I am one of many independent (Crossbench) Peers and would like to introduce you to my background in my first guest blog.
In the late 1960s I visited Northern Ireland as the civil rights protests began to turn into armed conflicts. In 1971 I began to take part in the work of the House of Lords as an hereditary Member.
From the late 1970s onwards, I became a regular visitor to Northern Ireland. I was a supporter of a whole range of peace-building groups and activities, all of which prepared the ground for the ceasefires of 1994 and the political agreements of Belfast (1998) and St Andrews (2006). Prison visiting in both England and Northern Ireland was part of my contribution. The dynamics of deeply divided societies, human rights issues, confidence-building steps and police and criminal-justice matters were the subjects of my many questions and speeches in Parliament.
When the old Soviet Union broke into its component parts, a friend from West Belfast introduced me to people from the Republic of Moldova, which had suffered a short civil war in 1991 & 1992, and alas remains split to this day. This led to 10 years of regular visits, conferences and meetings of all kinds.
We worked as external, independent facilitators to bring together civil groups, local authorities and the two rival governments. We acted in parallel with the official mediators, Russia, the Ukraine and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Sadly, no-one has been successful in overcoming the underlying identity problems and the unhelpful influence of a major foreign power, so Moldova remains divided and poor.
More recently I have been to other post-conflict countries, such as Bosnia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. In all of them, tight political control was suddenly removed. Nationalism was exploited to further personal ambitions. Wars followed, displacing many people, wrecking the struggling economies and killing and wounding large numbers. Conflicts remain unresolved over Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, while Bosnia struggles with the complex Dayton Agreement (1995).
All these experiences deepened my long-standing interest in the Middle-East and very recent involvement with Iraq. In the latter, a friend with his team is working with religious and other leaders towards national reconciliation. His efforts helped to bring about a joint Shia and Sunni pronouncement against sectarian violence and the killing of civilians, particularly via suicide bombings.
In Israel and Palestine, colleagues of mine have been building relationships with the political and religious extremes on both sides. They have used the history of the IRA and Sinn Fein, to show how it is possible to move from the armed struggle to political methods.
In August 2006 there was an appalling war in south Lebanon. This was followed over the last New Year by the devastating assault on Gaza. These man-made disasters could have been foreseen and more inclusive dialogue might have prevented them.
In Middle-Eastern culture, trust is often built through shared meals and frequent visits in the worst of times. My colleagues are trying to build reliable unofficial channels of communication. I support them, and try to reflect their views in our debates in the House of Lords, as well as the understandable fears and angers of the parties in conflict.
I hope to see the whole world devoting concentrated effort and attention to building sustainable peace in the Middle East. It will only be sustainable, if it grows from the ground upwards, as well as from the top levels downwards. It will require the help of Jews, Christians and Muslims.
Thank you for welcoming me to your site – let me know what you think of my first blog.