Thursday, January 17, 2008

Reflections from Costa Rica on Peacebuilding

Saturday, January 12 my daughter and I took a four and a half hour bus ride from the hustle bustle capital of San Jose to Puerto Viejo. While the ride is long the scenary is awesome! I now know why Costa Ricans love their country so much and why it is a top tourist favorite. The spectacular tree covered mountains, rain forests and valleys were breathtaking. Arriving in Puerto Viejo, one is struck by the fact that this is truly a tourist town. Fortunately, it was not our final destination. Puerto Viejo, is a little bit of heaven on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica and is clearly a favorite of tourists. It has the beaches, warm climate and the sense that the world is far away or at least held at bay until one must return to the world of work.

We stayed at the Tierras de Suenos resort located eight miles outside of Puerto Viejos. I could tell you about the great bungalows we stayed in for five days that enhanced our rejuvenation process. I could write eloquently about the little restaurants and shops we visited in town. I could say how mesmerizing the beaches were and the sunsets. And although I never saw the sunrise, I hear that it is breathtaking. Yes, I slept in whenever possible.

Duty Calls
But while I am in paradise I have come to Costa Rica to write and think about how to claim my role as someone called to the ministry of healing and called to service, and to teach. So in a little tiny outdoor restaurant (that is almost all that exists in Puerto Viejo) my daughter and I order our Costa Rican favorite dish, rice and beans (gallo pinto) and plaintains (plaintonos)with a mango smoothie.

Peacebuilding Reflections
Yesterday I was thinking about Darfur and the madness that seems to go on and on without an end in sight. No one seems to possess the political will, the crediblity among the antagonists, or the social capital to bring this genocide to a halt. I reviewed some of the notes from one of the texts we are using in the course on The Art and Ethics of Strategic Peacebuilding at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago, Illinois titled, The Little Book of Strategic Peacebuilding: A vision and Framework for Peace and Justice by Lisa Schirch to determine if Darfu is just an aberrant case an/or a particularly difficult situation to remediate. Some of the systems and approaches for reducing violence subscribed to by Schirch include the following: legal and judicial systems; state based law and justice; international law and justice; humanitarian assistance; cease fire agreements; military intervention; peacekeeping; peace zones and early warning and response programs. Having identified approaches usually explored for reducing direct violence situations it might be an interesting exercise to re-examine Darfur to see how each of these approaches has been used and what the primary strategies have been. I will write further about my findings and post them.

It seems that it is my destiny in life to talk about subjects that others find difficult and painful, that is, violence against women. But for the purpose of examining the current situation in Rwanda we are forced to remember 1994 and the genocide that lasted for three months from April to June. May we never forget. The Rwandan genocide has become the "worst mass slaughter in recorded history." The genocide not only resulted in the massacre of 800,000 individuals but it destroyed the country's political, economic and social structures. Thus, we are talking about a country that must not only rebuild and reconstruct while it heals from the trauma of a civil war that assumed the form of genocide.

Today, the majority of the Rwandan population is female as a result of the genocide and the slaughter of its males. In 2003 reports indicated that sixty percent of the population of Rwanda was comprised of females. The United Nations estimated at least 250,000 women were raped - most repeatedly and over the course of weeks or months during the 1994 genocide. Most of these women were killed afterwards, but others were purposely allowed to live so that they might give birth to a population of fatherless "un-Tutsi." Ethnic cleansing is a specific type of genocide that has received widespread attention primarily in Bosnia and Rwanda, although it is not a new phenonmenon. The 1947 exodus from India that resulted in the establishment of Pakistan and India's partition was precluded by extreme incidents of violence that included 200,000 cases of rape cited by Bangladeshi sources that result in women giving birth to thousands of "war babies"(Mattie K. Pennebaker. The Will of Men: Victimization of Women During India's Partition). Susan Brownmiller purports that the number of women raped during the exodus is over 400,000. In Efforts by women activists and their allies have finally resulted in the United Nations declaration of rape as a war crime.

According to AVEGA, a Non-Governmental Organization, that is comprised of genocide widows, 70% of women who survived the rapes in Rwanda- and many of their children - now have AIDS.

Women's Roles in Genocide
If we harbor any mystical beliefs that women are immune to aggression and acts of war then the Rwandan genocide might perhaps serve as a wake up call. Josephina Mukahkusi, a genocide survivor whose life was forever changed when her five daughters, two sons and her husband were killed in the Rwandan genocide reminds us that women can be equally aggressive and capable of dismissing pre-existing relationships as depicted in her haunting words, "The Hutu women looted after their husbands killed. . . Many of those women were my friends. We were godmothers to each other's children."

The Role of the Faith Community in Peacebuilding Efforts
While reading about the tragedy in Rwanda I was horrified to discover that some clergy persons, including nuns and other religious leaders participated in the atrosities in Rwanda. One report in retrospect by a Catholic source determined that the nationalism among its clergy in Rwanda was so pervasive and that the theological training had not been sufficient to uproot the nationalism which when triggered allowed these Catholic nuns and priests to identify not as men and women of God but Tutsi and Hutu's.

Let us now contrast these sad betrayals by persons of faith in Rwanda with contrasting and inspiring examples from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The war being waged in DRC is perceived as a "forgotten war" to most people around the world. However, the Congolese people have very much felt the devastating presence of the war and its subsequent losses. To date, the war, starvation and disease have caused the death of 3.9 million people. Not only is DRC an example of the faith communities positive involvement but its use of important criteria for peacebuilding, that is, understanding the local context and monitoring. In the instance of the United Methodist Church and other clergy they reviewed the findings of United Nations Security Council. One of the observations was that "quick impact projects" could help break the cycle of conflict. In actuality the report made several recommendations that included the following: 1) arms monitoring, tohalt the flow of illegal arms; 2) breaking the dependency link between conflict and armed groups with quick impact projets, building hospitals, schools, clinics, roads, and supporting farming; and 3) cooperation and confidence building measures. So clearly, some discernment on the part of church leaders resulted in the identification of "quick impact projects." Thus the church leaders in collaboration with the townspeople helped to rebuild the town. In adddition, they have been willing to speak out on behalf of peace even when it meant placing themselves at risk. Church leaders have organized small groups of antagonists who could speak to one another. In 2005, the government requested that a larger peace conference be organized with the warring groups. This effort was facilitated by the Bishop.

Working to creat a just and sustainable peace is important work and thus comprises a critical component for faith communities. May we be the hands and feet of the Almighty!
Amen and Blessed Be! Rev. Dr. Qiyamah A. Rahman

To learn more about these scenarios, go to the following websites:
International Women's Democracy Center -

Democratic Republic of Congo

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