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PhD candidate to present research on the Colombian peace process at prestigious conference

Kerry-Luise Prior will speak at annual convention of International Studies Association

A PhD student at the University of East London (UEL) has been selected to present her research on the Colombian peace process at a prestigious international conference. 

Kerry-Luise Prior (pictured above), a second year doctoral candidate in international law, is scheduled to appear in April 2018 at the annual convention of the International Studies Association in San Francisco, California.  

Ms Prior said, “It’s a great honour to have been selected to present my work.”

The Colombian conflict was initially triggered by the 1948 assassination of political leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, which resulted in a decade of political fighting between conservatives and liberals, known as la Violencia.

The ensuing war from the 1960s onwards saw bloody conflict between the Colombian government, paramilitaries, and communist guerrilla groups. The death toll is estimated at 220,000, with 25,000 disappearances and 5.7 million people displaced.

Ms Prior said, “After high school I spent a year in Colombia working on a project with children who had been internally displaced because of the conflicts in Colombia. That experience really gave me the passion to pursue the topic academically.”

Her presentation will look at some of the transitional justice mechanisms proposed in a peace agreement signed in 2016 by the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). 

She said, “Some of the things proposed include shorter prison sentences and even no prison sentence for those who voluntarily confess to their war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

“There’s also some discussion about how to deal with farmers who supported the rebel groups by growing coca, sometimes under force, which was used to make cocaine – and earn money which was used to fund FARC."

Ms Prior said she is also interested in exploring the historical narrative about the conflict, such as who gets to decide how people remember and understand the conflict, and the potential biases in these accounts. 

Despite the government and FARC signing the peace agreement, a referendum held on 2 October 2016 resulted in 50.2 per cent of Colombian voters voting against the agreement and 49.8 per cent voting in favour.

Ms Prior said, “The question then arises about whether the proposed accountability mechanisms were trusted to bring peace and justice. If it is perceived within society that the proposed accountability mechanisms would grant impunity it might also put the prospects for sustainable peace at risk.”

Ms Prior, a dual citizen of the UK and Germany, earned undergraduate degrees in Holland and England, then spent time working for the German Foreign Ministry. 

She said “My degrees have led me into this field of study, and my work at the Foreign Ministry brought me into contact with Professor Chandra Sriram at UEL, who is one of the leading academics in the field of transitional justice.” 

Ms Prior, who won a scholarship from UEL, is completing her research under the supervision of Professor Sriram, who is the director of UEL’s Centre on Human Rights in Conflict.

The International Studies Association is one of the oldest interdisciplinary associations in the world, dedicated to understanding international, transnational and global affairs.

Founded in 1959, it has 7,000 members across 100 countries, comprising academics, practitioners, policy experts, private sector workers and independent researchers, among others. The 2017 convention was attended by 6,500 people.