A University of Arkansas at Little Rock student is conducting research on how measures to address histories of violence affect conflict-affected societies after spending the summer at a prestigious research and graduate preparatory program.
Davis is one of only 10 students accepted to the program, where interns worked with faculty and graduate student mentors to conduct political science research on civil conflict management and peace studies. There, he started researching the impacts of transitional justice and reparations on post-civil war peace. Transitional justice is a term that refers to a range of policy measures, such as criminal prosecutions and memorials, that are designed to provide some form of justice for past human rights violations.
The program also served as graduate school preparation, providing him with essential skills to pursue further education in political science and peace studies at the graduate level.
“I absolutely loved it. I made wonderful friends and connections. It opened up a different path to my career,” Davis said. “I’ve always wanted to work toward international law, but now I can do that with political science and international relations, and it has opened up another path toward graduate school. I can do more traveling with hands on human peacebuilding research.”
Davis was inspired to apply for the program after taking a seminar on peacebuilding and post conflict reconstruction with Dr. Eric Wiebelhaus-Brahm, associate professor in the School of Public Affairs. Davis’ research project is entitled, “Repairing the Breach: How Material and Symbolic Transitional Justice Affect Post Civil War Peace.”
“Ra’phael’s research has the potential to make original contributions to the transitional justice field by distinguishing the effects of different types of reparations,” Wiebelhaus-Brahm said. “This project is the great foundation for a doctoral dissertation. Among other things, he will be building an original dataset that will aid future research on reparations.”
Davis studied the implementation of reparations in United Nations member countries that have experienced a civil war or conflict from the 1980s through the present. Reparations were classified as symbolic, such as having memorial ceremonies, governments issuing public apologies, and building museums to commemorate the event, or material reparations consisting of monetary compensation, property restitution, or other material benefits by the government to victims.
“Material reparations have the ability to change the conditions in which a person exists,” Davis said. “The government can issue a public apology, but their living conditions don’t change and the physical conditions don’t change. That’s not to say that symbolic reparations can’t be powerful. I think rebuilding buildings with cultural value, having reconciliation ceremonies, and building museums and memorials can have an immense effect.”
Davis largely found that symbolic reparations only work well enough to reduce the probability of the resumption of the conflict when material reparations are made as well.
“So far, material reparations should work better than symbolic reparations, but they work better together,” he said. “I calculated the different types of material and symbolic reparations. Together, most of the mechanisms work well together except for the combination of amnesties in reparation. Providing amnesties to perpetrators along with reparations to victims is counterproductive. The museum-memorials variable paired with reparations doesn’t have statistical significance. There is also an argument that museums and memorials can cause retraumatization and anger.”
Davis is continuing his research with Wiebelhaus-Brahm and will present his findings at the UA Little Rock Student Research and Creative Works Expo on April 18. He is also the recipient of a Mentored Signature Experience Project Award. He used the award to pay for books and software needed to continue his research project as well as to fund his travel to present his research at the International Studies Association Midwest Annual Conference in St. Louis Nov. 15-17.
In the upper right photo, Ra’phael Davis is researching which type of conflict reparations are most effective in conflict-affected societies. Photo by Benjamin Krain.