The conflict is written onto the walls of Belfast. After thirty years of violence during The Troubles conflict, murals have become a tradition for every community. The murals reflect public opinion, recent agreements, hopes for the future, and signs of solidarity. They range from optimism to harrowing predictions for the future of Northern Ireland. There is simultaneously the “peace wall,” depicting hopeful murals and images of leaders like Nelson Mandela, and the infamous “prepared for peace, ready for war” mural in North Belfast. At the heart of these murals lay visions of identity, national belonging, and methods for pursuing rival futures.
The experiences of Northern Ireland play a significant role in the purpose of the organization that I am a part of this summer. Ulster University’s Transitional Justice Institute takes the experience of Northern Ireland and exports those lessons to transform and inspire resolutions to conflict. One way in which these lessons are shared is through the Annual Summer School on Transitional Justice. This year’s topic was “Gendering the Practices of Post-Conflict Resolution: Investigations, Reparations and Communal Repair.” The school is a week-long course consisting of interactive lectures, workshops, roundtable discussions and cultural outings for the visiting human rights leaders. The workshop focused on global approaches to gender, violence and transitional justice, assessing gender in the context of community, reparations in comparative perspectives, and communal interfaces with gender accountability. Each working part of this perspective and field is intricate and interlocked. If one, essential part is severed, the nuance of effective understanding of the relationships among those parts is lost and the system is left dysfunctional.
As I go forward in my legal studies, I understand the necessity of the ways in which fields and perspectives work as part of a dynamic system requiring rigorous analysis of the way in which those parts work separately and together. Like the murals in Belfast, which display a breadth of history, images of solidarity with other conflicts, and even pop culture, the complexities of the human experience cannot and do not exist in a vacuum. They are entwined and demand thoughtful and purposeful unraveling in order to effect change.
By Amanda McAllister, Human Rights Fellow, Summer 2015
Amanda McAllister is conducting her Human Rights Fellowship at the University of Ulster’s Transitional Justice Institute.