What are community peace structures?
Community peace structures might be formal community groups or committees, with appointed leaders and members, or more informal networks. Some community peace structures have existed for centuries – grown from traditional forms of dispute resolution – whilst others have been developed in response to new conflicts or challenges faced by communities. Almost all of these structures are run by volunteers, however many receive support, training and advice from governments, local civil society organisations or peacebuilding NGOs such as Conciliation Resources.
What do they do?
Community peace structures play a variety of roles within communities, depending on the nature of the conflicts in which they work, and the people affected.
Early warning – Living in the very heart of conflict, local communities can have the most reliable and up-to-date information. Community peace structures often provide advanced warning to the local population or authorities about the presence of armed groups or possible imminent attacks.
Engaging armed groups – You can’t make peace without talking to those who fight. Community peace structures often have a good level of knowledge about armed groups operating in their local area. They are often trusted by the groups, and can provide a link through which to negotiate, secure the safety of the local population, or even convince members to lay down their weapons.
Community education – Often, misunderstandings and misconceptions fuel tensions and conflict within communities. Community peace structures work to better inform people on issues that could cause mistrust – such as refugee relations, resource management or disease control.
Conflict analysis – Understanding what is driving conflict, and the power relations between different people involved, is a vital first step in understanding how to bring about change. Community peace structures regularly listen to the perspective of different parties to a conflict, as well as other local groups to better understand what is causing the conflicts, and ensure they respond in the right way.
Encourage dialogue – Community peace structures create safe spaces to encourage discussions within communities, and to mediate between different warring groups. This gives all parties the opportunity to express their grievances and propose possible peaceful solutions.
Linking with authorities – Members of community peace structures play a vital role in linking grassroots peacebuilding with regional or national initiatives. As trusted community members, they can act as a strong voice with which to engage government and security officials, and can channel information back to communities.
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