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Students gather for peace

Katie Mounts | Monday, March 29, 2004

Speakers from the Notre Dame community, across the nation and from abroad gathered to speak at the two-day Notre Dame Peace Conference Friday and Saturday, which organizers called a success even though fewer students than desired attended the event. One of the most prominent speakers, Juan Mendez, Notre Dame’s director of the Center for Civil and Human Rights at the Notre Dame Law School and adopted “Prisoner of Conscience” of Amnesty International. spoke about the importance of combining concerns for peace with those for human rights. “Peace, along with the absence of violence and killings, means a redress of human rights violations,” he said. He questioned the often lesser priority given to consequences of human rights violations as a part of amnesty agreements. “The point is to insist on a better peace. Some of the most popular presentations were a debate on just war, a moderated discussion on America’s domestic issues with peace and another discussion on case studies related to the establishment of peace. Notre Dame seniors Kate Belden and Maureen Fitzpatrick were two of the five presenters for the case studies presentation. They spoke passionately about conflicts in Burma, an Asian country plagued by civil warfare. “Kate and I have been consumed with learning more about the situation in Burma,” Fitzpatrick said. The two students are also putting their words into action on campus by trying to establish Notre Dame’s own chapter of the Free Burma Coalition. Fitzpatrick thought the conference was a “good opportunity to engage in dialogue about these issues.” “On a campus that’s not very politically active,” Belden said, “we’ll do anything we can to spread the word about the coalition. It’s also very encouraging to see the other case studies and see what other people are doing.”Student co-chair Monica JacirZablah said that with the diversity of topics, organizers were able to bring in a wider variety of speaker, including more international applicants, from different fields. Faculty sponsor Daniel Philpott spoke to the success of the conference. “It’s fabulous,” he said. “The students did an incredible job organizing and put an incredible amount of time into it, and it’s paying off.”The event’s success, however, only came after a tremendous amount of work by the student sponsors. “It was a lot more work than we expected,” JacirZablah said. She said she had to handle “problems that came up with every event” such as making sure the schedule was followed carefully to ensure that all later events were not delayed.JacirZablah also commented on the lack of political activism and student enthusiasm for peace studies, given the low attendance by Notre Dame students. Thus, while over 100 people attended this year’s conference, more than in past years, organizers were still disappointed that less than two percent of the Notre Dame community attended the widely publicized event.