Ot­tawa’s Cen­tre for Global Plu­ral­ism hon­ours win­ners

The Globe and Mail (Atlantic Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - SALMAAN FA­ROOQUI

Kenyan me­di­a­tor Alice Wair­imu Nder­itu is one of three peo­ple re­ceiv­ing a Global Plu­ral­ism Award for her ef­forts in build­ing an in­clu­sive so­ci­ety.

The Global Plu­ral­ism Award hon­ours three peo­ple around the world for their ef­forts to build an in­clu­sive so­ci­ety in their com­mu­nity. For­mer prime min­is­ter Joe Clark, who chaired the awards com­mit­tee, said that the va­ri­ety of ap­pli­ca­tions broad­ened his own def­i­ni­tion of plu­ral­ism, and high­lighted the need for plu­ral­is­tic so­ci­eties.

“Ten­sions are ris­ing in the world,” Mr. Clark said. “There needs to be an em­pha­sis on the ways those ten­sions can be ad­dressed, and re­spect for dif­fer­ences should be en­cour­aged.”

The se­lec­tion com­mit­tee re­ceived ap­pli­ca­tions from 43 coun­tries and trav­elled to many of the ap­pli­cants’ coun­tries to see what kind of im­pact their hu­man­i­tar­ian work had made.

“There were 230 can­di­dates from 43 coun­tries,” Mr. Clark said. “We bore in mind that we wanted our own se­lec­tions to re­flect that va­ri­ety. The three prize win­ners and seven hon­orary men­tions gives some sense of the va­ri­ety of ap­pli­ca­tions.”

This is the first year that the Ot­tawa-based Cen­tre for Global Plu­ral­ism has given the awards. The jury of seven in­ter­na­tional mem­bers – which also in­cluded Ar­gentina’s for­mer for­eign af­fairs min­is­ter, Dante Ca­puto, and Cal­gary mayor Na­heed Nen­shi – judged ap­pli­cants on their im­pact on their com­mu­nity, au­then­tic­ity and in­no­va­tion in how they tack­led con­flict.

The three win­ners used the val­ues of plu­ral­ism to break apart di­vi­sions of race, gen­der, eco­nomic sta­tus and tribal con­flict.

The win­ners in­cluded a Kenyan me­di­a­tor who bat­tled gen­der norms and re­solved con­flicts across Africa, an Australian lawyer who worked to shift pub­lic opinion on mi­grants and a Colom­bian lawyer who would heal wounds in his com­mu­nity af­ter an at­tack that killed dozens of his fam­ily mem­bers. Win­ners will re­ceive their awards in Ot­tawa on Nov. 15.

Alice Wair­imu Nder­itu

When Alice Wair­imu Nder­itu goes to me­di­ate con­flicts in an un­fa­mil­iar re­gion, she pays close at­ten­tion to how the lo­cals dress. Then she goes to a tai­lor, and gets a gar­ment made that makes her fit in seam­lessly. Her rea­son­ing isn’t fash­ion – it’s be­cause if her out­fit goes unnoticed, it’s one less thing to make men re­mem­ber that she is a woman and an out­sider.

It’s just one of the ways that Ms. Nder­itu has had to put ex­tra ef­fort to suc­ceed as a con­flict me­di­a­tor in Africa, where such a role is usu­ally filled by men.

Ms. Nder­itu says she was al­ways told that men were the peo­ple who started con­flicts, so they nat­u­rally should be the ones to end them. But she knew that in­clud­ing all types of peo­ple was the best way to ac­tu­ally solve is­sues.

“I keep see­ing knowl­edge gaps be­tween the men and women that we must fill. We need to train them, they need ex­pe­ri­ence,” said Ms. Nder­itu, 49. “I want women to feel they’ve been heard.”

A Kenyan na­tional, Ms. Nder­itu has worked to resolve tribal con­flicts in South Su­dan, So­ma­lia, and in her home coun­try. But some of her most ex­ten­sive work has been in Nige­ria.

Decades of slav­ery, ex­ploita­tion and colo­nial­ism had fos­tered a sense of mis­trust in the coun­try’s Kaduna re­gion. The size of the con­flict was stag­ger­ing: There were 29 dif­fer­ent tribes in the area, each brought six mem­bers to the con­flict res­o­lu­tion process, which was mod­er­ated by Ms. Nder­itu.

Af­ter years of work to try to heal their re­la­tion­ship, fight­ing restarted only three months af­ter Ms. Nder­itu left. She re­turned to spend months more to try to cre­ate a peace that would last.

Fi­nally, she says, the groups have kept their peace since she last fin­ished her work there.

“It feels like heaven,” Ms. Nder­itu said. “I go to bed every night and say, ‘Thank you God.’ ”

Her be­lief that the peace process must be in­clu­sive has led to an­other side of her work. With the prize money that she’ll win from her award, Ms. Nder­itu hopes to build a data­base of women me­di­a­tors.

The data­base would be ini­tially made up of 30 Nige­ri­ans and 20 Kenyans, she says. The women could, like her, me­di­ate in the op­po­site coun­try. That kind of data­base is im­por­tant, she says, be­cause no such re­source cur­rently ex­ists to find qual­i­fied women to do con­flict res­o­lu­tion work.

Ms. Nder­itu wound up win­ning the plu­ral­ism award not only be­cause of her ef­forts to resolve tribal con­flicts through­out Africa, but her ef­forts to bring women into the peace­mak­ing process.

Or­ga­ni­za­tions like the United Na­tions of­ten try to in­clude women in skilled roles through­out Africa, but she says there’s also a lack of op­por­tu­nity for those women to be­come prop­erly qual­i­fied. Af­ter work­ing to resolve the con­flicts of so many dif­fer­ent African peo­ples, Ms. Nder­itu now looks to show other women that they, too, can do the kinds of im­por­tant work that she’s done.

“Peo­ple keep say­ing, ‘Oh, you are the only woman at the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble,’ ” Ms. Nder­itu said. “I want to make that state­ment ob­so­lete.”

Leyner Pala­cios Asprilla

Lhim eyner his the lo­cal val­ues Pala­cios church of plu­ral­ism. Asprilla for help­ing teach can credit In his home­town of Bo­jaya, Colom­bia, where it’s 11,000 res­i­dents are split be­tween Afro-Colom­bians and the In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties, Mr. Pala­cios was able to ex­pe­ri­ence both sides of life in his teenage years when his priests took him to dif­fer­ent parts of town as part of their work.

“As I was grow­ing up, be­cause of my [priests’] work, I al­ways vis­ited In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties,” said Mr. Pala­cios, whose fam­ily was Afro Colom­bian. “As I grew up, I re­al­ized how th­ese peo­ple also lived in poverty ty with lack of ac­cess to health and

ed­u­ca­tion.”

That un­der­stand­ing of how both of his town’s peo­ples had the same strug­gles proved to be in­stru­men­tal in spark­ing change af­ter years of civil con­flict be­tween rebel groups in Colom­bia.

In 2002, a bru­tal fight be­tween the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces of Colom­bia (FARC in its Span­ish acro­nym), a Colom­bian rebel army in­volved in a decades-long civil con­flict, and other para­mil­i­tary forces would rav­age not only his com­mu­nity, but an over­whelm­ing part of his fam­ily. FARC bombed a church dur­ing the fight­ing, killing 79 peo­ple. More than half of the vic­tims were in­fants, and 32 of the vic­tims were his own fam­ily.

The town of Bo­jaya had tried to voice their griev­ances about the decades-long vi­o­lence to the Colom­bian gov­ern­ment, but with each of the town’s 50 eth­nic com­mu­ni­ties speak­ing out on their own, their words car­ried no weight.

Mr. Pala­cios un­der­stood that if he could bring the dif­fer­ent groups to­gether and unite the voices of the In­dige­nous and Afro-Colom­bian peo­ple, maybe they could fi­nally be heard.

More than a decade later in 2014, Mr. Pala­cios co-founded the Com­mit­tee for the Rights of Vic­tims of Bo­jaya, a group that would col­lec­tively rep­re­sent his en­tire town. As a me­di­a­tor be­tween the town’s two ma­jor eth­nic­i­ties, he was able to get the two groups to fi­nally trust each other.

It was a dif­fi­cult task, he said, be­cause the two groups spoke dif­fer­ent lan­guages, had dif­fer­ent cul­tures and lived in dif­fer­ent parts of town. It was also dif­fi­cult be­cause FARC had used their dif­fer­ences against them.

“When the mas­sacre took place, the paramil­i­taries told the In­dige­nous pop­u­la­tion that the blacks were to be blamed,” said Mr. Pala­cios, 41. “The armed groups just wanted to di­vide the peo­ple … they started to put fam­i­lies against each other.”

To mend th­ese wounds, Mr. Pala­cios was able to get the town’s dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties to ac­tu­ally meet in a phys­i­cal place and talk out the sit­u­a­tion. He ul­ti­mately won the award for plu­ral­ism be­cause of his abil­ity to bring so many of his town’s peo­ple to­gether to fi­nally make a dif­fer­ence.

To­day, af­ter years of the com­mu­nity voic­ing their grief to­gether, Mr. Pala­cios has been able to in­cite real change. FARC re­cently ac­knowl­edged the role they played in the mas­sacres and the gov­ern­ment has also taken the re­spon­si­bil­ity of prop­erly iden­ti­fy­ing and ex­hum­ing the bod­ies of those that died in the church at­tack.

Mr. Pala­cios says that their work is nowhere near fin­ished, but it has been a promis­ing start.

“They will be able to bury their loved ones, and they’ll be able to to it ac­cord­ing to their own tra­di­tion,” Mr. Pala­cios said. “That will help to be­gin healing spir­i­tual wounds.”

Daniel Webb

Daniel Webb’s work is in­spired by two things: a deep-seated be­lief that ev­ery­body de­serves ba­sic de­cency and re­spect, and an opinion that de­tainees in Aus­tralia’s off­shore de­ten­tion cen­tres have been de­nied their ba­sic rights.

As a hu­man-rights lawyer, Mr. Webb has worked for five years to end the de­tain­ment of thou­sands of asy­lum seek­ers at Aus­tralia’s off­shore de­ten­tion cen­tres and to pre­vent their de­por­ta­tion al­to­gether.

Since 2013, he says the Australian gov­ern­ment has ac­tively tried to ward off mi­grants who are seek­ing asy­lum by boat. The gov­ern­ment an­nounced that year that asy­lum seek­ers would be de­tained in­def­i­nitely at de­ten­tion cen­tres such as Manus Is­land, a for­mer naval base in Pa­pua New Guinea.

“On a global level, it’s ut­terly coun­ter­pro­duc­tive,” said Mr. Webb, 33. “If every coun­try in the world had a sin­gle-minded fo­cus on de­ter­rence, then peo­ple flee­ing per­se­cu­tion would be left with nowhere to go.”

Mr. Webb has vis­ited the cen­tres mul­ti­ple times, and de­scribes the con­di­tions as jail-like. His first visit came af­ter an asy­lum seeker was killed. He de­scribed the sit­u­a­tion there as in­hu­mane, with re­ports of vi­o­lence, sex­ual as­sault, sui­cide and med­i­cal ne­glect ram­pant in the fa­cil­i­ties.

“But the thing that cause the most an­guish was the un­cer­tainty,” Mr. Webb said, adding that the de­tainees he spoke to de­scribed it as men­tal tor­ture for them to have no idea what would hap­pen next, or when it would hap­pen.

Many of the mi­grants came from coun­tries such as Burma, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and parts of Africa.

Mr. Webb won the plu­ral­ism award not only be­cause of his ef­forts to free those mi­grants, but be­cause of the im­mense chal­lenge that it was to change pub­lic per­cep­tion about the mi­grants.

Po­lit­i­cal wran­gling over the is­sue meant that the pol­icy of hold­ing mi­grants in off­shore de­ten­tion cen­tres was ac­tu­ally pop­u­lar among Australian cit­i­zens be­cause they’d been painted as smug­glers and crim­i­nals, rather than refugees.

Mr. Webb says chang­ing Australian opin­ions came down to how you po­si­tioned the is­sue.

“Fun­da­men­tally this is­sue is about peo­ple, and when­ever we are able to make this de­bate about peo­ple … the pub­lic opinion shifts,” Mr. Webb said.

Over years of work, Mr. Webb has been able to spark ac­tual change. Be­yond chang­ing peo­ple’s per­cep­tions, he has also man­aged to tem­po­rar­ily bring around 400 de­tainees into Aus­tralia for med­i­cal treat­ment. But their sit­u­a­tion is un­cer­tain and by no means per­ma­nent.

Mr. Webb says there’s still a large amount of work to be done. The Australian gov­ern­ment closed the Manus Is­land cen­tre Oct. 31 and cut off all power, food and wa­ter, but sev­eral hun­dred refugees have re­fused to move to al­ter­na­tive ac­com­mo­da­tion, say­ing they aren’t safe. Be­fore the clos­ing, the United Na­tions High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees had called the sit­u­a­tion a “loom­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian emer­gency” and protests across Aus­tralia have since called for the refugees to be brought to Aus­tralia.

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