Dr Emma Leslie Opening Remarks for the 2016 PPRC

Dr Emma Leslie 2016 PPRC Welcoming Remarks

CPCS hosted our 5th annual Peace Practitioners Research Conference, with this year’s theme of Revisiting Reconciliation: Making It Real.

Emma Leslie, CPCS  Executive Director, welcomed participants to PPRC and proposed this challenge to how we use the space:


Good morning to all of you. We wanted to start this conference by offering you this blessing dance; this is how Cambodians welcome guests into their space. We welcome you all.

Cambodia is a place that has suffered and experienced terrible genocide, bombing from the Western allies, a civil war, a UN peacekeeping mission, and, since then, 25 years of trying to reconstruct and rebuild.

You have landed in a country that has somehow come back from all of that.

It is a very timely moment for you to be here. Yesterday an international tribunal sentenced two of the most senior Khmer Rouge leaders, who will go to prison for the rest of their natural life, one of them in 80, the other one is 75 years old.

This is a timely moment to be here in Cambodia discussing the issues that we face when we think about justice and reconciliation.

That is why the title for the programme is “Revisiting Reconciliation: Making it real”. Another title we considered was “Getting it right”. And I hope that Cambodia will be a learning space where we can understand how did regular Cambodians reconcile in the face of pressure from the international community.

Maha Ghosananda said, “in a place where so much suffering has happened, only compassion can flow”. And that is the compassion, and the joy, and the beauty of the Cambodia we want to share with you.

You are all very welcomed here.

So, who are you? You are a room of VIPs. Every one of you is a peace practitioner, and, for the Centre for Peace ad Conflict Studies, a very important person. Each of you counts to what our friend form CDA call “peace writ large”; “adding up to peace”.

Amongst you there are some VIPs recognised by your position, and I would like to welcome the delegation from the Philippines Congress; we are very pleased that you are all here; we are very pleased to have representatives of governments together with us, because we know how important governments and political will are.

That is why I am also very pleased to welcome U Tint Lwin, from the Myanmar government, from the newly elected National League for Democracy.

I also want to recognise some of our esteemed leaders from the Bangsamoro study and research centres, who are, of course, very good allies.

Government, academic institutions are important, but those who choose to take up weapons for their struggle to be recognised are important too, and I want to recognise the ethnic armed organisations present here, and the New Mon State Party.

We also have in the room the students of the Applied Conflict Transformation Studies master programme, and of course the CPCS staff.

We are here with different identities, as partner organisations we work with, but together we are here for a shared purpose, which is to really go deeper. I am not yet convinced that as a field, or even as practitioners, we have the first incline as to what Reconciliation is about. Even the word “Reconciliation” is too controversial in some parts of the globe, and it is sometimes used instead of “pacification”. We have the challenge to understand this terminology a little bit deeper.

These two days present a chance to really grille each other. Dekha Ibrahim Abdi, one of CPCS’ heroes, used to say “Reconciliation can start right in the midst of violence”, and I am not even sure I understand what she meant.

I always say, “the glass is always half full”, but that means that the glass is half empty too. And there are times when we have to ask ourselves a little harder “why is it half empty and not completely full?”

I am happy to say that there are a couple of representatives from Afghanistan here, where such violence happens all the time that it has become normal to us. You already know that there journalists watching this event and asking how can we meet when the situation in Northern Myanmar, in Eastern Myanmar is so dire and so difficult. Our solidarity with all the people from Myanmar here who are struggling to solve conflicts going back decades and decades.

A few months ago I had the possibility to meet with a woman from Karaga, in Mindanao, who had just returned to her community for the 5th time in the last ten years. She was not being moved by the New People’s Army, or by the armed forces of the Philippines, but by the terror and the fear to the paramilitaries. We are yet to understand how structural violence relates to Reconciliation. And my concern is, if we don’t understand how structural violence and reconciliation interplay with each other, we are already part of this mass global movement for pacification.

In this region we know the geopolitical impact of those powerful countries that have their own interests. And we know that they won’t be easily tamed. But it is up to us to get serious about our practice if we think we can make a difference, and if we think we can stand up and claim to be peace practitioners at all.

It is about showing up every day and being serious about this field, which for so long has not been taken seriously. We don’t challenge ourselves enough to find out what it is that really works. We can talk about Reconciliation but does this really add up to ending violent conflict in Asia, and around the globe?

I invite you into this space. It is a special space for CPCS. I acknowledge Soi Pla Ngarm, who invented this space five years ago as a place where practitioners could go deeper together.

In this space CPCS practices five values, this is our “how”; you are in Cambodia, you are peace practitioners talking about Reconciliation; the “how” is the values we bring into this space: Excellence; it is not about perfection, ego, recognition or being known, but about being highly motivated, dedicated, committed, strategic, innovative; it is about working smarter and really showing up; it is about being grounded, our second value: we need to be grounded in analysis, do we know what “conflict” is about, or have we bought into the dominant narrative? Our third value is “Trust”: trust is heartfelt, it is respectful, it is about empathy and solidarity; and these are hard words. Courage, our fourth value, is about perseverance, pushing boundaries, trying new things, exhausting possibilities and about encouraging each other. It is about “On-going learning”, our 5th value: we don’t have answers, but we are willing to try and to keep critically reflecting, and to find a way forward. It is about coming together in a hard, critical way.

Our keynote speaker last year personified many of these values. Datuk Tengku was together with us in this space last year; he has recently passed away and many of you in this room know the significance of what he did. Last year he shared the significance of the Bangsamoro peace process, and spoke about what it takes to make peace; he spoke about political will, mobilization, about bringing your heart, your emotions, yourself to the work; and so he did. We want to dedicate this conference to him. But this is not enough. We take his spirit with us the work that he did, and we carry it forward. That ‘s what we do. We show up, we make it count, we work hard, and we try as much as we can to unlock this topic in the next two days.

So, thank you for showing up here today; for trusting CPCS. Lets prioritise this precious moment, and lets make it count, because I really believe that we can unlock something incredible here that could really make a difference to a woman in Afghanistan or Karaga, to the children in Myanmar, to those hoping that reconciliation in Sri Lanka is possible and perhaps not another version of pacification.

Thank you for being here; enjoy your time, but let’s make it count.

Thank you.