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23 April 2010, Cambridge

The 5th Annual Tsai Lecture Symposium on Prevention of and Response to Mass Violence and Genocide
Between Conflict Prevention and Peace Building: Evaluating International Responses

Sadako Ogata
President, Japan International Cooperation Agency

1. Introduction

Warm greetings to all participants of the fifth annual Tsai lecture and to the Harvard University Asia Center. I wish to extend particular congratulations to you for dedicating the Symposium on Prevention and Response to Mass Violence and Genocide in Asia. The overall situation in Asia today is brighter than ever as Southeast Asia becomes an important source of growth with deepening ties among China, India, Japan, Korea and the rest of the developing world.

I am grateful to Dr. David A. Hamburg for advising me to participate in this symposium. Unfortunately he is not present today, but he is undoubtedly one of the outstanding thinkers committed to the issue of the prevention of mass violence and genocide. I recognize his contributions over the years, especially the deep insights and ideas brought together in his latest book "Preventing Genocide: Practical Steps toward Early Detection and Effective Action."

I wish also to take this occasion to express my appreciation for the many important opportunities for collaboration and stimulation that Harvard has given me over the years, and particularly for granting me the Honorary Doctorate of Law in l994 and the Great Negotiator Award in 2005.

2. Responding to Humanitarian Crises as UN High Commissioner in l990's

Let me begin by going back to my personal experiences to humanitarian crises.

In January 1991, I assumed the position of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in l989 followed by the end of the Cold War, I understood that mine would be largely a refugee settlement mission, consisting of repatriation and reintegration. While there were cases of peaceful refugee return and social and economic reconstruction, I had not foreseen that the aftermath of the Cold War would also cause more diverse and complicated humanitarian crises, due to the break up of existing political structures and colonial administrations.

The first cases to cite were the more straight forward return and refugee resettlement in Indo-China, Central America and southern Africa. The second cases derived from the disintegration of federal states such as the Soviet Union that broke up to form fifteen independent states, and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia that became five independent states after a period of fierce Balkan wars. The third derived from world-wide decolonization process particularly in Africa that resulted in liberalization movements and armed conflicts at regional and national levels.

In the course of the post Cold War developments, what had changed was the nature of war itself. The new paradigm of war was no longer wars among states, but wars among the people, or more acutely, among people within states. The causes underlying the threat they faced were based on ethnic, tribal, communal and various other social divisions. No international mechanisms existed to respond to the security needs of the new types of conflicts. In l992, I was invited for the first time, as head of a humanitarian agency, to brief the UN Security Council on the Balkan conflict, state break ups, ethnic cleansing and the horrifying situation of the victims. Since then, I repeatedly had to return to the Security Council to gain political support for the protection of the victims. The decade of the l990's was characterized by internal conflicts, for which the United Nations, not only the Security Council but also other bureaus, were not adequately equipped, both in terms of their mandate and in their operational practice.

3. Cases for illustration

a) Cambodia

Cambodia was the most serious case of mass violence and genocide in Asia. Due to the Indochina --- Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia --- wars of liberation that resulted in the victory of Communist forces. More than 3 million people fled to neighboring countries. A fierce war continued from 1970 to 1989. The 4-year Khmer Rouge domination in Cambodia caused the biggest genocide. Pol Pot launched a brutal campaign to rid the country of foreign influences and to establish agrarian autarky. People were forcefully displaced from the cities. More than 1 million people were said to have died from execution, starvation and disease.

After 20 years of turmoil, the Paris Peace Accords were concluded by all the hostile groups in October 1991, and the UN Transnational Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) was organized with full authority for peace-building and reconstruction in 1992. The UNTAC facilitated disarmament, demobilization, and repatriation of refugees from Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries. These efforts led to the successful national election in March 1993. UNHCR contributed to refugee return and prepared the UN led elections and the closure of the refugee border camps. It is my understanding that the Cambodian settlement represented one of the best practices of peace-making, peace-building and reconstruction initiated and implemented by the UN.

b) Balkan

The breakup of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia brought to the open, the historical power struggles among the three main ethnic groups of Serbs, Croats and Muslims. It started in 1991 with the declaration of independence by Slovenia. The small and ethnically homogeneous Slovenia won its independence with relative ease, but when Croatia followed, the Yugoslav Army and Serb paramilitaries rapidly moved to seize control of Croatian territory. Croats were expelled from areas that fell under Serb control, while Serbs were forced out of their homes by Croatian forces. When Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence in 1992, against the opposition mostly of the Serb population, Serbian paramilitary forces moved into the eastern part of the republic and began killing and expelling Muslims and Croat residents. As violence spread throughout the republic, it brought about a serious situation which became known as "ethnic cleansing."

UNHCR was given the lead humanitarian role to protect and bring relief to some 2.7 million victims amid violent conflicts. In terms of the scale of operation, complexity of conflicting interests and the viciousness of the means employed --- ethnic cleansing ---, it was the most dire experience that UNHCR had ever undergone.

With the conclusion of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, known as Dayton Agreement, the efforts for peace-building and reconstruction started. UNHCR undertook the reconstruction of infrastructure --- building houses, repairing schools and providing inter-entity bus lines---, and facilitated reconciliation between returned refugees and inhabitants.

c) Rwanda

Rwanda had a complex history of colonialism as well as ethnic and social tensions. Since colonial times, the country was ruled by powerful chiefs, mostly Tutsis. Deprived of political power, the Hutus challenged the Tutsi led domination and became increasingly supported by the Belgian administrators. Tensions grew the highest between the Tutsis and Hutus after the independence of Rwanda in 1959 and the ensuing legislative election when the Hutu party won by a wide margin. Because of the growing tension and confrontation, a large number of Tutsis left Rwanda to neighboring countries. Over the next twenty years, the refugees made repeated attempts to return to Rwanda which resulted in provoking renewed violence and further refugee outflow. While peace was being negotiated in 1994, the shooting down of the presidential plane caused an all out violence that erupted in Rwanda. Genocide followed with the exodus of more than one million and a half Hutus from Rwanda. Large refugee camps were set up in Congo and Tanzania.

When the repatriation of Rwandan exiles started in 1994, with attacks on the refugee camps in Congo, the return itself had to be carried out on an emergency basis. The Rwandan government insisted that a quarter of the entire Rwanda population consisted of returning refugees, and therefore had to be addressed by UNHCR and the humanitarian agencies on emergency terms. UNHCR had to simultaneously carry out humanitarian and reconstruction work. Immediate solutions had to be found to meet the shortage of schools, equipment, teachers and funds. To make repatriation sustainable, UNHCR had to examine the circumstances and causes of the Rwandan conflict and directly address the underlying problems. In short, our contributions had to aim at rebuilding Rwandan society, while advancing national reconciliation.

4. Seamless Transition from Humanitarian Assistance to Reconstruction

Having spent ten turbulent years facing the challenges of protecting refugees, internally displaced persons and other victims of conflicts and insurgencies of various kinds, I became intensely conscious of the existing limits of working exclusively on the humanitarians frontlines. In searching for more effective means to confront the impending crises, I recognized the need to take action in at least two areas. The first was to deal with improving the transition period between emergency humanitarian assistance and the peace building reconstruction operations that follow. The second dealt with the need to identify a more innovative approach to resolve human confrontations.

As to accelerating the transition from humanitarian assistance to reconstruction efforts, conscious efforts have taken place. Through serious endeavors between humanitarian and development agencies to fill the existing gaps, concerned organizations have begun to take concrete steps.

In the transition phase from conflict to peace, early and comprehensive social and economic reconstruction and development activities play crucial roles. Especially necessary infrastructures must be built to enable the co-existence among diverse elements. While humanitarian organizations are aware of the most basic requirements needed by victims, development agencies have larger resources and greater management expertise.

The difficulty lies in the reality of a "gap" that exists between the humanitarian and development operations. They lie first, in the identification of priority action, second in the operational speed, and third in the sources of funding. While humanitarian agencies tend to plunge into immediate action, development agencies seek to identify and ensure the existence of functioning governments as counterparts to carry on long-term reconstruction and development.

I recall how desperate I was in trying to convince development partners to more swiftly enter the post conflict operational scene. I was able to convince James D. Wolfensohn, the then president of the World Bank to address the existing problem of this "gap." A rather unusual conference took place at the Brookings Institution in January 1999. It was the first meeting to address the "gap."

A lot has happened since then. At the first international reconstruction meeting for Afghanistan that took place in Tokyo in 2002, humanitarian and development agencies sat together to work out a strategy. I felt very encouraged that the 6 million Afghan refugees assisted by UNHCR in the neighboring countries, were now prepared to return home, and a more structured and organized international approach seemed to be in place. In 2005, the United Nations itself decided to set up an intergovernmental Peace-building Commission and a Peace-building Support Office within the UN Secretariat.

My own office, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the Japanese official development assistance agency at which I assumed the presidency in 2003, has also concentrated on filling the "gap." In Afghanistan, for example, when the international community confronted the challenges of peaceful return and resettlement of returning refugees, JICA, became actively engaged in undertaking social programs of education and health. It also started rural development projects, growing rice and improving irrigation systems. As 80 % of the population in Afghanistan live in rural areas, agriculture stands as key to the recovery and growth of the Afghan economy.

Another large program that JICA has concentrated is the reconstruction and rebuilding of metropolitan Kabul. This capital city stands as the symbol of Afghan unity and integration. A few weeks ago, I visited Afghanistan to finalize the agreement with the government on launching the Kabul Metropolitan Area Development Project. We expect that through this sizeable urban development project, job opportunities will be created for a wide range of the population including those demobilized or repatriating from abroad.

Although today the security situation in Afghanistan is a source of grave concern, development operations are indispensable for the growth of the Afghan economy and the stability of the country as a whole. Peace and prosperity for the Afghan people may still be a long way to go. At least at the humanitarian and development front, a comprehensive collaborative system seems to be in the making.

5. Preventive Measures: "Imagine Coexistence"

Although some changes have come through in the international efforts to deal with post-conflict rehabilitation and reconstruction, has any improvement been found on preventing or reducing the suffering of victims themselves?

In the early days of transition from conflict to peace, the issues of justice and reconciliation loomed large in the minds of many victims who face the problem of return. Would they leave their places of origin forever and migrate abroad? Or would they return home and face neighbors who stood on different fronts, or even persecuted or fought against them?

The repatriation issue in the Balkan conflict posed enormous challenges to UNHCR as we believed that "return" was often the only viable solution, even with serious practical hindrances. In escaping the threat of "ethnic cleansing," many moved out of their homes and lived in the homes of others. Everyone was virtually in some one else's home, needing to remove the occupant who also had to remove the occupants from their homes. The repatriation itself faced tremendous human threats and confrontation.

At UNHCR, we were all desperately in search of new ideas when I happened to encounter a book entitled "Between Vengeance and Forgiveness --- Facing History after Genocide and Mass Violence." The title itself seemed to answer some of the problems that we faced. I read the book thoroughly and decided to visit the author, Professor Martha Minow, currently the dean of Harvard Law School. It was through a sheer coincidence that UNHCR was able to set up a collaborative arrangement with Professor Minow together with a group of Harvard and Fletcher scholars, and worked out a program that became known as "imagine coexistence."

The concept of "image coexistence" was to work out programs that would bring repatriating people together, safeguard their uncertainty through interaction schemes, leading them to interrelate, and eventually devise joint working projects. I vividly recall the surprise and pleasure when a strawberry farm was set up in Drvar in western Bosnia, to be run by a group of returning Croatian and Serb farmers. They had to learn to join forces if they were to find livelihood in their original homes. Then a bakery was also set up by women from both ethnic groups. A communal meeting place was added for joint consultations and trainings.

Similar attempts were made in Rwanda, setting up varied forms of joint income generating activities. A women's center with a wide range of training programs proved successful, but the chasm between the ethnic groups in early post-genocide period proved too grave. In Rwanda, various ways of addressing justice seemed to be the priority concern. Eventually the Rwandans reintroduced their traditional village justice system known as the "gacaca." The lesson that UNHCR learned was that depending on how society decides to face its history, determines the timing and forms of applying "imagine coexistence."

Having learned from the variations of "imagine coexistence" experiments, JICA decided to incorporate the "coexistence" and "reconciliation" components into its training and development activities. Exposure to the realities of early phases of post conflict reconstruction and development operations led us to devise practical techniques of "coexistence" and "reconciliation" among diverse groups of peoples. We held a seminar in South Africa in cooperation with the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission which preceded the International Center for Transition Justice led by Mr. Alex Boraine. The emphasis that came out of this exercise was to try to connect justice with community-based actions to promote reconciliation and truth, rather than to limit issues of justice to judicious thinking and procedures. JICA also began to involve the people themselves to community building exercises, such as building local schools and clinics. The importance of leading rival or adverse groups into undertaking joint actions seem to bring double effects --- not only the direct physical results but also the psychological impact of joining hands.

After years of humanitarian crises and efforts to mitigate the consequences, attempts have been made to more directly address preventive means to rid future crises. Development efforts have to be addressed in connection with possible long term effects on peace and security.

6. Conclusion

I started my presentation today by referring to the growing economic prosperity and increasing interaction among the countries in Asia. Noting the current stability, the possibility of mass violence and genocide tend to be viewed as unlikely.

Though Asia underwent a serious economic crisis in 1997, Asian economy has grown more steadily and considerably than in any other regions the last 30 years, with a GDP that is one fifth of that of the whole world. Even against the financial crisis in 2007 which brought serious consequences throughout the world, Asian economy has shown rapid recovery. Supported by this tremendous economic growth, China, India and Indonesia have joined the G20 group of countries that play active roles in global economic management. Some Asian countries such as China and Korea have started to extend economic cooperation to developing countries in neighboring Asia, Middle-east and Africa. Particularly, South Korea will become a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2011.

Conversely, Asia still has elements of fragility in spite of its economic growth. Turning into domestic issues, 40% of the population that live in poverty in the world exist in Asia and one third of the population of Asian cities live in slums or squatter areas. 50 million are unemployed. Asian governments have been tackling with these issues. It seems difficult however to make a dramatic improvement in the short-term due to the complexity of historical, political, social and cultural backgrounds which countries or societies have faced over the years.

It is important to recall that the "imagine coexistence" concept that had a major impact on addressing the challenge of reconciliation, derived, in its origin, from the need to cope with inner city tensions and violence. I have always emphasized that the concept was not necessarily inspired by "international" or "inter-state" conflicts, but by social tensions in inner cities in many parts of the world. Both the instigators as well as the victims are the economically poor and socially deprived. Solutions would be found through means of consolidating "coexistence."

More attention and research will have to address the challenges of detecting signals that might lead to downturns. Major international stakeholders, institutions and leaders will have to examine not only inter- state interests and stakes, but also inner workings of societies and peoples with dire humanitarian consequences.

As to assuring security among people, the concept that has emerged in recent years and gained international support is that of focusing on "human security." Often referred to as a concept encompassing global governance, it puts the security and prosperity of human beings at the center, thus bringing together actions relating to all areas of human well being under preview, from education, health, agriculture to security.

"Imagine coexistence" as an action concept will provide new and effective preventive recipes for addressing growing problems in all human security related arenas. As many countries follow remarkable economic growth, serious attention and devises will have to be worked out internally and socially. The globalizing world of today, bring people together almost instantaneously through information sharing and advanced transportation. Human beings are becoming more and more interconnected. Especially in Asia where globalization is rapidly advancing, effective ways, both preventive and promotional, must be discovered and adopted to ensure peace and prosperity in the days to come.

Might we not resort to the notion of "imagine coexistence" as the preventive concept to bring people together in order to learn to live together? Going to school together, playing together, and working together, we must search for better ways for people to share life positively in this rapidly globalizing world of today.


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