Expert Views: Where Civilian Protection and Peacebuilding Intersect

Experts and practitioners from around the world met in Beirut to weigh in on the growing acceptance of unarmed civilian protection methods in peacebuilding efforts.

Written by Natalie Sikorski Published on Read time Approx. 5 minutes
Nonviolent Peaceforce and Muslim Aid staff speak with IDP in Iraq. Nonviolent Peaceforce

BEIRUT – When Nonviolent Peaceforce, a nonpartisan unarmed peacekeeping organization, held its first Good Practices workshop here in Beirut last month, experts from Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Lebanon shared stories of successes – and failures.

Their goal was to create new standardized practices so that experts and practitioners in unarmed civilian protection (UCP) could work more effectively with peacebuilders to foster long-term solutions to violence and conflict.

As part of our “Expert Views” series, Peacebuilding Deeply asked workshop participants to weigh in on the challenges of building UCP practices and how the peacebuilding community can benefit from integrating these methods.

Eli McCarthy, PhD, Justice and Peace Studies, Georgetown University

UCP can be a tool for peacebuilding as it helps to create space for people who are doing mediation, restorative circles and trauma healing, which are key peacebuilding practices. It models, in a really powerful way, the courage of nonviolence in some difficult, often very violent situations, which contributes to opening a window for others to consider using nonviolent methods in that conflict and afterward. Some of the UCP groups enable nonviolent resistance, which is key to creating conditions where peacebuilding can flourish even more.

The professionalization of peacebuilding and UCP is positive, in the sense that it helps it to become more of an institution. This will help the field in that it will bring a regular flow of resources and recognition by a wider audience; people can be better trained in it and therefore it can have more impact.

The challenge is for it to maintain its flexibility in different contexts and different styles of unarmed civilian protection, but also for it not to become simply a technique that anyone can draw on. While we hope many people will draw on it, if it is just a technique without the formative elements, which can include either key principles or different habits such as empathy, compassion and courage, then it could be used in some inadequate ways or even some detrimental ways.

Ammar Zakri, Programs Manager, Sanad for Peacebuilding, Iraq

Peacebuilding is represented in everything, even emergency response, early recovery, relief and development – they should all be seen through the lens of peacebuilding. For example UCP, though not traditionally part of the peacebuilding field, works toward reconciliation and creates an environment where it can be pursued. UCP acts as the first response, an emergency response, which can lead to recovery and normality. In order to succeed, peacebuilding requires a holistic approach. It is a huge concept that deserves more attention than it currently receives.

Peacebuilding requires us to accept each other as human beings and to act as citizens serving our community as best as possible, which can create the foundation for development of a nation.

However, there are many struggles that peacebuilders face: the will of the majority, the will of politicians and the agendas that govern decision-making. They trickle down to the mind-set of the wider population and make it difficult to start a conversation around the need for peacebuilding. The challenge also reflects that the international, regional and national efforts to create conflicts dwarf peacebuilding efforts so, proportionally, peacebuilding initiatives do not represent even a sliver of the efforts that go into conflict.

The field of peacebuilding is finally getting attention, in terms of methodologies, models, theories, which are finally being accepted into the mainstream. Emergency response and relief and development have been supported by humanitarian responses for a long time – but peacebuilding is still at the early stages of acceptance.

Julie Brown, Christian Peacemaker Teams, Iraqi Kurdistan

Peacebuilding starts with recognizing the humanity in your neighbor and your global neighbors, and understanding that all of our struggles are interconnected. It is also trying to learn what it means to be an ally and really trying to understand someone else’s context and being present and leveraging any skills or privileges you might have that you can use to change someone’s circumstances.

The peacebuilding field is still very small and in order to be more successful, it needs to grow. One of the challenges in approaching that growth is that there is a lack of awareness around what normal everyday citizens can do to effect change. The people I talk to generally feel defeated and say “What’s the point?” They maybe see an injustice but don’t see that there is anything they can do to effect change.

The peacebuilding field is currently going through a professionalization process that comes with both pros and cons. The benefits that have come with professionalization are that the skills that people come to the field with are more specialized and can be harvested through a more formalized application process. However, the drawback of this is that it limits people’s participation in peacebuilding. Often someone thinks they have nothing to offer, when sometimes just being present in certain circumstances can help build peace.

Jenny McAvoy, Director of Protection, InterAction

The dominant narrative around conflict and how to resolve conflict is not a very nuanced one. There is a lot of emphasis on the use of military force and there is a lot of emphasis on formalized political negotiation processes. But actors with a more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the drivers of force are not being heard. Therefore alternatives and strategies emanating from their work are not on the global radar.

Peacebuilding is crucial to resolving conflict because it is about taking a holistic approach to understanding the drivers of conflict – not just the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice.

However, in order to be successful, peacebuilding actors need to be better at articulating the ultimate desired outcome they are working toward and plan backward from there and be able to articulate the key components or milestones that need to be build up in order to reach an outcome. NGOs have tended to be too amorphous or wishy-washy in describing what they are doing or, on the other hand, so obsessed with specific activities and outputs that there is a lack of strategic achievable vision.

We also need to look at focusing on achieving strategic outcomes in a given outbreak of armed conflict. We need to recognize that humanitarians and peacebuilders need to work together in order to achieve comprehensive results and comprehensive outcomes.

We also need to recognize that we are each having an effect on local civil society and that we should share a vision and the values and ways of working that help to ensure a robust future for that civil society that we are seeking to engage with and support.

Jonathan Pinckney, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Department of Sociology and Political Science, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Peacebuilding involves creating the conditions for both the prevention of violence and long-term social flourishing, and goes beyond the immediate cessation of hostility to also preventing hostilities in the future.

While there are benefits to the professionalization of peacebuilding, the danger with this is that you have a peacebuilding community that becomes removed from the needs, interests and desires of the local community. This threatens the long-term sustainability of peacebuilding projects if what’s being done is simply following the internal direction of the peacebuilding community rather than the needs of the people on the ground.

The structure of grant-based funding builds fragmentation into it, because it encourages NGOs to compete with one another. When you have groups that are in direct competition with one another, that makes it difficult to recognize the strengths of the other and one’s own weaknesses because that is not in your interest. It may be banal, but the importance of communication and dialogue cannot be overstated.

Recognizing that one’s own toolkit might not be the most applicable in a given situation and that you may need to rely on the input of others is incredibly important. Recognizing one’s own limitations and the complementarity of other approaches is crucial to avoiding fragmentation in the community.

These responses have been edited for length and clarity.

The views expressed in this article belong to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Peacebuilding Deeply.

Suggest your story or issue.

Send

Share Your Story.

Have a story idea? Interested in adding your voice to our growing community?

Learn more