On a recent trip of mine to Afghanistan a professor at an Afghani university told me that “Peace must come from the local people. It is not something that a program can be created to attain, it must be from the people.” I believe he is right. In the attached article published by Conciliation Resources, local engagement with a variety of armed groups is explored in Northern Uganda, Colombia, Northern Ireland, and Syria.
Some of the most productive movement toward ceasefire and peace comes out of a result of local community engagement with armed groups. And who better than these to negotiate with armed groups. They live there, they are often relatives, friends or teachers of the armed group soldiers, they understand the needs of the people, and are the direct beneficiaries of peace. And no one wants or needs peace more than local communities caught in the midst of conflict.
In our work at Arc Solutions we engage with the whoever the leadership in authority is regarding our work with the communities we directly work with. We must gain permission for access into these regions, and sometimes this permission is gained from armed groups. In order to reach people in limited access areas you must be willing to engage with whatever power is in place… government, militia, rebel, warlord, etc. In all of our work none of these groups has extorted us. Quite to the contrary they are inviting for us to conduct our work, because it helps them accomplish their roles and gains favor with the local communities. Whether it is the government or another armed group in authority, the better they care for the local communities – the better they are tolerated. However, leeway to engage with armed groups has shrunk. In 2010 “US Supreme Court ruling in Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project made it illegal to provide “expert advice”, “services”, and “training in human rights enforcement and peaceful conflict resolution” to armed groups listed as foreign terrorist organizations” (1). There is still freedom to engage with armed groups not listed as terrorist organizations, but to what degree is unclear.
One thing is clear, local communities engaging in negotiations for ceasefires, human rights, basic human services, etc. is delivering effective results. On a recent visit of mine to an inaccessible region in Central African Republic, the community leadership of the villages we were partnering with for the on-going maintenance of their wells got us access from the local warlord to visit. This warlord has been accused of atrocities committed against civilians in the recent conflict. Do we agree with what he did if found guilty? Absolutely not, but we do need his permission to reach the vulnerable population under his domain. It is because of their trusted relationship that we could cross beyond government controlled areas. If it weren’t for these relationships with armed groups, the most vulnerable populations would be beyond reach of humanitarian access. Engaging with armed groups is vital to reach the most vulnerable populations in conflict zones. I highly support these types of dialogue to continue and spread.
1. “Local Engagement with Armed Groups in the Midst of Violence.” Accord: an international review of peace initiatives: Insight 2. (2015) 11. Website.