Monday, 20 February 2012

Bring the locals back in?

I got a comment on the post AU military operation - the AU-led Regional Cooperation Initiative Against the Lord’s Resistance Army from a Swedish woman, Emelie, who is raised in CAR and has spent many years in the area where the LRA currently is operating. She pointed out that the people in the affected areas often express how they are negative towards developing the infrastructure as it would open up the way for the rebels. I thought that was very interesting as this is an opinion that I have not encountered in the reports or interviews when I did research for the study of LRA in Central Africa. As Emelie says, although one might disagree with that it is difficult to work against the will of the local people. 

I immediately thought of how this fear also might apply to the state security forces that has quite an awful record when it comes to human rights in this region. So perhaps the people do not only fear that the rebels might have better access to prey upon them but also that the badly trained often abusive state security forces will increase its presence. 

What Emelie brings up is connected to a broader problem; the tendency of international actors to disregard the local level of conflict as has convincingly been demonstrated by Sevérine Autesserre in her book The trouble with the Congo . Autesserre demonstrates why international peacebuilders fail to address the local causes of peace process failures. She concludes that the reasons for this is that the international actor’s understanding of violence and intervention is shaped by a post-conflict peacebuilding frame which frames local conflict resolution as irrelevant and illegitimate. She analyses this in the case of the DRC and finds that this frame includes four key elements:

  • International actors labeled DRC a post-conflict situation,
  • they believed that violence there was innate and therefore acceptable even in peacetime,
  • they conceptualised international intervention as exclusively concerned with the national and international realms,
  • they saw holding elections, as opposed to local conflict resolution, as a workable, appropriate, and effective tool for state- and peacebuilding

Her article Hobbes and the Congo: Frames, Local Violence, and International Intervention  also gives a good summary of her findings and is free to download for those who don’t feel like buying the book. For those who can’t be bothered to read at all there is a recorded lecture from last year available

Sara Hellmüller argues that increased inclusion of local perspectives in peace processes can contribute to shifting the international community’s focus on who has agency in the process, which could render the concept of human security more effective. She means that although the international community has shifted its protection focus from states to individuals since the introduction of the concept human security in 1994 their focus of who is assigned agency in a conflict context hasn’t. Very interesting indeed.

The lack of taking into account local levels of violence and local perceptions has severe implications on the efficiency and results of peace building programmes supported by the international community. In the report on LRA in Central Africa I mention how the local perceptions of what should be done to end the conflict often clash with ideas about the added value of international law, in particular the International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrants. 

During one of my courses in the beginning of the master’s program at Uppsala a professor who has conducted research on the Balkans held a lecture on this topic. He brought up the issue of local perceptions of the sentences of war criminal using the example of Biljana Plavšić (Биљана Плавшић) who is a former president of Republika Srpska. She was tried for war crimes in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for war crimes committed during the Bosnian war. She plea bargained with the prosecutor and only served two-thirds of her sentence in Sweden (!) and was released 27 October 2009. Many of the victims of war crimes committed during the Bosnian war felt that this was a bad joke and questioned that kind of justice. My professor had spoken to people who would have preferred Biljana Plavšić to get sentenced to live their lives: in poverty, with no electricity, struggling to get food, no job, no money, hence no future. As one woman put it: Why not let her live here, in our village, and everyday feel ashamed of what she did, let her experience how we live, that would be a punishment. Instead she served her sentence in a country known for having one of the most humane penitentiary systems in the world (humane is a good thing though, but it is not my point here.)

I am not arguing for or against the ICC, I am just saying that often local perceptions of justice are dismissed and not taken into account. It all comes down to the question why do we do it? To make ourselves feel better? Or do we care to actually listen to those affected so that they can have a participatory role? 

I think it’s about time to bring the locals back in….

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