“I killed with a home-made pistol, I shot them at close range; we paraded the corpses around as it gave us the strength to fight harder”, recalled Ronald Reagan, a former Christian child militia leader. His Muslim counterpart, Iskander Slameth, acknowledged, “we were very sadistic”. The BBC World Service Indonesia journalist Endang Nurdin recently reported on Indonesia’s child soldiers, but she did not report from the province of Aceh, where a long and deadly civil war ended in 2005. Nurdin visited the much lesser known town of Ambon, the capital of Maluku province in eastern Indonesia, where children took part in the fighting and killing alongside ‘Christian’ and ‘Muslim’ militia groups. In a documentary published by BBC’s The Fifth Floor, the journalist acknowledged she previously did not know about child fighters in her own country, assuming that they were only part of conflicts on the African continent.
After the ousting of Indonesia’s long-time military ruler General Suharto, and in the wake of democratization, communal conflicts in Maluku province escalated to a local ‘religious war’, killing at least 3,000 people in 1999 – 2002. I analyse the Maluku conflict in my book, “Resilient Communities: Non-Violence and Civilian Agency in Communal War”. My book demonstrates how communities sought to protect themselves in the context of weak and failing security forces, sometimes by building non-violent and resilient communities, and often by tolerating militias in their midst. When communal conflicts escalate to the level of a civil war, they are often fought between heavily armed and well-organized militias. Large-scale communal conflicts have killed thousands in countries such as Nigeria, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Child fighters are a common feature because entire communities are drawn into escalating conflict dynamics and militarize, with militia leaders holding positions of authority and control. One pastor I interviewed recalled how a militia leader intimidated her: “aren’t you willing to give your children for Jesus?”
The legacies of such community militarization and its implications for peacebuilding have rarely been explored. In Ambon, some of the religious leaders who allowed militias to mobilise through their churches and mosques and even blessed the men who went into battle came together in local peace programs after the war. More than a decade after the 2002 peace agreement, they have trained youth leaders and some of the former child fighters to become ‘peace provocateurs’, supporting the region’s fragile peace. Many former child fighters continue to suffer from their traumatic experiences. During the war, they slept in mosques and churches, praised by their communities for their bravery, and received food donated from families struggling themselves to survive. After the war, however, the former child fighters were often shunned and seen as troublemakers. Some of them have become drivers and bus conductors, soldiers or policemen, but others continued life as petty criminals, selling their ability to wield violence to politicians and other ‘big men’. Local peace programs have tried to reach them with counselling and arts programs, offering music and poetry workshops to support emotional healing. Some community and religious leaders seek to support these young men with acceptance and respect to render them less vulnerable to those who may want to mobilise them again for future fighting.
My article on non-violence and local peacebuilding during ethno-religious conflict in the city of Jos in central Nigeria, published in African Affairs, is now available online before print here.
This article analyses violence and non-violence in two almost contiguous neighbourhoods that share ethnic, religious, and socio-economic similarities. It shows that structural factors such as geography, demography, or intervention by security forces do not predict non-violence. Rather, preventing killings was contingent on civilian agency such as leadership, social control over internal youth, and refusal to collaborate with external armed groups. Drawing on narrative interviews, the article explores motivations for violence prevention and finds that knowledge concerning the organization of violence and lived experience in conflict zones were important factors that gave leaders the ability and confidence to persuade mobilized men not to start killings. The article also discusses the gender dimension of local peace, showing how women and men contributed differently to violence prevention.
Here is the link to the timely Launch and Discussion of the edited volume Gender, Peace and Security. Implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (edited by Louise Olsson and Theodora-Ismene Gizelis), which I moderated on 18 September 2015 at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.
- Ambassador Veronika Bard, Permanent Representative of Sweden to the UN in Geneva, on Feminist Foreign Policy
- Ms Ursula Keller, Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC)
- Dr Louise Olsson, Folke Bernadotte Academy
- Prof Theodora-Ismene Gizelis, University of Essex
- Prof Håvard Hegre, Uppsala University
- Dr. Sari Kouvo, European External Action Service
- Moderator: Dr Jana Krause, PGGC, The Graduate Institute
My book chapter Revisiting Protection from Conflict-Related Sexual Violence: Actors, Victims, and Power, has just been published in the edited volume Gender, Peace and Security: Implementing UNSCR 1325, edited by Louise Olsson and Theodora-Ismene Gizelis.
Conflict-related sexual violence has attracted unprecedented research and policy attention. With the adoption of six UN Security Council resolutions and the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, a global framework of protection has emerged. Yet, criticism arose as to what the dominant discourse on ‘rape as a weapon of war’ and a victim-focused perspective might entail for forwarding women’s participation in the work of peace and security – the latter being the primary reason for the adoption of UNSCR 1325 in the first place. This chapter discusses synergies between feminist and empirical research findings and implications for prevention.
My article, ‘A Wealth of Expertise and Lived Experience: Conversations between International Women Peace Activists at the ‘Women Lead to Peace Summit’ preceding the Geneva II Peace Talks on Syria, January 2014’, co-authored with Cynthia Enloe, has just been published in the International Feminist Journal of Politics.
The international research project ‘The Gender Dimensions of Social Conflict, Armed Violence and Peacebuilding’, that I lead and coordinate, held its kick-off workshop for the research period in Indonesia on 3-4 November 2014 at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta. We were delighted to have Judith Large present a keynote on this topic and welcomed a large number of scholars, practitioners and activists from various regions in Indonesia for dialogue and mutual learning.
Subsequently, a two-day research training on gender, conflict and peacebuilding and on field research and interviewing took place with researchers from Aceh, Maluku and East Java.
This project receives funding within the Swiss Programme for Research on Global Issues for Development, a joint initiative of the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. Between 2014 and 2020, researchers from Indonesia, Nigeria and Switzerland will investigate how gender relations link to armed violence, and how international and civil society efforts can strengthen and/or constrain women’s and men’s agency for nonviolent conflict management.
Casualty numbers from conflict zones are notoriously difficult to gather and verify. According to a UN report, as of 10 August, 1,948 Palestinians have been killed, of which at least 1,402 were civilians. An analysis of these numbers by the New York Times found that “the population most likely to be militants, men ages 20 to 29, is also the most overrepresented in the death toll. They are 9% of Gaza’s 1.7 million residents, but 34% of those killed whose ages were provided.” Why are combatant-aged men so over-represented in Gaza’s casualty figures?
Assessing estimates on civilian versus combatant deaths requires understanding of civilian behavior on the ground. A potential explanation other than combatant roles could be that families expect young men to be the first ones to leave shelters in order to care for hurt relatives, gather information, look after abandoned family homes or arrange food and water, as I suggest in a comment to a background analysis by BBC News. Furthermore, one might expect males of combat age to be over-represented in civilian casualty figures because by definition they are seen as potential combatants.
More analysis is needed to discuss and verify these numbers. A gender perspective could shed light on why casualty numbers do not mirror demographic statistics.
For more information relating to the context of international humanitarian law, see also Human Rights Watch’s Q&A on the 2014 Hostilities between Israel and Hamas.
The twin bombings in Jos on May 20 have been very sad news. They took place at the main market and local bus terminal, one of the busiest places in town. They killed many market women and their children as well as firefighters and ambulance men who rushed to the scene to help the wounded. I have passed through this overcrowded area many times during my field research in Jos. The only thing that is comforting after these vicious attacks is that no revenge killings have been reported. Security forces reacted swiftly when angry people started to set up roadblocks, which could have let to killings. But I think the relative calm in Jos is also in no small part testimony to the tireless efforts of many local peace activists who have been working for years to bring down the tensions and avert another major riot. Some of these individuals are truly brave people who risk much when confronting armed and angry men in a traumatized environment.
My report on the conflict in Jos details some of the local violence prevention initiatives and the root causes of the conflict.
One day before the Geneva II Conference on Syria was to start in Montreux/Geneva, the Programme on Gender and Global Change at the Graduate Institute hosted a public roundtable with Nobel Peace Prize Winners Shirin Ebadi and Mairead Maguire as well as Cynthia Enloe and women peace activists from Bosnia, Guatemala, Northern Ireland, Western Sahara and Sri Lanka, in solidarity with Syrian women peace activists. Women civil society representatives from Bosnia, Guatemala, Northern Ireland, Western Sahara, and Sri Lanka shared their experiences on peace activism and reiterated that women and men experience armed conflict differently. They reflected on how the exclusion of women from peace negotiations undermines sustainable post-conflict development.
Cynthia Enloe chaired a roundtable discussion with Syrian women who emphasized that women in Syria engage in everyday peacemaking and reconciliation efforts. These include conflict mediation in communities and coordinating humanitarian relief.
Since the adoption of UNSCR 1325, gender-sensitive peacebuilding has become a norm that states that gender equality can help prevent war, that women need to be protected from gender-based violence, and that women should be participating in peacemaking. In October 2013, the UN Security Council followed up with Resolution 2122 on Women, Peace and Security, which aims to strengthen women’s roles in conflict prevention and resolution. The new resolution emphasized the need to address issues that have prevented the implementation of 1325. It “recognized with concern that without a ‘significant implementation shift’, women would remain under-represented in conflict prevention and resolution, protection and peacebuilding for the foreseeable future”.
International civil society groups, such as the Women’s League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), have lobbied international sponsors of the Geneva II peace talks on the applicability of UNSCR 1325 to the Syria Conflict. Despite support from a number of states, such as the Netherlands, Norway and the UK, for the motion to include women in the peace talks, the UN and the Arab League of Nations decided against their participation.
The podcast ‘Dealing with the Past in Indonesia’ is a recording of a public talk I chaired at King’s College London in December 2013. Prof. John Sidel (LSE) and Mr Paul Barber (TAPOL) provided extensive analysis and commentary on the event that the movie deals with: the 1965/66 mass killings of at least 500,000 alleged ‘communists’ in Indonesia.
One of the most powerful and provocative documentaries, the film shows local gangsters in Medan, Sumatra re-enacting in vivid and sometimes sickening detail the killing of alleged communists during the events that followed former President Suharto’s rise to power in Indonesia in 1965. At least 500,000 people were murdered and up to one million were held without charge or trial, many of them tortured. Since the end of the Suharto regime in 1998, former political prisoners, researchers and human rights activists have started documenting the widespread human rights violations, including crimes against humanity. The movie invites reflection on the perpetrators of mass violence, and on dealing with a violent past in Indonesia and elsewhere.
The documentary ‘THE ACT OF KILLING’ has won many prestigious film prices around the world, including a nomination for the Oscars in the category ‘best documentary’. It also won best documentary at the 2014 BAFTA awards.
A list of important commentaries and reflections on the movie and information on the human rights campaign ‘minta maaf! say sorry for 65’ can be found here.
A brief interview on my new research project.
What is the overarching goal of this project?
We aim to understand how gender relations and armed violence relate to each other in various social conflicts, such as vigilante, communal or insurgent violence, in order to propose policy recommendations on gender-sensitive peacebuilding efforts. …