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.

Nuclear Disarmament, UN Report

Our house is on fire and we are called to respond

by Tim Wallis
Nucleanban.us

Delegates to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) meetings taking place last month at the UN in New York were given a unique opportunity to hear some voices rarely heard inside those hallowed walls. The Pax Christi International side event on May 9th, 2019 provided some inspiring and profound reflections on our moral obligation to rid the world of nuclear weapons, as well as living proof that there are many courageous people out there determined to make this happen.

Only one of the panelists had ever spoken at the UN before: William Hartung, Director of the Arms Security Project at the Center for International Policy. He is a highly-respected authority on nuclear weapons issues and author of several books on this subject. He helped clarify some of the economics of the nuclear weapons industry, and spoke encouragingly about the way divestment campaigns can make a difference. He talked about the vast amount of resources and skills currently going into nuclear weapons and how these could refocused to create so many more jobs that actually address the real problems we face as a society.

Other speakers included Martha Hennessey, who is currently awaiting trial with six others for entering the Kings Bay Naval Base in Georgia in prayerful witness to call out the morality and illegality of nuclear weapons. Martha is the granddaughter of Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, and she faces up to 25 years in prison for her action.

Professor Jeannine Hill Fletcher teaches theology at Fordham University and traveled to Georgia to lend expert testimony at the pre-trial hearings for the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 (KBP7). She clearly speaks to the core of Catholic social teaching being aligned with our moral duty to oppose the immorality of nuclear weapons. She organized a recent event for her University around what she identifies as “the prophetic call” of the KBP7 to awaken our society. She recently published the acclaimed book, The Sin of White Supremacy.

Father Timothy Graff is a Roman Catholic priest who, among other duties, works with 212 parishes in the Archdiocese of Newark, NJ, to develop and support local social justice programs. He works closely with Cardinal Joseph Tobin, Archbishop of Newark, and a close ally of Pope Francis. Cardinal Tobin has been nudging, as best he can, the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference towards making the immorality of nuclear weapons, and the Pope’s message about them, more a part of the conversation among American Catholics…

Click here to read the entire article.

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.

____________

* Photo credit: Council on Foreign Relations
Nonviolence, Peace, UN Report

Is it sufficient simply to acknowledge the nonviolent heroes among us?

by Mary T. Yelenick
Pax Christi International NGO Delegation to the United Nations

It is not difficult to find heroes at the UN: individuals and communities who, in the face of enormous challenges, maintain a commitment to peace and nonviolence. Najlaa Sheekh, a Syrian refugee in Turkey, exemplifies the power of nonviolence in the midst of the ravages and soul-grinding consequences of war.

I first met Najlaa late last Fall, at a forum at the UN sponsored in part by Peace Direct, celebrating women from around the world who were making a difference in their communities. The following day, Najlaa joined our UN-NGO Syria Working Group for a discussion of her life and work.

Najlaa and her family once lived a comfortable life in cosmopolitan Damascus. With the breakout of war in Syria, that life ended. A brutal barrel-bomb attack killed members of her family and demolished parts of her neighborhood. In the aftermath, her younger son could not be found. Najlaa and others searched frantically through the rubble for him, eventually finding him – alive, but seriously injured. The only way for Najlaa and her family to secure the medical care her son needed was to flee to Turkey. Her son did survive. But Najlaa and her family remain refugees.

Upon arrival in Turkey, Najlaa was haunted by the number of older Syrian women in the streets desperately begging for food for themselves and their families. She was also deeply saddened to learn that the only real way for young Syrian refugee women – many of whom had been raised in deeply conservative families – to survive was to join the local houses of prostitution.

Herself personally experiencing the deep loss and trauma of displacement, Najlaa recognized that the nightmarish existence now confronting Syrian refugee women could not be borne alone. So she approached and introduced herself to other women, inviting them to join with her, in her small rented home, to discuss what they could do collectively to adjust to their new realities.

These small gatherings gave birth, in 2013, to a new organization, Kareemat (meaning “women of dignity,” in Arabic). Over the years, Kareemat has functioned as a place of gathering and stability for Syrian women refugees and their families. Kareemat offers counseling and vocational training for women, teaching them sewing and other life skills. To Najlaa’s immense pride, young Syrian refugee women are no longer forced to work as prostitutes; instead, they have acquired , through Kareemat, work skills and community connections that enable them to live a less degrading and dangerous life. In addition to helping Syrian women lead better lives, these new avenues of employment for women afforded by Kareemat also help combat negative stereotypes of Syrian women in Turkey.

Kareemat also engages in a variety of peacebuilding activities: hosting workshops on the dangers of war; facilitating discussion groups regarding the impact of violence against women; and presenting film screenings to raise awareness of the important role of women leaders in effective conflict resolution.

Kareemat also engages in activities designed to dissuade young Syrian refugees, whose passions are sometimes stoked by their vengeful elders, from returning to Syria to pursue armed retaliation. When Najlaa’s own eldest son vowed repeatedly to return to Syria to seek vengeance, she responded that if he insisted on returning to Syria, she would also return, with him, to remain always by his side. Her threat of accompanying him – which her son recognized would place his mother in mortal danger – convinced him to relinquish his dream of retaliation and violence. Instead, both he and his brother have now renounced any plans of revenge, and are directing their energies instead to acquiring an education.

This accomplishment, Najlaa said – her turning her two sons away from perpetuating the cycle of violence – is her proudest personal achievement.

Najlaa’s vision, courage, and fortitude, alone, would have made her remarkable. But what will stay with me most is the message she had for those of us who might be inclined to simply romanticize her story, without connecting it to our ourselves.

Najlaa explained that she recognized that traveling to the United Nations was a once-in-a-lifetime gift and opportunity for her, and for the women of Kareemat. When she arrived in the United States, she realized that her first obstacle was the fact that few of the people she would meet spoke Arabic, and that she would thus not be able to convey, in her own tongue, the urgency, or nuances, of her personal story. Instead, she would have to rely on the sensitivity and goodwill of an interpreter. (Luckily, her interpreter, Lebanese journalist Sawssan Abou-Zahr, who had previously published an excellent article about Najlaa, https://www.peaceinsight.org/blog/2018/10/remarkable-story-kareemat-and-its-founder, was both an effective and empathetic translator.)

Thus, the first words spoken to us by Najlaa – this woman who has accomplished so much, in unfathomable circumstances – were an apology to us for not being able to speak English. At that moment, I felt the tyranny and imbalance of a world in which people given vast power over the lives of others – the global decision makers – do not speak even the same language as those who suffer the consequences of their decisions.

Najlaa then described to us, repeatedly, her burning desire and goal of returning to her homeland, to help rebuild her country. It is the Syrians themselves, she said, who must solve Syrian problems. It is not for other countries to do. The people being sent to resolve the Syrian crisis should not be special envoys from international organizations, jetting in and out. It should be Syrian women. For it is the women of Syria who best know Syria. It is the women of Syria who best know Syrian families. It is the women of Syria who best know Syrian needs.

Najlaa’s story was both heart-wrenching and memorable. Yet I sensed her holding back.

Finally, after about an hour of questions-and-answers, there seemed to be a shift in our group dynamics. Najlaa sat back, paused, looked at us closely, and asked if she could be frank with us. She seemed finally to trust her audience – despite the imbalance of power and access – to hear what she was really trying to say. We (with some discomfort), urged her to speak honestly.

I want you to listen to me, Najlaa said to us. I want you to remember my words. I want you to remember my story. I want you to think about the way that you, being privileged, are connected with this story. I want you to think not simply about what we Syrian refugees are experiencing, but about what you can and must do to change that story.

She then explained that, in preparation for this trip to the UN, she had made cards (no easy task, living as a refugee) to share with the people she met, listing the contact information for her and for Kareemat. Najlaa had made a significant effort the day before, she said, personally to hand a card to everyone in the room.

And yet at the end of the meeting, most of her cards remained on the table. People had accepted her card, but had not cared enough to take it with them.

Mary Yelenick is Pax Christi International’s Main Representative at the United Nations (UN) in New York. She is member of the UN-NGO Syria Working Group as well as the UN – NGO Security Council Working Group.

Peace, UN Report

UN REPORT: The United Nations’ conception of “peacekeeping” evolving, recognising the need for building and sustaining peace

by Mary T. Yelenick
Main Representative, UN-NGO Delegation of Pax Christi International

The United Nations’ concept of “peacekeeping” has historically centered upon the provision of humanitarian aid and the deployment of UN-member nation troops abroad, in an effort to maintain, through that third-party military presence, a cessation of active warfare in the host country.

Yet that time-honored formulation and concept of “keeping peace” is undergoing a fundamental reevaluation at the United Nations, under the leadership of Secretary General Antonio Guterres. There is a new focus on helping to create and foster the underlying conditions – the availability of sufficient food, housing, employment, opportunities for youth, clean water, and healthcare, and the elimination of gender-based violence, among them – that give rise to, and sustain, true peace.

These new approaches are consonant with those long embraced by Pax Christi International. Peace is possible and lasting only where there is enough for all.

The vexing reality is that most UN-donor nations are more likely to agree to commit “peacekeeping” troops, funding for troops, and funding for post-conflict humanitarian aid than to commit resources to help create the conditions that would avert conflict. Money from UN-donor nations dedicated to funding education, training, jobs, housing, food, and clean water is difficult to come by. Yet that is precisely what may be needed to prevent global conflict.

On 24-25 April, Mr. Miroslav Lajčák of Slovakia, President of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly, convened a High-Level Meeting on “Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace.” In announcing the meeting, he described its motivation as follows: “We need a stronger focus on peace when it still exists. We should be acting faster, and sooner, when there is a peace to keep – rather than scrambling for solutions once it has been lost… Currently, the UN’s peacebuilding and sustaining peace activities are chronically underfunded. [W]e need to join the dots … everything the United Nations does must be seen through a lens of peace. … [A]nd, I also want to stress one more important aspect, when it comes to sustaining peace; namely, the participation of women and youth. We have seen that it is mostly men who negotiate and sign peace deals. However, this is not sustainable. And it does not reflect reality on the ground. Because women and young people play a major role in building and preserving peace. Their experiences and ideas must be seen and listened to.”

Speakers at the April High-Level Meeting at the UN – which I attended as an observer, as a representative of Pax Christi International – included representatives of NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) around the world, as well as high-level officials from a variety of UN Member States. Among the recurrent themes were the following:

  • We must address, first and foremost, the root causes of conflict. Humiliation, exclusion, inequality, marginalisation, and suppression are factors leading to violent conflict.
  • We must each strive to understand the experience of the “Other.”
  • Each conflict is different. Its resolution requires a deep understanding of the particular roots of that conflict.
  • Conflict resolution must, if it is to be long-lasting, include all shareholders. It is that “ownership” of the process which creates the basis for a lasting peace.
  • Lasting peace cannot be dictated simply by a tribunal, but must instead be premised on the harder work of truth and reconciliation.
  • Peacebuilding is hard work. It must be done brick-by-brick. The process must be inclusive and transparent.
  • Sustaining peace is often as difficult as achieving it.
  • Conflicts can and must be resolved differently, in the future. If generations continue to address conflict in the same ways that they have historically, then conflict will simply continue, down through succeeding generations.
  • Peacebuilding requires that we choose dialogue and compromise over arrogance.
  • Women and youth are key participants in any peacebuilding and peace-sustaining endeavor. They have unique access to, and understanding of, their communities – including marginalised communities of which national leaders may know little.
  • Providing youth with employment opportunities is critical. Absent such opportunities, youth may easily turn to other options, including terrorist groups, if only out of a need to be acknowledged, welcomed, appreciated, and of service.
  • Humanitarian aid is not a substitute for dialogue and mediation.
  • While the world needs security, we must not, in the process, forget our humanity, or human rights.

The current debate regarding the proper role of the United Nations – whether to expand its traditional role as humanitarian-aid and troops-provider to one more committed to addressing the root causes of war – as well the challenge of soliciting (from some less-than-enthusiastic, but powerful, donor nations) the financial resources necessary to address social inequities – is a highly consequential one. As members of Pax Christi, we must educate ourselves and do what we can to help our local, national, and international representatives make decisions that lead in the direction of lasting peace. In that way, we can be global peacebuilders too.