Just Access

Episode 12 - Access to Justice is Crucial for Ending Conflicts - Insights from Donatella Rovera

May 06, 2024 Just Access Season 2 Episode 12
Episode 12 - Access to Justice is Crucial for Ending Conflicts - Insights from Donatella Rovera
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Episode 12 - Access to Justice is Crucial for Ending Conflicts - Insights from Donatella Rovera
May 06, 2024 Season 2 Episode 12
Just Access

In this episode, we have the pleasure of continuing the conversation with Donatella Rovera, who is Senior Crisis Response Advisor at Amnesty International.

 For more than 20 years, she has been a key member of Amnesty's on the ground investigative efforts in war, crisis, and other situations of human rights abuse. Listen to this episode as Donatella discusses insights from her career, including on some less discussed conflicts, and about access to justice globally.

Enjoy listening!

Don’t forget to rate us, recommend us and share on social media! 

Support the Show.

Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, we have the pleasure of continuing the conversation with Donatella Rovera, who is Senior Crisis Response Advisor at Amnesty International.

 For more than 20 years, she has been a key member of Amnesty's on the ground investigative efforts in war, crisis, and other situations of human rights abuse. Listen to this episode as Donatella discusses insights from her career, including on some less discussed conflicts, and about access to justice globally.

Enjoy listening!

Don’t forget to rate us, recommend us and share on social media! 

Support the Show.

Donatella Rovera - Part 2


[00:00:00] Dr Miranda Melcher: Hello and welcome to Just Access. Too many individuals and groups around the world today are denied access to justice. This access is vital for making human rights effective and securing human dignity, especially for those in situations of vulnerability, including women, children, minorities, migrants, or detainees.

[00:00:25] Through our podcast, we explore ideas about how to improve access to justice for all. Our motto is Everyone Can Be a Human Rights Defender, and our goal with these conversations is to raise awareness about human rights issues. I'm Dr. Miranda Melcher, a Senior Legal Fellow at Just Access, and in this episode, I have the pleasure of continuing my conversation with Donatella Rovera, who is Senior Crisis Response Advisor at Amnesty International.

[00:00:51] For more than 20 years, she has been a key member of Amnesty's on the ground investigative efforts in war, crisis, and other situations of human rights [00:01:00] abuse. Listen to this episode as Donatella discusses insights from her career, including on some less discussed conflicts, and about access to justice globally.


[00:01:23] Interview - Part 2

[00:01:23] Dr Miranda Melcher: Turning, I suppose, to a different aspect of your work, you've been on the ground in some of the worst conflicts of the last 20 years and unfortunately there are many of them. You've written reports in, about places and from places, including the Central African Republic, Yemen, Iraq, Ukraine, many others as well.

[00:01:45] Given kind of how many places you've worked in and efforts you've been involved with, is there any experience or moment that you find yourself even today that you keep coming back to?

[00:01:59] Donatella Rovera: [00:02:00] Many. Conflicts have obviously each conflict is situation as its own dynamic, but there are some patterns, there are some issues, there are some way in which people react to situation that, do recur.

[00:02:14] How players can play very different roles at different times, because unfortunately often conflicts are not so orderly with the beginning and then end, and then the situation changes. Often the conflict goes through cycles where they go through a period of lower intensity and higher intensity or they may stop for a while and resume in a different forms with players playing different roles. 

[00:02:43] I think that one of the things that I find again and again, I think virtually in every conflict situation I've worked in that never stops to amaze me is to see people who are ordinary civilians who are [00:03:00] at their most vulnerable at the time when they need everything the most, because often they have lost everything, their livelihood, their homes, their loved one.

[00:03:12] And yet they find it within themselves to share the little they have at the time when they have least, with other people who they barely know, they don't know at all: giving shelters to others, sharing food. So really, I think that I can say with confidence that in pretty much every single conflict where I've worked, the greatest factor contributing to survival of the ordinary civilian, especially in the earlier stages is what comes locally, the help and the solidarity that develops very quickly in situation where perhaps one would think people would be least willing to share because the're least [00:04:00] able to help others because they are themselves in the situation of need and distress. 

[00:04:04] And yet of course there is plenty of examples of people also profiting from terrible situation, but overall it never ceases to amaze me how people find the strength to go on, to keep looking after their children, the sick people who are around them and to help absolute strangers. And that's very humbling, but it's also, something that while I work most of the time in situation of absolute horror it's something that gives me incredible energy because it gives me so much faith in human being to see that.

[00:04:45] Dr Miranda Melcher: No, that's wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing that with us. I suppose I'd like to ask you about a conflict as we've mentioned, there are a number of them around the world, many of which are incredibly devastating, but some of which get in the news more than [00:05:00] others and perhaps might be more familiar to our listeners than others, obviously, Ukraine and Gaza coming immediately to mind.

[00:05:08] But I wonder if I can ask you a bit about аnother devastating conflict that perhaps gets less attention, one I know you've worked on as well, Sudan. What would you like listeners or what would you hope listeners might be more aware of or take away about what's going on there?

[00:05:24] Donatella Rovera: Yes, Sudan absolute tragedy. The conflict broke out almost exactly a year ago on the 15th of April of last year. And in the one year, that the conflict has been ongoing this conflict has produced the biggest displacement crisis in the world at the moment, but few people know it. And already early on, after the conflict broke out on the 15th of April, it received a certain amount of media coverage regularly for a few weeks.[00:06:00] 

[00:06:01] But that really petered out quite quickly. The lack of interest, the lack of awareness and interest, at the international level was also very visible in the lack of resources being made available compared to other conflicts. So, you know, at the moment the three conflict that you mentioned, each of them are a good example in its own right. So Ukraine has commended a lot of international attention at every level, rightly so. 

[00:06:37] Аt the level of governments around the world who have contributed in еvery possible ways with military and non military aid, but also with opening their doors to Ukrainian refugees, which is a very good thing and then we have a conflict like Sudan, [00:07:00] where the humanitarian appeal by the UN agencies and the main humanitarian organization operating in Sudan have never been funded beyond something like maximum of less than 30% and that was already the case early on, so it's not a question of fatigue.

[00:07:22] The Sudanese refugees have not been, not only they have not been welcomed, there's been no help for them to move beyond the countries that are immediately bordering Sudan. They've not, nobody has offered to give them visa, even temporary visa for temporary protection, nothing of the sort. Worse than that, there were Sudanese who. Were in the process of applying for visas and their passports were in the various embassies and the embassies when the war broke out, just, as the embassy staff left, [00:08:00] evacuated from Sudan, they destroyed everything, including the passports of these people, leaving them stranded in Sudan without the ability to leave the country because they had no longer any documents and in that situation they couldn't obtain new passports. 

[00:08:15] So it's a catch 22. Clearly our governments, western governments, have shown very little interest. They have not made as much resources available to meet the incredible challenges that the people of Sudan are facing.

[00:08:32] People are literally facing a famine situation in parts of Sudan because not enough aid is going. There also been not very much effort on the diplomatic engagement front to try and put pressure on the different parties, to put pressure on third parties who are supporting the warring parties on one side or the other of that conflict.

[00:08:57] And some of those who are supporting [00:09:00] some of the warring parties in Sudan with weapons, specifically with weapons have very good relations with Western government who have been up to today unwilling to use the leverage that they could have. 

[00:09:15] And then there is a situation like Gaza, where the conflict has been going on for decades. The conflict in Gaza did not begin on the 7th of October. Gaza was already in a coma situation by then. It had been under a de facto blockade from the occupying power, Israel, which, as the occupying power has very clear responsibilities under international humanitarian law. The occupying power should be providing food, water, electricity, education, healthcare to the population it keeps under military [00:10:00] occupation.

[00:10:00] However, in this particular case, for the many decades during which his occupation has been ongoing, Western governments, the United States, the United Kingdoms, most of the European government have been in a way subsidizing the occupation, paying for things that the occupying power should be paying for, but not exercising the leverage that they have to put pressure on the occupying power not to commit violations of international humanitarian laws, such as imposing a blockade on the entry of humanitarian aid, medicines, and much else. 

[00:10:43] Violations that have increased exponentially since the 7th of October. Gaza is today the conflict where, in percentage terms, more civilians, [00:11:00] more children, more women, more humanitarian workers, more doctors have been killed than anywhere else in the world at any times in modern times.

[00:11:13] More journalists, more aid workers. There is no other conflict anywhere in the world in modern times where such a high percentage of the population, civilian children, women, journalists, humanitarian workers, doctors have been killed. Nowhere. And yet, while it receives quite a lot of media coverage and different governments are speaking quite a lot about it, many of these facts are not coming through and certainly governments like the United States, the United Kingdoms and others who continue to send weapons, [00:12:00] knowing that these weapons will in all likelihood be used to commit war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law.

[00:12:12] So we have a conflict, which receives a lot of coverage and there is a lot of action to go with it, such as Ukraine. We have a conflict like Sudan, where there is very little interest on all fronts, very little aid, hardly any media coverage and then there is a conflict like Gaza, where there is a lot of media coverage, there is a lot of talks from our politicians and governments, but there is none of the concrete actions that are necessary, and in addition to that, there is quite a lot of actions that are directly contributing to violations of international humanitarian law, some of which [00:13:00] constitute war crimes. 

[00:13:01] So three different situations, which elicit very different reactions from the international community with tragic results in all the cases. 

[00:13:14] Dr Miranda Melcher: Yeah, thank you so much for going into each of them from your particularly unique perspective and putting them in conversation and comparison with each other in terms of coverage, which is so rarely done. In that sort of vein of kind of zooming out beyond just understanding one particular conflict, our focus, obviously with Just Access, it's in the title, is focusing on access to justice.

[00:13:38] In the conflicts you've investigated either recently or further back in your career, in what ways or to what extent have you found that access to justice or lack of it plays a role in people's experience of conflict, is maybe a factor causing it, maybe something that could help bring conflicts to an end?

[00:13:56] Donatella Rovera: When there is no justice, that [00:14:00] generally means that the impunity that is being enjoyed by those who have been responsible for war crimes against humanity and other gross human rights violations in the context of conflict. If those people are not held to account and often are almost rewarded because they because they continue to control political processes, economic resources, territory, and so on and so forth.

[00:14:34] And so that impunity is a major, if not the major driver of conflict, because so long as people and groups of people feel that they don't have to bear the consequences for the crimes they commit they will continue to commit those [00:15:00] crimes. There may be exception where, people have a change of heart and they stop, but by and large, that is true in common law crimes as well.

[00:15:11] If people feel that they can get away, that there is no consequence for the atrocities they commit and in some cases there is even a reward because they control territories and resources as a result of those crimes that they've committed with impunity. And that's why we're seeing so many conflicts not ending, but rather being cyclical because if a problem is not resolved, it's not going to go away by itself.

[00:15:42] And so improving access to justice is this one single most important endeavor in trying to end and prevent conflict. But unfortunately that's not where the efforts are [00:16:00] going. We're seeing either, either those efforts are not happening because of a lack of interest or because of sort of short term objectives of politicians who are either just looking for a sort of a quick solutions in the short term and they're not thinking about the longer term the longer term consequences, the longer term what should be achieved over a longer term.

[00:16:28] Sometime we see big efforts at the international level with the fixation on holding elections, but without one in a given place, but without being prepared to put in the necessary resources and efforts to ensure that the necessary conditions of security, of freedom of expression, of an atmosphere where people can freely participate in the politics, to [00:17:00] make those elections viable and able to deliver a durable result.

[00:17:06] Dr Miranda Melcher: So are there things that should or could be done instead? Are there better solutions that maybe aren't being enacted, but that we can maybe think about and discuss and see about putting into practice?

[00:17:19] Donatella Rovera: Yes, without a doubt. From the very obvious case scenarios where governments that profess to want to promote respect for international law are then in one way or another contributing to the conflicts they claim to be concerned about, either because they are selling weapons to those who are, to the main parties in this conflict and therefore are fueling the conflict or are unwilling to impose sanctions [00:18:00] because doing business is perhaps lucrative or perhaps because those involved in a given conflict control territory where there are certain resources that are of interest and therefore there is an unwillingness to forego those privileged relations.

[00:18:19] And what we're also seeing is often resources that are devoted to band aid type of non solutions really. So promoting justice, for example, by offering training and capacity building to people involved, lawyers, judges, and people who are involved at the local level to try and make a difference to improve the justice system.

[00:18:51] But if then those very people who have received the training are then not able to put in [00:19:00] practice, because they cannot safely lodge a complaint against those who are breaking international law amongst their leaders or leaders of armed groups in their country because the very governments that have been given the resources to provide the training for the local lawyers and judges are then unwilling to put any pressure on the governments of those very same countries when they are killing people, torturing people, bombing people disappearing people then having, then having given that training is not very useful. 

[00:19:44] Because it's like, doing the soft things, but without the political will to create, to take the concrete action that would contribute to creating an environment that is then enabling the local civil society of [00:20:00] that country to create change in that country. And that happens, unfortunately, way too often.

[00:20:07] Dr Miranda Melcher: Yeah, unfortunately it does. I wonder if I can close with some kind of future looking questions two of them that are related. What advice would you give to people who want to support the kind of good solutions we've talked about? They want to support improving access to justice and ending conflicts, but maybe want to do it in ways that aren't following in your footsteps as an on the ground investigator.

[00:20:32] What advice might you give to those people?

[00:20:36] Donatella Rovera: I guess, get involved! Find out about what's happening. And find out how the governments, the big players, which may be the government, which may be big companies in your environment, in your countries, are they contributing in one way or another [00:21:00] to a conflict in such and such a place, or are they failing to live up to their obligations under international law because they are not taking certain measures and get involved and be prepared to put pressure on your own governments, for example, if you see that conflict are not receiving attention in the media, let the media know that as a reader you would want to know about and why is it not being covered.

[00:21:33] Some things don't happen without any pressure. And, while as individual may think what good does it do if I ask? If you as an individual ask and and other individual ask, that's the only way to create a collective pressure, elected officials have to answer sooner or later their constituents.[00:22:00] 

[00:22:00] And so they, they can't afford to ignore. And likewise with media. So those are things that people can do individually. And as I said, there is also so much work that individual can do in terms of monitoring all sorts of situations through social media.

[00:22:19] There is an enormous amount of information that is available on social media and no one individual can go through everything. And individuals can do a lot by getting involved in monitoring and highlighting some of that.

[00:22:38] Dr Miranda Melcher: In fact, I'd love to ask that as the final question. What advice would you give to people who want to get involved in more, just in than in the ways you've just mentioned. What about people who want to do what you do? What advice might you give them?

[00:22:52] Donatella Rovera: There is a lot more formal education tools that exist today than 30 years [00:23:00] ago when I started my work and preparation through education. Get involved with getting experience. Whether by getting involved with charities in the countries where, you know where these young people who are interested are, or organizations, civil society organizations in other countries, including in the countries that have experienced conflict or that are experiencing conflict. So all of those things together, really there isn't just one thing. It's a question of building up, acquiring experience in, in different ways.

[00:23:39] Outro 

[00:23:39] Dr Miranda Melcher: Thank you so much for speaking with us, Donatella. It was absolutely fascinating to hear your insights. To listeners, thank you as well for being with us too. If you're enjoying the Just Access podcast, please tell your friends, like us, and share us on social media. Please do also rate us and leave [00:24:00] us a review on your favorite podcast app.

[00:24:02] We do read every single review, and it really helps us get the word out about the podcasts. Please also feel free to get in touch with us about your comments, reflections, or suggestions for people or topics we should cover. You can email us by contacting podcast at just-access.de, that's podcast at just-access.de.

[00:24:24] See you next time.