Rebuilding peace: The post-tsunami challenge

01/19/05

Aid must be distributed fairly in conflict zones, UU expert warns

Governments in conflict zones hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami must ensure fair distribution of aid across crisis-hit regions so as to ensure shattered peace processes can be restarted, according to a University of Ulster specialist in peace agreements.

Professor Christine Bell, who last year attended a conference of the Asian Forum for Human Rights in Thailand, says people involved in fledgling peace initiatives in Sri Lanka and Acehin Indonesia may have died and a fresh thrust will be needed to revive peace drives.

"Not just peace processes, but also conflicts have been obliterated by the tsunami for the time being," said Professor Bell, who holds a chair in International Public Law at the University.

The monitoring of human rights in areas of conflict is key to creating first steps to peace, she says. Now, any relaunch of peace hopes in stricken Indian Ocean regions will depend upon building trust. And a vitally important element will be equitable allocation of aid to separatist heartlands.This offers opportunities to build cooperation.

Professor Bell, who lectures at the School of Law at the Magee campus, is among a list of international experts who have been invited to address at conference in England next Monday(24 January), organised as part of the prestigious "Wilton Park" conference series.Wilton Park is an independent executive agency of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It holds seminars on issues of global concern.

Next week's conference will examine the relationship between peace agreements and "transitional justice", the often temporary legal apparatus that forms a bridge between strife and a lasting peace based on legal standards.

Professor Bell is associate director of the University of Ulster's Transitional Justice Institute and has researched peace processes and legal frameworks which accompany them. She has worked in Thailand and elsewhere in relation to peace initiatives in Sri Lanka and in Aceh, on the western tip of Indonesia.

In Sri Lanka, Tamil Tiger guerrillas have waged a campaign for autonomy for the north-east of the island and in Aceh a separatist campaign has lasted four decades, largely unreported because of government restrictions. Both regions were devastated by the tidal waves.

"At the conference I will be proposing that trying to monitor and improve human rights protection during a conflict can help bring about peace-building. I will draw on our experience in Northern Ireland and talk about dilemmas posed for many participants as to how to reconcile human rights measures such as the need for accountability under the rule of law, with the pragmatics of peace-making.

"The Tsunami catastrophe has brought a new spotlight to conflict and peace issues in thecountries of the Indian Ocean. There has been a level of human rights monitoring in Sri Lanka, but the situation in Aceh has been really dire, with on-going civil war and a reported 10,000 people killed by the Indonesian army in a 9-year period under Soeharto.Under martial law declared when the peace process collapsed in 2003, many of those working for peace went into exile in Malaysia and Thailand, and peace negotiators from Aceh were arrested when they went to meet the Indonesians for talks.

"Some people who were involved in the peace process in Aceh may have been killed, others ironically, may be alive because they were in Malaysia or Thailand when the waves struck.

"Many people have commented on the new situations which seem to have been brought about, where armed groups and governments have put their differences to one side so as to get on with the humanitarian effort.

"This co-operative climate must be maintained. If groups in Sri Lanka or Aceh were to get the feeling that aid is not being distributed fairly by the governments, that would set things back.

"The process of delivery can either build peace or destroy peace. Aid and how it is delivered is never just neutral matter."

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