Center for Conflict Studies Knowledge as Action, Action as Change

Panel IV: Impact of gender and religion on justice

Saturday, November 16, 2013 at 8:30 AM

1. Rachel Spory: Religious Dialogue as Post-Conflict Justice Mechanism

2. Rona Kabiri: If Afghanistan deserves peace, it deserves justice too

3. Sandra Cheldelin: Examining the Complexities at the Intersection of Justice and Practice

4. Bryan Weiner: LGBT Justice: A Legal, Moral and Cultural Battle for International Human Rights

Rachel Spory


Rachel Spory recently graduated with a M.A. in International Human Rights from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. Her passion for conflict and peacebuilding issues is born out of the firm belief that complex problems will not be solved by simplistic solutions and thus it is imperative to bring diverse voices, particularly those of women and of religiously-motivated individuals to a peace-table that is far too dominated by the voices of governments and international actors. This passion has led her on a rather serendipitous journey through lands and experiences unimaginable until they came to pass including teaching English in Vietnam, participating in a Mennonite Central Committee learning tour in Iran that collaborated with an Islamic Seminary in Qom, and leading three groups of graduate students through Vietnam and Cambodia, and presenting at last year’s inaugural CCS conference. While the next phase of her journey remains a mystery, she is full of hopeful anticipation that this work, and her modest contributions to the field of gender and religiously based peacebuilding will continue. Her current project exploring the role of inter-religious dialogue during post-conflict reconstruction was undertaken as part of a research internship with the Center for Conflict Studies.


Religious Dialogue as Post-Conflict Justice Mechanism

“Truth and Mercy have met together, Justice and Peace have kissed.” In this verse from Psalm 85, the paradox, and seemingly contradictory nature of peace processes are revealed and the complex maze of conflict realities introduced. When John Paul Lederach conducts “The Meeting” in his peacebuilding workshops, participants begin to grapple with the difficulties inherent in balancing these four needs in settings of latent, active, and recent conflict. Given that conflict settings often contain within them contradictory conceptions of justice, this project seeks to understand the role that religious dialogue projects may play in bringing those competing visions into conversation while establishing the relationships necessary for successful conflict resolution activities in the future.

Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, for better or worse, religion has become increasingly present in conversations regarding violence, conflict, and peacebuilding. While religious actors have been involved in peacemaking activities for far longer than the previous decade, their efforts have gained significant attention since then. One of the primary methods used by religious actors in peacebuilding is inter-religious dialogue. This can take several forms—ecumenical dialogue between different groups of the same religion (eg. Northern Ireland dialogues between Catholics and Protestants); inter-faith dialogues between different groups (most notably are the multitude of Christian-Muslim dialogues in conflict settings around the world) and dialogues between religious groups and secular groups, such as governments. These dialogues occur at local, national, and international levels with varying levels of success.

For this project, I focused primarily on cases involving Christian-Muslim dialogue projects in Nigeria, Indonesia, and Macedonia. Though the primary actors’ religious affiliation remained relatively the same throughout the three studies, other factors including timing, ripeness, and community-driven dialogue (rather than an elite-driven focus) led to dramatically different results. Analysis of these cases led to the identification of several key components crucial to the success of said dialogue projects, as well as illustrating areas in which dialogue planners can focus their efforts while planning and implementing religious dialogues. Given the constraints of time and budget, this desk study relied solely on accounts of these dialogue processes written by those involved with them. Due to the impossibility of primary research, firsthand accounts from those who had been integrally involved in the planning, implementation, and analysis of these dialogues provided the empirical support to the abstract, theoretical work that bookend the case studies.

In the conclusion, I return to a more abstract, theoretical questioning of the relative utility of these projects, especially as they relate to the maze of justice in their respective settings. Claims for justice are never simple, nor are they easily rectified; however, dialogue between those party to a conflict seems to be a necessary precursor to broader efforts to address desires for justice and reconciliation. While religious dialogue is certainly not a panacea for conflict or an easy solution to providing post-conflict reconciliation and justice, however; they do appear to be an integral part in a comprehensive peace plan that seeks to further re-humanization of the parties on all sides of a de-humanizing conflict and begin the process of relational co-existence that is necessary for a just and sustainable peace.

Rona Kabiri


Rona Kabiri is a 2011 graduate of Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS). She came from Afghanistan to the U.S. when she received the prestigious Fulbright scholarship in July 2009. She graduated from Law and Political Science school from Herat University of Afghanistan, where she taught law in 2009, before coming to the U.S. She also studied Leadership Development for 2 years in Afghanistan and worked with many international and national NGOs and government programs. Working with the US agency for International Development was one of the interesting jobs that led her to study development later at MIIS. She earned her Master’s degree in International Policy Studies with a concentration on development. In addition, she completed a practical course on defense attorney’s program at the University of Washington in summer 2010. While at MIIS she attended several courses related to development, security and counter-terrorism. Currently, besides teaching language and culture in one of the institutes, she constantly writes about the Afghan women and conducts research on security and development in Afghanistan.


The women of Afghanistan deserve peace but they deserve justice too

War destroys many of the required principles of a peaceful society and leaves many victims during and after the conflict. Afghanistan’s four decades of conflict together with the culture of impunity for the war crimes and crimes has indeed left many victims, mainly women, feeling hopeless about receiving justice. Women have been the nameless and invisible victims of conflicts in Afghanistan since the beginning. Before the U.S., its NATO allies, and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) forces intervened in Afghanistan a decade ago, the country had fallen in the hands of extremists and was a puppet in the hands of the neighboring countries. During this time, the country was dealing with hundreds of problems, as such, the highest mortality rate for the women in the world. Afghanistan was sinking in an ocean of cold blood, which was created by the warring parties who preceded the Taliban. The Taliban’s barbaric regime turned Afghanistan into a narco-state.

The EU and US stated justice and freedom for the Afghan women were the reason for intervention. The transitional justice process began as early as 2004 and the human rights commission began to document the war crimes. Hundreds of complaints were filed at the Human Rights Commission. Majority of plaintiffs were women aged 18 to 30. But the victims shocked everyone when they named a number of prominent politicians from the current regime, as ones who were actively involved in committing atrocities during the civil war. Those reports remained unpublished to date.

To the surprise of many women, after years of fighting with the Taliban, the NATO and its allies reached a conclusion that the Afghan government could actually open doors for reconciliation with the Taliban, to end the war and make peace. Obviously, the U.S. and allies realised that many politicians active in the government were actually equally guilty as the Taliban in committing crimes during the past 35 years. A peace council was established and women were nervous as the council announced their readiness to make peace with the Taliban. But women kept fighting and raised their voices.

Now, less than six months before the complete withdrawal of the U.S. and its allied forces from Afghanistan and just 5 months before Afghanistan’s third presidential election since 2002, the presidential candidates announced came as no great surprise to the public. A quick glance at the list reveals that a majority of the candidates were the ones accused of committing war crimes and even led tribal militia and/or armed factions during the civil war. Recently one of the candidates confessed to the media that there might have been mistakes committed by the warring groups that resulted in immense civilian and State loss. The bottom line is whether the Taliban come back to power, or any of the former-warlords - recent-politicians win the elections, justice will be sacrificed for peace. Or will a peace-only mechanism ensure justice in the long run? The question remains unanswered for the Afghan women and the public noncombatants. Will they be able to maintain their hard earned gains or will every achievement be lost? Perhaps, women’s voices for justice will hinder the peace process with the Taliban, or will the peace process hinder women’s cries of justice from being heard?

Sandra Cheldelin


Sandra Cheldelin is the Vernon M. and Minnie I. Lynch Professor of Conflict Analysis and Resolution and Doctoral Program Director at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR) at George Mason University. She has four decades of experience in the academy including Provost at the McGregor School of Antioch University and Academic Dean at the California School of Professional Psychology. She is an active scholar-practitioner and has worked with more than 150 communities and organizations, is often keynote speaker and invited lecturer on workplace issues of violence, change, race, gender and conflict. She has facilitated large-scale interethnic and interfaith community dialogues on topics of fear, terrorism, violence and suspicion, and has convened large and small groups to build community resilience. She has conducted conflict resolution trainings, interventions and research projects in Bosnia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Georgia, the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Turkey, Liberia and China. She has written extensively on intervention and practice and is coeditor of Women Waging War and Peace (Continuum, September 2011) and of Conflict (Continuum, 2008 2nd edition), and is coauthor of Conflict Resolution (Jossey Bass, 2004). Her forthcoming co-edited book (2014) is Deconstructing Women, Peace and Security: A Critical Review of Approaches to Gender and Empowerment.


Examining the Complexities at the Intersection of Justice and Practice

For conflict resolution practitioners, difficult topics such as Gender Based Violence (GBV) get even more complicated when navigating non-western legal systems. This session will explore the complexities of doing work abroad to confront human rights issues in societies where justice is based on Islamic religious law, sometimes under the rule of a royal family (e.g. Saudi Arabia), where governments engage in declining respect for fundamental freedoms—of religion and assembly, from torture, and the right to a fair trial (e.g. Kazakhstan, Tajikistan), and when local voices promoting human rights are largely silenced by authoritarian rulers (e.g. the Middle East). Specifically, GBV abuses remain at epidemic levels—especially with teenagers—in places like the occupied Palestinian territory, Lebanon, and Yemin. Activist women in sectors of government and civil society seek judicial reform as the key step towards equality, knowing that changes in attitudes and beliefs in patriarchal societies lag behind as they navigate the duality of the cultural and social values of their societies. While repression by authorities continues, there is increasing evidence that regional actors are more likely to pose human rights challenges, e.g., Egyptian NGOs’ statements on Saudi abuses, or Tunisian activities that support the Bahraini revolution. Initiatives such as identifying GBV as a violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)—focusing on honor violence, early marriages and sexual abuse—has traction as a key tool for combating sexual violence. Yet while these legislative frameworks are designed to protect women, the UN, international and regional NGO’s and women reveal GBV continues, often not reported because of social stigma, dishonor, and lack of psycho-social support. Non-compliance with the law is often related to male domination in the process, illiteracy among women, inherited traditional culture of women as property and males able to determine women’s destiny. How do conflict resolution practitioners do their work that respects cultural sensitivity and regional wisdom, but also mobilizes strategies to significantly improve the conditions for women and children? Criminalizing domestic abuse is important and laudable (e.g. Saudi’s Shura Council approving legislation for protection against such violence in the Kingdom, August 26, 2013). Partnering with local experts can help call out ongoing physical and sexual abuse, women’s high rates of unemployment, lack of religious freedoms or sexual orientations, punishment for activism, and the like. Utilizing time-honored practices of increased education about GBV and health services is important. However, what else can western practitioners do?

Bryan Weiner


Bryan Weiner is currently a master’s candidate in the International Policy Studies program and is additionally pursuing a Conflict Resolution Certificate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. He received his Bachelors of Arts in Cinema Television Critical Studies from the University of Southern California in 2005. His interests include human rights, with a particular emphasis on international LGBT and immigrant and refugee rights, conflict resolution, Latin America, education, and youth development. His work experience includes serving as an Early Elementary Education Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay and several positions at a charter high school in inner-city Los Angeles, most recently working as a guidance counselor with at-risk youth.


LGBT Justice: A Legal, Moral and Cultural Battle for International Human Rights

The international community is currently at a turning point with regards to LGBT Rights. Every day a new country or state passes a resolution legalizing same-sex marriage and providing protection for the LGBT community but, at the same time, there are still 7 countries in the world that have the death penalty for homosexual behavior, 76 countries that still criminalize homosexuality, and countries that are passing new, reactionary laws. So far, the response of the international human rights community has been very fragmented with many grassroots and international human rights organizations spearheading passionate campaigns but without any underlying legal framework for the protection of this community. This underscores the fact that the struggle this community is facing is not simply a question of rights, but a question of justice as the LGBT community is denied many of the basic protections of international human rights law solely on the basis of their sexual orientation.

However, despite this unequal application of legal protections, justice systems worldwide have been the bodies behind many of the current reforms and changing attitudes. Most of the persecution that this community has faced has been related to centuries-old sodomy laws based on religious teachings. While these laws have been overturned in the former colonial powers, they still live on as a colonial legacy in the developing world, a region that has seen the worst human rights abuses targeted at the LGBT community. The LGBT rights movement has been framed as a civil rights and social justice movement, calling on legal protections to counter popular discrimination and persecution justified by religion, morals, family values, and the resistance to “westernization”.

Through primary and secondary research completed in fall 2013 I will look at the changing attitudes towards the LGBT community throughout the world with regards to justice and human rights. In particular, I will focus on the legal aspect – looking specifically at the legal framework that exists internationally and how international human rights laws have been applied to support the fundamental rights of LGBT individuals throughout the world. I will focus my primary research on the cases of Cuba and its use of the LGBT movement as a way of legitimizing the governmental regime in the eyes of the international community and the United States in the wake of the Supreme Court decision to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.

The research question that will primarily guide my work is: How can international human rights activists use the legal system to support the LGBT community, promote the changes in public opinion and create a more accepting and diverse future? The following questions will additionally be used to guide my research:

  • How has the International Human Rights legal framework served to protect the LGBT community? What are the limitations of this framework?
  • How have legal decisions affected the attitudes and the treatment of members of the LGBT community?
  • How has the framing of LGBT rights within the broader spectrum of human rights affected this international debate?