5 things the new Congress should know about local peacebuilding

Dustin Gaffke

While uncertainty is the primary feeling in Washington these days, we remain convinced that supporting local communities to prevent violence and strengthen peace is the best way to build a more peaceful and just world for all. Here are five things Congress should know about local peacebuilding.

As the 115th Congress begins its work and the Trump Administration takes office, Peace Direct remains committed to continuing our work to inform and inspire US policymakers about the benefits of supporting local peacebuilding.

While uncertainty is the primary feeling in Washington these days, we remain convinced that supporting local communities to prevent violence and strengthen peace is the best way to build a more peaceful and just world for all.

Here are five things Congress should know about local peacebuilding

1. Local peacebuilding works. 

Over the last several years, local peacebuilding has been increasingly recognized as a prominent component in preventing violence in conflict-ridden areas. It works for many reasons. Local people know their communities and cultures inside out, and have the cultural insights and local knowledge that outsiders will never have.

In war-torn Sudan, evaluation evidence shows that a network of local ‘Peace Committees’ are a cost-effective and sustainable way of resolving conflicts arising from disputes over borders and resources such as water, land and oil, as well as political violence linked to South Sudan’s independence and the conflict in Darfur. From the nine conflicts intervened in from 2011-2016 by the one Peace Committee in Lagawa, none have restarted.

As the evaluation stated: “There are sizeable numbers of conflicts which were prevented from escalating through local resolution mechanisms initiated by peace committees.”

Grassroots action here saved lives, stopped conflicts from escalating, at the fraction of the cost of expensive outsider interventions.

2. Local peacebuilding makes the US and the rest of the world a safer place. 

Not only can local peacebuilding reduce existing violence within local communities, it is also a critical part of preventing the further spread of violent ideologies.

As a recent expert report on atrocity prevention states: “As the crisis in Syria so clearly demonstrates, mass atrocities have unanticipated over-the-horizon effects that have a profoundly negative impact on American interests, including “severe economic and resource disruptions, massive refugee flows, weakened national and international institutions, fractured international norms, and the rise of violent extremism.”

Groups like the Centre Resolution Conflits in the Democratic Republic of Congo have demonstrated the potential for local groups to play a significant role in helping to avert violence and bolster the resilience of communities. As the Experts Committee report points out, investing in local civil society as a “pillar of early prevention” is less expensive and more effective than late military responses after violence is already underway. It saves lives and treasure.

When the message of peace is spread, and not the message of violence, people all over the world are safer for it.

 3. Local peacebuilding is cost-effective. 

Preventing violence before it breaks out is less costly than intervening in existing violence. Preventing war is 60 times cheaper than actually fighting in it.

To put it in numbers, $15 billion can fund either one aircraft carrier for the U.S. navy, or about two years of U.S. contribution to the United Nations, which includes funding for both peacekeeping and development assistance initiatives.

Research further estimates that if a conflict was reduced to one year instead of five, the international community would save about $30 billion, not to mention countless human lives.  Supporting local peacebuilding can help avoid further costly US military interventions at a fraction of the price.

Peace Direct’s report, Coming Home, takes a specific look at the DRC and how cost effectiveness can be achieved through local peacebuilding efforts.

4. Local peacebuilding reflects US values. 

Local peacebuilding allows communities to determine and lead their own future.  It ensures that civil society has the capacity and strength to hold their own governments accountable and improve their societies over time.

The U.S. should not be the world’s policeman. Other countries have the right and responsibility to develop in their own way.

The U.S. can help countries to achieve this potential without intervening in every situation. In turn, unhealthy dependencies on the U.S. that other countries currently have will be reduced, thus promoting a more just global community.

 5. Local peacebuilding is the right thing to do. 

Dire situations around the world – Syria, South Sudan, DRC, and Burundi to name a few– do demand a moral response from all of us, as well as a practical one. In order for a secure and prosperous future for everyone, we must support local leadership and the long-term transformation of societies.

If the U.S. were to take a steadfast approach in support of local peacebuilding, other countries would be encouraged to follow suit. This spread of positive change for good is what the world needs – the pursuit of peace instead of war.

 

So what can the new Congress actually do to help?

 

Help educate the incoming Administration

In the past, Congress has demonstrated bipartisan understanding and support for the work of local civil society in helping to prevent and mitigate violence and atrocities – this needs to continue.

The new Congress can play a crucial role in educating the new Administration on the importance of preventive action and local peacebuilding. Many sources, including Peace Direct, are here to help advise.

Listen to the local peacebuilders and understand what they need

Our trusted network of 33 Local Peacebuilding Experts across 44consistently on what local peacebuilding efforts require from the international community. We also provide in-person visits from peacebuilding experts of key countries of concern to the US and in-depth analysis from local peacebuilders. By learning from and speaking to them, we can all take more appropriate and effective actions to work with them, not against them.

Implement recommendations of the Experts Committee on Atrocities Prevention

A Committee of experts has put forward a report, “A Necessary Good”, to help exemplify the need for U.S. leadership and how we, as a leading power in world, can work towards the prevention of mass atrocities.

With a call to action to the new Administration to “make funding for strengthening local civil society a major pillar of the early prevention agenda,” it draws upon the importance of dedicating these funds early on in the budgeting process in order to establish a high priority. It also utilizes the leadership capacity of the U.S. to bring together the international community to come up with a consistent and coordinated approach to counter violence and mass atrocities.

Sustain and increase funding levels for key accounts in the FY18 budget process

While Peace Direct believes significant change is needed to improve foreign aid to truly support local actors, funding for USAID and violence reduction programs is vital in the coming years.

Core accounts for democracy and governance, conflict prevention, and human rights have been cut drastically over the past decade. Per the report above, a recommended baseline for FY18 and subsequent budgets is a negotiable $2 billion and should introduce a new Early Prevention and Response Account (EPR). This will provide money for existing programs that help prevent and mitigate violence, such as the USAID Complex Crisis Fund and Department of State Human Rights and Democracy Fund accordingly.

Pass the Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act (GAPA)

The GAPA legislates increased support for local civil society as first responders to help prevent mass atrocities. This bill continues the bipartisan commitment to preventing mass atrocities as a core national security interest and a moral responsibility of the US. The bill enhances the U.S’s civilian capabilities to prevent and mitigate such crises before atrocities unfold. In addition to sustaining critical US capacities like the Atrocities Prevention Board, the bill encourages support to strengthen local civil society, including human rights defenders and those who work to prevent and respond to atrocities.

In the months and years ahead, we hope Congress will take learning and inspiration from those striving every day to prevent violence and build peace in their communities.

We will be working to ensure Congress, the new Administration and other world leaders can learn from and support local action to prevent and resolve conflict, wherever it might spark.

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