This post was written by Antinea Ascione, (Trinity College 2012), Summer 2010 intern in WITNESS’ Communications department.

Earlier this month, I attended a summit held by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR). The Peace and Security Summit brought together a great number of policymakers, diplomats, senior officials and experts from across the globe to explore the issue of peace and security in contemporary society.  The speeches and panel discussions served to bring everyone present up to speed on important current security challenges ranging from domestic radicalization and violent extremism to ongoing conflicts and the struggle for peace in places such as Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, and elsewhere. The conference stimulated a great deal of discussion on many issues; one of great interest for me was that of human rights in the context of global peace and security.

On arrival at the summit I assumed that all present would hold the view that peace and violence were mutually exclusive. However, such a naïve perspective was quickly erased when the panel discussion entitled “Old and New Frontiers” was turned over to the audience. While discussing the best way to deal with terrorism, Dr. Sabri Saidam, a senior advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, noted that bullets help resolve nothing. He asserted that western contributions to education in countries perceived as a threat would be the best counterterrorism strategy. Many supported this statement, agreeing that the human rights of the people in such nations should not be marginalized in the name of western national security. Dr Sebastian Gorka, a military affairs fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, opposed this view, informing all that bullets can create space for people to solve problems. Although there were a few shocked faces and one or two gasps at such a remark, the silence made it clear that this hit home for many.

This view of violence for the sake of national security, and thus peace, was reiterated by Tzipi Livni, head of Israel’s Kadima party.  After her keynote address a few audience members denounced Israel’s record on human rights, using the Gaza Strip blockade as an example. The Gaza flotilla raid that left nine dead was also mentioned, as it has been a sore topic for the international community.  Many were curious to know why the siege continues despite urgent requests from the United Nations Human Rights Council to lift it and allow the continued supply of food, fuel and medicine. When asked for a response, Livni informed the audience that Israel considered national security to be of primary importance, above all else.

This complex discussion of human rights and its place in peace and security issues has been ongoing for many years and will continue for years to come. Although many people are sincere in their desire to combat human rights abuses not many are willing to risk their personal security, and that of their fellow citizens, for people from some other nation. This conference reflected the complexity of this issue as it illustrated how the lines between national security, violence and human rights abuses often blur, especially in the face of terrorism. While foreign aid, educational programmes and the like can indeed assist in diminishing foreign threat, they require time before they can prove effective and fail, as a strategy, to protect inhabitants of the country at risk. Thus, many nations view such measures as an accompaniment to the traditional methods of ensuring national security and not a replacement. When one’s national or personal security is threatened, human rights may seem abstract, and thus expendable. This is where technology steps in. Video advocacy and the Internet make it easier to raise awareness for human rights abuses. An actual look at the situation of the people in those oh so distant lands may help many reconsider what price they are willing to pay for national security, and consider other options.

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