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Vijay Mehta’s Visit to Northwestern University, Chicago – 17th – 19th January 2013

Read the lecture here.

The reports are below:

Beyond the Blue Helmet: The Human Rights of Peacebuilding
Delegates learn about violence interruption from CeaseFire
NUCHR Panel 2 – Beyond Enforcing the Peace: The Role of Troops in ReconstructionClosing Keynote: Tom Oliver

Vijay Mehta addressed an International Peace Conference hosted by Northwestern University Illinois, Chicago on 17 – 19 January 2013. The title of the conference was ‘Human Rights and International Peacekeeping: From Military Intervention to Local Anti-Violence Efforts.’ It was an excellent conference, well organised, with distinguished speakers, including Arthur Boutellis, Tom Crick, Fabienne Hara, Ambassador Robert Chatterton Dickson, Dove Pressnall, Tom Oliver and Vijay Mehta. As over the three days Vijay realised how much more work peace activists have to do for reducing violence and making a peaceful world. If the ideas presented in the conference, on peace keeping, protection of Human Rights and UN Reforms are followed, it will go a long way in solving some of the seemingly intractable problems we face today. The outstanding efforts of NCUHR in hosting the International Peace and Human Rights Conference is an example of building a world full of peace and justice.

And excerpt of Vijay’s speech at the conference is below:

“To end violence we need to challenge structural violence of elitism, racism, sexism and nationalism. We should also eliminate gun, knife and machete crimes which are happening on a regular basis in our society. 780 million guns are in circulation world wide and 5 to 6 million are manufactured on a yearly basis. For example, for a population of 300 million, US have 300 million guns. Mass Shootings in US occur every 4 to 6 weeks, the recent one being at Newtown, Connecticut where 20 schoolchildren were killed. Our main task is, in US and elsewhere to not only work for adopting policies to outlaw or control guns, but also for ending culture of violence.”

Delegates learn about violence cure from Ceasefire

Chicago has been described as the murder capital of the United States. There were more than 500 gun murders in the city in 2012. The crime is rife and NUCHR delegates went into Chicago to learn about peace building in action. Delegates travelled to various sites of CeaseFire, part of the larger organisation Cure Violence, to learn about the violence interrupter model that Cease Fire has successfully implemented in over 15 communities in Chicago, as well as cities throughout the country. Cure Violence operates under the assumption that violence spreads like a disease, and that to stop it, social norms have to be targeted.

The belief is that there aren’t bad people, just bad behaviours. CeaseFire workers mediate and resolve conflicts in communities in an effort to avoid violent resolutions.
Delegates met violence interrupters and outreach workers during their trips, learning first-hand about the communities in which they work and the way they approach gun violence in Chicago. Interrupters emphasised that most violence in communities is defensive, and that it can be stopped by changing social norms. According to the Cure Violence website, “many [interrupters] have a history of involvement with ‘life on the streets.’” Thus, they understand the complexities of living in a violent neighbourhood and are in a unique position to be well-known, trusted, and influential in their communities.

Cure The Violence does a great deal of public education, often in concert with local clergy, to organise communities against gun violence. But it also has a team of “violence interrupters” who may be ex-offenders and former gang members embedded in the community who try to broker truces or will go to the emergency room of a victim and persuade family members not to retaliate.

Cease Fire has shown to be very effective in the communities in which they work. In 2011, the Chicago neighbourhoods with Cease Fire offices saw between 16 and 73 percent decreases in shootings.

While in Chicago, I came across facts which I find hard to comprehend. The American Fire Arms industry is pouring millions in promoting and selling guns to children and saying it is a healthy hobby. Is it wise to sell guns to children as it fosters a dangerous gun culture, encouraging children to be future murderers.

Another odd thing I found was that, after the shooting, as part of gun amnesty, churches were persuading and buying guns from whoever wanted to hand over for $50 to $200 and their guns would be destroyed. This was being done by on one side of the street by volunteers in First Presbyterian Church of Dallas. Across the street, members of the right group rented a vacant lot to compete with the church event. they urged gun owners to resell their fire arms rather than destroy them. “We pay more” read one of their signs. It is sad to know that the distinction between right and wrong is being blurred in such a gross way.

To prevent massacre such as Newtown shootings, we need to reduce the number of guns in circulation, introduce stricter gun control, through education and change the culture of violence.

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