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Just showing posts from December 2014

Practice-Orientated Workshop in Law and Politics Focusing on Conflict Resolution, 19 November 2014 

Posted by Lauren Rees | 0 comments
17Dec2014

On 19 November, 2014 the International Law and Human Rights Unit (Bristol Law School) together with Politics and International Relations (Health and Social Sciences) ran a practice-orientated workshop on conflict resolution for undergraduate and post-graduate students from Law and Politics/International Relations (IR). To ensure that the students would get the most out of the workshop, 15 spaces were offered and these were quickly filled. The event started with an academic introduction to the topic of conflict resolution from two perspectives International Relations and International Law. A 20 minute talk on conflict resolution with International Relations was given by Dr Aida Abzhaparova whilst Dr Noëlle Quénivet explained the methods of dispute settlement in international law in 20 minutes. This part of the workshop included a question and answer session. This in turn laid a good foundation for the practice-centered part of the workshop.
The workshop then was led by Ms Yeshim Harris, co-founder and Director of ENGI, a social enterprise that focuses on the effective and non-violent management of conflict, nationally and internationally. ENGI also provides the secretariat to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Conflict Issues. This part of the workshop lasted for two hours where students were offered ample opportunity to gain and practice skills associated with conflict resolution and dispute settlement. 

The practical part of the workshop focused on a series of exercises in conflict resolution. Throughout the workshop Ms Harris continuously shared her work experience in Cyprus. In fact, she designed and developed the session with the aim to offer students an opportunity to gain the knowledge and skills needed to approach and deal with conflicts and dispute settlements. Students were divided into three groups. Each group included students from Politics and Law. This in turn offered students a chance to interact with each other and gain useful insights from both Politics/IR and Law. It was interesting to observe how students from both disciplines discussed, approached questions and engaged in practical exercises of the workshop. In particular, collaboration and peer-learning were evident during the workshop. Law and Politics/IR students discussed and debated how both legal and political aspects were relevant elements in conflict resolution.

Moreover such interactive exercises helped students internalise the information they were given and apply the knowledge they acquired or refreshed during the first part of the workshop. Students were exposed to the insightful knowledge of Ms Harris who used concrete examples to illustrate various views on conflict. For example students were asked to think about how other people felt about objects that were precious to them and why they considered such objects to be of importance to them. Ms Harris stressed that this exercise showed how mediators could acquire a better understanding of the relevant issues.  Students gained an in-depth understanding of macro and micro perspectives on conflicts and disputes. This helped students appreciate and embrace multiple perspectives and then apply the multiplicity of perspectives in their practical exercises. It was great to observe how students took on board practical advice offered by Ms Harris and managed to shift between perspectives in order to assess the impact of conflict resolution in practice.
In addition to work-related skills and discipline related knowledge gained throughout the workshop, students had an opportunity to participate in what can be called an ‘experiential workshop’, where students were offered an opportunity to embrace the realities and difficulties of resolving conflicts nationally and internationally. The students were asked to map a contemporary conflict (ISIS, Ukraine, Palestine) by identifying all the actors involved in the conflict, attempting to pinpoint the root causes of the conflict and suggesting possible strategies to solve the conflicts. After the group-work students had to present their findings to the audience. This exercise helped students not only practice their presentation skills but also understand how they can persuade others that their strategies towards solving the conflict would work. The real experience of presenting under pressure was particularly appreciated by students.

At the end of the workshop several useful skills practiced were identified by the students. As one of the students observed ‘[i]t was a great opportunity to enhance our skills’ such as networking, presentation, communication, problem identification and solving, decision-making, negotiation/mediation, role-playing, public speaking, group-work, and debating. Skills of advocacy and persuasion were acknowledged as potential skills to be practiced throughout their degrees in both Politics/IR and International Law. Ms Harris also identified and shared with students attributes inherent to a negotiator: patience, positive attitude, experience learning and sharing.
Throughout the workshop students actively integrated their discipline knowledge in solving the tasks of the workshop, clearly making the link between what they study at UWE and what is practiced in the world of politics. ‘Thank you so much for organising an engaging and thought-provoking workshop, it was enlightening to meet Ms Yeshim and further my understanding on dispute resolution’, wrote one student in an email to the organisers. Ms Harris was also impressed with the high quality of knowledge our students possess. It was incredible to see that our students were inspirational to Ms Harris, ‘For me, the day was very inspiring. I could tell the quality of teaching from the way the students interacted. Congratulations to you both for setting high standards’ (Harris, 2014).

Aida Abzhaparova and Noëlle Quénivet

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‘Will Cyprus Ever Be Resolved: Can South Africa Come to the Rescue?’  

Posted by Lauren Rees | 0 comments
17Dec2014
Talk by Yeshim Harris, 19 November 2014

In the evening Ms Harris shared with a wider audience of about 20 students and academics her experience as a mediator in the Cyprus conflict. Conflict resolution is often divided into three tracks that represent the levels at which conflicts are tackled. Track 1 involves military and political leaders, members of governments, Track 2 business and trade leaders, ethnic leaders and the media whereas Track 3 engages with local leaders, community groups, professionals, activities and NGOs. Ms Harris explained that ENGI works at all levels as both macro and micro perspectives are of utmost importance when attempting to solve conflicts. At the moment the focus of ENGI’s work is on trade and business leaders who take a pragmatic approach to the situation in Cyprus.

Ms Harris explained that the peace process in Cyprus has a long history and can be separated into three rounds, none of them having yielded positive results. Ms Harris explained that there are a number of reasons why no peaceful settlement has yet been found in Cyprus. First a top-down approach has been adopted whereby leaders, diplomats and the United Nations discuss issues that are of fundamental importance to the people; yet, the people are not provided any voice in the conflict resolution process. In fact it is unlikely that individuals involved in this process are aware of what the population wants. This track 1 diplomacy seems to have failed. Second the ‘otherisation’ is acute. What Ms Harris means by that is that people are too remote from each other to even try to understand each other. Differences, rather than similarities, are highlighted. As a result there is a clear lack of trust between individuals. Third, the issue is polarised even within the community; there are deep divisions running within the communities which makes it even harder to solve the conflict. Last but not least Ms Harris believes that perhaps the expectations of those involved in the conflict are unrealistic in the sense that they are trying to achieve peace and harmony when peaceful co-existence might be the best that is on the table at the moment.

So why bother with trying to solve the conflict? Ms Harris sees three ‘positive’ elements or developments in the past few years: first, the discovery of hydrocarbons that should lead to both sides understanding the need for cooperation; second, the sad state of the economy in Cyprus that could draw the two sides closer together and third, the geopolitical situation of Cyprus in light of the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. 

Ms Harris also explained that comparative learning is essential to assist in conflict resolution.  She however cautioned against applying the same methods of conflict resolution or the same solutions. In her opinion, it is about drawing upon lessons learned elsewhere, being inspired by such methods and solution and not using a ready-made method or solution. For example she mentioned that members of Sinn Fein and DUP meet groups and communities that are willing to draw upon their own experience in solving the conflict in Northern Ireland. If parties are ready to solve the conflict they need to consider post-conflict restructuring, to build institutions and address past wounds; all elements that can only be satisfactorily dealt with if there is political leadership on both sides. That being said there is also a role for third parties to play in peaceful conflict resolution.

After her presentation Ms Harris answered a wide range of questions relating to the role of religious leaders in the conflict in Cyprus, the way ‘spoilers’ are tackled when a peace proposal is made, the sustainability of peace, the application of the ‘do no harm’ concept in conflict resolution, the readiness of actors to solve the conflict as there is no better alternative than negotiations, and the balance between restorative and retributive justice.

Aida Abzhaparova and Noëlle Quénivet
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