I had a chance last September to attend a lecture in Castlegar entitled, Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping: A new Strategy for a Nonviolent World. The talk sponsored by the Mir Centre for Peace at Selkirk College, was given by, Tiffany Easthom from Victoria. She is the Country Director in South Sudan for Nonviolent Peaceforce, and organization with the mandate to protect civilians and reduce violence in situations of armed conflict.
In 2012, Tiffany was awarded the title, “Civilian Peace Keeper of the Year”, for her work in utilizing non-violent strategies to break the cycles of violence in war zones.
In all honesty, on my way to the lecture at the Mir Centre, I was very curious to learn how it is that unarmed civilians are able to reduce violence, especially in volatile war zones such as in South Sudan.
Tiffany explained how the Nonviolent Peaceforce functions by working with local groups to foster dialogue among parties in conflict. They also seek the safe return of child soldiers and provide a protective presence in addition to offering safe spaces for civilians to develop local capacity for violence prevention.
I asked her how it is possible for civilian peacekeepers to actually function in war zones. How could they possibly feel safe and were they not just human shields?
In her response, Tiffany mentioned that they do a lot of work on the ground before actually going in. In other words, it is important to have the support of tribal chiefs, local politicians and others to ensure the safety of the unarmed peacekeepers. In fact, in 10 years of operation, not one civilian peacekeeper has died. This obviously shows that the idea of unarmed civilians bringing down violence has merit.
One has to ask, what potential there is to reduce violence in the world if more resources were directed to non-violet means rather than flooding conflict areas with weapons?
Nonviolent Peaceforce was formed at the 1999 Hague Appeal for Peace and emerged from an international movement seeking alternatives to military conflict. There are currently member organizations in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and North America.
The peacekeepers represent more than 40 nations and undertake intensive Mission Preparedness Training and extensive in-country preparations. The approximately 150 people on the ground in South Sudan are a mixture of local peacekeepers as well as those from other countries such as Canada. Their task is to create lasting alternatives to war and to help establish conditions in which permanent peace can take root.
What is interesting is that for the same dollars spent every 4 months by the world’s militaries, Nonviolent Peaceforce could send 2,000 well-trained, professional peacekeepers into a war zone for an entire year.
As Mel Duncan, Founder of Nonviolent Peaceforce stated: “Nonviolent Peaceforce is a responsible approach to violent conflict, one firmly rooted in historical reality and emanating hope. By hope, I do not mean sentimental fantasies. I mean hard-nosed hope based on concrete, effective actions.”
Let’s give peace a chance.
Alex Atamanenko is the MP for BC Southern Interior