Tag Archives: peace

Deeper democracy down under

Government of the people, by the people, for the people – seems like a good basic principle for “democracy”. Yet many groups of citizens, in different representative democracies around the world, don’t seem too happy with their current versions of “kratos” in the hands of the “demos“.

Be they UK “Brexit” or Remain supporters, or those voting for or against US President-elect Donald Trump, people on both sides of both arguments seem to agree their governments are serially failing to deliver for the large majority of citizens.

It’s a risky situation for humanity. People’s evident frustrations and anger are readily channelled towards minority scapegoats – a dangerous tactic that unscrupulous politicians employ to our collective peril.

Happily – there are alternative political approaches emerging. They offer more hopeful prospects both for greater harmony in our political processes and for building far wider consensus around the decisions eventually taken.

Carson, a director of Australia’s newDemocracy Foundation, explains how work conducted by her organisation since 2009 has been charting just such an alternative path through real political problems. The radical part is how newDemocracy uses random selection, not elections, to choose its representatives of the people from among everyday citizens. The principle is the same as used for selecting criminal juries.

Doing away with political campaigning and the act of voting for decision makers, or at least the people doing the heavy thinking on a chosen political problem, creates a totally different dynamic to the process. Participants aren’t always looking over their shoulders for guidance from a political party or playing to the crowd based on how they think they might get re-elected. The result, repeatedly, has been the emergence of prudent solutions to previously too-tricky-to-solve problems.

What so far has been pretty much Australia’s gain is now becoming a prospect for Europe’s creaking political systems. Carson says her foundation is looking for partners with whom to run further projects, charting the process all the while and fine-tuning their methods as they go.

She was speaking to journalist, author and democracy campaigner Patrick Chalmers at the Council of Europe’s November 2016 World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg, France.

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Germany and refugees – why so different?

Katja from the French association Playing for Change Occitanie (PFCO) explains what her organisation is trying to do to help Syrian refugees in a rural corner of Southwest France.

PFCO has helped two new arrivals from Syria, recently arrived in France, to make the most of their talent for pottery. They hooked them up with local potters and other people motivated to help their fellow humans, sparking off a dynamic sequence of events.

Their goal is to change the negative image that the media has proffered concerning refugees and show they have a lot to offer.

Katja, a native of Germany, contrasts the tiny number of refugees accepted in France and the UK versus the million plus already taken in by her compatriots.

“I think for Germans it’s more realistic. There are more families that have lost somebody in the war or have been refugees themselves. Even the reunification in the 1990s… It was a kind of refugee situation… you still feel it in Germany.

“All these people that have grown up in East Germany, they have been living with the Communist international solidarity as the main frame of all the education they have lived through. All this reflects the awareness of never fascism again.”

“In Germany, we treat that topic a lot whereas in France, that’s never reflected,” she said.

Katja’s own family became refugees at the end of the Second World War, fleeing ahead of the advancing Russian army from what is today part of Poland.

“If people hadn’t helped them, I wouldn’t been here today.

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Breathing for peace and reconciliation in Liberia

A mindfulness breathing technique born of Buddhism and the Vietnam war is helping peace and conflict resolution in Liberia. Harper Karmon, executive director of the Peace Hut Alliance for Conflict Transformation (PHACT), says the simple practice has greatly helped his organisation’s work with ex-combattants, including many child soldiers, and with war widows and children.

“This training has helped us to be very easy in working with people, helping them regaining their self esteem and reuniting families. Also, most especially, this training has also helped us in making great changes to our lives and our families,” he says.

Karmon was interviewed at Plum Village in southwest France, where he is taking part in the monastic centre’s month-long summer retreat.

Liberia’s civil war spanned two periods of fighting between 1989 and 2003. Almost 150,000 people died, mostly civilians, according to United Nations figures. Of the hundreds of thousands of people displaced, some 850,000 refugees ended up in neighbouring West African countries. PHACT’s work is intended to help heal the great suffering induced by war.

“We feel very strongly that this mindfulness training can make a great impact on the lives of the Liberian people,” Harper added.

PHACT uses a mindfulness training developed by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh to help people live happily in the present moment, using their in and out breaths to sharpen their awareness. The idea is that by developing peace in themselves, people help build peace in the world. Nhat Hanh was exiled from Vietnam in 1973, settling in France.

Contact: peacehutalliance [@] gmail.com – removing the square brackets and spaces to form a complete email address.

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Making peace in times of war – the heroes of Vietnam

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No holiday in Cambodia but rather catharsis

I watched the extraordinarily moving documentary Brother Number One last night, one I’d meant to catch when covering the recent Human Rights Watch Film Festival in London.

It tells the story of a New Zealander who was captured, tortured and executed by the Khmer Rouge. The film’s great success is to use one person’s tale, a foreigner’s what’s more, to guide the audience into the bigger picture of how the Cambodian regime’s survivors and their families are trying to heal their traumas.

The Khmer Rouge and its followers killed nearly 2 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979 according to the Human Rights Watch publicity accompanying the film. In 1978, Kerry Hamill and two friends disappeared without trace while sailing from Australia to Southeast Asia. Via Kerry’s youngest brother Rob we learn how a Khmer Rouge cell attacked their boat, killing the Canadian Stuart Glass and arresting Kerry and the Englishman John Dewhirst.

Film-maker Annie Goldson skilfully skirts the potential trap of giving too Western a slant on what is Cambodia’s story. The risk she took paid off thanks to Rob’s resplendent qualities as a human being, ones that transcend all country and ethnicity.

In Rob’s agonised journey to the Khmer Rouge Tribunal he shows great sensitivity towards the Cambodians who survived the dictators’ reign or lost countless family members to their crazed ideology. In court testimony he addresses directly the Tuol Sleng (S-21) prison camp interogator – Kang Kek Iew or Duch – who oversaw his brother’s killing. We hear many Cambodian victims’ stories along the way.

Rob is brutally honest in showing his own grief as he retraces his brother’s last days, collecting snippets of memory from those who’d seen him in prison. He deciphers on camera the impish coded messages Kerry left to his family in the final “confession” preceding his certain execution.

I have wondered before about the true worth of international trials processes for murderous tyrants and the balance to be struck between revenge and justice. This film left me with a deeper understanding of how trials are vital not just as attempts to right wrongs but also as vehicles for victims to explore, express and honour their grief for slain and tortured family members.

The many victims of the 2003 Iraq invasion deserve just such a process though I fear they’ll never get one. Nor will the families of Cambodian civilians killed by the US war-making that helped the Khmer Rouge rise to power.

War crimes tribunals are as yet limited only to the captured tyrants of geopolitical minnows such as Cambodia. Potential candidates from the world’s more powerful states, such as US ex-president George W. Bush and British ex-prime minister Tony Blair, have only their own consciences to wrestle with for now. More’s the pity.

Thankfully this film was not about such men but rather a rare moment for the victims. It is a fantastic piece of work I highly recommend you find time to watch. Bring tissues.

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Silence is not the answer – Afghanistan behind the headlines

Good to see some people working hard at keeping Britain’s military activities in Afghanistan and other war theatres in the public eye. If you’re not vocally against these actions, you’re silently in favour by default.

This week offers a chance for Londoners to learn more about the work of a couple of them – photographer Guy Smallman and British army veteran Ben Griffin:

THURSDAY 9 FEBRUARY, LONDON: “AFGHANISTAN BEHIND THE HEADLINES” WITH GUY SMALLMAN AND BEN GRIFFIN
7.30pm, Friends House, 173 – 177 Euston Road, NW1 (opp. Euston station).
Co-hosted by Peace News and Quaker Peace and Social Witness.

The following video features former SAS solidier Ben Griffin talking about the three aims of Veterans for Peace UK, which are:

1. Resist war through non-violent action
2. Support persecuted war-resisters
3. Counter militarism in society through education

Can’t say fairer than that.

Ben Griffin of Veterans For Peace UK from Jason Gleeson on Vimeo.

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