By Gianluca D’Elia
Two Rider students had the opportunity to attend an intensive peacemaking workshop with the Transitional Justice Institute (TJI) at Ulster University in Jordanstown, Northern Ireland, from June 22-26.
Sophomore global studies major Rachel Lemonick and sophomore political science major Lilly Miller spent the week learning about international law and human rights in societies emerging from conflicts, and discussed their experiences at a teach-in with the Political Science Department on Nov. 17.
Northern Ireland is still emerging from the Troubles, a time of political conflict from the 1960s to the late 1990s between Unionists, who were mostly Protestant and considered themselves British, and Nationalists, who were mostly Roman Catholic and considered themselves Irish.
“Civil issues between citizens can last generations, even if people didn’t live through them or suffer from them,” said Miller. “People hold so tightly onto their pain and memories.”
Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland are still separated by tall gates and fences to prevent violence and the throwing of bricks and Molotov cocktails into one another’s communities.
“When we were on tours, there were little Protestant kids throwing around stuffed animals, banging on bus windows, sticking their tongues out and telling us to leave,” Miller recalled. “The issues are still fresh in their minds. Violence is so common in Northern Ireland and youth become so involved with these issues even though it’s not something they should be so passionate about.”
Miller and Lemonick also learned that women are underprotected in international law.
“International law isn’t binding. There are treaties between states and they hold each other accountable,” Lemonick said. “And if they don’t follow the rules, there’s no guarantee anything is going to happen. The aftermath of World War II was motivation for European countries to establish human rights laws. The primary actors in these states were mostly men. So where are the women? Are the women even included? Women did not have representation in the legal framework of reparations.”
Through reparations, governments try to help their people recover from the damage left by wars and political conflicts.
“After conflicts, reparations involve recognition of what victims went through,” Lemonick said. “The first step in getting over something for a victim is recognition. Reparations guarantee recognition, but there are problems in reparations. Compensation is in proportion to harm. So how do you tell a person that someone’s harm is worse than another’s?”
A lack of laws on conflict-related sexual violence is a problem for places like Northern Ireland that are going through a transition period.
“There has to be a conviction in order to get reparations,” said Lemonick. “Since laws on sexual assault are vague, cases get brought into courts but there are not always convictions. Victims have to rehash everything they went through just to get nothing.”
Miller said that “in some cases, women were collecting firewood when they were attacked by soldiers.
“The best way to solve that issue was moving the firewood closer to their homes so they wouldn’t have to venture out where they couldn’t protect themselves,” she said.
The problem does not just affect women, though. Lemonick and Miller said male victims are completely ignored in international law.
“Men would be forced to gang-rape homes,” said Miller. “It’s not a choice for them. So should they still get reparations? Are they truly innocent?”
Miller said the government does what it can to repair its community and try to make peace among its people — that is what the whole concept of transitional justice is all about.
“The most important thing I learned is that there are men and women working every day to combat this issue,” Miller said. “Spreading awareness is the best thing you can do at this point to change these societal norms and international commonalities.”