Engaging armed groups

International policy is commonly unclear about how, whether and when to talk to armed groups. But engagement with such groups is often an essential part of ending violent conflicts and saving lives. At Conciliation Resources we provide policymakers with essential guidance on the available options, challenges and tactics for engaging with armed groups at different stages of a peace process.

Without the engagement of armed groups in a peace process, a sustainable resolution to conflict is unlikely to be reached.

Highlighting the importance of engagement

Much of our work in this area aims to share with policymakers and others involved in building peace what we have learnt about the importance of engaging with armed groups.

Through Choosing to engage: armed groups and peace processes (Accord project, 2005) and our updated Accord policy brief (2009) we explore the case for engagement with armed groups and the lessons learned from peacemaking practice.

We also regularly organise discussions with governments on our findings. An example is an expert seminar that we organised with the German government, Engagement with Non-State Armed Groups in Peace Processes in Berlin.

As part of our regional programme work, we encourage and support engagement with armed groups, particularly where they are an integral part of the conflict.

With whom are you going to discuss a conflict if you don’t discuss it with the people who are involved in the conflict, who have caused the conflict from the beginning and who are still engaged in trying to kill each other?

President Jimmy Carter

Proscription and mediation

Conciliation Resources has found through our work that proscription – or the act of putting an armed group on a list of designated terrorist organisations – can create obstacles for engagement in mediation and peace processes. To discuss the impact of proscription on mediation and peace processes we have been organising a series of workshops bringing together mediators, civil society experts and counter-terrorism professionals to explore options for addressing this issue. 

Also read articles on this topic written by Conciliation Resources' staff on BBC News and Open Democracy.

The difference we make

Our comparative experience of a number of conflicts, and our long-standing work on engaging armed groups, means we are recognised experts on this topic. Through our policy work, we have placed on the political agenda the important issue of proscription and the negative impacts this can have on building peace.

In East and Central Africa we have supported initiatives using radio to encourage the return and reintegration of abductees from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which have been successfully used in northern Uganda and are now being considered for Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan where the conflict has spread.

We have also interviewed former mid-level commanders in the LRA and produced a report which explores factors influencing the decision of such commanders to abandon the rebellion and return home. Choosing to return: Challenges faced by the LRA's middle-ranking officers, the first report of its kind, provides important information on how encouraging return can be used to move towards peace.

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