The people living in the midst of conflict often have the greatest insight into its causes and also its resolution. However, most peace negotiations aim to broker agreements between the representatives of the main belligerent groups, who don’t necessarily represent the interests of wider society.
Many wars have officially ended through such processes. Yet this approach often limits the voice of those who didn’t take up arms. All too often such processes send the powerful, if unintended, message that violence pays.
Other political groupings, organised civil society and marginalised populations such as women, youth, minorities and displaced people may all be excluded from a final settlement. This is of particular concern in situations where the government and armed groups lack a strong social support base or are not seen as legitimate representatives of public interests.
More inclusive peace negotiations are possible, however, and these are likely to be more effective in the long term. Comparative experience shows that peace negotiations with structured opportunities for broader public participation can:
- widen the range of issues addressed, including the underlying causes of conflict
- help produce broad, legitimate peace agreements
- strengthen inclusive political participation in future governance
- facilitate a degree of political reconciliation.
Ensuring inclusive peace processes
Conciliation Resources works collaboratively with civil society to ensure that peacebuilding activities are inclusive and reflect the views of all sections of society.
As part of the International Contact Group to the Mindanao peace process, we have pushed for the negotiating parties to acknowledge the contributions by other stakeholders and we are bridging relations between the peace talks and the broader society.
Elsewhere we specifically work with marginalised groups such as internally displaced people (IDPs), women and youth to support them in actions to build peace and ensure their voices are heard. In the South Caucasus for example, we support Synergy, a network of organisations, which represent the views and interests of IDPs in Georgia.
Influencing policy and improving practice
As part of the People’s Peacemaking Perspectives project we work with local peacebuilders and conflict-affected communities to help them analyse their conflicts, and articulate and convey their analysis and recommendations for action to EU policymakers and institutions.
Through our Accord publication series, we document and analyse lessons relating to public participation and peace processes. These include perspectives from Guatemala, Angola, Indonesia, Mozambique and Northern Ireland.
Owning the process: public participation in peacemaking (2002) and a policy brief on Public Participation in Peacemaking (2009) are two publications that specifically identify mechanisms to ensure more people’s opinions count.
The difference we make
Working inclusively is at the heart of what we do. Our work has helped civil society influence strategies to address the LRA conflict in Central Africa; enabled broader participation in the Mindanao peace process; and allowed marginalised border communities in West Africa to convey their security concerns to policymakers in Freetown and Monrovia.
The comparative lessons we have shared about public participation from a variety of contexts are starting to be applied to other conflicts. Due to the work we do at both political and community level, we are able to act as a ‘link’ – connecting the views and opinions of civil society directly with policymakers.