Growing Authoritarianism, Social Inequalities Often a Prelude to Conflict

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

By Margot Wallström
STOCKHOLM, May 17 2019 – I want to talk about peacebuilding and inclusive peace. My main point is that peace begins in the minds of people, and people, communities, societies must be allowed to participate in peace for it to be sustainable. Peace means a lot more than just the absence of war.

I want to highlight the need for this perspective in three aspects of peacebuilding – conflict prevention, crisis response and peace processes. But before going into those aspects, let me begin with the example of Colombia.

As you know, the war between FARC and the government had been going on since the 1960’s, with hundreds of thousands of victims.

The peace process that was initiated around 2012 was in a way unique. It included in different ways victims and local communities, the private sector, civil society, LGBT organisations. And of course, there was a strong presence of women.

The peace deal that was signed in 2016 (one of few good news that year) included agreements on much more than just the laying down of arms – it mentions land reform, political participation, guarantees for social movements, a strategy to tackle drug trafficking and much more.

We keep on being reminded that the implementation is often the most complicated part of a deal. But even that is part of the point I want to make. That – just as with democracy – peace is something you have to work on and conquer every day.

And even if there have been and are challenges related to the peace in Colombia, I maintain that this process was remarkable, because it put the Colombian people at center, and today both parties, the former guerilla FARC and the Colombian government are jointly working on sustainable peace in their country.

1) Going back to the three aspects of peacebuilding, let me start with conflict prevention. We seldom get the credit we deserve for the conflicts that didn’t happen.

And unfortunately, it is often easier to get support for interventions once there actually is a fire. But how many tears would not have been saved, if we had been able to prevent Rwanda? Bosnia? South Sudan?

My conviction is that societies that are democratic and inclusive, with gender and social equality, with a strong civil society have are strongly vaccinated against conflict.

This is one of the reasons why the global backslide of democracy that we experience right now is worrying me. Growing authoritarianism together with growing social inequalities has often been a prelude to conflict.

And this year, for the first time in decades, more people live in countries with growing authoritarian tendencies, than in countries that are making democratic progress.

There is still hope. I recently visited the Tunis Forum on Gender Equality, where I met with a lot of young civil society activists. And coming back to inclusive peacebuilding, I heard one interesting example of how women’s grassroots organisations took part in conflict early warning mechanisms.

They did so by reporting local peace and security risks and threats to the community, the government and international bodies.

2) Let me continue with a second aspect of peacebuilding, which is crisis response, including peacekeeping and stabilization.

Here, a security approach is often needed to save lives. But also, in interventions to stabilise we can help steer the course to a more inclusive process. Women in peacekeeping operations is an example.

When we plan for these interventions, we must think of inclusion and gender from the start. There is no conflict between the need for a quick end of violence, and the long-term aim of creating peaceful, just and inclusive societies. All interventions can be designed to contribute to this.

3) Thirdly, peace processes. Here, an inclusive approach means focusing more on women; less on men with weapons.

It is understandable that, at crunch time, a hasty deal between leaders of conflicting parties might seem attractive. But sometimes; easy come, easy go.

A peace where the voices of communities, of victims, of women have been heard – in preparations, in negotiations and implementation – will be more deeply rooted and has a greater chance of lasting longer.

Coming back to the example of Colombia – it was women that brought issues of land restitution and victims to the agenda; that ensured that confidence-building measures were implemented, that child soldiers were released.

There are other processes where women are less visible, but still make critical contributions. In Libya and Afghanistan, women, young people and local peacebuilders have done important work, with their local knowledge and commitment.

Conflicts are not linear. You can never draw a straight line from a beginning to an end. Their dynamics often look more like a child’s drawing, with strokes forward, backward, to the sides, in all possible directions.

As I said in the beginning, sustaining peace is an ongoing process, of constantly strengthening factors that underpin peace – such as confidence, reconciliation, institutions, equality, democracy.

And in a way, conflict, in a broader sense, is an inevitable part of life in a society. For a democracy, I would say, conflict is vital.

The challenge is to find ways to handle conflicts in a peaceful and constructive way. Strong, well-functioning institutions – be they national, or in the shape of multilateral cooperation, are the way of managing this.

And this is another reason why today’s backsliding of democracy and questioning of international cooperation is such a worrying threat, To conclude, let me get back to the main point about peace beginning in the minds of people.

You might recognize the source of this: the first words of the constitution of UNESCO, which I want to return to, since they so well summarize what peacebuilding is about:

“Since wars begin in in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”.

In other words – putting people at the center of our thinking.

I’m glad that we are doing that today and tomorrow, and I hope that we can keep on doing it in our daily work for peace and development.

*Excerpted from an address to the SIPRI Forum on Peace and Development

Do We Need a Global Convention of Common Principles for Building Peace?

Sweden’s Minister for International Development Cooperation Peter Eriksson

By Thalif Deen
STOCKHOLM, May 17 2019 – When the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) concluded a three-day forum on “Peace and Development” on May 16, the primary focus was the daunting challenges threatening global security, including growing military interventions, spreading humanitarian emergencies, forced migration, increasing civil wars, extreme weather conditions triggered by climate change and widespread poverty and conflict-related hunger.

For many decades, said the Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation Peter Eriksson, the rules of war were designed by the Geneva Conventions.

“Do we need to develop and adopt common principles for building peace?,” he asked, before a gathering of more than 400 high-level policymakers, researchers and practitioners in the Swedish capital during the opening session of the sixth annual Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development

The United Nations, he pointed out, is currently implementing reforms for improved delivery on crisis response, sustaining peace and sustainable development while the World Bank has initiated the development of a new strategy for “Fragility, Conflict and Violence.”

At the same time, the European Union (EU) is implementing its “Integrated Approach to Conflict and Crises” while the African Union (AU) is stepping up its “engagement beyond crisis response.”

And the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee (OECD/DAC) has developed new recommendations on the Humanitarian-Development-Peace nexus.

Are there sufficient mechanisms in place for bringing actors in crisis-response together with peace building and development actors? If not, what is needed?, Eriksson asked.

Jan Eliasson addressing the SIPRI Forum

Addressing the Forum, Jan Eliasson, chair of the Governing Board of SIPRI and a former UN Deputy Secretary-General, said over the past five years the Forum has shaped global discussions, developed innovative policies and built crucial bridges.

He said SIPRI has a Sahel programme focusing on local perspectives on peace and security, and local perspectives on international interventions in Mali and the region.

The Forum was co-hosted by SIPRI and the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

SIPRI, in cooperation with the UN World Food Programme (WFP), has been embarking on a project to better understand the linkages between food security and hunger and help improve the conflict-sensitivity of one of the most important crisis-response programmes, he noted.

“Our work on gender and social inclusivity in peace processes continues to move forward as we advance the knowledge-base and linkages between the SDGs.

SIPRI’s Deputy Director has joined the newly launched Lancet–Sight Commission, evaluating how health and gender equality contributes to peaceful, just and inclusive societies.

The global challenges can never be overcome in isolation but can only be tackled through dialogue and cooperation, Eliasson declared.

Asked for a response, Susan Wilding, who heads the Geneva Office of CIVICUS, the global alliance of civil society organisations (CSOs), told IPS: “The answer to the Minister’s question should be yes, we do need to develop common principles for building peace.”

She said the OECD/DAC recommendations speak about ‘prevention always, development wherever possible, humanitarian action when necessary’ and the ‘humanitarian, development and peace nexus’.

But what they fail to take into account, especially with regards to the prevention portion, is the nexus with human rights.

“How can we expect to prevent conflict if we do not first focus on the prevention of human rights abuses? How can we expect to achieve the SDGs at a national level while human rights abuses and civic space restrictions prevail?,” she asked.

“If we do not start to see the link between human rights, civic space and the humanitarian, development and peace agenda, we will surely fail in our endeavours to reach any of the goals.”

Alex Shoebridge, Oxfam IBIS’s Peacebuilding Advisor, told IPS that while the World Bank, the UN, and some donors have sought to reflect on and rework their contribution to building peace, there is a need for a more fundamental shift in international support.

Sustainable peace can only be achieved by locally-led efforts that are inclusive, interconnected, and go beyond Governments alone, he noted.

This is especially the case in contexts where Governments themselves are part of the conflict, as we see in an increasing number of contexts, including Middle Income Countries, Shoebridge pointed out.

“Women and young people must play a key role in shaping peaceful futures for their countries, and not be side-lined or involved in a tokenistic way.”

He said it also requires that external support to peacebuilding go beyond the project cycle and beyond technical solutions focussing on reform of state led institutions.

Research shows that it takes at least two decades for a country to emerge from and transform legacies of conflict. Conflicts are relational, with deep seated inequalities, historical grievances and negative gender norms sustaining and perpetuating conflicts between groups.

And 60 percent of conflicts take place in countries that have experienced conflict before, meaning that development and humanitarian assistance must do more to ensure peacebuilding outcomes are supported in the short, medium, and longer-term, he added.

“We can’t take our eye off the ball, when structural causes of conflict such as inequality and marginalization remain unaddressed,” declared Shoebridge.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org