Supporting peacebuilders supporting peace: Learning from peacebuilding in Asia


Dr. Laurens J. Visser, Programme Coordinator for Research and Analysis at the Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies

The Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies (CPCS), based in Siem Reap, Cambodia, has supported efforts to transform conflict away from violence across Asia for more than a decade. CPCS draws from the wealth of conflict transformation experience in Cambodia when we intervene to address ethnic conflict in Myanmar, assist with political transition in Nepal, encourage reconciliation in Sri Lanka, or accompany the long peace process in the Philippines.

Framing conflict is important. Instead of focusing on challenges, we have found that framing aspirations is a better way to promote progress in a peace process. In Myanmar, through an ongoing monitoring of communities in several ceasefire states, community members have conversations with local listeners about their opinions of the peace process. These listeners create space in conversations using key words that prompt questions, such as what is considered a successful peace process and where community members have a frame for discussing aspirational change.

Aspirational change, a vision for sustainable peace, requires two important elements: The first is the interrelated importance of dialogue, engagement, and relationships. Without genuine dialogue, constructive engagement, and building relationships, no peace process will move forward, and any efforts that do not commit to all three threaten the integrity of peace.

Secondly, local knowledge and local context are important. Genuine and sustainable peace will emerge from the inside and outside. The value of an outsider to the conflict is the exposure and knowledge of different conflicts. Sharing this professional experience and knowledge with other local key actors, stakeholders, and parties to a conflict can be very helpful. However, local knowledge and local context depend on strong relationships with those involved in the peace process – built through accompanying them and, in a sense, being there when partners need it the most, demonstrating commitment.

To commit to a long-term vision of conflict transformation, there are basic needs from a peacebuilding perspective. First, there is a need to understand that no peace process follows the same patterns as local context differs significantly, even within the same conflict. Second, there is a need for flexibility that considers the contours of a conflict, as well as providing space for creative and adaptive conflict transformation approaches. Finally, the confidence of donors in peacebuilders, that peacebuilders are committed to accompanying and transforming the conflicts in which they intervene must be absolute.

Whereas it is important for peacebuilders that donors show understanding, provide them with flexibility and have trust in their work, donors should request ongoing and up to date analysis from peacebuilders to ensure that interventions of conflict transformation reflect the changing and interrelated dynamics of a conflict. Germany, as a donor, should encourage the implementation of these analyses. It should see itself as a long-term partner for peacebuilding entities, committed to transform conflict and build sustainable peace.

As peacebuilders, our task is to identify opportunities for genuine dialogue, constructive engagement, and relationship building. We are reminded that we are interconnected through our actions, whether we recognize this or not. Therefore, through our own experience and the analysis, which is grounded in local context and knowledge, we understand conflict better and are able to intervene strategically to ensure a path away from violence.

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