Workshop digest: addressing the impunity gap and discrimination for resilient societies

28 February 2022

On Tuesday 2 November, GAAMAC was invited to hold a panel on “Addressing the impunity gap and discrimination for resilient societies” at the Geneva Peace Week.

The Chair Silvia Fernandez de Gurmendi moderated a discussion between distinguished experts from the GAAMAC community.

  • Christie Edwards, Deputy Head, Tolerance and Non-Discrimination, OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR)
  • Velma Šarić, Founder and president, Post-Conflict Research Center (PCRC)
  • Luca Urech, Swiss career diplomat, the Deputy Head of the Peace MENA section , Peace and Human Rights Division of FDFA

The panel was part of one of the main themes chosen for the Geneva Peace Week, “Confronting inequalities and advancing inclusion, peace, and SDG16”.

In her opening remarks, Judge Fernandez reminded attendees that accountability and prevention go hand in hand; and that access to justice for women was particularly important.

Christie Edwards (OSCE ODIHR) next presented the tools and trainings by ODIHR to fight discrimination and hate crime. She highlighted the 2020 Hate Crime Reporting, due to come out a few days after the workshop (and can now be found online here). As thorough as the report aims to be, Ms Edwards emphasized that hate crimes are known to be underreported.

Next, Velma Saric (PCRC) addressed ongoing transitional justice efforts in the Western Balkans. She started by reminding that the region’s history is a “roadmap” for genocidal escalation, and contains lessons for today’s efforts to mitigate risks. Unfortunately, elements conducive to reconciliation are still lacking: common narratives and memorialization, education to civil and moral courage, etc. As an example of innovative initiatives, Ms Saric showcases PCRC’s project on “Ordinary Heroes”, which reached 250’000 citizens of the Western Balkans.

The third speaker, Luca Urech of the Swiss FDFA, drew on his experience in Syria to underline the importance of documentation. Syria is one of the most documented conflict in history, partly due to the number of recording devices, smartphones and computers available. Apart from immediate reporting purposes, documentation serves longer-term purposes as criminal evidence and memorialization material. The FDFA therefore supports these efforts on three levels: with NGOs and individuals involved in documentation; through international investigative bodies such as IIIM; and via a platform bringing these two levels closer together.

After several questions from the audience to speakers, Judge Fernandez recapped the workshop’s main points. Firstly, the importance of collecting data and information, from the ODIHR’s Hate Crime Reporting to the FDFA’s efforts on Syria. They both reinforce the chances of future accountability and create expectations among the public that, sooner or later, crimes will be punished. Secondly, the need to coordinate local national, regional and global efforts: building resilient societies cannot be done on a single level or by one actor alone. Finally, Judge Fernandez reiterated the the importance of training and education, including in creative ways like art, as PCRC does in the Western Balkans.

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