Fresh Perspectives on Peace and Security
Graduate Institute Capstone Students
(Global Security and Power and Conflict tracks)
By Justin Yu
This Tuesday saw the only event during Geneva Peace Week directed from start to finish by Graduate Institute students. Lasting for two hours, this event was ambitious in its inclusion of 14 Capstone projects carried out by 53 IHEID students within a remarkably limited time frame. It was also ambitious in terms of its implications for the future of peacebuilding.
Broken up into four thematic clusters, the event progressed quickly through a variety of peacebuilding topics. The first of these clusters was on contemporary conflict and international responses, and featured five projects that had the opportunity to collaborate with partners such as the ICRC and the UN Institute for Disarmament Research. Topics ranged from the impact of climate change on security sector governance to lethal autonomous weapons systems. These presentations discussed new tools for peacebuilders, such as an interactive map of non-state armed groups in Mali, and made valuable recommendations, like the need to rethink ‘cookie-cutter mandates’.
The second cluster featured two projects on the relationship between youth, peace, and security. The first tackled the economic empowerment of youth in West Africa, while the second grappled with the issue of pull factors for violent extremism. This cluster in particular, as guest speaker David Atwood observed, clearly demonstrated the importance of young people discussing what peace means to them .
The third cluster, entitled ‘Humanitarian and human rights voices from the ground up’, saw presentations that built on cooperation with agencies such as the OHCHR, Médecins Sans Frontières and an anonymous UN agency. This series of presentations managed to remain grounded in its emphasis on issues like poverty and sexual abuse without omitting geopolitical context and political dynamics at the national and interstate level.
Finally, the last four projects discussed ‘New perspectives on peacemaking and peacebuilding’. Featuring partnerships with the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, DCAF and the GPW’s own Geneva Peacebuilding Platform, these projects tackled issues that will determine the future course of international peacebuilding such as environmental peacemaking and the role of the private sector.
As a first year MIA student, I was impressed by the work my seniors were presenting to the attendees of GPW. Having become accustomed to producing pieces of work that neither intend to nor are capable of penetrating the policymaking bubble, these presentations served as a reminder of how the Capstone projects for Graduate Institute students represent a rare opportunity to make an impact in the policy sphere. The biggest takeaway from this event, however, was the fascinating work that these projects have produced. I for one have been persuaded to give this year’s set of Capstone reports a read once they are completed, and wish the institute’s second years good luck in the final rush to publication.
The essential role of fact-checking and media literacy
for building resilience to mis/disinformation and to enhance trust
Organized by UNESCO, BBC Media Action,
Fondation Hirondelle and the Graduate Press
By Justin Yu
Fact-checking, along with media literacy more generally, may be one of the most indispensable skills in this era of prolific mis/disinformation. It is a topic that now more than ever, cannot be ignored. As the panelists at this session made clear, fact-checking is an area of journalism whose relevance will only increase in years to come. Indeed, a failure to fact-check can have a very real impact on security, with Cedric Kalonji from Fondation Hirondelle noting that it can be a life or death matter.
Chaired by Guilherme Canela of UNESCO, the session opened with three straw polls on whether audience members had shared mis/disinformation in the past, which sources of information the attendees trusted, and the first they did upon receiving breaking news. This was accompanied by an admission from Canela that he himself has been guilty of sharing misinformation in the form of a photo of a rainforest fire that had been taken years before he had shared it, thinking that it depicted current events. This was a strong start to the event, with Canela’s refreshing honesty and the interactive element of the straw poll serving as a helpful entry point for the three panellists.
The first of these panelists, Olivia Sohr of Chequeado, a Latin American fact-checking organisation, joined Geneva from Buenos Aires. Continuing the interactivity that Canela had introduced, Sohr offered up three examples of mis/disinformation relating to COVID-19 and quizzed participants on what their responses to these news items would be. Libya Idres, from BBC Media Action, followed this by elaborating on news media and fact-checking in the context of the Libyan conflict. Idres stressed the role that accurate reporting has played in that conflict by promoting social cohesion, providing the audience with a concrete example of how the fight against dis/misinformation helps to protect vulnerable communities in conflict zones. Finally, Cedric Kalonji of Fondation Hirondelle discussed efforts by his organisation to counteract fake news stories in Francophone Africa.
What emerged from the insights of Sohr, Idres and Kalonji was a sense that fact-checking and media literacy are constantly evolving fields tied to recent trends. The panelists have had to respond to new challenges that the pandemic has introduced, with Sohr noting the increasingly sophisticated nature of false news stories about the coronavirus. Social media featured prominently throughout the session, as it clearly represents a platform where mis/disinformation can be spread, but can also be the best platform for reliable, accurate, and attractive information to combat this phenomenon. Kalonji’s presentation featured easily shareable one minute videos that responded to specific fake news stories. Other forms of technology have either aided or frustrated fact-checkers in their work, with Sohr pointing out that ‘deepfakes’ are a technological development that fact-checkers have dreaded for a long time. Meanwhile, other software helps fact-checkers by allowing them to analyse videos frame-by-frame. In the longer term, panelists highlighted the importance of a proactive rather than a purely reactive approach to mis/disinformation. Kalonji in particular emphasised the importance of education in teaching children how to deal with the immense volume of information that they now have at their fingertips.
Ensuring access to accurate, reliable information is absolutely essential to peacebuilding. Moreover, it could be said that this fact-checking session had one key advantage over most of the other GPW panels. While most recommendations on peacebuilding practices can only be implemented by international civil servants with decision-making authority, this particular session brought peacebuilding to the people by offering up simple, actionable advice on how to practice peacebuilding in everyday life. By thinking before sharing; adopting an analytical rather than emotional mindset when engaging with news stories; consulting fact-checking organisations; investigating sources and so on, each and every person has the capacity to be a peacebuilder.