Today the Commission for Victims and Survivors of Northern Ireland (CVSNI) and Ulster University (INCORE & TJI) launched the Advocacy Services Report focusing on advocacy and dealing with the past. The report was authored by Dr Maire Braniff, Professor Brandon Hamber, Dr Catherine O’Rourke, Dr Philip McCready and Dr John Bell.
The Report found that while the needs of victims and survivors are not homogenous there are core principles that underpin effective service provision. Essentially they should be victim-led, build trust, not create dependency, be compassionate and empathetic and value the lived experience and perspective of the individual. The groups offering advocacy were led by such principles. Further provision for dealing with the past should draw on and learn from the scale, diversity and experience of advocacy practice to date.
Equally, however, our research found that this was challenging work. There was unanimity amongst all service users and service providers that the biggest challenge was the systemic delay and the slow nature of legacy investigation and information recovery. The biggest scope for improvement in advocacy services was the accessibility of information and more streamlined and quicker responses from statutory agencies.
Professor Brandon Hamber, Hume O’Neill Chair, has published a new piece in Belfast Telegraph.
In my work dealing with the impact of political violence, a constant challenge is reminding people that when addressing survivors’ needs during times of conflict, it is the social context that is often the primary stressor. For example, as much as therapy for victims of conflict is useful, its value is limited if the conflict’s legacy persists and the social environment is destroyed.
You also cannot think about conflict without understanding that it has differential impacts. In Northern Ireland, for example, the neighbourhoods with the highest conflict death rate are those with the highest levels of poverty. When it comes to addressing the mental health impact of Covid-19, it seems we have a similar situation. We are acting as if the pandemic is only a medical problem, a behavioural issue (wear your mask, wash your hands, socially distance) and finally, a psychological question of coping mentally.
Today, the Chair addressed the UN General Assembly High-level Week event on “COVID-19 and the role of Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in building resilience and sustaining social cohesion and peace”. The event was hosted by the Kingdom of the Netherlands in cooperation with the Center on International Cooperation and the g7+. The Chair spoke on the invitation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The event was co-Chaired by H.E. Ms. Sigrid Kaag, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands and H.E. Ms. Amina Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General.
The aim of the event was to present and discuss how Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) in the context of COVID-19 can help individuals and communities to retain or regain resilience, to strengthen solidarity and cohesion, to address trauma and to foster reconciliation. And how MHPSS can help counter social disintegration and help to support efforts to build and sustain peace. The Chair’s input focused on his work with the Netherlands government as part of their Task Team exploring the integration of MHPSS into the UN peacebuilding architecture.
Professor Patricia Lundy and Professor Brandon Hamber have now published a Policy Brief based on work on historical institutional abuse and transitional justice.
This policy brieﬁng draws upon the Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry to explicate the nexus of historical institutional abuse inquiries with transitional justice approaches. Through detailed analysis of empirical research with those who gave testimony to the Inquiry, the brieﬁng explores to what extent the Inquiry was victim-centric, participatory and responsive. Drawing on lessons from transitional justice, the brief outlines ﬁve recommendations that could strengthen the victim-centred nature of approaches to dealing with the legacy of historical child abuse. The brief concludes that addressing victims’ needs should be the linchpin for both transitional justice and historical institutional abuse approaches.
“Recently I saw a piece quoting the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford, Louise Richardson, saying removing from Oriel College the statue of Cecil John Rhodes, the colonial administrator and financier, risks hiding history. The UK Prime Minister has also expressed the view, in a series of Tweets noting, particularly in relation to the statue of Winston Churchill, that “statues teach us about our past, with all its faults”. Am I the only one who thinks this is nonsense? Statues are not about history or pedagogy but commemoration. Should we commemorate people like Cecil John Rhodes today?
If the Vice-Chancellor is so concerned about history you can take down the statue and leave a large plinth explaining Rhodes brutal history and Oxford’s relationship with colonialism. Or better still teach history in one of the esteemed colleges, or make a podcast, a movie or build a website, or even consult a book. I don’t learn history from statues. Does anyone? Statues tell us who society values and about the values of those commemorated.”
In response to this consultation, the Chair and Professor Siobhan O’Neill, Professor of Mental Health Sciences, Ulster University, made a submission to the Committee. Our submission (download in full here) argues that the new proposals aim to address some of our concerns about the Stormont House Agreement by reducing the number of institutions that victims and survivors will need to engage with. This minimises the risk that victims will be re-traumatised by having to engage with multiple institutions. However, the new proposals also emphasise the process of gathering information rather than justice. We argue that this will cause significant hurt to many for whom justice was required for meaning-making, and who had awaited justice in order to process the trauma and recover. You can read more here.
Professors Brandon Hamber and Patricia Lundy have published a new article on “Lessons from Transitional Justice? Toward a New Framing of a Victim-Centered Approach in the Case of Historical Institutional Abuse”. The article was published in the journal Victims and Offenders in April 2020.
The article critically examines transitional justice mechanisms to determine if historical abuse inquiries can learn from this ﬁeld of practice. The article explores the Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry which reported its ﬁndings in January 2017 as a vehicle for addressing what lessons might be learned or shared between the ﬁelds of transitional justice and investigations into historical abuse. Through a detailed analysis of empirical research with those that gave testimony to the Inquiry, including fourthly-three victims and Inquiry transcripts, the article explores to what extent the Inquiry was victim-centered, enabled victim participation (beyond giving testimony) and addressed victim needs. The article shows that many of the ﬂaws of transitional justice mechanisms have been replicated when dealing with historical child abuse.
Drawing on lessons from transitional justice – both positive and negative – the article outlines ﬁve broad areas for consideration that could strengthen the victim-centered nature of approaches to dealing with the legacy of historical child abuse. The article concludes that addressing victims’ needs should be at the center and drive approaches and processes for both transitional justice and historical institutional abuse.