Our History

KEY EXCERPTS FROM THE BOOK

Why are some societies capable of peaceful political transitions while others descend into violence? In this compelling narrative, Beyond Conflict’s founder and CEO Tim Phillips draws from over 25 years of experience on the front lines of peace negotiations around the world to offer lessons for addressing conflict and advancing positive social change. The book features reflections on Beyond Conflict’s programs and history, as well as stories from six experienced leaders, each from a different country — former Czechoslovakia, South Africa, Guatemala, Northern Ireland, Israel/Palestine and Chile. Each expert was asked a simple yet critical question: What does it take to make peace with your enemy and reconcile your society?

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Considerable human, political and financial resources have been devoted to resolving conflict and ending dictatorship over the past century, yet war, violence and repression remain a significant part of daily global experience. Even in places where peace treaties have been signed or dictatorships have fallen, achieving sustainable peace and building effective democracy have proven difficult. This is especially true in deeply divided societies like Israel and Palestine, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Sri Lanka, where competing narratives and a range of regional and global dynamics keep citizens under constant threat of renewed violence and repression.

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As a young boy in communist Czechoslovakia, Jan Urban presented flowers to Nikita Khrushchev, Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara and other dignitaries from socialist countries around the world when they visited Prague. Urban and his schoolmates were trained to believe that “we were part of the communist vanguard—the future was ours.” Yet by the time he was a teenager, this privileged son of committed communists had turned against the regime, refusing to conform to the oppressive rules it imposed on every aspect of daily life. He endured two decades of intimidation and harassment at the hands of the secret police, but he never gave up hope that one day things would change, though he never quite believed that he would see that day himself.

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Few people expected that Apartheid, the system of racial segregation and white supremacy enforced by South Africa’s National Party from 1948 to 1994, would end peacefully. Perhaps even fewer thought that one of the people who would play an instrumental role in its dismantlement would be a privileged member of Afrikaner society who would have likely become president of South Africa had Apartheid not ended. Roelf Meyer, who started out as a contented beneficiary of Apartheid, eventually became one of the key people who convinced President F. W. de Klerk to release Nelson Mandela from prison and then led the negotiating team of the white-minority government in the talks to End Apartheid.

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In a country ravaged by decades of brutal conflict and centuries of discrimination based on ethnicity, class and language, how can citizens find anything in common, let alone create a shared vision for their future? This was the fundamental challenge facing a deeply divided Guatemala during its long civil war, which broke out in the late 1960s and lasted more than 30 years. Though initially a conflict with a clear narrative about exclusion, property and ideology that pitted the ultra-rich landowning class against the country’s destitute peasantry, Guatemala’s civil war transformed into a hydra that dragged every sector of society into a vicious conflict operating on multiple fronts.

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When the peace process began in Northern Ireland in the early 1990s, Monica McWilliams was an academic, writing about the role of women in political conflict. Yet rather than keep her distance and observe the peace talks through the lens of the theoretical, McWilliams took a big risk and decided to make the leap from scholar to politician and bring a new perspective to the two hardened sides of the decades-long conflict. “Formal politics wasn’t something that many of us wanted to spend our days on,” McWilliams recalls. “It was very adversarial, tribal, there was very little productivity and little outcome.” For a long time, she says, “I wanted nothing to do with it. I thought the pure stuff was all done outside. </p>

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The Project began working in Northern Ireland in 1994, when it partnered with the University of Ulster to organize a historic gathering of Northern Ireland leaders from across the political spectrum to explore the possibility of peace and reconciliation with leaders who ended Apartheid in South Africa; negotiated the end to a brutal civil war in El Salvador; and worked to build new democratic institutions and confront the legacy of decades of repression in Eastern and Central Europe.

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By the late 1990s, the Israeli parlimentarian and peace advocate Naomi Chazan was “totally convinced” that many political conflicts around the globe were “more intractable than the Israel-Palestine issue.” At the time, an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement seemed inevitable, within reach. Israelis and Palestinians at all levels of public and private life were regularly meeting with one another, together trying to “find ways of sharing the land, of achieving dignity without eradicating the other.”

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If you close a wound without cleaning it, it will fester and reappear,” asserts the human rights lawyer José Zalaquett Daher, who has long been a staunch advocate of seeking the truth about crimes and abuses committed in both his native Chile and other countries emerging from violence and repression. As a member of Chile’s National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation, Zalaquett grappled with the challenge of finding a balance between truth and justice in order to sustain peace and bolster democracy as Chile emerged from the grim years of the Pinochet military dictatorship.

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In 2003, Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi invited the Project on Justice in Times of Transition to Kosovo to help Kosovar Albanian leaders prepare for negotiations with Serbia and the United Nations over Kosovo’s future status. The Project worked with both Kosovar Albanian and Serb leaders to help them build leadership skills and develop the capacity they would need to achieve stability in Kosovo and across the wider region. Eventually the Project also helped them to tackle key challenges that Kosovo faced as an emerging nation, from the status of minorities to the structure of local government and the status of northern Kosovo.

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After the Dayton Peace Accords were signed in 1995, Richard Holbrooke, the chief architect of the Accords, and United Nations Special Envoy Cyrus Vance asked the Project to help Bosnians from all three communities work toward reconciliation and address the painful, unresolved legacy of missing persons from the war.

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The Project on Justice in Times of Transition has been working with Latin American leaders since its inaugural conference in Salzburg, Austria, in 1992. The Project was invited to assist leaders in El Salvador consider paths to reconciliation following the signing of the 1992 Chapultepec Peace Accords; to address reconciliation and lingering tensions in Nicaragua after the 1990 elections that brought Violeta Chamorro to power; and to work toward strengthening peace in Guatemala following the 1996 peace agreement between the government and the URNG guerrilla movement.

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Following a meeting with Nelson Mandela during his visit to the United States in 1993, the Project was invited to help the new South African leadership with the tasks of strengthening democracy and promoting reconciliation in the aftermath of Apartheid. In 1994, the Project partnered with the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa (IDASA) to organize a historic conference in Somerset West that brought leaders from Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe to share their experiences in confronting the legacies of dictatorship and past human rights abuses with South African leaders who were considering how best to tackle the painful legacies of Apartheid.

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At the invitation of Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe and Sri Lankan Senior Government Peace Negotiator Melinda Maragoda, the Project assisted the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eeelam (LTTE) prepare for peace negotiations. The Project brought leaders from Latin America and South Africa to work with both parties, and the South Africans continue to play an active role in assisting Sri Lanka’s leaders.

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In 2000, Palestinian National Authority President Yasser Arafat invited the Project to help Palestinians prepare for statehood and to train senior government officials in democratic governance and leadership. The Project worked with the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University to facilitate lessons learned from several transitional societies. In 2006, the Project partnered with Tufts University to launch the Iraq Moving Forward Initiative, which resulted in the Helsinki Accords on peace and reconciliation. More recently, in response to the Arab Spring, the Project has been working in Bahrain to help create a space for dialogue between the government and the Shia and Sunni opposition.

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In 2002, the United Nations invited the Project to help it assess the impact of UN peacekeeping operations and to assess whether UN efforts to promote the rule of law were successful. The Project brought local leaders from East Timor, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Cambodia, Afghanistan and other countries where the United Nations had established major missions in the recent past to share their experiences directly with the highest levels of the United Nations through its partners, which included the United Nations Association and the Task Force for the Development of Comprehensive Rule of Law Strategies for Peace Operations (led by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations).

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In 2012, the Project launched a groundbreaking initiative in partnership with the SaxeLab at MIT that explores how the new tools of neuroscience can help us better understand the relationships between the brain, violence and universal human reactions to conflict. Discovering how the brain processes the experience of conflict will allow us to decipher some of the mechanisms that contribute to violence and influence the decision-making capacity of citizens, negotiators and leaders in societies engaged in conflict.

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