Meeting the peacemakers: Afghan activists learn from Irish experience

February 21, 2012

British Agencies Afghanistan Group, 2/21/12

In many ways Ireland and Afghanistan could not be more different.

But they have one thing in common: a long history of conflict and their peoples’ desire for peace.

In Northern Ireland, grassroots groups have helped to defuse tensions across the sectarian divide, building – and maintaining – peace.

BAAG is taking a group of Afghan activists on a week-long trip to Ireland to learn lessons from its peacebuilders.

The Afghan delegates will attend a peacebuilding workshop organised by BAAG and one of its member agencies, Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, near Dublin in the Irish Republic. It will be chaired by Sue Williams, who has decades of experience in mediation and reconciliation in war-torn countries around the globe. Ahmad Fahim Hakim, a former Commissioner at the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, will act as co-facilitator.

The delegates are also scheduled to meet Northern Irish activists. These range from women’s peace groups to former members of paramilitary organisations who now work to support the peace process and cooperate at local level to defuse conflict and tension. They also use their influence to dissuade young men from joining paramilitary groups.

Among the prominent peacebuilders they are expected to meet is Monica McWilliams, former head of Northern Ireland’s Human Rights Commission. Monica helped set up the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition. She was one of eight Northern Irish political leaders to be awarded the John F Kennedy “Profile in Courage” Award, in 1998, in recognition of their work in negotiating the historic Good Friday Peace Agreement.

The delegates will also be meeting Michael Semple, an Irish national with decades of experience of working in Afghanistan. From 2004-7, he served as Deputy to the European Union’s Special Representative for Afghanistan. Michael, a Dari speaker, is a leading expert on the Taliban, Afghanistan’s Pashtun tribes and Afghan politics.

The Glencree Centre is an Irish NGO devoted to peacebuilding and reconciliation in Ireland and other societies affected by violent conflict. It has been working on peacebuilding in Ireland for over 25 years and has been active in Afghanistan since 2007. It is currently running a course in Peace and Conflict Resolution in six universities in Afghanistan.

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