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I have just finished spending a month in den Haag, working with the International Peace & Security Institute (IPSI) as a summer staff member and facilitator for their 2013 Hague Symposium on International Justice and Post-Conflict Transitions. Participants at the conference blogged about their experiences, so you can get a first-hand glimpse of some of the topics covered, lessons learned, and experiences gained through their insights. Their experiences were guided by the syllabus, and the efforts of IPSI staff to give them a comprehensive, immersive introduction to international justice. I don’t know of many month-long conferences, but even after 4 weeks, it seems like there is so much more that we could have covered. It was a successful month, and as a staff member, I was fortunate to learn a lot from the participants. They were from all over the world – India, Colombia, Russia, Zimbabwe…Canada, etc. Overall, a good mix.

But this post-script is not just an article about how great the conference was, or all the friends I made, or how easy it is to get around in Europe. It’s a reflection – a reflection on peace & justice in the world. Not in a cliche or overly intellectual way, but a simple way. While we were attempting to teach a small group of people about concepts of international justice, international justice issues were happening all around us. For example:

  1. Syria
  2. Egypt
  3. Zimbabwe
  4. Detroit
  5. Isreal-Palestine Peace Talks
  6. PRISM & Edward Snowden

In particular, the situation in Zimbabwe, with their elections and the controversies that resulted from them, was something I was keenly interested in. Thanks to some superb participants at the Symposium from Zimbabwe, I was given some first-person insights into a little bit of the background of the elections, and Zimbabwe’s history more generally. As you know, eventually Robert Mugabe won a largely peaceful, but compromised election (although the election was upheld in court). Zimbabwe is particularly resource rich, beautiful, and completely messed up by a history of Apartheid, international intervention, and dictatorship.

Similarly, I recently saw this article, and this picture about the situation in the Middle East. There’s also a really good FAQ on Syria, too.

So, the reflection is this – we brought together a group of people to teach them about international justice, reconciliation, conflict resolution, and peace. And yet, despite the fact that we were in the hub of international justice, so much of the world around us was in conflict. We learned about the concepts of justice and peace, we were given first-hand experiences from world leaders, diplomats, miltary leaders, etc. We gained knowledge, but did we gain skills? We grew as individuals, but for what greater purpose?

Now, all of us are scattered around the world, back in school, back behind desks. In some ways, reality sets back in – we go back to our ‘responsibilities’. We get back into the daily grind of whatever life currently has in store for us.

In some ways, it’s a welcome return to the mundane, the tangible – after a month of learning about the sometimes overwhelmingly large task that international justice faces, it is nice to feel productive, even if you’re writing a 2-page report to a nameless person who likely won’t read what you wrote. That, at least, is one thing on a ‘to do’ list, that you can truly check off. Finding an acceptable resolution to the conflict in Syria? Slightly more difficult.

At the same time, for me (and hopefully for the rest of the participants), a fire is lighted. A fire that won’t go out, no matter how many trivialities obscure it from view. It’s a fire that was fueled by being in the company of a group of people that conscientiously directed their attention to making the world a better place. People that take the time to look at the ugly cracks in our global society and have some motivation to fix those cracks.

When minds like that come together, when memories fade, hopefully the inspiration remains. It’s a subtle thing. It’s a commitment to orientating oneself towards more equity, more equality, more flourishing. Those simple life choices that leave people around you better off.

Those simple choices that can change the world.

(Picture of Clingendael Institute courtesy of Emily Shelton)

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