A champion of peace
October 3, 2022
Queen’s University political studies professor John McGarry has been named the 2022 laureate for the Pearson Peace Medal, an award designated by the United Nations Association of Canada to recognize a Canadian who has made outstanding contributions to peace and prosperity around the world.
Born and raised in Northern Ireland, Dr. McGarry's research on the politics of deeply divided societies is home grown. His foundational works on Northern Ireland were influential in its 1998 Good Friday Peace Agreement and Dr. McGarry has since become one of the world’s foremost experts in conflict resolution. A champion of consociationalism and federalism, both examples of governmental power-sharing arrangements, Dr. McGarry was appointed the United Nations' first Senior Advisor on Power-Sharing in 2008 and served as the lead governance advisor to the UN-led constitutional reform negotiations in Cyprus for over a decade. He has lent his expertise to governmental peace processes in Bolivia, Moldova, and Iraq, among other places, and is an ongoing member of the United Nations' elite Mediation Roster.
"The core idea that I learned growing up in Northern Ireland is that one community in a deeply divided society does not like being governed by the other," explains Dr. McGarry. "I’ve spent my entire career thinking about how best to design institutions of power-sharing and autonomy to deal with this problem."
Key to McGarry’s work has been the role of comparative research and its application to conflict resolution and policy making. "A large part of my work involves thinking about whether something that has worked in one place might, with perhaps a little tweaking, have value in another," he says.
Power-sharing continues to be an important piece of the resolution puzzle in many of today’s ongoing conflicts. Prior to Russia’s invasion in February of this year, Dr. McGarry participated in informal or 'track two' diplomatic negotiations in Ukraine. He sees institutions of autonomy and power sharing as potentially an important part of Ukraine’s peaceful future. Dr. McGarry hopes to continue his service to peacebuilding, saying that he would "be honoured to try to contribute something to Ukraine’s reconstruction when the time comes."
In the meantime, Dr. McGarry is currently focusing his research on how and why some communities in deeply divided societies come to dominate others, referencing such examples as the apartheid regime in South Africa as well as cases of settler colonialism worldwide. He hopes that his research will ultimately help to shed light on more equitable paths forward.
"Part of the goal of this new line of research is to explain how these unjust and violent domination regimes come to be and, in so doing, explore how they can be dismantled," adds McGarry.
First bestowed in 1979 and awarded annually, the Pearson Peace Medal recognizes a Canadian who, either through professional efforts or volunteerism, has forwarded the causes of peace as demonstrated by former Canadian Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lester B. Pearson. Nominations are open for any Canadian citizen to nominate a fellow Canadian whose dedication to peacebuilding they believe evokes the spirit of the Pearson Peace Medal. Nominations are deliberated over by a jury of esteemed Canadians to select the year’s honouree.
The Pearson Prize is added to an illustrious list of national and international honours for McGarry. He is a Canada Research Chair, fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and an Officer of the Order of Canada. Additionally, McGarry is the recipient of the Trudeau Fellowship Prize (2011), the Killam Prize in the Social Sciences (2013), the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2013), the Molson Prize (2016), the Innis-Gérin Medal (2014), and the Distinguished Scholar Award from the International Studies Association (2016).
Yet, Dr. McGarry maintains an enduring modesty when it comes to his achievements and was "flabbergasted" to learn of his Peace Medal recognition. "Winning this prize means as much to me as any other I’ve won, no question," he said. "To be in the company of previous recipients such as Roméo Dallaire, Louise Arbour, Lloyd Axworthy, and Beverley McLachlin is an incredible honour."
The Pearson Peace Medal is traditionally bestowed by Canada’s Governor General and Dr. McGarry is scheduled to receive his at a ceremony later this fall.