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Ex-combatant Buildings

We are helping reveal and acknowledge a relatively overlooked, yet very important local military character, a socially significant ex-combatant in need of support, recognition and one who merits disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR).

“Who controls the past, ran the party slogan controls the future.

Who controls the present controls the past”

(George Orwell 1949)

“To look is to draw attention to something. In everyday language we often say, “would you look over there please” or “look at that” In other words looking requires lenses that draw attention and help us become aware. To see, on the other hand, is to look beyond and deeper. Seeing insight and understanding. “Do you see what I mean” – Understanding is the process of creating meaning. Meaning requires that we bring something into sharper focus. – Conflict transformation is more than a set of specific techniques; it is a way of looking as well as seeing”

(John Paul Lederach 2003)

According to Lederach, “Looking and seeing both require lenses” – With this in mind, Uniform November is research and development of an alternative lens, one which will broaden the peripheral focus of humanitarian agencies addressing the challenges of post conflict peace building (PCPB). Research which could help provide a more nuanced understanding of elements essential for post conflict social cohesion. In the hope that it will help communities collectively acknowledge and understand their post conflict entangled emotions, memories and trauma, whilst providing a deeper analysis of the sensitive dichotomy of victim versus perpetrator.

We are helping reveal and acknowledge a relatively overlooked, yet very important local military character, a socially significant ex-combatant in need of support, recognition and one who merits disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR). In this case, the ex-combatants aren’t people but buildings, ordinary structures, every day buildings which, like many of their human counterparts, were caught-up in conflict and ‘used’ for violent means. Buildings which depending on what side of the conflict you were affiliated to, meant very different things.

This identification, acknowledgment and the subsequent handling of ex-combatant buildings will help communities take ownership of their present post-conflict condition, help protect them from the negative consequences of any manipulation and misinterpretation of the past and muffle the call for any return to violence in the future.

Like all combatants, these buildings have had a role in violence of one sort or another, in many cases they have had a significant part to play within the past conflict and in some cases, many conflicts before that. However, unlike their human counterparts, there is little consideration with regards their role in society after the war has ended, in other words, their disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) a process of reintroduction to the communities they helped fracture during conflict. A process that recognises that if these buildings had been ex-combatants in the typical sense, many of them would be considered high ranking senior figures, responsible for intelligence gathering and dissemination, propaganda, logistics, punishment, law enforcement and communication. Ex-combatants that amplify the duplicitous condition of “one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist”

Therefore, these buildings represent a complicated and contrasting set of post conflict emotions. For those people within a post-conflict community, depending on what their affiliation was in the violence, these buildings could have been feared and reviled by some or respected, welcomed and even loved by others. To leave these senior military figures unchallenged, unsupported and mistreated in ethnically diverse communities riddled with post-conflict emotional entanglement, renders any reconciliation more fragile, therefore more susceptible to failure and manipulation resulting in recurrence of violence.

It is imperative then, that at the earliest stages of non-direct violence, these characters are identified and understood. The first step is to recognise these buildings as ex-combatants, which is not difficult to conceive, when you consider that according to the UN’s 2014 Operational Guide to the Integrated Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Standards (IDDRS), a combatant is the following:

“ a member of a national army or an irregular military; or is actively participating in military activities and hostilities; or is involved in recruiting or training military personnel; or holds a command or decision-making position within a national army or an armed organization; or arrived in a host country carrying arms or in military uniform or as part of a military structure; or having arrived in a host country as an ordinary civilian, thereafter assumes, or shows determination to assume, any of the above attributes”.

If these buildings fit the description and can be recognised as combatants and therefore ex-combatants, then there is an argument to be made, that these buildings require an approach underpin by a DDR process, (just like any other ex-combatant in a DDR programme), a method developed to manage their position in society and to find ways for them to play a positive role in the communities they help dislocate, thus re-developing a renewed peacetime trust and social worth. Given the support they need, these buildings could take a senior role in reconciliation, they could defuse the temptation to scapegoat the other and help establish humanity where ‘othering’ was so prevalent.

Moreover, these buildings hold a subtle key to a more stable foundation from which to decipher and vent past social upheaval. Understood properly, they could help establish a more positive iteration of a past community, one with renewed hope and the bravery to explore a more transparent sense of belonging and place, where healing and tolerance can be promoted and worked towards. An environment where all sides of the conflict can feel acknowledged daily.

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