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Conference Report: Conflict and Human Security in West Africa

Author(s): Matt Pollard and Godwin Odo

Journal: Essex Human Rights Review
ISSN 1756-1957

Volume: 1;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 87;
Date: 2004;
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The authors summarize discussions and recommendations concerning conflicts and human security in West Africa, arising from a conference on 1 March 2004 at the University of Essex, which included participants from across Africa and the United Kingdom. A number of inter-connected causes of conflict were identified, including the struggle between different groups in the region for control of natural resources, particularly diamonds and oil, the continuing cycle of recurring conflicts based on grievances arising from earlier conflicts, a deficit of democracy, unequal distribution of economic resources, unemployment and the need for development, the supply of arms by North America, Europe, and other regions outside West Africa, and varying concepts of citizenship. With regard to prevention and resolution of conflicts, a primary need is to disarm and demobilize armed groups, and reintegrate ex-combatants into society. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society can play a role in preventing and resolving conflicts, although NGOs must recognize the limits to their own capacities and expertise, as negligent interventions can make situations worse. Regional structures such as Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) were also seen as potentially positive forces. With regard to justice and conciliation, the reluctance of states to take action against other states with respect to human rights issues is a key and continuing problem, thus trans-national institutions, open to individual or non-state group complaints, are important. Truth and Reconciliation Commissions must be victim-centred. They should balance legal approaches with other approaches, they require commitment from national leaderships, both executive and parliamentary, to function effectively, they need to have authority to require testimony and production of documents, and to impose penalties for non-compliance, and they must be accompanied by fundamental changes to state structures such as police systems, that were implicated in previous abuses.

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