Ara Pacis Initiative
Rome, Protomoteca del Campidoglio, April 20th 2010
Task Force: Engaging Politicians and Decision-Makers
Participants: Vamik Volkan, Francisco Galan Bermudez Sanchez, Alexis Rodriguez, Ron Kovic, Jesus Tecu Osorio, Garrett Thompson
Notes: Yuliya Ganenko
The importance of the average citizen to be a part of the process, those who never really thought of the human cost of war. Political decisions. The hurt, the suffering, people’s needs – it all needs to be understood before the decisions are made. If this was the diplomatic process, we would approach it with greater care and achieve better result.
Introduction. Francisco Galan, (Alexis Rodrigez, his assistant):
I think the people gathering here who come from countries with ongoing conflicts. I believe the meeting between the people who come from such places have much to teach about the importance of violence and reconciliation. People living in violent countries, the positions of such states, must engage personally in the solution of this violence. Listening to other countries’ narratives can suggest a solution path for other countries.
Ron Kovic telling his personal story about the war in Vietnam and the injuries he sustained as the result of which he has been paralyzed from waist down. “I came home from the war with the other wounded in the hospital in New York, I saw the human cost of war, I saw the most catastrophic injuries of the war. I was lucky to survive, I am here today. It was very difficult for me psychologically – the nightmares, post traumatic stress disorder. I had no idea how I was going to live on. I continued on. I became politically involved. I joined the against the war movement and was protesting the Vietnam War. I was beaten up and thrown in jail, my life was threatened. I was called a traitor in my own country. I was angry and wanted revenge. I wanted the government to pay for what they have done to my generation.”
Jesus Tecu Osorio:
When I was 10 years old I survived a massacre. It was March 13, 1982 when the Guatemalan army entered my community. They took all the women and children out of their houses and they forced the women and children to climb a mountain which is near. The people asked where the fathers and the men were. They were fighting against the armies in other regions of Guatemala. One month earlier all the men were killed, thus it was a lie that was told to the women and children. They shot more than 170 babies and more that 70 women on top of the mountain. After the massacre I was kidnapped by the civilian collaborators (paramilitary) of the army and held for 2 years. Two years later I was freed by my sister who was the only one who survived. I was a slave there. When I went back to the place where the massacre happened, I saw skulls and bones that were witnesses to all that has happened. One year later, they tried to identify corpses, but it was not possible because the corpses were thrown from a great height and thus were unrecognizable. They could only identify some of the women because they were buried alone. Only one woman could be recognized by the shape of her teeth. Another woman was recognized because she was 9 months pregnant. In 1999, the massacre case went to court and 3-4 paramilitary soldiers were sentenced to death. However, it was not for the massacre because there is no law in Guatemala punishing the massive killings of people. Thus they were convicted for homicide. After the appeal, the death sentence was turned into life imprisonment. Later the process was started to prosecute the conceivers of the massacre. The person charged could not be found, people were told he was out of the country.
Garrett Thompson, Board Member of the Guenard-Hermès Foundation for Peace.
There is a generalized hatred that is growing and is being transferred towards the government and the institutions. The institutions reply with the same emotions. It is very important that the members are able to ask and give forgiveness. Peace must only be reached by reconciliation between civil society and the state.
The idea is that to forgive and accept forgiveness is a process. Six and a half years bringing Arab and the Israelies together. Two and a half years Soviets and Americans. After the Soviet empire collapses, I have been the mediator between the Estonians and the Russians. Serbs and Croatians. Turks and Greeks. Turks and Armenians. And then I studied countries soon after wars such as Kuwait after invasion, Albania. I will tell you about my side of the story, about me being traumatized, my guilt for survival is a major issue. I was born as a Cyprian Turk, facing the problems between the Greek and Turkish people on the island. For 11 years, my people were forced to live on the 3 percent of the island. I came to America in 1956. Three months later my roommate was killed my terrorists. My story is my guilt for survival. This is a good beginning, us sharing these stories. The idea is how do we bring back these former enemies to forgive and piece side by side this dignity.
I think it is important to consider this debate as a passage from this meeting to the other one. We don’t have to come to a decision right away. We have to continue discussing the issue, researching more, so this provides the passage from this meeting to another one. In two centuries we only had 40 years of peace. This violence is permanent. The causes to this war are several, we are in a cycle of continuous war. The internal conflict now has been held for the past 44 years. During the 44 years, only certain groups chose the path to reconciliation. As a response the government created paramilitary groups with two major features – drug trafficking and …
Do you have a model for negotiations?
I have some suggestions as to what can be done. 1). Colombia cannot solve its conflict as a single country, it need to call other countries to its aid internationally.
As for the Guatemalan case and what came out of the experiences, the court part of imprisonment of the responsible people was included in the reconciliation process. But when the government does not collaborate, we cannot talk about forgiveness because there is no one to forgive. The case of justice that was taken to the court can be done, but we are talking about indigenous people who cannot bring the real conceivers of crime to the courts.
If we don’t learn from these experiences and scenarios, where would we be? We are affected by the foreign policy decisions, how can we be a part of the diplomatic process, how can we begin to do the respected at the table? How do we empower ourselves to be included? If this group can take the experiences in the place of leadership and responsibility, in the hands of the foreign policy decision makers, we have more opportunity for collaboration, for true dignity. We represent a valuable resource to this world, I represent something better, the need for cooperation so these massacres do not happen again. So many of us have been invisible, and because these people represent what is needed. The policy should be of reality and truth, and these stories are the truth. I move beyond the hatred and anger. I am not interested in having enemies, I am interested in learning the lessons, making certain that what happened to my generation does not happen again. It is the most important legacy of these traumas and tragedies, for all of us to transform and transcend the agony and suffering. They can never give us enough, make up. To move in this direction, in this positive direction, gives us meaning in our lives from the frustration. Eventually, we will go on the opposite path of cynicism as survivors, not victims, but survivors of these extraordinary historical situations. We have every right to be a part of this new beginning. We must be a part of policy as it is created on a day to day basis.
We have gotten together and were given a task to do something. Obviously, we all want to participate and do something. Here we have two conflicts that were presented. So we should point them on entry points. We may not end up coming to that level today.
I have some questions that will help us deal with the topic. The first issue is the need for peace, the need to stop conflict; other topics to be addressed are justice, actual democracy, the stop of violence. I want to start with the first question. The government must establish peace policies that are enduring and do not depend on the political turnover. How can we explain the state to the citizens that suffered from war and violence that had roles in wars and conflicts? How can the state institution get rid of violence? Is the focus of this meeting to propose any approach to peace building?
It is a great opportunity for us to get together and share experiences. The answer does not lie in any one person. We can try to gather tools, as members of this table we can decide how to best dialogue with government of each state. How to reconcile the state and the citizens.
This commission must present proposals for states. I have heard about restorative justice around the world. I believe that justice must not be directed to those left, but must be promised to those still involved in the conflict. The commission like this one should address us, the conflicting countries, to undertake the restorative justice path. The second questions is about the international community. There is a far away international community – EU, Asia, etc. There is also close international community – our neighbors. This commission should address this factor to start on the path to the restorative justice.
After 9/11, American government decided that it would not talk to the enemy. We started the process to bring the enemies together. It has been going on now for three years. It includes representatives of Iran. (Governments do not talk, so we talk). We have representatives of US, Israel, Russia, India, Europe. These people are here to talk. We are bringing these people together; we do not do it secretly. Our meetings are open to others. Anyone who wants to find out, we are willing to talk to. Anyone who is representing the countries, they can talk to their own governments. I am trying to get you a model. You want Colombia, US, Venezuela. The process is to start to engage influential political figures. For example, 30,000 people died in Turkey due to Turkish/Kurdish issue. And this is now accepted by high level government representatives.
Countries around Colombia are discussed. The governments of various countries are already speaking to each other. But there is a need for a third party to mediate. It is important to engage influential people to participate in negotiations.
Is Obama willing to contribute to change in America?
There were early indications in his presidency that he was moving in that direction, that he wanted a different relationship. We’ve seen extraordinary changes already. We are going to have to change the way we deal with our neighbors. We have to stop controlling their lives; the government must be allowed to make benefits for the people. There will be a much needed sweeping change that American foreign policy is in need of.
Until he came to power, the policy was “Thou shall not speak with your enemy”. People that talk do not kill. We have this atmosphere in the world that we can start a project like this, to talk to each other. So since we are going to be talking to Ara Pacis, how can we start this? Do you have propositions as to how to start this project?
Some people were freed later and the Brazilian structure influenced that decision. It is important to bring out how Brazil has a good relationship with Korea. Ara Pacis could call for Venezuela to mediate and influence the guerrilla to have negotiations with Korea.They could influence the guerrilla to talk to the government because they are neutral (Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil).
The third party can only help mediate but cannot actually make decisions because it is not familiar with the problems of the people.
The Colombian conflict is not only with guerrillas. It is about drug trafficking.This is a neutral body, but if the world poses a question on where there is a conflict that we are suffering, why can’t they find a solution to that?
My understanding is that Ara Pacis is thinking of a suggestion for possibly starting this.
We saw that many European countries are committed to the resolution process such as Switzerland, Spain, etc. I saw that England was willing to participate in these processes. They are not keen to enter initiatives where the USA is involved. I think Scotland Yard intelligence can be used to bring the English knowledge to include in this peace building process. It seems to me that the Irish issue, for example, with some NGO staff without the governmental effort, when actually there have been political move to share the power on the political level.
Starting this has nothing to do with governments. There are important people from different countries that are participating in this, but they are not representing a government. Suggestions like you make now may come and be discussed by everyone. Third parties do not know your problems so the suggestions will come from other people. If this process makes sense to you, you start it so everyone else follows.
The problem is that we have to present novel solutions to the countries where there is a underlying war. What is the proposal for a global approach that we can bring out? Is Ara Pacis a proposal for the whole world?
To answer the question of how to approach the victims affected by the violence is to say that they need to be given respect.
A story has been told by Vamik Volkan regarding the Palestinian identity and the fact that they decided to carry little stones in their pockets painted with Palestinian colors. Anytime they needed to remember their identity, they touched the stone. If Ara Pacis is to start the process, they need to know what kind of things to discuss. This is why you need a third party.
Guatemalan narrative is quite peculiar, we are coming out of the war. We are in the peace process now, but several times we went thought the reconciliation and forgiveness. This is concerning the starting of new. We are talking about Colombia and third parties, once the path has come to an end, the third parties go back to their countries and say that peace has been achieved. In Guatemala it is not like that, peace is present only on paper. Every layer of society is still suffering from the violence inflicted upon them. What is taking place now, there are several basic components that can bring peace – justice, truth, collaboration, dignity and memory. Reparations cannot be made because only material things can be returned. It is the matter of truth and justice. One thing that was thing that was undertaken due to the weakening of the justice system, in order to strengthen the rule of law, some initiatives were established like Spanish consultancy, etc.