How graduate student, Rahel Gebremariam, is contributing to complex societal issues such as peacekeeping around the world?

Posted on Tuesday, September 5, 2017

globe showing Saudi Arabia

Each year, several students begin or continue their studies at the graduate level. Their research touches on complex issues in our society and is at the heart of our faculty. We invite you to discover our students every month, and their research, in relation to the United Nations theme days. This month, we are proud to present you Rahel Gebremariam, masters’ candidate, arts in public and international affairs and her research on peacekeeping and refugees.

Tell us about your journey?

My journey started in a 12th grade World Issues course. Before I began the subject I knew very little about global affairs, the plights of refugees, or the frequency, severity, and complexity of internal conflict. This course marked a pivotal moment in my life where I finally started to learn, and care about the issues going on outside of Canada. Before I took this course, I was dead-set on being a criminal lawyer, and when I completed it I had applied to and been accepted into the Conflict Studies and Human Rights program at uOttawa. At the time, I figured I could explore my interests in “world issues” while still pursuing studies in a field related to law, taking some criminology courses whenever I could fit them into my schedule. I didn’t realize it then- in my first-year- but law was no longer my aspiration. When I reached my final year, I was conflicted by this fundamental interest that had motivated me throughout my undergrad, and so I took a year off after I graduated to reflect on what I wanted to do. In September of 2016 (last year) I began my studies in the Masters in Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa-the decision was easy.

What motivated or inspired you to research this topic?

Conflict- you see it all the time; in the media, in politics, in social interactions- people argue, they fight, they go to war, all in pursuit of what they believe to be right.

The Arab Spring brought context to my studies in a strikingly informative manner. I knew the relative history in the Middle East, the regional conflicts that had been on-going since the time of the Ottoman Empire, the creation of the state of Israel, and subsequently the war between Egypt and Israel (to name a few). These preceding conflicts all involved external aggressors (state-against-state), but the Arab Rising evoked a much darker imagery, where-in the state was in conflict against its people, and the people were fighting their state. They were fighting for their right to live freely; for their fundamental human rights. While I had context, I knew I could never truly understand their situation. Even as a child of refugees, hearing the stories is in no way comparable to living the horrors.

Knowing all this, I wanted to pursue research on a topic that could hopefully contribute to a new international strategy on peacebuilding.

Why is your research important in today’s society?

My research is important today because of the 65+ million people who are internally displaced due to their states fragility, the 22 million refugees who cannot return home, and the 10 million stateless individuals currently struggling to survive.

It will not cease in its importance until every internally displaced person, refugee, and stateless individual is able to live in a peaceful and stable environment of their choosing.

The field of peacekeeping is facing a conundrum where the responsibility to protect is, in some cases, clashing against a state’s inherent right to sovereignty. The delicate nature of such a complex issue makes it difficult for peacekeepers to carry out their mandates.

I believe that the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) Doctrine has the potential to secure peace, but only if its principles are accepted by the international community. While the methods and objectives of peacekeeping have evolved, traditional principles of peacekeeping remain: consent, impartiality, and minimal use of force. For R2P to flourish there is an ideological rift that needs to be bridged in the discipline of peacekeeping.

What would you like to see or accomplish in the future?

I would like to see the R2P Doctrine internationally accepted and fulfilling its purpose. I recently completed a Peace Operations and Post-Conflict Reconstruction course where we discussed and analyzed its first official application in Libya as outlined in the UN Security Council Resolution (res.1973). Given the increasingly complex nature of internal conflicts and the potential for infringement on sovereignty, peacekeeping operations are often in the midst of equally convoluted circumstances where peacekeepers involved must try to ensure that the principles of peacekeeping are not violated while ensuring the protection of civilians and the security of their mandates.

It is my goal to contribute to the discourse on international peacekeeping efforts in a meaningful manner that purports progressive principles of peacekeeping.

In the future, I would like to see the international community proactively engage local actors and include them in peacebuilding efforts, but more so, follow their lead and provide them with the support needed to achieve peaceful resolutions. Where sovereignty fits in all this is unclear, but it is possible that as the world continues to evolve, so to must the notion of sovereignty.



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