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I have worked for Quakers for 20 years, firstly supporting young people's initiatives, then working on European issues and currently as Co-ordinator for Northern Friends Peace Board, a networking, support and peace advocacy body for Quakers in the North of Britain. We are concerned with issues of racism and peace, of violence and militarism and in promoting peace and nonviolence. I am based in Bolton, near Manchester in Northern England.
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I am pleased to send you an article on the need for reconciliation bridge-builders in areas of tensions and conflicts as in eastern Congo. Just as world citizens had pushed in the 1950s for the creation of UN Forces with soldiers specially prepared for peace-keeping service, so now we are again pushing for a new type of world civil servant. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal have all contributed actively to military-peacekeeping forces. Perhaps these same countries can take a lead in forming reconciliation teams. Your support and advice would be most appreciated. With best wishes, Rene Wadlow
East Congo — Need for Reconciliation Bridge-Builders
On bridges are stated the limits in tons
of the loads they can bear.
But I’ve never yet found one that can bear more
than we do.
Although we are not made of roman freestone,
nor of steel, nor of concrete.
From “Bridges” – Ondra Lysohorsky
Translated from the Lachian by Davis Gill.
Violence is growing in the eastern areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo, basically the administrative provinces of North and South Kivu. The violence could spread to the rest of the country as Angolan troops may come to the aid of the Central Government as they have in the past while Rwandan and Ugandan troops are said to be helping the opposing militia led by Laurent Nkunda. While Nkunda and his Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) say that they are only protecting the ethnic Tutsi living in Congo, Nkunda could emerge as a national opposition figure to President Joseph Kabila, who has little progress to show from his years in power.
There is high-level recognition that violence in Congo could spread, having a destabilizing impact on the whole region. UN diplomats, led by Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, have stressed that a political solution — not a military one — is the only way to end the violence, and they are urging the presidents of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Kenya and Tanzania to work together to restore stability. The instability, along with Congo’s vast mineral and timber riches have drawn in neighboring armies who have joined local insurgencies as well as local commanders of the national army to exploit the mines and to keep mine workers in near-slavery conditions.
The United Nations has some 17,000 peacemakers in Congo (MONUC), the UN’s largest peacekeeping mission, but their capacity is stretched to the limit. Recently, the General in command of the UN forces, Lieutenant General Vicent Diaz de Villegas of Spain resigned his post after seven weeks — an impossible task. Their mission is to protect civilians, some 250,000 of which have been driven from their homes since the fighting intensified in late August 2008. The camps where displaced persons have been living have been attacked both by government and rebel forces — looting, raping, and burning. UN under-secretary general for peacekeeping, Alain Le Roy, is asking for an additional 3,000 soldiers, but it is not clear which states may propose troops for a very difficult mission. While MONUC has proven effective at securing peace in the Ituri district in north-eastern Congo, it has been much less successful in the two Kivu provinces.
The eastern area of Congo is the scene of fighting at least since 1998 — in part as a result of the genocide in neighboring Rwanda in 1994. In mid-1994, more than one million Rwandan Hutu refugees poured into the Kivus, fleeing the advance of the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front, now become the government of Rwanda. Many of these Hutu were still armed, among them, the “genocidaire” who a couple of months before had led the killings of some 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu in Rwanda. They continued to kill Tutsi living in the Congo, many of whom had migrated there in the 18th century.
The people in eastern Congo have lived together for many centuries and had developed techniques of conflict resolution, especially between the two chief agricultural lifestyles: that of agriculture and cattle herding. However, the influx of a large number of Hutu, local political considerations, a desire to control the wealth of the area — rich in gold, tin and tropical timber — all these factors have overburdened the local techniques of conflict resolution and have opened the door to new, negative forces interested only in making money and gaining political power.
UN peace-keeping troops are effective when there is peace to keep. What is required today in eastern Congo is not so much more soldiers under UN command, than reconciliation bridge-builders, persons who are able to restore relations among the ethnic groups of the area. The United Nations, national governments, and non-governmental organizations need to develop bridge-building teams who can help to strengthen local efforts at conflict resolution and re-establishing community relations. In the Kivus, many of the problems arise from land tenure issues. With the large number of people displaced and villages destroyed, it may be possible to review completely land tenure and land use issues.
World citizens were among those in the early 1950s who stressed the need to create UN peace-keeping forces with soldiers especially trained for such a task. Today, a new type of world civil servant is needed — those who in areas of tension and conflict can undertake the slow but important task of restoring confidence among peoples in conflict, establishing contacts and looking for ways to build upon common interests.
Rene Wadlow, Representative to the United Nations, Geneva, Association of World Citizens
Dear Friend, My best wishes for your work with the Northern Friends Peace Board. I had worked closely with Arthur and Rose Booth in Geneva after things had "heated up" with their peace work in Northern Ireland. I was a social science member of the team that Arthur largely put together to study the impact on the lives of survivers in Hiroshima. The study was presented to the UN General Assembly's First Special Session on Disarmament in 1978. It had some impact to remind people that the impact of war is long lasting. Although we still have too many nuclear weapons in the world. I thought that you might be interested in this article on peace teams since Friends in the US and Canada had played key roles in the creation of the Peace Brigades International. With best wishes, Rene Wadlow
Non-Violent Peace Brigades: How Fast Can We Move?
Written by René Wadlow
Tuesday, 30 September 2008
I envision an international ideal of service awakening in an emerging class of people who are best called evolutionaries. I see them as soldiers, as youth, and as those who have soldier spirit within them. I see them come together in the name of people and planet to create a new environment of support for the positive growth of humankind and the living earth mother. Their mission is to protect the possible and to nurture the potential. They are the evolutionary guardians who focus their loving protection and affirm their allegiance to people and planet for their own good and for the good of those they serve. They are pioneers, not palace guards. - Jim Channon, First Earth Battalion
The United Nations General Assembly has designated October 2 as the International Day of Nonviolence. October 2 is the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. For Gandhi, non-violence was at the center of his philosophy and actions. Thus it is appropriate to mark the day with an analysis of one aspect of non-violent action: the role of peace teams as observers in conflict situations.
The armed conflict between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia starting on August 8 as most people were watching the start of the Olympic games is a test case in real time of how fast governments can negotiate a ceasefire, a freeze on military activity and the deployment of external observers on the frontiers of Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The full team of European Union (EU) observers, some 300 persons, is to be in place by October 1. As France has the presidency of the EU until the end of 2008, the French government had its team of 30 observers on the ground by 25 September, waiting for the full contingent of EU observers. The observers, while unarmed, are from military and internal security units.
During the first weeks of the conflict, there were only Russian peacekeepers. The Russian peacekeepers have been there since 1994 when an agreement was signed in Geneva among Georgia, Abkhazia, Russia, and the UN. The UN was to mediate in the Georgia-Abkhazia conflict and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) the Georgia-South Ossetia conflict. The Commonwealth of Independent States was to provide peacekeepers – basically observers. The CIS states were quickly reduced to only Russia. There are no reports that the Russian peacekeepers tried to prevent the fighting between Georgian and Russian troops or between the Georgian and South Ossetia militias. The degree of government control over these militias cannot be known.
The violence has led to a refugee flow from South Ossetia and Abkhazia, mostly of ethnic Georgians. The current refugees join some 200,000 Georgian refugees, mostly from Abkhazia, due to the 18 months of fighting during 1992-1994. Most of the ethnic Georgian refugees have not been permanently resettled in Georgia and continue to live in unstable conditions. It is unlikely that, after the current flair up of violence, there will be any massive return of refugees.
The EU observers are from the military. I do not have access to the resumes of the observers to know how many have served in other countries, in UN missions or received special training in unarmed observation. As we mark the International Day of Nonviolence, it is appropriate to ask could non-violent peace teams have reached the Georgia-Abkhazia and Georgia – South Ossetia frontiers faster had they been called upon by the EU or the UN to do so? We can also try to look at why governments still turn to their armed forces to provide observers in conflict areas.
There have been a good number of efforts to create non-violent teams which could work internationally somewhat on the model that Mahatma Gandhi and his followers developed in India, the Shanti Sena, to work primarily in local communal tensions.(1) One of the first and most ambitious was the proposed "Peace Army" to be a ‘living wall’ between the advancing Japanese Army and the Chinese defenders of Shanghai in 1932. The effort, based in the UK, was offered to the League of Nations, but since the League was not planning to get involved, nothing came of the effort. Japan continued its conquest.
A second opportunity to show the effectiveness of non-violent inter-positioning came in August 1981 with the newly created US-Canada-based Peace Brigades International (PBI). In August 1981, there was a fear that US troop maneuvers in Honduras on the frontier with Nicaragua would be a prelude for a US or a US-aided attack on the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. PBI was able to draw upon an already existing team of people in southern California, some of whom were trained in radio transmission. The team had already trained together and built up a ‘team spirit’. The team was able top move out quickly. Negotiations with diplomats from Nicaragua and Honduras were carried out at the UN in New York as part of the PBI secretariat was in Philadelphia, in easy reach of New York. After the US-Hondourous maneuvers finished, the fear of a real invasion ended, and the PBI team was withdrawn. (2)
One never knows if there were serious US plans for an attack or if support for the Contras was all that was envisaged. This experience showed the need for having an existing trained team and for good contacts with ambassadors at the UN. Given the crucial importance of close contacts with the UN, I was asked to represent PBI at the UN in Geneva, which I did from 1982 until about 1996 when there were changes in the functioning of the PBI secretariat. For reasons I do not know, after the one experience on the Nicaragua-Honduras frontier, there was no further use made of the team from southern California. PBI recruitment was done on an individual basis. Teams were constituted when individuals arrived in the country of action. The PBI activity became centered on individual protective accompaniment of local human rights activists living under threat of abduction or assassination in Guatemala. (3)
During the 1980s, the Ambassador of Nicaragua to the UN in Geneva was one of my former students who kept me well informed about Central American politics. We had discussions on the possibility of non-violent defense against the Contras. While there was interest on the part of the Nicaraguan government, nothing was really put into place.
There were two situations with which I was deeply involved in discussions with UN officials: the large-scale refugee flow of Muslim Burmese to Bangladesh with the danger of a Burmese Army attack on the refugees, and the transport of relief supplies during the wars in ex-Yugoslavia. In both cases, several hundred people would have been necessary with only two weeks notice. PBI was not equipped to raise that number of people in that length of time.
Since the 1981 creation of PBI, a number of other organizations have joined the ranks of non-violent peace teams, some with hopes of building a large reserve of well-trained team members able to go into conflict areas as peacemakers and actively use and share their conflict resolution and peacemaking skills. There has also been a growth in mediation and conflict resolution efforts, both in academic programs and in non-governmental organizations (NGOs). However, as we see in the Georgia conflict, ‘when the chips are down’, governments turn to other governments, not to NGOs.
The confidence of governments only in other governments should come as no surprise. The world is still organized around the role of states, and both the diplomatic services and the military are trained to be state-centric. There is no non-governmental peacemaking organization that springs to the mind of a government official in a crisis situation, with the possible exception of the International Committee of the Red Cross which is bound to governments by treaties which set out its rights and responsibilities.
As Brian Urquhart, for many years the chief political officer in the United Nations, has written "Peacekeeping depends on the non-use of force and on political symbolism". The Red Cross is one of the most universally recognized political symbols. Even those who do not respect the Geneva Conventions know they are not supposed to shoot people with a Red Cross flag. Only the UN flag has such wide recognition as a non-state symbol.
The second weakness of non-governmental peacekeeping is the lack of availability of people on short notice. While there are an increasing number of people who have studied in conflict resolution courses or have participated in efforts in the field, most have jobs, families etc. and cannot drop everything to live on the Georgia-South Ossetia frontier for three months. The military are sitting around waiting for something to do. The only civilian equivalents are monks. I had once thought that it might be possible to re-create the ‘fighting monks’ of Japanese history. I saw teams of Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu monks all trained and ready to be deployed. For a while in the 1980s when there were a good number of communes, I thought about ‘New Age monks’ that could play the same role. But I must not have been convincing enough.
The third weakness is related to the other two. The people on the ground who are to be protected or at leased ‘observed’ know what the military are. They may not like soldiers, but they have seen them before. Non-violent peacekeepers without a recognizable symbol or uniform are unknowns and there is little time to explain.
Non-violence is still more potential than reality. On the International Day of Nonviolence, we have to consider the road not yet travelled.
Rene Wadlow, Representative to the United Nations, Geneva, Association of World Citizens and editor of the on-line journal of world politics and culture: www.transnational-perspectives.org
1. Thomas Weber.Gandhi's Peace Army: The Shanti Sena and Unarmed Peacekeeping, (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1996, 293pp.)
2. For an account see: Daniel Clark Transnational Action for Peace Transnational Perspectives Vol 9, N°4, 1983
3. For a full analysis see: Liam Mahony and Luis Enrique Eguren Unarmed Bodyguards: International Accompaniment for the Protection of Human Right, (West Hartford, CT: Kumarian Press, 1997, 288pp.)
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