Human relations are central to peacebuilding. That may strike you as an obvious statement and yet it's a truism that is frequently overlooked. While fact-seeking commissions are appointed and diplomatic spats are played out behind closed doors in the negotiating room, for a peace agreement to be sustainable the real endorsement needs to be found in the hearts and minds of ordinary people.
What real use is a piece of paper and a begrudging photo shoot if social grievances still fester?
A formal settlement is a step in the right direction, but it's not the destination. A sustainable peace is one that all sections of society can grow to believe in and nurture.
Comparing conflicts and coping strategies
The idea of human relations taking centre stage was prominent at a recent meeting of people from the seven different conflict contexts in which Conciliation Resources primarily works. Dozens of local partners and our staff joined together to exchange experiences and share learning on what works well and what's less effective when it comes to preventing violence and building peace.
As part of a DfID-funded Governance Transparency Fund project, they met together in the UK to discuss the role governance plays in societal fragility where they live. What’s that mean in their communities? Finding ways to connect local people to those who govern in their name, and helping all sides deal with potential conflict before anyone resorts to violence.
Each came to the workshop with a wealth of knowledge and ideas about their home conflict but, almost without exception, limited awareness of those elsewhere.
Through learning from others' theory and practice they were seeking to improve their own peacebuilding outcomes.
Alliances were formed between people affected by conflict in Colombia, Fiji, Jammu & Kashmir, Liberia, the Philippines, South Sudan and the Georgian–Abkhaz context. Tales were subsequently recounted of late-night research on the internet, poring over maps to place where their new-found colleagues call home.
Looking at familiar landscapes with new eyes
Small group discussions formed the basis for understanding across borders and finding inspiration in good practice. It was interesting to hear people identifying parallels and similarities between their context and those elsewhere.
People reported gaining new perspectives on their own conflict by “seeing it through others’ eyes”.
By challenging each other they sought ways to challenge barriers to peace. The word 'solidarity' cropped up several times as colleagues reflected on what they were gaining from their stay in the UK.
Together, they form a powerful international community growing in confidence about their own abilities to advocate for and find new paths to peace.