University of Chicago holds Belfast conference on global conflict

International scholars, policy leaders and practitioners discuss crisis strategies

The University of Chicago and Queen's University Belfast today concluded Global Conflict | The Human Impact in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Hosted by The Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts at the University of Chicago and The Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen's University Belfast, the conference saw leading voices engage in two days of conversation focused on strategies for resolving violent conflict and reducing its impact on people around the globe.

The conference was led by James Robinson, institute director of The Pearson Institute at UChicago, and Richard English, distinguished professorial fellow of the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute at Queen's University Belfast.

Joining via video message was Hazim Avdal, an Iraqi refugee living in the United States and studying computer science at UChicago.

A panel of speakers highlighted the conflict research being conducted worldwide, with keynote addresses from former U.S. Sen. George J. Mitchell, Sergio Jaramillo Caro, former High Commissioner of Peace in Colombia, and Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The conference delved into the human issues of violent conflict through the lens of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland, the recent end of Colombia's 50-year war with the FARC and the global refugee crisis.

“We strive to forge innovative approaches to understanding and resolving global conflicts, while learning from leaders who have achieved peace breakthroughs on the ground,” said University of Chicago Provost Daniel Diermeier. “We will build upon the robust dialogue of Global Conflict | The Human Impact to further address today's most pressing humanitarian crises while exploring how research can better inform policy.”

“As all nations grapple with the daunting challenges and the human toll of the greatest refugee crisis since World War II, the lessons learned from the Good Friday Agreement 20 years ago, and now Colombia in recent years, are profoundly relevant,” added English. “We are proud to have partnered with the University of Chicago to bring this panel of remarkable speakers together in important conversation.”

Second-year student Avdal gave a personal story of his experience as a refugee. Avdal grew up as a member of the Yazidi religious minority in northern Iraq, which has suffered persecution at the hands of ISIS.

In 2013, Avdal graduated high school with honors and was accepted into the University of Mosul. But before he could attend, Yazidi students were purged from the college by ISIS, forcing around 2,000 students to drop out under threat of death. Shortly after, Avdal’s family narrowly escaped an ISIS attack on their village in which 530 of the population of 2,000 were killed, captured or enslaved.

Avdal became involved in the nonprofit organization Yazda, using his IT knowledge in service of other genocide survivors. Through his work with Yazda, Avdal became acquainted with the Clooney family. He came to the U.S. as a refugee with the support and sponsorship of George and Amal Clooney and the Clooney Foundation for Justice. After arriving in the U.S., Avdal applied and was accepted into the University of Chicago.