This year, the 21st of September and International Day of Peace find us in urgent need of commitment toward strengthening the ideals of peace. Today, amidst a pandemic we must remember ourselves and each other that our common threat and enemy is a not-well-known virus that is causing suffering, attacking our public health and not only. It is also exposing us to the rare danger of reversing years of human progress.
Such serious and deadly crises are the nearest to the ideal case for achieving worldwide peace. Probably, that’s why in March 2020, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on all warring parties to lay down their weapons and focus on the battle against this unprecedented global risk. Although the key message is sent to armed parties, cooperation, solidarity and peace are just as important for a peaceful society is able to face such crises together.
We will see ‘peace’ beyond its omnipresent symbol of a white dove, by getting a closer look at the work and contribution of Conciliation Resources– an international organization committed to stopping violent conflict and creating more peaceful societies. Part of this article is focused on how peacebuilders are adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Seeing through the celebration of this day
Established in 1981 by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, The International Day of Peace serves as an annual reminder on the importance of peace for all the nations. 20 years later, in 2001, the General Assembly unanimously voted to designate the Day as a period of non-violence and cease-fire.
This day is observed through public awareness raising on issues related to peace.
According to the UN webpage, the 2020 theme for the International Day of Peace is “Shaping Peace Together.” UN further calls:
“Celebrate the day by spreading compassion, kindness and hope in the face of the pandemic. Stand together with the UN against attempts to use the virus to promote discrimination or hatred. Join us so that we can shape peace together.”
However, how can we shape peace together or what peacebuilding exactly means? Read on to hear from the organization working on this issue day after day.
Resolving conflicts without resorting to violence
In the beginning of her discussion with Youth Time contributor, Flora Cassels, Communications Officer, Conciliation Resources, gives a basic explanation regarding the importance of peace in today’s world.
“The need to find different and better ways to resolve conflict peacefully and effectively is more urgent than ever. It’s time we stopped picking up the pieces and started putting an end to the cycles of violence. Peacebuilding is about addressing the underlying causes of conflict. It helps people to resolve their differences without resorting to violence.”
She further shares the following chilling statistics:
“In 2020, the number of people forced to leave their homes because of violent conflict and persecution is at a record high – over 70 million. Wars prevent communities from developing, stop children from going to school and make it harder for people to access healthcare.”
Bringing people together, resolving differences peacefully
For over 25 years Conciliation Resources have been bringing together communities torn apart by violence and mistrust, helping people resolve their differences. Among other things, they share learning so others can find alternatives to violent conflict.
How can we create an environment which constantly promotes the culture of peace, solidarity and inclusion?
“Conciliation Resources works to truly understand conflicts, and then share what we learn with others. Working alongside partners based in the countries in which we work, together we help people living with conflict to reduce and prevent violence in their communities. And we guide countries that have suffered decades of war, on to the path to peace.” she asserts.
“Building sustainable peace doesn’t happen overnight. We think about our work in terms of years, not months, and this means we can develop relationships of trust.” she went on to explain the nature of their work.
She adds “Where there is trust, it is easier for all sides to take cautious steps towards peace.”
“We build connections between those who wouldn’t normally meet, breaking down barriers between divided groups. We encourage marginalized people to speak out about the conflicts which affect them, and work to ensure they have the space to do that.”
Putting peacebuilding into practical terms
In practical terms, according to her, peacebuilding can look like any one of hundreds of different actions.
“It can be bringing different groups together to discuss the issues, or using film and media to help people understand the viewpoints of others. It might be providing support to formal processes of negotiation between governments and armed groups, or ensuring marginalized groups can have a say.”
“Peace is built when we break down stereotypes and when different groups work together.”
How peacebuilders are responding to the crisis
As previously mentioned, the COVID-19 pandemic proves us once again for the crucial importance of a peaceful society able to face such crises together.
“As the current pandemic escalates, peacebuilders in various conflict-affected locations are finding creative ways to adapt and continue their work. Not only that, but they are also helping to prevent the virus exacerbating existing tensions, and are at the frontline of responding to the crisis.”
COVID-19 is now present in all of the countries in which Conciliation Resources works, but the extent of the virus and the responses to it are diverse, Cassels explains.
“Collaborative, two-way partnerships have always been at the heart of our work. Now, as we adjust to a new reality and a new way of working, these trusted relationships are more important than ever. Together, we are adapting our activities, and responding to immediate peacebuilding as well as societal needs.”
She further gives some specifics on how different parts of the world are facing the pandemic.
- In countries and regions where healthcare and other infrastructure is less developed, such as in Nigeria and some parts of the South Caucasus, Conciliation Resources’ partners are disseminating information as well as supporting the most vulnerable to access food and other supplies.
- In the Central African Republic, young people trained in peacebuilding are working to ensure that their communities are prepared for the challenges ahead such as how increasing tensions over resource scarcity, potential lockdowns and economic hardship will interact with existing conflict drivers.
- As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread rapidly through the highly militarized region of Jammu and Kashmir, the need for sustained communication and collaboration across the Line of Control has become more important than ever. Our partners are developing a joint response to the pandemic in the Kashmir region as a practical way of both helping to prevent the spread of the disease and building trust and confidence between communities.
“As always, we’ll continue to innovate and adjust based on our own and others analysis, research and learning, as well as vitally, the invaluable insights and experiences of our partners around the world.”
Encouraging different actors to prevent war and build peace
According to her, often governments and international organizations respond to war in ways that make it even harder to end cycles of violence in the long term.
“The money spent on military forces worldwide far outstrips investment in peacebuilding. But there is another way. There are many people in many countries, who are finding durable ways to prevent and address violence.”
Unfortunately, she concludes, peacebuilding is still not the default response to most conflicts.
“We need your help to tell others about how we can tackle conflict and end cycles of violence. Encourage international organizations, governments and individuals to seek alternative responses to prevent war and build peace.”
“Our message for International Day of Peace 2020 is that peacebuilding works!”
Whether you live in an area experiencing violence or not, everyone understands the pain of division, conflict and separation. Help Conciliation Resources tell others what can be done!
Photos: Conciliation Resources