Peacebuilding, Justice, and Security: Taking Stock of the Past 25 Years

Peacebuilding, Justice, and Security: Taking Stock of the Past 25 Years

Title: Peacebuilding, Justice, and Security: Taking Stock of the Past 25 Years

Writer: Norma Roumie


Photo taken by Norma Roumie on March 1st 2018.

The Conflict Research Center of Saint Paul University and the Peace and Conflict Studies Association of Canada hosted a conference on peacebuilding – taking stock of the past 25 years. The panels brought together top experts in the field to discuss the interlinking aspects of memory and justice issues; power struggles and cooperation between locals and international actors; as well as security sector reform and state-building. The panelists identified best practices in these critical areas and left the audience with many thought-provoking questions on the future of peacebuilding.

Professor Neil Sargent, John Packer, and Philippe Dufort discussed the need for national dialogue and the importance of memory, as well as the intersection between justice issues and conflict resolution as indicative of the relationship between peace and justice. The notion of national dialogue is a new mechanism in the toolbox for international actors, and it is instrumental for the creation of a visioning process that incorporates diversity and overcomes the ‘us versus them’ dichotomy that is highly politicized in post-conflict settings. A national dialogue is a series of structured and political space that allows the recognition and exchange of different voices and does not necessarily have to lead to decision making. This has proved instrumental when it has occurred in both Yemen and Colombia. Part of this process of reconciliation is moving from the politics of violence to the politics of dialogue; identifying the moral and critical claims arising from the past and how we can solve them for the future. Judicial mechanisms are necessary for rewriting a moral balance and addressing past war crimes and reparation claims. When this is ignored, it undermines the future regime and the indispensable reconciliation efforts. Despite the importance of this, there is an inclination towards the politics of forgetting, in which many countries have instituted a very intentional model of legislated amnesty from past crimes to prevent the past from disrupting the future. The practical reality though is that negative peace proceeds positive peace because it is tough to build a society when there is violence. On the other hand, sustainable peace requires society to be able to manage conflict that’s naturally occurring – through arrangements, constitutions, and judicial mechanisms.

Andy Tamas and Ruby Dagher discussed the importance of examining local dynamics and engaging locals in the process of peacebuilding. Andy Tamas’s presentation on local management and regulation surrounding water and irrigation systems in Afghanistan illustrated the value of examining traditional systems. When conflict emerged between upstream and downstream farms in a rural area in Afghanistan, communities worked on an equitable way of managing the water and irrigation systems. A dialogue between communities led to the election of mediators, who would become known as Mirabs, elected to operate the water systems, without state interference. In its development efforts, donors like the USAID attempted to change this and put in a sophisticated western irrigation system that failed and would later be recognized as undoing an advanced traditional system. The USAID overlooked the fact that provincial councils conducted 80% of conflict resolution and that the Mirabs system was a completely decentralized and efficient traditional system. Exporting western structures to these societies does not always work, and it ignores local dynamics and the value of local knowledge. Instead, the challenge is to look at the context and engage the locals in understanding the benefits of the traditional system to reform them into better performing hybrid traditional-modern systems.

The importance of examining local dynamics was also reiterated through Ruby Dagher’s presentation in which she discussed the role that perceptions play in how citizens assign process and performance legitimacy to either their leaders or the state and the implications this has on post-conflict institution building. In many cases of conflict, where the state is absent or weakened, leaders take care of the population and capture legitimacy. This, in turn, leads to states emerging out of conflict with low-performance legitimacy. Case studies of Lebanon, Senegal, and Sudan reveal that performance legitimacy is more valuable than process legitimacy. A significant challenge for post-conflict states is building state capacity to provide for their citizens, which is essential for linking performance legitimacy to the state.

Gaelle Rivard Piche and Professor Stephen Baranyi discussed security provisions as a necessary pre-condition for the implementation of peacebuilding programs. They bring attention to the fact that security sector reforms are a top priority for external actors but that in many cases they have ignored context and have led to a vicious cycle of violence. Host governments and international actors must work together on security sector reforms and not dismiss local actors and their realities. El-Salvador, and Haiti were referenced throughout the discussion, both of which showcase complicated cases where it has been difficult to consolidate security and peace. In El Salvador 80% of security sector reform investment goes to law enforcement and ignores other areas. However, for there to be progress there must be more investments into social and economic development, because no amount of policing and law enforcement training will lead to sustainable security. Where state institutions are usually weak, and civil society is marginalized, these issues are amplified. Although, there is a move away from large military stabilization missions to civilian-led justice missions today, where donor security interests take precedence, where state institutions are usually weak, and civil society is marginalized these issues are amplified.

Despite a mixed record of peacebuilding, discussions such as this, between practitioners and academics are essential for taking stock of lessons, challenges, and opportunities that will continue to mark the next 25 years. Locals are at the heart of what peacebuilding is meant to do, in the end, security and peace are not possible without the main beneficiaries taking the lead role while western development actors facilitate and provide expertise. The lessons of the past have taught us that peacebuilding should focus more on local dynamics, social and economic development, state capacity, national dialogue and reconciliation efforts.  Complex intra-state conflicts, the emergence of different development actors, and the increased inclusion of local actors in peacebuilding brings a set of challenges and opportunities. So, what does this mean for the future of peacebuilding? Peacebuilding is one of the central innovations in conflict resolution, and professor Vern Neufeld Redekop’s presentation on integrative peacebuilding captures the need to develop heuristic skills to deal with complex and multiple challenges. This means taking the best of approaches that can then be integrated into one.