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Alert 2018! Report on conflicts, human rights and peacebuilding

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Diana de la Rúa Eugenio
President of the International Peace Research
Association Foundation (IPRA Foundation)

The year 2018 has multi-complex and multi-sectorial scenarios that must be studied through creative approaches that are adapted to the real and perceived needs, so as to bring suggestions and proposals that transform the difficulties into inclusive and positive processes.

Those of us who, in the past 25 years, have been studying and working in the field of non-violent conflict resolution and building a culture of peace, can see an evolution and a change in the dynamics of conflict that encourage us to search for new paths to deal with them, since we are faced with growing direct, structural and cultural violence, with the added ingredient that they are trivialized through shows and videogames that, among other things, enter into our homes, normalize violence and make it invisible, turning it into a carrier of a profound culture of violence.

Often, situations of violence are portrayed as facts per se, isolated, leaving aside the human, social and environmental consequences that stem from these. New generations are growing up in this scenario, which makes it imperative to show the conflicts and their subsequent effects, as well as the processes in place to neutralize the escalation of violence and promote peaceful and productive alternatives.

There are always good examples, but they must be brought to light so they are not just overshadowed by the aggressiveness and violence of certain diatribes that often make a lot of noise but are void of ideas or proposals. Take the example of two countries on the American continent that are going through historic situations:

Colombia is immersed in a peace process which, even if since the agreement was signed in 2016 lost some momentum because of the failure to comply with some points, is currently being resumed with the dialogue between the parties and, for the first time in fifty years, Colombia is holding free presidential elections in a context free of war. It is worthy to continue insisting on the process, trying to revert the elements that are posing obstacles to it, but it is also fundamental for promises to be kept, for the entire process to be credible and that promises are finally fulfilled so as to look into a future of shared development.

In the United State of America there are several themes for researchers and peace workers among which: a) a deepening of marking differences between social groups by the current administration, leading to a new surge of white supremacy movements that clashes with civil rights that were believed to stay forever more. This has forced institutional counterbalances to come on stage –judges- to balance out the injustice and the fact that some cities and states have openly declared their differences in this respect. The drift towards polarization and linking it to scapegoats leads to social divides to capitalize on political gains among those standing by a leader who proposes divisions that are consistent with a manichaen dualism and who discredits anything that is not to his benefit. The government system with a separation of powers in the country has shown that, at least today, democracy is still working; b) the emergence of the #MeToo movement, bringing out the male patriarchal conditions encrusted and hidden from the public, has lead to a change in perception with regards to harassment against women at their workplace, where this behaviour is not only unacceptable but is also denounced and leads to public exposure. This is a stimulating change in paradigm that may be replicated in the rest of countries.

Situations to be considered

Currently two axes should be added that change human life in the world and that converge in time, leading to great uncertainty and violence that are not usually visible: climate change and the influence of social media.

The move to the anthropozoic era has caused situations that couldn’t have been foreseen in their full dimension, but we must live with them, mitigate their influences and try to revert –or at least reduce– their results, which spread throughout this planet and generate climatic changes that, in turn, bring geographic, economic, political and social changes that disrupt the lives of communities. The words flooding, drought, deforestation and pollution are part of our language, but it would seem that their meaning in our collective conscience and in political agendas everywhere in the world are yet to be taken onboard. This is not only during electoral periods when disasters strike and they are dealt with from the visible part of the urgency, but to make profound changes that can slow down the terrible consequences they bring about and that will for sure worsen if effective and immediate action is not taken. Since 2004 there is concern when talking about the so-called techno-fossils, with billions of varieties due to the rapid production and obsolescence of products –whether they are useful or not– that we don’t know what to do with. Decision-makers have not yet taken this seriously.

For years there has been talk about the impact of communication technologies on society, but now we see the scope of the discretionary use of technological algorithms that are generated to change cultural patterns and manipulate them to generate opinion movements and, of course, to influence democratic processes in countries; influences that are bought and sold to the highest bidder as if in any village market, regardless of what this manipulation means for the countries and for the world, thus weakening democracies, generating negative suspicions in political processes and in the sovereignty of nations, besides building power on power, not for the peoples, the people and their communities, but for those who entrench themselves behind the advantages that power gives them.

These two last scenarios coincide in time, they overwhelm and discourage citizen participation, which in itself is very little. People prefer to become abstracted or disconnected from reality so as not to make changes to their lives that would mean giving up styles of consumption (water, fuel, buying unnecessary things) for as long as they can. Those who suffer may get entangled in binary discourses with no support from interest groups, who polarize the negative perceptions of some groups, radicalize the messages and actions, and usually choose some groups to be scapegoats and blame them for the bad situation.

The culture of peace and social participation

For all of the above, it is necessary for people to develop a shared vision for the future that is respectful of the diversity of opinions and can recover the possibility of a harmonious coexistence where everyone feels they can participate and not just sit and watch. By educating for peace and using all of its tools –dialogue, mediation and facilitation, among others– work is done through non-violent communication to allow a verbal interaction and to rebuild dialogue processes among the parties, to be able to voice opinions, fears, feeling, interests and needs without being judged or unappreciated. One of the symptoms of this day and age is the difficulty that people have to identify what it is they want; they find it easier to explain what they don’t want. Making this change is a vital exercise to permeate into all social spaces, bringing empowerment and efficacy of expression with them.

Being able to determine what one wants is a step towards gaining personal independence because it focuses on how to achieve the desired objectives without waiting for a leader or a pater familia to provide. It is also good training in taking responsibility for decisions taken freely, which also helps one grow as a person and a citizen and encourages participation in other areas of life, such as political participation, whether this is done as one of the actors defining public policies or as someone who proposes changes from the grassroots level.

We must train ourselves for debate and confrontation without losing our bearings, to achieve goals legitimately and for this it is vital to generate consensus that will allow visualizing collective concerns, set priorities and find a spirit of cohesion to make peace processes advance. Consensus does not mean pressure or compulsion; consensus means that everyone agrees, voluntarily, on what will or won’t be done. Building a culture of peace is a collective process, slow and deep, where there will always be some people who, due to their ability or personality will stimulate others; but they must all have a strong commitment and recognize and accept that making concessions is required to achieve consensus.

One substantial contribution that helps build a culture of peace is for children to learn at school not only the usual subjects –mathematics, language, science, and many others– but also how to resolve conflicts peacefully. This will help them throughout their lives in everyday interactions because they will carry in them the importance of the process, the tools and the required means to reach a different model of social exchanges.

Developing projects

Even if fieldwork is essential, it is also necessary to constantly develop new theories and study other proposals, analyze them, compare them, draw conclusions that will allow updating and measuring the outcomes and, eventually, go deeper and change them. Joining fieldwork and peace research, whether this is done at universities, by NGOs or independently is what will allow us to find a meeting point and bring answers that match the needs of today. There are many organizations and foundations that give the possibility to finance this research, so it is important to take some time to learn how to access this funding, know what values support them and feel encouraged to apply for these grants. The culture of peace will greatly benefit and will be encouraged through all channels, researchers, workers, editors, with those benefiting sharing the results this has on people’s lives.

This new edition of Alert! is an effective tool to share an in-depth analysis of conflicts and their possible solution, as well as to spread and disseminate a culture of peace that invites to think carefully about the current confrontations with an approach that is committed to the peaceful resolution of these conflicts, leaving room to continue developing, questioning and adapting theories to facts and the operability of processes, whilst broadening the spaces for discussion and learning.