Nonviolence, Peace, UN Report

Securing peace through Nonviolent Peaceforce accompaniment

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…

Read the rest of the article at this link.

Nonviolence, Peace

Signs of the Times: From Just War to Just Peace

by Jane Deren, Education for Justice

The early Church understood Jesus’ call to redemptive suffering and rejected the concept of redemptive violence, which only destroys. On the cross, Jesus showed his followers “how to hold the pain and let it transform us, rather than pass it on to others around us,” a tenet of nonviolence. But the pacifism of these early Christians was challenged as they became part of the Holy Roman Empire. The Church’s Just War doctrine was first proposed by St. Augustine in the 4th century who sought to reconcile nonviolence with empire building. The Just War doctrine was fully developed by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 14th century and was used for centuries.

But in light of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in WWII and afterwards, the Church has been re-examining this doctrine: civilian deaths and vast devastation have become too commonplace in modern conflicts and warfare. The belief that modern weapons of war and the threat of nuclear mass destruction make all violent conflicts unjust is reflected in Pope St. John Paul II’s declaration during the Iraq War that “war is always a defeat for humanity,” and that “violence and arms can never resolve the problems of man.” He proclaimed that “only peace is the road to follow to construct a more just and united global society.” In declaring “May people learn to fight for justice without violence,” John Paul was affirming the beliefs of his predecessors Blessed Pope Paul VI, who taught that “peace is the only true direction of human progress,” and Pope St. John XXIII, who realized authentic development which supported the human dignity of all members of the human community could only be realized in a peaceful world.

Just Peace

Pope Francis has continued developing the concept of a just peace in his writings. In his January 2017 World Day of Peace message Nonviolence: A Style of Politics for Peace, he makes clear that “violence is not the cure for our broken world. Countering violence with violence leads at best to forced migrations and enormous suffering…” Francis laments because vast amounts of resources are being diverted to military ends and away from human needs, especially of those suffering at the margins; he calls again for disarmament and abolition of nuclear weapons and the rejection of fear as the basis of co-existence…

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Nonviolence, Peace

Nonviolence: A matter of choice

by Sr. Veena Jacob, RA

Assumption sisters are working with migrants in the Patna slums. The slum dwellers come from the drought- and flood-affected villages of Bihar and Jharkhand. These people are mostly landless and are agricultural labourers. They are illiterate and unskilled and belong to the Dalit (low caste) community. A number of them do not have legal papers as citizens to get the entitlement of government welfare programs.

When migrants come to the city they live near the waste dumping ground, the canal and the sides of the railway with makeshift houses. The atmosphere in the slum is very violent. We have been working with women for their empowerment and development of their children in this slum for the last eight years.

Stalin nagar has been a slum for more that the last 50 years. Due to our interventions many families have gotten their ration cards which entitle them to government food security for people below the poverty line. They are supposed to get subsided food (wheat/rice/ sugar) and kerosene (fuel) from the ration shop every month according to the number of family members.

The owner of the ration shop is a powerful man of this area. He and his workers refuse to distribute rations to the Stalin nagar slum people who have a right to get the rations. Due to corruption in the distribution system, the rations never reach the poor. Rations were sold out before they reached the ration shop. Poor people were frightened to demand their rations. Anyone who challenges the owner of the ration shop is beaten up, their women and children were raped, or their huts burned down. The law and order of the state is very poor; hence no action was taken against them.

Sisters trained around a group of 30 illiterate women from Stalin nagar slum in self-help to demand their rations from the ration shop. They went and stood in front of the ration shop owner with empty bags in protest till he gave them rations. Now they get their regular rations every month.

The method used by the women is Satyagraha. One of Gandhi’s teachings is Satyagraha. Satya means ‘truth’ and agraha means ‘firmness’. Satyagraha is the vindication of truth — not by infliction of suffering on the opponent but on one’s self. This principle reverses the ‘eye-for-an-eye’ policy which Gandhi says is blind and destructive. It returns good for evil until the evildoer tires of evil…

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* Photo credit: TerraUrban blog, http://www.terraurban.wordpress.com
Nonviolence, Peace

The constructive power of nonviolence: My experience with Marpo Village

by Renji George Joseph

Marpo Village is situated in the Kauwakol Block of Nawada District in Bihar State of India. This is a remote, highly underdeveloped village in the valley of two adjacent hills which borders Jharkhand State and Bihar State. After this village the bordering areas are hillocks and thick forest areas. Even to day one has to travel nearly two hours from the Block Head Quarters of Kouwakol through mud and kachha (not concrete) roads to reach this distant village.

This area has experienced repeated confrontation between the violent forces of Naxallite movement and the armed forces of the Bihar State. The people living in this area have been victims to both the impacts of combing operations by the State Forces and the violent activities of the Naxallites. In the 1990s and in the beginning of 2000 period these social tensions have been at their peak.

The village and its sub-hamlets together hosted more than 2000 families. The small villages around this main village added another 2000 families making a total population of more than 20000 persons occupying this entire valley and the hillocks There was exactly no other livelihoods to this large population other than agriculture. The area was (is still) a drought prone area with the entire rainwater running off the hillocks and drained in to the rainfed rivers towards Kouwakol. The entire irrigation of all these villages depended on a Check Dam built joining the two major hills down the valley. Toward the end of 1990s this Check Dam had broken and the people in this area had been frequenting the relevant government offices for reconstructing their only water source for agriculture and drinking water through recharge of the drought hit water table. The relevant officials hardly responded.

The Naxal Forces occupying the forest areas above the hills at the borders used to employ violent interventions occasionally to deter the police and para military forces from their camps and training areas. Unfortunately, one of these operations misfired during this period resulting in the death of some Monks of the Jain Community which suddenly pushed the area in to national media. Suddenly there was lot of blaming, counter blaming, combing operations, armed combats, suppressions, searches and a lot of structural violence and social tensions in the entire area making life all the more difficult for the villagers…

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Nonviolence, Peace

Just Peace: A timely roadmap for Australia or impossible dream? – Part 2

by Joseph Camilleri
Pax Christi Australia (NSW)

(Read Part 1 by clicking here.)

If ‘just peace’ requires peacemaking and peacebuilding to be sensitive to the cries of the poor and the cries of the Earth, how relevant is it to Australia’s present circumstances? If what is proposed is a holistic approach to the problem of violence that encompasses social and ecological violence as well as physical violence, is Australia capable of adopting the approach as a guide to its domestic and external policies? To judge by the parlous state of Australian politics and public discourse, at least as filtered by mainstream media, the omens are less than propitious. And yet, the possibilities are immense and tantalising, and the ground potentially more fertile than is often supposed.

The many failings of current policy design and implementation in Australia clearly point to the need for new directions of the kind suggested by just peace thinking. A case in point is the failure of successive governments to devise an energy policy that delivers low emissions electricity and affordable energy for those on low incomes. As of now Australia is poorly placed to meet the emissions target set by the Paris agreement of 26-28% reduction in national emissions compared to 2005 levels – a rather modest target when compared to that of other advanced economies.

The energy policy vacuum has proved especially damaging for our relations with Pacific neighbours. Rather than empathise with the concerns of Pacific Island nations for whom climate change is an existential threat, the Australian government has turned a deaf ear to their pleas, and recently added insult to injury by accusing Pacific leaders of a cash grab.

Unsurprisingly, Australian governments have shown little interest in World Bank suggestions that Australia offer open access migration to low-lying Pacific nations. Tuvalu and Kiribati in particular are acutely vulnerable to rising sea levels that have already started flooding land and homes.

The exodus of environmental refugees, not just from the Pacific but from the coastal regions of South Asia and parts of Southeast Asia, is expected to become a major security threat over the next ten to twenty years. With climate change and other environmental pressures already reducing the availability of water, food and arable land in host countries, transboundary migration is expected to rise sharply, exacerbating tensions and conflict within and between countries.

What might Australia’s response be? If Australia’s refugee policies are any indication, the tendency will be to view these trends through the lens of military security. From the ‘children overboard’ fiasco in 2001 to the military-led ‘operation sovereign borders’ established in 2013 and the wilful neglect of the health of detainees at Manus and Nauru we see the same counterproductive response at work, which is to make the victims of humanitarian crises the primary targets of military force…

Read the entire blog post by clicking here.

Nonviolence, Peace, UN Report

The critical role played by unarmed civilian protectors in war zones

by Mary T. Yelenick
Pax Christi International UN Representative

The United Nations, like most of its member countries, has historically relied, as one facet of its efforts to resolve regional global conflicts, on deploying to areas of active conflict international teams of armed soldiers. Yet the presence of armed forces, while perhaps prompting a temporary cessation of overt violence, cannot lead to a sustained peace.

Guns – which represent, quite explicitly, a looming threat of violence – cannot eliminate violence. While flashing a weapon may temporarily, and artificially, stave-off a violent episode, it does not address (and indeed may only exacerbate) the underlying inequities and unresolved problems that led to the violence in the first place. True resolution of violence cannot occur until and unless the issues that gave rise to the violence – whether long-simmering resentments or inequities; exclusion; a failure fairly to share and allocate resources; a lack of food, water, or housing; or other dispute – are addressed and resolved.

In a recent panel presentation at the United Nations, a university professor from the U.K. shared findings from her ongoing academic research focusing on new insights and understandings about the behavior of armed groups, as well as the most effective ways of securing peace. Her findings suggest that the world community must question the assumption that where there is violence, the best way to address that violence is through the presence of armed soldiers. The growing body of empirical evidence suggests that in a number of settings, nonviolent responses to violence are more effective than are armed responses. Furthermore, such nonviolent responses are easier and less expensive to employ, with the logistical and financial costs of employing unarmed civilian protectors, particularly in remote geographical areas, being but a fraction of those required to deploy military forces.

Another panelist at the UN session, an unarmed civilian protector working in Mindanao, Philippines, explained that, as an unarmed civilian protector, her first goal when entering a community is to reach out to those around her, getting to know them well, and gaining their trust. (By contrast, such trust-building is elusive at best in situations in which local communities of women and children are being “protected” by armed military forces, most often consisting of men whose deployment is short-term, and who may not even speak the local language.) The key to peacekeeping, she explained, is to engage in building and strengthening interpersonal relationships, thereby strengthening the capacity of the community itself to respond to challenges. For it is the community itself, and not an outside armed force, that understands best its own population, history, experience, and challenges. The community itself, by coming together, takes ownership of preserving the peace.

Given our human history, in which war is shown, repeatedly, to beget more war, it is fair to question whether the traditional model of sending armed peacekeepers to preserve peace is not only oxymoronic and ineffective, but illogical (recognizing the base motives of war profiteering). Unarmed civilian protectors have been shown capable of performing most of the traditional tasks of armed peacekeepers – including patrolling, engaging in dialogue, and negotiating. Unarmed civilian protectors – who often work in the most isolated and remote areas of the world – break the isolation of the local communities in which they live and work, serving as a connection with the outside world and being a daily visible reminder that someone from the outside world is watching, and cares about, what is happening there. The track record of unarmed civilian protection – a dramatic decrease in violence perpetuated against members of the communities with which they live – provides a blueprint for a more effective and humane response to global conflicts.

And their track record also illustrates why peace is not simply the absence of war. True and lasting peace is determined by how people treat each other – and not by the weapons they carry.

Mary Yelenick is Pax Christi International’s Main Representative at the United Nations (UN) in New York.

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* Photo credit: Council on Foreign Relations