by Mary T. Yelenick, Main Representative of Pax Christi International to the UN and Harley Henigson, Nonviolent Peaceforce, South Sudan
At the core of “peacekeeping missions” by the United Nations—the preeminent international organization dedicated to global peace—lies a fundamental contradiction: the reliance on armed actors to build peace. UN peacekeeping missions consist of soldiers from troop-contributing countries, deployed pursuant to a UN peacekeeping mandate and rules of engagement. Yet, the logical fallacy of using the threat of violence as a deterrent to violence is being increasingly questioned, with the international community slowly coming to the realization that the use of violence begets only more violence. Even if a peacekeeping intervention succeeds in the short term, the inherent threat of violence will only perpetuate more violence. Peace cannot be won; it must be built.
While UN peacekeeping missions remain the de facto conflict-resolution tool on the ground, there do exist a number of viable and effective alternatives to armed conflict resolution. Among the most compelling and innovative approaches is that of unarmed civilian protection (UCP), as practiced by civilian peacekeepers in some of the most violent regions of the world. Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP), www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org, and Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), www.cpt.org are two of the foremost international nonprofit organizations employing UCP as a conflict resolution strategy. (Over the years, several Pax Christi USA members have been unarmed civilian peacemakers with CPT.) Both NP and CPT send unarmed civilian peacekeepers to live within, and engage with the people in, communities affected by violent conflict.
During an event on conflict resolution strategies in New York, NP civilian peacekeepers highlighted the effectiveness of UCP in countering violent conflict through the simple act of being present and engaging with affected communities. One of the most insightful accounts of the power of UCP was given by one of NP’s civilian peacekeepers, who explained how protective accompaniment provided to women on a regular basis significantly decreased those women’s exposure to the risk of sexual violence when they ventured outside of refugee camps…