First SCID Symposium – Building Security and Justice after Conflict

SCID Symposium 2014 Group Shot

On 13 March 2014, the Department of Criminology hosted the first – of what will be an annual – Security, Conflict and International Development (SCID) Symposium. Ten members of the newly-established SCID Panel of Experts gave presentations on the theme of the Symposium – building security and justice in post-conflict environments.

The broad range of papers addressed issues concerning stabilisation, statebuilding, holistic security, Security Sector Reform, policing in post-conflict environments, transitional justice, community-based dispute resolution, and the value of conflict assessments. Papers were given by leading international experts on issues related to building security and justice after conflict. Presenters included former diplomats, retired senior police chiefs and military officers, government advisers, senior members of the legal profession, and senior officials in the UN system.

The event was an enormous success. The quality of the presentations was outstanding and it was an incredible opportunity to be able to listen to and discuss the insightful observations of leading international experts who have extensive first-hand experience of the issues being discussed. It was also great to meet those working and studying in this field, which is often particularly cherished by those involved in distance learning and those working in remote or isolated areas. In addition to exposing students to the views of leading experts in the field, it was intended that the Symposium help contribute to bridging the gap that can often exist between academia and the field, and thus better respond to the challenges in building peace; draw attention to some of the key issues involved in building security and justice after conflict; further equip students with the skills and knowledge required for a career in this field; and provide a networking opportunity.

Further to the realisation of these aims, through the delivery of the outstanding papers, the Symposium also highlighted some common themes, challenges and lessons learnt in building security and justice after conflict. Many papers addressed the importance of local engagement in efforts to rebuild security and justice after conflict if these and broader peacebuilding efforts are to be successful. Likewise, the importance of context-specificity and reflection was emphasised, in contrast to what often happens in the field with the application of pre-determined models and approaches. Whit Mason, for example, argued brilliantly that we need to think more about how societies work, and the principles upon which they are based, if peacebuilding efforts are to be more effective. This may lead us to the conclusion that the methods of intervention usually used aren’t necessarily the most effective and, indeed, that ‘outsiders can’t supply what’s needed to bring peace’. This linked with the recurring theme throughout the Symposium of the exercise of power and the potential harm associated with external interventions in conflict and post-conflict environments. It also resonated with the comment made by Phil Wilkinson and echoed by others throughout the day that indigenous solutions are required for indigenous problems.

Being attentive to the use of power and control was first introduced in the two excellent opening papers by Malcolm Russell (stabilisation) and Phil Wilkinson (holistic security), which also introduced the recurring themes of the value of holistic approaches to building peace and security; the need to be attentive to language and – if possible – have a shared understanding of core concepts in order to have a shared approach; and the difficulties in co-ordination, particularly where national interests conflict with mutual endeavours. The importance of engaging with community-based approaches to building security and justice after conflict was also underscored by the brilliant papers by Tony Welch (Security Sector Management), Fraser Hirst (community-based dispute resolution) and Matthew Waterfield (conflict assessments), among others. The importance of engaging with those at the community-level was emphasised if effective and sustainable solutions to conflict and insecurity are sought, while too often local engagement is reduced to consultation with state-level leaders. A related message was the importance of being responsive to the context (and the changing context), which means being flexible, adaptable and reflective in approach. Excellent papers on the value of international criminal justice (John Cubbon) and policing (Chris Sharwood-Smith and Mo Poole) highlighted the complexity of the challenges of rebuilding security and justice after conflict and current developments in the field of transitional justice, in the UN Police Division and in police reform within post-conflict environments. The final paper by Keith Sargent (governance and corruption) tied together many of the recurring themes of the day, emphasising the importance of co-ordination and coherence of efforts, as well as superbly highlighting the conflict-related risks associated with corruption.

Every paper was outstanding and, I believe, resonated with one of the key messages delivered by Matthew Waterfield in his presentation: many people are suffering from the effects of conflict and ‘it is up to us to respond to those challenges in innovative and creative ways’. Discussions after the Symposium, including, I hope, on this Blog, will continue to consider these challenges and the ways in which they can be most effectively addressed.

Shortly, the audio version of the presentations will be uploaded to the Blog (http://www.uolscid.wordpress.com) along with the PowerPoint presentations where relevant. I hope this will enable some of the fascinating discussions to continue and involve other SCID students and Panel of Expert members. In early summer, the videos of the presentation will be uploaded. By this time we also hope to have the Critical Reader ready for publication, which will be provided to all SCID students. Audio and video recordings of the presentations will also be uploaded to the Course platforms (iPad and Blackboard).

Thanks again to everyone who attended and contributed to the Symposium and made it such a wonderful success and such an enjoyable occasion. Next year’s Symposium will be on the theme of researching and working in conflict-affected environments, so I hope to see many of you then – if not before.

Best wishes

Eleanor

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