Northern Ireland Global Peace Leadership Conference Advances Values-Based Approaches to Building Social Cohesion

Eric Olsen
September 29, 2016

Participants from Africa and Asia Seek Lessons from Northern Ireland Experience in Advancing Sustainable Peace

Father Gary Donegan CP, Rector of the Passionist Community in Holy Cross, Ardoyne, discusses his experience in building trust within diverse communities.

Faith-based, civil society and youth leaders from East and West Africa, South Asia, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as well as other international participants, convened on September 10-13, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland to explore the complex challenges facing increasingly diverse populations and the rising threat of extremism and identity-based conflict.

The Global Peace Leadership Conference Belfast 2016, “Ethical Leadership amid Global Crisis,” sought to gain perspective from peacebuilding efforts in Northern Ireland since the period of “Troubles,” a 30-year conflict between Catholic and Protestant factions that cost the lives of nearly 4,000 people. Through a process of dialogue and compromise, both sides came to a settlement to end the violence with the Good Friday Agreement, signed in 1998.

The Global Peace Foundation partnered with Co-operation Ireland, a leading peace building organization established in 1979 to promote interaction, dialogue, and practical collaboration, to host the three-day conference.

Conference participants visit Belfast neighborhoods to learn about the Northern Ireland conflict and ongoing peace initiatives.

The program began with site visits to key Belfast neighborhoods that witnessed significant violence but have since established “peace zones” to further consolidate gains and encourage ongoing dialogue in the aftermath of the conflict. Visits to the Skainos Centre in a working-class Protestant neighborhood, the Houben Centre for Peace and Reconciliation in a Catholic enclave surrounded by Protestant communities, and 174 Trust, a nondenominational Christian facility providing “a safe, shared space where difficult conversations can occur,” offered participants important insights and context for the presentations that would follow.

“Learning about the challenges faced in Northern Ireland allowed many of the international participants to observe post-conflict peacebuilding efforts on the ground,” said Global Peace Foundation International President James Flynn. “Many people don’t recall much about the Troubles, or thought the peace agreement in 1998 had settled everything. But a peace agreement doesn’t resolve 30 years of conflict and trauma. So it was deeply meaningful to hear personal stories from those in Belfast neighborhoods who had grown up during Troubles.”

Above: Peter Sheridan, chief executive of Co-operation Ireland, speaks to the conference; below: Mr. Kawa Hassan, Director of Middle East and North Africa Programs at the East West Institute in Brussels, called for a greater understanding of the appeal of extremism among youth and a more effective counter narrative.

The formal conference drew experienced peace practitioners from South Africa, Nigeria, Tanzania, Israel, and Northern Ireland who offered moving insights on reconciliation and forgiveness from their respective regions. They also guided presentations and discussions on the essential role of ethical leadership in addressing the urgent challenges confronting the international community, including:

  • moving from identity-based conflict to a shared future, and the role of inter-faith collaboration and faith leadership in conflict resolution and peace-building;
  • accommodating refugees, migration, and building social cohesion among culturally disparate groups through inter-faith collaboration, civil society humanitarian support agencies and cross-community engagement; and
  • articulating the critically important role of civil society in mediating between global crises and local responses and its general contribution to global ethical leadership through its practices for thinking globally but acting locally.

Global Peace Foundation Ireland country director Arnold Kashembe told participants that “the challenges are immense in the work we do but the firm commitment that we show in actions everyday will determine the legacy of peace that we want to achieve. The legacy that we seek is the one that we will be able to say that we were able to bring dialogue among neighbours who could not talk to each other, that we did try to bridge the racial, tribal and religious divided among communities.”

Rev. Dr. Gary Mason, Director of Rethinking Conflict, addresses the conference session “From Identity-based Conflicts to a Shared Future.”

The conference specifically brought into focus values-based approaches to addressing identity-based conflicts and the moral dimension of peacebuilding, including efforts toward a global ethical framework that embraces human spirituality and has practical application in resolving conflict and building sustainable peace.

A panel discussion, “Dialogue and Trust, Real Lessons in Countering Violent Extremism,” moderated by GPF International President Mr. James Flynn,  explored the root causes of extremism and the importance of building trust within communities. Nigerian clerics Sheik Halliru Maraya and Reverend John Hayab of Kaduna State presented their experience facilitating interfaith cooperation and community development through the Global Peace Foundation’s One Family under God campaign. Mr. Seamus Farrell, a consultant for The Junction Northern Ireland, spoke to the significance of this initiative in the context of the ongoing violence and endemic political corruption in Africa’s most populous country, and shared his own experience living and working in Nigeria.

“The role of faith leadership in conflict resolution and peacebuilding  . . . present opportunities to highlight shared human values and exemplify Unity in Diversity.”    –Rev. Gary Mason

Mr. Kawa Hassan, Director of Middle East and North Africa Programs at the East West Institute in Brussels, directly addressed the threat posed by ISIS and the appeal of violent extremism among youth. “First and foremost,” he said, “we need to have a deep understanding, going beyond conventional wisdom, of ISIS and its global appeal. Misreading and superficially analyzing the political, economic, social and above all ideological structural reasons behind the rise of ISIS will prevent us from taking advantage of a unique, unprecedented opportunity and an historic moment to produce alternative progressive ideas, and maybe even an alternative social order.”

Top: Global Peace Foundation Kenya Executive Director Daniel Juma preseents Kenyan models of peacebuilding; below: Nigerian clerics Sheik Halliru Maraya and Reverend John Hayab of Kaduna State shared their experience facilitating interfaith cooperation through GPF’s One Family under God campaign.

Later in the program, Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madizikela, Research Chair for Historical Trauma and Transformation at Stellenbosch Human After Historical Trauma”, explored the profound challenge and experience of forgiveness in a session, “What Does it Mean to Be Human After Historical Trauma,” moderated by Dr. Eva Latham, President of Human Rights Teaching International.

The talk was followed by a special 09/11 Commemoration Banquet featuring an interfaith invocation, special peace poems read by students from the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University, and uplifting, intercultural music by Beyond Skin, an organisation which uses music, arts and media to assist in the building and development of cultural relations in Northern Ireland and globally, with the overall aim of addressing issues of racism and sectarianism.

The powerful voice of women leading peacebuilding initiatives was highlighted in a session titled “Women as Leaders in Post-Conflict Reconciliation,” where global women leaders shared strategies that seek to acknowledge and heal past trauma, strengthen the identity of marginalized groups, and empower women through creative investment and advances in technology and education.

South African Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madizikela explored the profound challenge of forgiveness in a session, “What Does it Mean to Be Human After Historical Trauma.”

The Youth Peace Ambassadors Track featured a special interactive session, “A Shared Future: Real Lessons in Building Peace and Social Cohesion,” which explored youth engagement and prospects for building the common ground of global identity and social consciousness, and advanced effective models of youth leadership and advocacy. The Youth4Peace Interactive Session that concluded the conference affirmed the role of youth, almost half of the world’s population currently under the age of twenty-four, in shaping their own futures as full participants and at the front line of peacebuilding.

Following the conference on September 21, 3,500 young people from schools across Northern Ireland celebrated their role in peacebuilding with performances from local talent, as well as international contributions from across the globe. The youth program, “Amazing the Space,” was sponsored by Co-operation Ireland and international partners including Generation Global, the Global Peace Foundation and the United Nations.

Young leaders, students and young professionals engaged in interactive sessions to affirm the role of young people in fostering peace and shared sresponsibilty as global citizens.

Global Peace Leadership Conferences are ongoing GPF-organized regional assemblies of faith-based and civil society leaders, peace advocates and development experts that address issues of good governance and multi-sector collaboration in response to extremism and identity based conflict.

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