Limiting Violence and Intimidation - For Practitioners - Peacebuilding and Reconciliation Strategies


Heidi Burgess


Peacebuilding and Reconciliation Strategies

After peacemaking and peacekeeping have been undertaken, efforts must be made to build peace among the wider population, eventually working toward the goal of personal and intergroup reconciliation.

The fundamentals of peacebuilding is described in the Beyond Intractability article on that topic, which also describes the several different ways in which the term is used by practitioners. As can be learned in this article, peacebuilding has three dimensions: structural, relational, and personal. Structural peacebuilding involves identifying and then changing the social, economic, and political structures that led to and/or exacerbated the conflict, replacing them with structures that are considered more inclusive, fair, and effective. The goal is to provide fundamental human needs (particularly identity and security) that most often underlie violent conflict.

Common interventions to address and remedy such problems include:

  • Training: in conflict analysis, conflict management and resolution, mediation and facilitation, and other intervention strategies, as well as evaluation skills to assess which strategies are effective and which are not.
  • Dialogue: this term also means different things to different people, but most concur that it is a way of people in conflict to learn to understand and appreciate the values, needs, and interests of all the sides in a more supportive and sympathetic way than typically occurs. This may (or may not) pave the way for later problem-solving. The approach emphasizes listening, learning, and the development of shared understandings.
  • Interactive Problem Solving (Also referred to as Problem Solving Workshops): These workshops usually involve unofficial representatives of groups or states engaged in violent protracted conflict. Carefully chosen representatives from all sides meet with a third party panel(often scholars) to analyze the fundamental sources of conflict and develop possible solutions. Unlike negotiation or mediation which typically focuses on interests that can be compromised, problem solving workshops focus more on fundamental needs. While these are usually non-negotiable, they are also not exclusive--the more security one side has, the more the other side has. So meeting the needs of all sides together is often a powerful approach to building peace.
  • Peace Education Violence cannot be stopped by solely working with the elite at an official negotiation table. While that is one important aspect of peacemaking, the general public must also be informed about the benefits of peace and the ways in which the officials are trying to bring it about. Without grassroots support, most peacemaking efforts will fail; there are always plenty of aggrieved individuals who are willing to engage in violence to "spoil" the peace agreement when their own individual needs are not met. Peace education is essential to create a wide peace constituency, which may prevent spoilers from acting, or even when that fails, will prevent one attack from quickly escalating again into widespread violence.
  • Joint Projects: Another common intervention--both of external NGOs and internal peacebuilding orgnizations is the development of joint projects between disputing groups. These projects bring people from all sides of a violent conflict together to accomplish a task that benefits them all--rebuilding infrastructure destroyed in the conflict, creating new entities--health care centers, schools, artistic or cultural venues, etc. In the process of working together on a shared goal, people come to better understand each other, appreciate their similarities as well as their differences, and begin to break down the barriers that led to the conflict and exacerbated it before.

More information about all of these approaches, along with examples and factors to consider before, during, and after implementation can be found in the forthcoming US Institute of Peace Toolkit Handbook entitled Conducting Track II Peacemaking. (Despite the use of the word "peacemaking" in the title, this handbook is actually about what is more generally refered to as peacebuilding (and the content is consistent with our discussion here).

Other highly useful materials include:

  • The Berhoff Handbook for Conflict Transformation: which presents both practical and theoretical materials for practitioners and scholars interested in the successful peaceful transformations of violent ethno-political conflicts. It has three primary aims:
    • "fostering critical discussion both among and between academics and practitioners;
    • bridging the gap between theory and practice in the field of conflict transformation;
    • and including a wide range of voices and perspectives from different regions throughout the world, as well as from multiple disciplines and faculties."
    • Sections of particular interest include Section IV on structural reforms, institution building, and violence control, and Section V on Recovering from War – Post-Conflict Regeneration and Reconciliation.
  • The Peacebuilding Toolkit: A Guidebook on Transitional Issues for Reconciliation. This 100+ page handbook is in its second edition. Put out by the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA) in Sri Lanka, it has been developed to help peacebuilding practitioners increase their effectiveness in that country. However, the material has much broader utility than that. It has sections on peace advocacy, good governance, human rights, trust-buidling and reconcilation, mediation and negotiation, and women's rights. The toolkit contains practical nitty-gritty advice about how to do each of those activities effectively, and contains case studies to illustrate the practical advice.
  • The Catholic NGO Carnitas has created a very practical online toolkit for peacebuilding trainers focused on three "pillars:" Negotiation, Nonviolence, and Integration. The Integration pillar relates to this section of the Governance Commons. They define integration as the "incorporation of different groups into a society in which access to education, public or private facilities, employment, and ownership or inheritance of property are not limited due to membership in an identity group (e.g. ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation)." Materials are provided for training on different aspects of this topic in a variety of formats.
  • The Public International Law and Policy Group (PILPG)--the same organization that created the excellent Peace Agreement Drafter's Handbook, has also created a number of "Quick Guides" to a large variety of peacemaking and peacebuilding activities. Among these excellent guides are ones on DDR (Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration), Devolution of Power and Fiscal Responsibility, Dispute Resolution, Economic Reconstruction, Human Rights, Minority Protection, Return of Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, and Self Government, all of which relate to the long-term peacebuilding (and hence violence avoidance) practice.
  • A particularly useful part of the Berghoff Handbook series is an article on The Role of Local Business in Peacebuilding. This article observes that while a lot of attention has been focused on the involvement of transnational corporations both in violence creation, exacerbation, and diminishment, little attention has been given to the crucial role of local business in supporting peace. This article examines four practical aspects of that endeavor: why to engage local business in peacebuilding efforts, how to do it, what form engagement can take, and with whom it is most likely to succeed.