ORG in conversation with Jorge Restrepo: in the first of a series of special interviews with leading experts on casualty recording of armed conflict around the world.
Jorge Restrepo is the Director of the Conflict Analysis Resource Centre (CERAC) in Bogotá, Colombia, which is a member of the International Practitioner Network hosted on www.everycasualty.org, which is facilitated by our Recording Casualties of Armed Conflict programme.
Violence is a major issue in Colombia: According to CERAC’s own research in 2006, between 1979 and 2005 more than 475,000 people were killed by the use of firearms in organized and petty crime, and in the ongoing conflict between the state and the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN).
John Sloboda of ORG interviewed Jorge Restrepo on a trip to Bogotá, Colombia, on 15th March 2011. John was in Colombia to give lectures on casualty recording to local NGOs and state representatives.
John Sloboda: Can you explain a little bit what is CERAC and what it does?
JR: This is an organisation that will belong easier to the class of a think tank. In that sense, it is a research centre, a centre of studies, which specialises in the study of violence. With a view towards violence reduction, especially by providing information analysis that will guide policies—public policies for violence reduction.
JS: Why was CERAC created?
JR: You see, the main reason is that in Latin America as well as in Colombia, of course, we thought that there was a space for the professional study of violence from the social sciences view point in order to inform policies. I mean in very many cases debates are surrounding violence in Colombia and Latin America where hot-headed debates are usually guided by ideological preconceptions and political decisions, which are of course fine and legitimate. But are in very many occasions not based on sound evidence and transparent methodologies that will guide interventions.
JS: What will be some of the major achievements you can point to in your work?
JR: Well, that’s a difficult questions. I mean achievements: I reckon that we have started to walk through a very difficult path that leads to try to improve the way that we measure violence in order to try to see what is the extent of the nature of the characteristics of violence. I think that we have moved forward on that debate. I reckon we have qualified and helped qualify the debate on violence and conflict, in particular in the case of Colombia. Finally, I would say that we have been able to create a capacity to better understand the nature, the routines, and the effects of violence. In Colombia and in other countries in Latin America.
JS What are some of the major difficulties or challenges that you face in your work?
JR: In very many occasions it is to try to dispel the preconceptions that usually guide people in these debates. It is very difficult to engage in debate or dialogues without those preconceptions. These are by nature very political issues but people and in some circumstances at some institutions are not willing or open to dialogue or to reckon that maybe they are not right about their positions in the debates surrounded by violence. Just to give you an idea in terms of victim assistance, or the size of victimisation, or the groups that are mostly victimised by this. Usually, people find it very difficult to yield to the opinion of others or to recognise that they are wrong, simply to take into account the views of others.
JS: What opportunities to you see for working together with other organisations around the world that are interested in violence monitoring?
JR: Of course we can learn a lot, we have a lot to learn, but also we might have things to share about practices and circumstances that we have lived through in the past, for example, in terms of security and the politicisation of debates. And I will say of course a comparative agenda on the different manifestations of violence is on the books -- I mean we’re very interested in continuing studying violence, its nature, its characteristics, why it happens, and how it can be ended. And that is by nature a comparative research agenda.
JS: My final question: Do you have some hope or aspiration for what this work can achieve in five or ten years?
JR: I reckon the goal, the ultimate goal, would be violence reduction. I see for example that reconciliation has its means in violence reduction and stopping these cycles of violence. And in particular in this area of Latin America, stopping those forms of violence reigniting, or transforming, into new more vicious forms of victimisation—group and mass victimisation—will be key for the future.
JS: Thank you very much for talking to Oxford Research Group.