring a bit of peace.

Security is never far from any of our minds.  While the nature of the job of a peacemaker is to venture into places where there is no peace, we do not do so without ample caution, prudence and no small amount of apprehension.

DSC09838Day 9 – As mixed of a bag as one can get

On our ninth day, we travelled back to our colleagues from the JSD roundtable to establish next steps following our dialogue. We weren’t sure what to expect, or what they wanted from us in terms of partnership. Upon arriving in their city, we first met with the police who had participated in our preliminary dialogue. Through our conversation, they reminded us that we had mentioned two things essential to the success of our partnership with his city: (1) we must ask what people think, and not impose ideas from the outside; and (2) we must start with what can be achieved, working on the small activities, and not try to solve all Libya’s problems at once, or we’d be overwhelmed by the complexity of the challenges.

We then met with the steering committee that had been appointed during our previous discussion. The group had made amazing progress in the six days since our initial dialogue – they had a plan of action, a division of tasks, and had created timetables, and points of contact.

Yet we discussed the planning and process, it became evident that each group had carved out different objectives based on their goals, and not necessarily respecting the others sitting across the table from them.  In many ways, it was a microcosm of the community at large, and the motivations and power struggles that exist everywhere, including my own country.

It became clear that each participant needed to spend more time on their own internal process, laying ground rules to ensure respect for one another’s interests as well as their own. It was a teaching moment for both them and us. Without an inclusive, transparent process, occasionally, the only progress that can be made is backwards.  Or at least, back to the drawing board.

Despite the setback, we left encouraged – seeing just how much work and effort the group put in, and the willingness to do more and to compromise – each with the common goal of moving forward.  We also witnessed just how difficult making change can be, and how important it is to give each process – no matter how small or large – the time needed to achieve sustainable impacts.

As we made our way back Tripoli, our own progress came to a screeching halt. As we walked in the old city, comparing notes about what we had accomplished and what we had left to do, I checked my Twitter feed only to learn that an accused member of Al Qaeda had been nabbed off the streets of Libya. Speculation was ripe as to who could have carried out such a mission, but with a five million dollar bounty on his head, and accused of plotting the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, it was widely believed to have been a U.S. forces-led operation that had taken Abu Anas Al-Libi.  As the Twitter began filling with such suspicions and concerns about retribution, we returned to our hotel to get more information.  Official statements from the U.S. government confirmed that U.S. forces had captured Al-Libi.

DSC09845Day 9 & 10 – Risk assessment

A colleague from Benghazi reported that a Facebook page had been set up with a phrase along the lines of, “We are all Al-Libi.”  Meanwhile, many other Libyans I met expressed relief at the operation, and that Al-Libi’s abduction was a good thing because he represented the extremism plaguing so much of the country, responsible for many of the targeted killings and continued instability.  I heard from other Libyans who expressed concern that the U.S. acted unilaterally and didn’t allow Libya’s own justice system to operate in the way that it should, thereby violating Libya’s sovereignty.

Still others wondered how Al-Libi could walk the streets of Tripoli with a large bounty on his head for so long without action from the young Libyan government.  Further, they questioned why the U.S. was able to tackle Libya’s militants while the Libyan government seemed unable or unwilling to address the extremist problem with the same resolve?

While others expressed they wished their own government had handled the developing crisis with more tact, that rather than proclaiming that they had no prior knowledge of the raid, that it would have been preferable if the government had made a strong statement condemning terrorism, while couching their sovereignty concerns in that context.

Many speculated on whether there would a violent reaction to the raid and who would be targeted. Given this, and working with our many colleagues on a risk assessment, we decided it was best to lay low in our hotel until we flew out the next day.

DSC09846Reflections:

As we awaited our remaining hours before our departure, we reflected on the sheer volume of challenges presented by this particular trip and concluded that the culmination of events and multitude of emotions, set backs and breakthroughs that we experienced, perfectly epitomized in microcosm similar challenges every country emerging from conflict experiences nearly daily:

• The excitement and exhilaration that comes with the realization that with Gaddafi gone, entirely new options, promise and opportunity await the new Libya.

•  The despair and disappointment that inevitably comes as groups try to exploit even the slightest gaps and security vacuums that materialize as the new system of government takes to its feet.

•  Dismay at the power-hold militias have created for themselves by force, unwilling to cede an inch of the ground they gained in their push to topple Gadaffi.

• The hope instilled in the young generation and the potential and opportunity they possess that their forbearers did not.

While these 11 days riding the roller coaster that Libya has become, my own government was going through its own gyrations with the government shuttered and negotiations to revive its democratic processes at a standstill. And in five days since I left Libya for another African country where I am working now, the roller coaster ride in Libya hasn’t changed.

Its Prime Minister was detained by a government-backed militia group, only to be released hours later.  Prime Minister Zeidan has since called this an attempted coup.  Extremists in the eastern part of the country have grown frustrated with the governments’ role in the Al-Libi case and have threatened retaliation. Over the past week, a number of security incidents have occurred: the Swedish consulate in Benghazi was struck by a car bomb, while the wave of assassinations have continued unabated.

Yet, the fact that the militias chose to show their displeasure with the  Al-Libi capture with a peaceful protest rather than violence can only be seen as an encouraging development. I continue to turn on the news, glance at my Twitter screen every few minutes, and look on Facebook to see the next turn that Libya takes.

Had I been in Washington, D.C., I too, would be one of the hundreds of thousands of government employees furloughed over a conflict – albeit a non-violent one. It was upon those reflections, that I recalled the wise words of the police we met with during our trip: “We must let communities – whether a small town, city, country, or the world at large – first develop solutions for themselves.   And only then begin to solve the problems by focusing on building unity by focusing on shared solutions that can be achieved, rather than trying to fix everything at once, and being overwhelmed.”

But most importantly, communities the world over must strive to recognize their common interests, because ultimately, whether a household, a city block, a city, state, country or continent: united we stand, divided we fall.

This blog was originally posted on the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. (PCDN)   I am cross-posting it here.   Here is the link from the PCDN website:  http://www.internationalpeaceandconflict.org/profiles/blogs/eleven-days-in-libya-the-peacebuilding-rollercoaster#.Ulu-Lb-PWfQ

Burmese Officials, Civic Leaders Examine Challenges of Transition

30 Apr
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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.

Peace on Earth

24 Dec

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On this Christmas Eve, as I reflect back over the past year, a whirlwind of images and feelings come up.  It has been an intense year of travel to countries dealing with violent conflict or war, political instability, and economic disparity. Then in my own country, we witnessed a divisive election year, a politically polarized society, ugly rhetoric against people of different races or religious beliefs, and a series of mass shootings including at an elementary school, movie theater, shopping mall and place of worship.

We are a world at conflict on the individual, community and nation state levels.  We see actors on the world stage who use fear to control people and foster hate and division, pitting one against another.  Religion, ethnicity, race, gender, country of origin, are all inflammatory fodder for stirring up emotions of fear and in turn — hate.  It’s been far too common to find individuals and leaders using violence for their own agenda and pushing the fear-mongering and hate-mongering buttons to manipulate and coax people into doing their bidding.

A survey of the headlines over the past year is enough to make even the most optimistic, despair.  We barely have time to acknowledge one tragedy, when another one is on its heels, followed by another after that.

But if you look beyond the headlines and politics, struggles for power and control, you still can find those who relentlessly hold tight to the vision of peace and justice and work tirelessly for a better world.  It is through their sheer determination and effort that there is ample reason for hope.

Misurata

Don’t complicate the transition (in arabic). Graffiti I came across while driving around in Misurata, Libya. May 2012

During my travels in Libya, I met people in Benghazi, Misurata, Tripoli and Zawia who took my colleagues and me into their lives and homes.  They shared their hopes and dreams for a new, peaceful Libya, free of dictatorship, violence and extremism. I received numerous messages of sincere regret and sorrow immediately after US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his colleagues were killed in a terrorist attack in Benghazi. They wanted America to know that these horrible acts were not representative of the vast majority of Libyans. They took to the streets by the tens of thousands to demonstrate as much.

Yemen

Choosing our fish to take to a restaurant for grilling in Taiz, Yemen, June 2012

While in Yemen, I traveled to Sana’a and Taiz, meeting amazing young women and men who, despite guns being trained on them as they marched, took to the streets to demand a positive government responsive to the people.  “The youth are Yemen’s hope and future as we have just created a mess,” was a sentiment I heard twice, once from a retired army general and then again from a retired political leader — both frustrated with the slow pace of change and battles for power raging across Yemen and fueling violence and instability.

While in Burma/Myanmar and reiterated during subsequent visits to the US by representatives from Burma/Myanmar, I was surprised by the openness of those I met in the government, who, despite having been isolated for many years under the former repressive military regime, were anxious to get caught up on developments related to good governance, rule of law and conflict resolution.  Each meeting turned into an invigorating and open discussion of ideas, as we discussed what other countries in transition experience and the challenges they face.

Aung San Suu Kyi with me and Suzanne Di Maggio at USIP event,  Washington, DC, September 2012 (Photo Credit:    )

Aung San Suu Kyi with me and Suzanne Di Maggio at USIP event, Washington, DC, September 2012 (Photo Credit: Asia Society/Joshua Roberts )

In Iraq, I had the honor to meet with dedicated civil society representatives who were earnestly organizing dialogues with police to find ways to solve justice and security challenges facing their communities.  In the absence of effective central governance, the citizens and police decided to keep things local and seek common ground and work together.

Buddhist monk in Boudhanath.  Kathmandu, Nepal. October 2012.

Buddhist monk in Boudhanath. Kathmandu, Nepal. October 2012.

While in Nepal, I surveyed the past six years from when I first arrived at the tail end of popular protests that resulted in the King stepping down and re-instating the political process.  Despite a very rough period of political instability and violence after the King’s ouster, and the all too familiar charade of political actors stirring violence for their own ends, Nepal managed to end its ten-year civil war, quell ethnic, religious and communal violence and move tentatively forward.

Then in my own country, despite the politics of division, the elections resulted in the re-election of the president.  The issue of economic inequality has come to the mainstream and is being openly discussed.  The horrific epidemic of gun violence has stirred up a movement demanding action to address its root causes.

So as this year draws to an a close, I want to focus on the people and their determined actions that have resulted in cultivating peace against seemingly insurmountable forces and odds, rather than giving way to the divisions and violence so many attempt to sew.

If there is one universal lesson my travels have revealed, it’s that when each of us owns our own power and makes a determined stand on principles of fairness, equality and justice, then even the most powerful who employ the formidable levers of division, intimidation, violence and coercion — become powerless. Further, while fomenting divisions can sow violence, building unity and understanding can be powerful steps toward creating a lasting and resilient peace. 

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Trust: An Essential Ingredient in Building Peace, Justice and Security

5 Nov

Outside the Martyrs Museum in Misurata, Libya

“Peace is more than just the absence of conflict. Peace is the presence of mutually respectful relationships among individuals and groups. Those relationships enable disputes to be handled with tact, understanding, and a recognition that everyone shares some common interests. At the heart of those relationships is trust.”

I am cross-posting below a piece on my trip to Libya that was posted today on the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) website:  http://www.usip.org/in-the-field/trust-essential-ingredient-in-building-peace-justice-and-security

Trust: An Essential Ingredient in Building Peace, Justice and Security

November 5, 2012, In the Field by Colette Rausch

Introduction
“Why are you here? What interest does the United States Institute of Peace have with Libya?”

Full of uncertainty, suspicion, and even a little fear, the questioner spoke for some of the Libyan participants at a workshop in the battle-scarred city of Misurata. It was June 2012, and my colleagues and I had come there from USIP’s headquarters in the heart of Washington, DC, to facilitate a workshop on justice and security. We had just introduced our Libyan hosts to the packed two-day agenda that we had planned for them, and we were all taking a short coffee break before getting down to business.

But then, as the presenters and participants congregated in small groups—little islands of familiar faces nervously scanning the unfamiliar faces on other islands—one man caught my eye, walked quickly over to me, and asked with transparent concern, “Why are you here?”

We had an agenda, participants, and even refreshments—but, evidently, we did not have trust.

Peace and Trust
Peace is more than just the absence of conflict. Peace is the presence of mutually respectful relationships among individuals and groups. Those relationships enable disputes to be handled with tact, understanding, and a recognition that everyone shares some common interests. At the heart of those relationships is trust.

Trust cannot be coerced, delivered, or manufactured. It develops through a process of collective engagement and through a commitment to a common purpose. Where that process is brand new and where that purpose is vague or open to question, trust does not come easily. Which brings us back to Misurata.

A Proud City 
In the battle between Colonel Gaddafi’s regime and the revolutionary fighters determined to topple it, Misurata was strategically invaluable. Gaddafi knew that if his forces held the city known as Libya’s “business capital” and home to a thriving deep-sea port, he would deny the rebels access both to other parts of the country and to resources from the outside world. Most of the population of Misurata, however, supported the rebels. Gaddafi’s troops bombarded neighborhoods in Misurata, slaughtered hundreds of innocent civilians, and cut off the water supply. But after a four-month-long fight, the rebels, with NATO support, finally ejected the regime’s troops from most of the city in May 2011.

Misurata, Libya

Bloodied but proud of their role in defeating Gaddafi’s war machine, the people of Misurata have since demonstrated an unswerving commitment to rebuilding their city and to playing a leading role in renewing Libya as a free country that provides security, justice and the rule of law to all its people.

In February 2012, I visited Misurata with my colleague Vivienne O’Connor to scout out the potential needs and challenges facing Libya in its post-Gaddafi transition. After Vivienne and I returned to the United States, we began working with our local partners to organize a workshop on the difficulties of transitioning from an authoritarian society to one based on the rule of law. The participants would include lawyers, judges, local council representatives, business people, civil society representatives and Thuwar (revolution fighters) who were now running the city’s prisons.

In June, a small group of us traveled to Misurata to facilitate the workshop, which was entitled “Rule of law, Justice and Security for a New Libya.” We were eager to share our experiences in transitional societies, but we had no thought of insisting that our hosts slavishly follow our recommendations on fostering the rule of law—indeed, we weren’t going to make any recommendations.

One of the things that sets USIP’s Rule of Law Center apart from similar organizations is that, when we enter a post-conflict society, we ask, “How can we help you? What is it you would like from us?” We do not declare, “This is what you need to do.” We learned long ago that local people must make their own decisions about how to develop security and justice in their own country. If there are areas where our experience and expertise can be of use, we are happy to share them but we never force them upon others. After all, our experience and expertise come from listening to just such people. When we go to a transitional society, we talk about case studies and comparative practices; the locals tell us the problems they face and the lessons they have learned. It is a collaborative process that pivots around shared trust. Any solutions that materialize as a result of our collaboration will be homegrown and tailored specifically to the needs of the local population.

Tripoli Street, Misurata, Libya

Unfortunately, while we knew we had no thought of dictating solutions, not all of our Libyan hosts did not. And their skepticism and suspicion were articulated by that one question, “Why are you here?”

Tough Questions
Superficially, the question might have seemed to an outsider to be no more than a polite inquiry. Just below the surface, however, lay uncertainty and mistrust. Those sentiments can roil every workshop, especially if they are not identified and brought to the surface. In Misurata, we were fortunate that they surfaced at the outset. They weren’t shared by everyone in the room, but more than a few felt this way, and we couldn’t afford to ignore those feelings. We had to tackle them there and then if the workshop was not to become a meaningless voyage through bullet points and procedures, an empty academic exercise. If we could answer that question “Why are you here?” (and the numerous other questions underlying it), we might connect on a much deeper level, one built on trust, mutual respect, and personal accountability.

With that in mind, we set our scheduled discussion aside. Once the coffee break ended, we reconvened the workshop, but we spent the next few hours inviting and answering questions. We stressed that we would answer anything; nothing was off the table, nothing was too sensitive to answer. Had we set some conditions, we would have invited further skepticism from participants.

Their queries came in quick secession, some in direct, even blunt language, while others were more nuanced. Libyan tradition insists on extreme politeness to guests, and no one was rude, but everyone wanted honest answers to their honest questions.

Those questions covered a lot of ground, and revealed a lot about unhappy past experiences, fears for the future, and uncertainty about the present.

Some questioners were wary of our connection to the U.S. government. “How can USIP be truly independent if it also takes money from the U.S. government?” asked one person. “How can you talk about justice,” asked another, “when the United States still runs the Guantanamo camp?”

Some questions indicated a lack of exposure to organizations such as USIP. Confusion or bemusement about what we do and why we do it sparked suspicion: “Why do you come to Libya and spend money organizing this workshop for us?” “What do you get out of this?”

Meanwhile, other questions betrayed far too much exposure to international organizations! We heard many stories about foreigners coming to Libya to ask about people’s most desperate needs and dearest dreams, and then leaving Libya, never to be heard from again. We heard several other stories about how various international nongovernmental organizations and others had descended on Libya, scratched the surface, appointed themselves as experts on the country, and published articles that bore little resemblance to reality on the ground for the average Libyan.

The participants recalled how they had opened their doors to the media and candidly explained the challenges Libyans face, only to have some members of the press use that information to paint a distorted portrait of post-revolution Libya, one full of real problems but devoid of the equally real optimism that is so much in evidence in Misurata. The Libyans had felt betrayed—not so much because the reports were critical but because they were inaccurate or one-sided. One official said that he had given a foreign journalist “access to everything” because the official and his colleagues were eager for help and to learn and abide by international standards. But when the journalist’s report came out, the official felt like he had been “hit in the stomach,” because the article presented things in a very negative light without explaining the challenges facing Libya in its transition.

The most pointed questions came from a man who had fought on the front lines against Gaddafi’s forces. He arrived at the workshop wearing camouflage and a facial expression that made me shudder to think about what he had witnessed on the battlefield. It turned out that he had been a businessman and had never imagined that he would pick up a weapon. He had decided, however, that he had no other choice when confronted by the brutality of Gaddafi’s attack and the imminent threat to the lives of his family, friends and community.

Photos of some of the people of Misurata who were killed during the flghting

Graffiti along the road outside Misurata heading back to Tripoli

Participants relayed their frustrations with the outside world, which seemed to expect perfection from the very beginning of the new Libya. They admitted, too, that after 42 years of dictatorship, Libyans were feeling their way through the transition to democracy and would inevitably stumble from time to time. Gaddafi’s own summary execution at the hands of a lone vigilante showed just how difficult it is to apply the rule of law when tensions are so high, emotions are still raw, and everything is still in flux.

At the same time, the participants wanted Libya to be seen as a country that is moving beyond the Gaddafi era and toward a democratic future. Several questioners asked how the West and the international community as a whole view Libya.

Honest Answers
We took each question, and did our best to provide answers that were not only honest but also full. We offered contextual background, explained how USIP operates, related personal experiences, and acknowledged geopolitical realities.

After two hours or more of this sometimes difficult and delicate but always enlightening and sincere exchange, one could feel the tension in the workshop begin to subside, the air begin to clear. When every question had been answered, we moved naturally into the rest of the workshop. The workshop was on ‘Rule of law, Justice and Security for a New Libya.” It brought together 20 representatives from the legal community (prosecutors, judges and lawyers) and civil society. The workshop involved capacity development and facilitated dialogue. Presentation topics included “Justice and Security and the Rule of Law,” “Justice and Security Challenges in States in Transition,” and “Building Justice, Security & the Rule of Law: Examples of Successful Initiatives from Other Countries” (with a specific emphasis on how civil society can actively engage in promoting the rule of law in tandem with government efforts). For the facilitated dialogue component, the participants were asked a series of questions on the challenges and solutions to justice and security issues in Libya. They then broke into groups to discuss these and presented their findings in a plenary session.

Misurata, Libya

Over the rest of that day and throughout the next one, many potentially useful ideas and opinions were exchanged. Participants shared their thoughts freely, with little or none of the caution and apprehension they had displayed at the outset of the workshop.

In Misurata, we went some way toward bridging the gulf that had divided us. We did not bridge it completely or permanently; we could hardly expect to establish an enduringly close rapport in just two days. Trust takes longer to flourish, and it needs to be nurtured. But we laid a foundation that was able to support two days of discussions and learning and to nourish hopes of further sharing in the future.

In the end, none of that progress would have been possible had one participant not asked the question that brought into stark relief the importance of building the one thing that is often the hardest to come by following violent conflict: trust.

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Transforming Conflict through Art in Libya

11 Jul

Here is a piece that I wrote and was posted on USIP’s website so I am cross-posting it here.  Also set forth below is a photo slideshow of the museum.  Here is the link to the article on the USIP website:

http://www.usip.org/in-the-field/transforming-conflict-through-art-in-libya

Transforming Conflict through Art in Libya

July 9, 2012 | By Colette Rausch

After being gutted by fire during the revolution, with the ground floor walls still bearing the scorched marks of conflict, Benghazi’s war and art museum had been created on the spot following the end of Muammar Qaddafi’s 42-year rule. In generations past, the building had been a luxurious palace dating centuries back to the era of Italian colonialism.

Benghazi sparked the revolution, but the city that looked modern on the surface, as I would learn, had been neglected for decades by the dictator for its role in fostering dissent throughout his reign. Driving around, I could see roads and buildings left as they essentially were in decades past. Yet underneath all this, was the heart and spirit of its people.

As we approached the museum, a car painted pink with flowers came into view in its courtyard, interspersed among sculptures and other items. As we entered the palace-turned-museum, we were greeted by Salwa Al-Tajoury, a charming and effusive Libyan who had painted the car.

As she guided us through the recently installed sculptures, paintings and exhibits, she told us how while residing in France, she became so moved by the stories of courage and valor coming from her native country, Libya, that she felt compelled to return to help her people free themselves from Qaddafi.

After the liberation of Benghazi, she met Ali Al-Wakwak, an artist, who under the former regime had been prohibited to work as an artist. She found herself captivated by Al-Wakwak’s unique art, sculpting of driftwood to create wonderfully expressive likenesses of Libya’s famous nomadic Touregs.

She was also impressed with the artist’s resilience and resourcefulness amid the conflict. During the violence, Al-Wakwak turned his skills and artistry toward crafting homemade weapons to help equip his out-gunned friends and neighbors in their battle to turn back the more heavily armored and well-financed arsenal against Benghazi.

Now that the fighting was over and Benghazi was free, Al-Wakwak pivoted back to being an artist, now using the detritus of war to sculpt artwork chronicling the horrors of it as well as the promise of humanity.

Salwa told us of how, after the heaviness she felt upon seeing so much death and destruction during the conflict, she saw Al-Wakwak’s transformation from artist to warrior back to artist, and how art could also be her pathway back from depression to humanity.

““It’s a very important message to the wounded, the people who lost their legs or an arm. They got depressed because they’re so young and they lost limbs. So he just wanted to give them the message that even if you are broken, your life is not over,” she told me. “Your life continues and you can be a part of the country. This is the message. That is why he loves the broken things because we all have this, like these failures and these scars inside.”

She added: “Art was my therapy. I was depressed before I did the car. When I did this car, I saw the smiles of the children once more and the people. And the energy I get, when you receive positive energy from people, it rebuilds you and you have the feeling to do something important.”

She said that when she returned to Libya, she was not prepared for what happened. She didn’t expect war. She thought it would be like what happened in Tunisia or Egypt. So when she saw the planes bombing people, the tanks firing indiscriminately into neighborhoods, and the mercenaries raping their daughters and wives, her vision of a peaceful transition to democracy was shattered.

She still hasn’t come to grips with the fact the violence is over. But despite what she witnessed, she was glad she had come back to play a role. Salwa felt that she was able to help her people in some small way and she could have never remained in the safety and comfort of her home in France while her people were dying and suffering for such a worthwhile cause.

Before leaving Libya, I returned to the Benghazi art museum. And there was Al-Wakwak, with his welder in hand, hunched over an object that he was forming, sparks flying everywhere. As I peered over his shoulder, I saw that he was putting the finishing touches on a donkey. On the ground was another sculpted figure standing proudly. I looked at the two and realized I was seeing Don Quxiote and his trusted donkey — constructed of bullets, casings, bearings and other military hardware — ready to tilt at windmills. I smiled at the symbolism.

So in addition to the fond memories of my visit to Benghazi and the museum, I have also brought home Don Quixote and his Donkey, a permanent reminder of the power of art to transform conflict.

 

Trauma Resilience as a Keystone to Building the Rule of Law in Conflict-Affected Societies

29 May

9:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m. – Understanding Trauma and its Impacts on Building the Rule of Law in Transitional States & Innovative Approaches to Fostering Trauma Resilience

  • Elaine Zook Barge, panelist
    Director, Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR)
    Eastern Mennonite University
  • Louise Diamond, Ph.D., panelist
    Founder and Director, Global Systems Initiatives
    Co-Founder, The Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy
  • COL Walter E. Piatt, panelist
    Commandant, U. S. Army Infantry School, U. S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning, Georgia
  • Beatrice Pouligny, Ph.D., panelist
    Former USIP grantee and co-editor of grant book “After Mass Crimes: Rebuilding States and Communities”
    Visiting Faculty at Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service
    Georgetown University
  • Elizabeth Stanley, Ph.D., panelist
    Associate Professor of Security Studies at Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service
    Georgetown University
    Founder of the Mind Fitness Training Institute
  • Colette Rausch, moderator
    Director, Rule of Law Center
    United States Institute of Peace
  • John Lancaster, welcome address
    Board Member
    United States Institute of Peace

11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. – Trauma and its Impacts on Building the Rule of Law in Libya

  • Wail A Y Nagempanelist
    Deputy Minister of Justice
    Government of Libya
  • Essam Gheriani, panelist
    Psychologist and head of Mental Health Cluster (Benghazi)
  • Najla Elmangoush, panelist
    Program Specialist
    United States Institute of Peace
  • Matthew Stanford, Ph.D., panelist
    Professor of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Biomedical Studies
    Baylor University
  • Vivienne O’Connor, moderator
    Senior Rule of Law Program Officer
    United States Institute of Peace
  • Read the bios of all the presenters

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