Closing Keynote: Tom Oliver

NUCHR’s 2013 Conference ended with keynote speaker Tom Oliver, Founder and CEO of the World Peace Festival. Oliver talked about using business models as a catalyst for social change and emphasized the power of the individual in dealing with issues of conflict and peace.

Oliver began with a video from the PUMA.Peace project, which commissioned seven international filmmakers to create work for the 2011 World Peace Festival.

The videos focus on the concept of “peace starts with me,” which Oliver further explained during his talk. With society’s increased global connectivity, individuals now have greater power to make lasting, sustainable change. To facilitate this change, Oliver offered three pieces of advice:

Be one with your energy
“To be peaceful means to be at peace with yourself. Peace starts with inner peace.”
Oliver believes that every person is inherently good, and that conflict is unnatural. He suggested that humans could learn a lot from animals and their natural sense of cooperation.   Following this interpretation, the underlying energy behind conflict is always good, but it is often impeded. Oliver’s personal experience suggests that channeling one’s energy through productive outlets can help achieve inner peace. This serves as the foundation for taking further action.

The ideal vision exercise
“I want you to experience the most fulfilled reality you can, because we’re so used to thinking in terms of Plan B.”
In his ideal vision exercise, Oliver asked the audience to take 2-20 minutes this weekend to write down their ideal visions of what their lives could look like if everything went as ideally as possible — over the course of 5, 10, 0r 15 years. He said, “world peace starts in your mind,” and this vision should include both personal goals and one’s desired contribution to humanity. The objective of this exercise is to motivate people to dream big — the many conflicts in the world cannot be overcome with self-limitation. Oliver described the purpose of this exercise in the following quote: “A good friend of mine said, ‘Most people dream too small.’ And I agree…. If you have a powerful and compelling vision you can share that with others, and they will respond.”

One thousand helping hands
“One thousand helping hands will come to help you realize your goal.”
Oliver believes that anyone can work towards world peace, regardless of their connections, budget, and other resources. He reiterated, “Once you start believing in your ideal vision, others will believe in it too,” and said that his best piece of advice is to “start with one person” when seeking support. Oliver recounted his experience of meeting with one professor, which then opened several doors and helped him attain all of his accomplishments to date.

Oliver ended on a positive note, with the expectation that “peace will become the new green.” He believes that, similar to the bottom-up sustainability movement, consumers’ interest in world peace will inform the actions of big business. While he acknowledges that the world still has a ways to go, Oliver expressed his hope that such a movement will begin shortly. He encouraged the audience to “look where [they] want to go” and to focus on their strengths rather than their weaknesses. Through cooperation and practical idealism, Oliver believes we can make meaningful progress towards peace in the years to come.


Beyond the Blue Helmet: The Human Rights of Peacebuilding

This third and final panel sought to examine the role of NGOs, humanitarian organizations, faith-based, and grassroots organizations in the peacebuilding process in post-conflict settings. The panel featured three individuals with highly diverse backgrounds and experiences relating to peacebuilding as well as general visions as to the tools available to achieve such reconstruction in the aftermath of conflict.


As a federal officer in U.S. government assigned to the National Defense University in D.C., Michael Miklaucic brought a unique perspective based in his experiences not only working directly in the aid field through USAID but also as a government official. Openly expressing his views on conflict and emphasizing that his views did not represent those of the U.S. government, Miklaucic put forth several propositions for anyone wishing to engage in peacebuilding to consider:


There is no such thing as “post-conflict” but rather, a mater of how conflict is expressed. While conflict is inherent in human nature and a natural outcome of conflicting interests, he made the distinction that war, on the other hand, is not inevitable and is subject to human agency.

Miklaucic also emphasized the necessity to never underestimate the law of unintended consequences or the role of human agency. In this, he specified that NGOs should also be wary to adopt an attitude of working in ways that will “do no harm,” as it will often lead to nothing being done.


While many of his comments alluded to the challenges inherent in peacebuilding and reconstruction in any scenario, Miclaucic posited the solution to lie in support for state-building and recognition of the resources available within countries. He advocated for people to recognize in particularly the usefulness of working with the armies of the war-torn countries, which often represent one of the few stable institutions and thus must be part of the state building enterprise.


The second panelist, Libby Hoffman has been active in peacebuilding through the nonprofit sector as President of Catalyst for Peace and co-founder of Fambul Tok, a community-owned reconciliation program in Sierra Leone. Through her work in Sierra Leone, a country that has experienced civil war for 11 years that had defined a new standard of brutality, she came to understand the usefulness of grassroots, local level programs in combatting the aftermath of such devastation. Following the civil wars, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Sierra Leonne granted blanket amnesty to perpetrators of crimes during the war, thus creating a situation in which people often lived next door to those who have committed grave abuses against them or their families.


Catalyst for Peace grew out of the idea that justice must be based at the community level and draw from the local culture and tradition. Fambul Tok, which translates to Family Talk, is an ancient tradition in Sierra Leone of truth-telling and public apology that the local people wanted to bring back.

In talking to the local people and asking what they wanted most, Hoffman saw that people wanted what was broken during the war: community.  They wanted reconciliation and way of celebrating their culture as it was before the war. Fambul Tok is a means of rebuilding peace in local communities outside of the courtrooms or the international institutions. It is about promoting justice where those in Sierra Leone perceived that it must belong: within the communities.


The third panelist, Bukeni Waruzi brought another unique perspective based in a grassroots approach and focused on means of peacebuilding outside of the UN or international courts like the ICC. As a human rights advocate from the DRC who sought to help prevent the recruitment of child soldiers in the Congo, Waruzi ended up joining the video-advocacy human rights non profit Witness in New York.


Similar to Hoffman, his goal was to bring awareness to people’s stories and start dialogues about issues that persisted as a result of the silence surrounding them. He utilized video as a tool to present to the communities and the parents of the children being recruited the situation of what was happening to these child soldiers in the camps.


Waruzi emphasized the need to recognize the importance of such tools as video advocacy and the power of grassroot local organizations to make a difference in the peacebuilding process. The UN is often a last resort for countries in need of actors to maintain peace and security and protection for citizens. But for many of these countries, the protection of civilians does not necessarily occur. In the case of the Congo that contains the largest UN peacekeeping mission and has had the UN operate there for 12 years, there still has not been much dramatic change in the protection of civilians.


According to Waruzi, the best tool to provide this protection and start building peace is not through the UN but through the mandate of the state. National jurisdictions must be the means in which conflict is resolved and the state is restored. Still, as with all other mechanisms and tools available, from state-building to grassroots organizations to UN missions to military aid to state mandates, the solution is never simple. As all three panelists illustrated, the important point is that there is no quick-fix easy solution. Rather, there are many channels and resources through which “peacebuilding” may occur, and each has its benefits and challenges.



Delegates learn about violence interruption from CeaseFire

Yesterday, NUCHR delegates went into Chicago to learn about peace building in action. Delegates traveled to various sites of CeaseFire, part of the larger organization Cure Violence, to learn about the violence interrupter model that Cease Fire has successfully implemented in over 15 communities in Chicago, as well as cities throughout the country. These experiential learning trips were followed by NUCHR’s middle keynote, Tio Hardiman, Director for CeaseFire Illinois and the creator of the violence interrupter initiative

Cease Fire has gained international attention because of its unique approach to dealing with violence–it’s treated like a public health problem. Gary Slutkin, MD, founded Cure Violence, and brought his background in public health to address the social issue of violence. Cure Violence operates under the assumption that violence spreads like a disease, and that to stop it, social norms have to be targeted.

“We believe that there aren’t bad people, just bad behaviors,” Hardiman said in his address.

Hardiman designed the violence interrupter model, in which CeaseFire workers mediate and resolve conflicts in communities in an effort to avoid violent resolutions.

Delegates met violence interrupters and outreach workers during their trips, learning first hand about the communities in which they work and the way they approach gun violence in Chicago. Interrupters emphasized that most violence in communities is defensive, and that it can be stopped by changing social norms. According to the Cure Violence website, “many [interrupters] have a history of involvement with ‘life on the streets.'” Thus, they understand the complexities of living in a violent neighborhood and are in a unique position to be well-known, trusted, and influential in their communities.

Cease Fire has shown to be very effective in the communities in which they work. In 2011, the Chicago neighborhoods with Cease Fire offices saw between 16 and 73 percent decreases in shootings.

We look forward to further collaborations with Cease Fire Illinois, and are grateful for their time and work!

NUCHR Panel 2 – Beyond Enforcing the Peace: The Role of Troops in Reconstruction

Fabienne Hara – Vice President of Multilateral Affairs in the International Crisis Group, former Africa program director at the UN:

Stated that there are no “quick-fixes” when it comes to UN peacekeeping missions, and for that reason, we must keep our expectations low. Institutions like the UN now see peacekeeping efforts as more complex than ever before. We don’t really know how to do peacekeeping and peace building missions on a large scale yet. Most of these conflicts are internal conflicts. Following the Cold War, 617 UN mandates were created to address 27 of the ongoing 44 civil war conflicts at the time. She prompted, what can realistically be expected from UN peacekeeping missions? How much security is enough? The worst thing we can do is to expect “quick fixes” and magic solutions. There needs to be a push within the UN system for better civilian experts so that their expertise can be used in the most effective way possible.


Ambassador Robert Chatterton Dickson – British Consul General, Chicago (2010-present), Joint Head of the Counter Terrorism Department at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, British Ambassador to the Republic of Macedonia (2004-2007):

Spoke on the need for a broad consensus through UN member states and international financial institutions. Sometimes there is a role for troops to play, in more hands-on ways such as disarmament or in scaled-down roles such as ensuring confidence in the peacebuilding mission.


Murray McCullough – Defense Sector Reform at the Department of Peacekeeping Operation (DPKO):

McCullough opened with the statement: In peacekeeping, nobody solves anything. What people do is move the process forward a little bit, and that in itself is successful. You have to keep your expectations low. He claimed that peacekeeping institutions are deeply flawed, but what they are trying to do is right.


Vijay Mehta – President of VM Center for Peace, Founding Trustee of Fortune Forum Charity,  Chair of Action for UN Renewal and co-Chair of the World Disarmament Campaign. He is a global activist for peace, development, human rights and the environment. Some of his books include The Fortune Forum Summit: For a Sustainable Future, Arms No More, and The United Nations and Its Future in the 21st Century:

The pre-conflict stage is the most important, because it reveals what the nature of the situation is. It is difficult to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants. He offered several recommendations for peacekeeping, including: achievable mandates for peacekeeping, one unified program for achieving sustainable peace and using more resources to advance options of soft power. One day, he claimed, the people seeking peace,  much like the individuals attending the conference, will be the majority.

Our first post!!!

On Wednesday October 10th, NUCHR had its first general meeting of the year! This year’s conference topic is “Human Rights and International Peacekeeping: from Military Intervention to Local Anti-Violence Efforts.” While the conference is not until January, NUCHR has other events planned in the interim.

Our group, along with other cosponsors, is getting ready to host Gillian Sorensen, former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations. Ms. Sorensen is currently a senior adviser with the United Nations Foundation, and  plans to speak on the limits and possibilities of peacekeeping, the UN’s current peacekeeping operations, successes and failures, the specific challenges of Syria, as well as the realities of peacekeeping as a UN effort.


henna tattoo from nuchr bonding

After the exec meeting, we welcomed our new general members!! We have so many new members this year, and they were introduced to the conference topic, met with their new committees, and watched a video (courtesy of the German government) about human rights. Afterwards, we all headed over to Ayanna’s place for some NUCHR bonding.