Belfast, Northern Ireland is not the most instinctual hub for international conflict resolution research. However, it is an important, influential, and symbolic one. I have spent the last two months working on research to support a reparations process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo while living in Belfast. Working towards meaningful and concrete reparations to be implemented in an ongoing conflict in the DRC while living in a post-conflict setting has meant having a first-hand interface with the uncertainty of conflict. The unease of experiencing the very tangible effects of conflict in Belfast – whether it be tension surrounding controversial holidays, expressions of violence from organized groups, flags which demarcate and threaten, or merely the division of neighborhoods – reminds me that solutions to conflict, in order to have meaning and effect, are processes, not mere solutions.
In early June, the Trust Fund for Victims and the Transitional Justice Institute held a meeting to consult experts for the reparations process that the International Criminal Court will be undertaking in the Thomas Lubanga Dyilo case. The choice of Belfast as the locale was purposeful. Belfast, a Western democracy, is still dealing with remnants of conflict, the continuation of harmful traditions, and lack of acknowledgement for losses and human rights abuses. This choice was an acknowledgement of the universality of conflict across cultures, regions, and systems. In human rights law conversations, initiatives, and actions there can be a significant and systematic tendency to “other” conflicts and portray them as somehow different from conflicts that occur in Western democracies. As such, my work has highlighted the core similarities between post-conflict societies and the issues that individuals, communities, and systems have to address as conflicts resolve or digress with fluidity.
Having this opportunity and reminder as I research and support the work of the Transitional Justice Institute has been a practice in humility and an unparalleled opportunity to participate in a process with international and local experts who approach these critical issues of conflict and repair with critical awareness of their own impact and the implications of their perceptions and choices.
By Megan Manion, Human Rights Fellow, Summer 2015
Megan Manion is conducting her Human Rights Fellowship at the University of Ulster’s Transitional Justice Institute.