Peace can be planned. Just like health

"Violence can be prevented. This is not an article of faith, but a statement based on evidence" (WHO 2002). Scilla Elworthy calls for a strategy based on the clear evidence of what is working in scattered pockets around the world, with the creation of 'Infrastructures for Peace' at its core.
Scilla Elworthy
28 November 2011

In 2002 the World Health Organisation made a bold statement in its ground breaking World Report on Violence and Health:

Violence can be prevented and its impact reduced, in the same way that public health efforts have prevented and reduced pregnancy-related complications, workplace injuries, infectious diseases, and illness resulting from contaminated food and water in many parts of the world. The factors that contribute to violent responses – whether they are factors of attitude and behaviour or related to larger social, economic, political and cultural conditions – can be changed.

Violence can be prevented. This is not an article of faith, but a statement based on evidence. Examples of success can be found around the world, from small-scale individual and community efforts to national policy and legislative initiatives.”

Evidence continues to grow to support this claim. Just one recent example – during the run-up to Kenya’s 2010 constitutional referendum, a UN-supported initiative pre-empted nearly 150 incidents of violence and helped the political parties reach consensus on the draft constitution before the vote. In fact, since 2006 UN-supported initiatives have helped to prevent or significantly reduce violence in Guyana, Bolivia, Ghana, Ecuador-Colombia, Togo, the Solomon Islands, Timor Leste, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Lesotho, Nigeria and Guinea.

Successful efforts to prevent and reduce violence are multiplying around the world, especially grassroots, civilian-led efforts such as those of Dishani Jayaweera in Sri Lanka. Ten years ago, the Oxford Research Group was able to identify 400 such initiatives worldwide. (War Prevention Works, 2001). Today there are estimated to be at least five times that number.

Increasingly, the ‘factors that contribute to violent responses’ are being studied and understood. Another ground breaking report, the World Bank’s World Development Report 2011 is a testament to this, and recommends five action points, of which the first is support for community-based programmes that prevent violence.

And, increasingly, people are coming to another startling realisation:

Peace can be planned.

It’s not the result of chance but of conscious decisions, backed by long-term commitment, action and resources. Just like health.

That’s why a handful of far-sighted governments are building ‘infrastructures for peace’ – they realise that peace needs internal systems and structures to support it. Just like health.

Other governments are starting to follow, because what works for peace in one country can be adapted to work in another. And another. And another. Just like health.

To eradicate or control disease, governments initiate immunisation or vaccination campaigns. There now exist similarly effective methods to prevent violence. And that’s why we think it’s time for governments, civil society and international organisations to come together to join up the dots and start to forge a peace building strategy. A strategy based on the clear evidence of what is working in scattered pockets around the world, with the creation of Infrastructures for Peace (I4P) at its core.

The peace building strategy we outline below is far from complete – we know that. We offer it in the hope that it will be added to, and improved by, the engagement of many others. Others who, like us, believe that the tremendous work for peace being done worldwide by thousands of organisations and hundreds of thousands of individuals would benefit hugely from greater coherence, more focus and a lot more resources.

For how much longer can the world continue to spend almost 2000 times more on its military than on its peace-builders? How much longer can the world afford not to invest properly in peace-building and conflict prevention?

It’s been estimated that violence cost the global economy more than $8.12 trillion in 2010. That’s a staggering sum when debt is ballooning in many countries – especially as it’s clear that conflict prevention is so extraordinarily cost-effective. The economic losses from Kenya’s post-election violence in 2008 have been estimated at $3.6 billion . The successful 2010 initiative to prevent violence around the vote on the new constitution cost about $5 million.

So compelling are figures like these that some commentators argue that the surest way to revive the global economy is to commit effort, resources and political will to one area above all others – reducing violence.

What then might a coherent peace-building strategy look like?

The vision would be of a world in which conflict is managed without violence.

The mission would be to support greater coherence of efforts – by civil society, NGOs, governments and inter-governmental organisations - to prepare for and prevent violence and violent conflict.

The approach would be based on what is actually working – plus the emerging twenty-first century paradigm of holding collective responsibility for the planet, rather than on the twentieth century paradigm of exercising national power. To reflect the need for systemic change, conflict response mechanisms must be more strategic, more guided by long-term planning and crisis readiness, more collaborative at all levels and more inclusive of grassroots initiatives. We must move away from responses that are slow, late, reactive, fractured and destructive, and towards a focus on early warning, early response and preventive action.

The initial objectives, specifically, would be:

To support more countries to build national Infrastructures for Peace – dynamic networks of interdependent structures, mechanisms, resources, values and skills which, through dialogue and consultation, contribute to conflict prevention and peacebuilding in a society

To establish a ‘Global Fund for Local Peace’ that will find, grow and replicate the best locally-led peace-building initiatives around the world

To create a sustainable, measurable increase in the number of young people participating in and leading peacebuilding programmes, including in economically-advanced countries – with the right training, skills and support young people can play a critical role in conflict prevention

To make it the norm – not the exception – for qualified and representative women to be included in peace processes, and for their agency as peace-builders to be recognised and utilised. In places such as Rwanda and Liberia where women have taken a more active and positive role in ending conflict and developing post conflict constitutions, they have led the way in finding more equitable transitional settlements and putting in place the foundations for longer lasting peace. In 2000 the United Nations passed resolution UNSCR1325, mandating the inclusion of women at all stages of peace building. Yet ten years on, and a number of subsequent resolutions later, women generally remain disempowered in fragile states. Having recognized how vital it is to have greater numbers of women in positions of influence on peace and security issues and to ensure they are present in good numbers at peace talks, the practical question is how to get them there and how to ensure their participation at all levels in building peace

To start a global campaign to render the arms trade obsolete

The strategy suggested here is a baseline, just the beginning of what needs to be done; a start, not an end result. We offer it for comment and improvement, for gaps to be identified and filled, and in the hope of attracting support and partners.

We look forward to a rich, invigorating, fruitful dialogue.

Eddy Canfor Dumas Co-Director of Engi, co-ordinator of the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Conflict Issues.

Sue Corbett (UK) former managing director of medical publishing at John Wiley & Sons

Mohamed Daghar (Kenya) Master in Peace, Conflict and Development Studies

Tobi Dress (USA) international consultant, attorney, mediator

Scilla Elworthy (UK) founder of Oxford Research Group and Peace Direct

Ruth Hickin (UK) project leader on youth and peace education

Elena Pagallo (Italy) Master in Peace, Conflict and Development Studies

Inge Relph (UK)- former Chair of Womankind Worldwide, Director of the Arab International Women's Forum.

Jennifer Rogers (UK) founder of the Chirag Projects, former CEO of Leap Confronting Conflict

Paul Van Tongeren (Netherlands) former convenor of the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict





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