Peace in, by and for communities #InPursuitofPeace film @SciencePoULB
by Sophie AUMAILLEY for Northern Ireland Foundation
5 December 2016
The organisation Nonviolent Peaceforce presented the documentary “In Pursuit of Peace” at the Free University of Brussels, Belgium.
Nonviolent Peaceforce is an international non-governmental organisation based in Brussels.
It aims at protecting civilians from the impact of violent conflicts, through bottom-up approaches.
Their missions consist in empowering citizens in mediating local conflicts, and giving a voice to the most vulnerable populations.
The film showed mediation as a means to transform conflicts at the community level.
It gave examples of the use of mediation in violent situations.
Mediators tried to focus on security problems, as they recognised the need for secure environment as a universal desire.
Possibilities of dialogue are often hard to reach.
Location and time have to be defined carefully.
The documentary noted, for instance, the contrast in feasibility of negotiations in Indonesia before and after the deadly tsunami.
Being an outsider from community also poses a problem in setting negotiations.
As Tiffany Easthom, Chief Executive of Nonviolent Peaceforce, explained, they need to build a relationship of trust and acceptance in local communities.
It is “long-term hard work”, she said, where you have to portray yourself as a non-participative player with a capability to help.
Easthom underlined the importance of working with local actors and raising awareness of the benefits of peaceful mediation.
Thus, the film described the necessity to create conditions for dialogue, including building hope for the future, willingness to negotiate, and healing the past.
Working in conflict areas or post-conflict societies means interacting with communities that have different versions of history, diverse justifications of violence, and various traumatic experiences.
Experts in the documentary emphasised the importance of open dialogue by speaking about non-political topics, such as humanitarian relief, to create conditions for further discussions.
One of the core values of mediation is to reject conflict as inherently negative; conflict transformation methods distinguish between violence and conflict, and seek to transform conflict into a positive force.
Yet the movie noted the worrying trend by states to justify the use of violence, for instance in the concept of “war on terror”.
It questioned efficiency of armed methods, taking the example of the Talibans, who were rejected from negotiations decades ago but today are recognised as inevitable players for a sustainable solution in Afghanistan.
This point raised the issue of the necessity of contentious parties to agree negotiations.
Indeed, “peace cannot be forced”, stated Easthom, and it requires cooperation.
Here, negotiations cannot be defined as a win-lose bargaining, but need associations of the different actors to break the cycle of hatred and violence.
As one practitioner explained, “If you say they are evil, you give them no choice but to be your enemy”, so peace is constructed by individual and community changes in behaviour.
The discussion following the screening was led by Christophe Wasinsky, professor at the Free University of Brussels.
Cécile Dubernet, from the Institut Catholique de Paris, noted the cost-efficiency of mediation compared to armed responses to conflicts.
Yet she remarked how mediation is seen as a marginalised method.
Dubernet explained this by our common understanding of security as a matter of the state only, since socio-political theories of Rousseau.
She wondered about the vulnerability of populations to the state in this conception, and called for a challenge to the state-centric approach.
Kim Vetting, from the military sector, reacted by describing military responses as easy and tempting.
But he rejected these solutions as long-term methods enabling communities to live and build a shared society, and called for more cooperation with community-driven mediations.
Finally, Tiffany Easthom expressed her feeling of international change in the field of peace-building.
She acknowledged the start of a global review of peacekeeping and an adaptation to current contexts.
Easthom believed that mediation is capable of creating pockets of stability, producing safe spaces.
However, she regretted the lack of funding for community-led mediations.
Easthom concluded that inversing the state-centric approach is needed for long-term peace and she is seeking solutions in, by, and for communities.