Speaking at the hearing, our US Senior Representative addressed Members of the United States Congress. In the testimony available below, she shared our experience with our local partners, presented examples of how local peacebuilding prevents mass violence, and provided three lessons from local peacebuilders for atrocity prevention.
“I am honored to share some of our experience and understanding of what works to prevent mass atrocities, and particularly what we have learned through Peace Direct’s 15 years of supporting and partnering with local people on the frontlines of violent conflict.
For those of you who may not know us yet, Peace Direct is a non-profit international non-governmental organization working with local people to stop violent conflict and build lasting peace in some of the most dangerous war zones around the world.
Unlike many large international organizations, we do not design or implement programs from the outside. Rather, we seek out local people already doing heroic work to interrupt violence and foster peace in their communities, and we partner with them to support and strengthen their work.
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While the current situation in Burundi remains deeply concerning, the country has not erupted into mass violence as some feared it would. We credit the Burundian people first and foremost for helping to prevent broad-scale violence, along with significant investments by the international community to support community-based peacebuilding. Peace Direct has supported local peacebuilding initiatives in Burundi for more than 8 years now, particularly through the work of a network of citizen monitors who report and respond to incidents in their communities to tap down violence. Despite stalled high-level peace processes and increasing requirements for international organizations to operate in the country, this work of violence prevention and peacebuilding in communities by Burundians themselves has not stopped.
For some years now we have worked with a local organization called the Collaborative for Peace in Sudan, which supports local peace committees. In one example local peace committees were able to intervene in a dispute between two groups in South Kordofan, an area out of bounds for most of the international community, who were threatening war against each other and had mobilized their fighters. Not only did the peace committee succeed in brokering a peace agreement to prevent fighting, but they also relocated 1,000 people from an IDP camp as well as all the students in a nearby school, in order to remove innocent people from harm’s way.
For more than ten years now, Peace Direct has supported Aware Girls, an organization working with young people in Taliban strong-hold areas to promote nonviolence and reduce recruitment into armed groups. Aware Girls began with just a few volunteers and now supports a Youth Peace Network of over 500 young people across Northwest Pakistan, who engage with their peers who are at risk of being recruited by extremist groups and help them to instead become leaders in their communities through nonviolent social organizing. They have documented testimonies of young people who attest that they were prepared to become suicide bombers until they discovered that there was another option for their lives. In the process, they have also built a network of young peace leaders who are helping to transform their communities and strengthen the prospects for a more tolerant, nonviolent future.
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We know that the global effort to prevent and stop atrocities will require a collective, multi-sector approach inclusive of intergovernmental institutions, governments, civil society organizations and networks, academia, and local peacebuilders. Robust peacekeeping and rapid interventions have shown some promise, but they are reactive, attempting to stop mass violence only once it is underway. Effective prevention requires longer term, early action that focuses on local capacity building and support for actors on the ground.
The US and other international actors should engage more directly with local communities in the design of atrocity prevention strategies and programs, and ensure that those most directly impacted by violence are at the center of long-term prevention efforts.
Congress can specifically support more recognition and engagement with local peacebuilding actors by passing the Global Fragility and Violence Reduction Act of 2018 (H.R. 5273). This bipartisan legislation requires a coordinated strategy within the US government and with other key stakeholders, including local civil society, to develop and implement evidence-based measures that will reduce violence in specific conflict-affected countries. We urge Congress to pass this legislation.
The World Bank and United Nations recently concluded that investing in preventing the outbreak of violence would be economically beneficial, with average net savings between $5-70 billion per year. Yet, the prevention of violent conflict remains massively underfunded. What funding is available for prevention and peacebuilding rarely reaches those frontline actors or contributes to long-term community resilience. It is usually too little, too late, and too difficult for local civil society actors to access. Congress can play a significant role in improving the US government’s capacities to help prevent mass atrocities by supporting and increasing annual funding for USAID and State Department programs that invest in human rights, good governance, conflict mitigation, and peacebuilding, particularly where they provide more flexible and longer-term funding to local civil society.
Supporting local actors to prevent conflicts from escalating into mass atrocities and humanitarian disasters would save precious lives and reduce the pressures for our military to deploy again and again to foreign conflict zones.
To play a leadership role in protecting human rights and preventing mass atrocities globally, the US should first ensure that it is not adding fuel to the fire where violence is underway, or promoting policies that may unintentionally undermine the protection of civilians and increase the risks of large-scale violence.
In many places where our partners work, weak or abusive governments are a key risk factor in the potential for mass atrocities. In some cases, governments are actively involved in perpetrating atrocities and may perceive local peacebuilding efforts as a threat. How the US government engages with those governments, its diplomatic, development, and military relationships, and how it uses its voice to advocate for, or undermine, human rights and peacebuilding is critical.
The US government should make the prevention of mass atrocities and protection of civilians a top priority in its conduct of foreign policy and its engagement with other states. As one vital step, we urge you to provide strong leadership in reviewing US arms sales policies and specific weapons transfers, and to halt any weapons sales that could contribute to the mass suffering of civilians, including in Yemen and elsewhere.
In closing, I would like to again thank this Commission and its Co-Chairs for the bipartisan leadership demonstrating that ending the mass suffering of innocent civilians is not a partisan issue and is one to which Congress remains committed.
Peace Direct understands that building peace and preventing violence around the globe begins at home, and we look forward to working more with Congress to strengthen local peacebuilding here and abroad.
Click the video below to watch the hearing again in full.
Read the testimony in full as it was submitted to the public record.
Read more on the role of local civil society in preventing and stopping atrocities, in our ‘Atrocity Prevention and Peacebuilding’ report here.