My Report on a Recent International Peace-Builders’ meeting in Westminster

Lord Hylton

As Western governments try to extricate themselves from costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and UN peacekeepers face global condemnation for failing to avert mass rapes in the Congo, the question of how to resolve conflicts overseas is increasingly urgent.

This is being addressed at the highest levels.  Foreign Secretary William Hague, speaking last month at a special UN Security Council summit on peacekeeping, argued:  “Peacekeeping along cannot deliver long term stability in fragile states.  Peace-building is critical if we are to address the underlying causes of conflict. ”  It was a view echoed by Hillary Clinton, who told the summit:  “It is no longer enough to just provide peacekeepers; that must be accompanied by effective mediation, peacemaking and peace-building.”

The final statement from the summit, agreed by all Security Council members, stated:  “Effective peace-building requires an integrated and comprehensive approach based on coherence among political, security, development, human rights, humanitarian and rule of law objectives, and peace-building perspectives need to be considered, starting from the first stages of planning and implementation of peace-keeping operations.”

Earlier this month the peace-building perspective was presented at Westminster by a group of grassroots peace-builders from around the world.  These are the people who are doing what Mr Hague has proposed, in Afghanistan, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Kashmir, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and elsewhere.

I was delighted to host an open meeting where they presented their views to colleagues and members of the all-party parliamentary group on conflict issues.  Brought together by UK charity Peace Direct for a week-long peace-building conference, the speakers described projects that had been directed by local people in conflict areas, using local knowledge and contacts to address the underlying causes of conflict and so break the recurring cycles of violence.

A striking statistic was quoted that 40 percent of conflicts restart within 10 years of a peace treaty, and it was suggested that this is because military force cannot do the long-term job of making peace work.  Instead, the speakers argued for grassroots peace-building programmes that go wider and deeper to rebuild divided societies and remove the  underlying causes of conflict.

A striking example of underlying causes was given from Burundi, where 60 – 70 per cent of the population is under 20 years of age.   In a poor country, that means thousands of young men with few propsects, who could easily become “a mass of combustible material for conflict”, unless they are given a future of some sort as a conflict-prevention measure.

A strong theme from all the speakers was that “local is beautiful”.  Local people have unrivalled knowledge of a conflict, they cost far less than expensive outside “experts” and expats, and they do not leave when the internationals go.  Their programmes are therefore more sustainable than internationally led programmes, and at a fraction of the cost.

Yet most peace-building programmes are devised by outsiders, in New York, London and elsewhere, with local peace-builders functioning as implementers or contractors.  This neglects the real value they can bring, as well as promoting a dependency culture.  In its place, the speakers offered a vision of conflict prevention and resolution that would prioritise local direction wherever possible.

These arguement are documented in the booklet Ripples into Waves which was launched to a packed house in the Grand Committee Room.  May I urge colleagues in both Houses to consider this cost-effective and sustainable alternative to our present commitments.

5 comments for “My Report on a Recent International Peace-Builders’ meeting in Westminster

  1. Senex
    29/10/2010 at 1:45 pm

    Politicians need to keep their fingers crossed and the women need to keep their legs crossed. Three billion people when you were born six billion now. Who will provide five loaves and two fish?

  2. Carl.H
    29/10/2010 at 4:44 pm

    My noble Lord I feel slightly embarrassed at the lack of response to your post`s, I certainly don`t know the answers.

    How does one solve human nature ?

  3. Gareth Howell
    31/10/2010 at 11:02 am

    So much of these discussions take place only in the mind, and in the minds of people who are alien to the place of the peace keeping that one has serious reservations that the peacekeeping and the war making is an inextricable gordian knot, tied thousands of miles away from the place of peace and conflict.

    Now that the 80% of the world’s is large city based, and the conflicts seem to be rurally based, it is clearly a fight for land and terrain that is going on, by people trying to create political hierarchies previously unknown, to those newly founded cities and nation states, mainly in Africa.

    Foreign secretaries, as Jack Galloway so often points out, are concerned with the war machine, defence sales abroad, so Mr Haigh’s peacekeeping can only be tokenism in the circumstances, and Hilary Clinton’s too.

    Conscience and the mind!

  4. Twm O'r Nant
    01/11/2010 at 5:35 pm

    I certainly don`t know the answers.

    The radical answer is perhaps to assume that the foreign office is mainly about promoting foreign sales, and that a large part of foreign sales is about arms dealing. Foreign secretary talk about peace is therefore double speak/talk.

    The DfID(Dept for International Development)?)may be about bona fide, and good, relations with undeveloped countries of the world.

    At one time the two departments were one and the same.

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