Rethinking peace processes to build lasting peace

The session took a critical look at the negative consequences of short-termism in peace processes. While peace agreements can end violence, they do not bring lasting peace. The panel delved into the multi-layered nature of peace and look into specific case studies (such as Colombia, Somalia, and Mali). High-level panelists discussed lessons learned from conflicts and peace processes, both historical and ongoing. Representatives from the International Commission on Inclusive Peace brought Track One experience and lived experience from civil society and local peace efforts.

Author: Sciences Po student Denise Morenghi summarizes the debate session of the third edition of the Paris Peace Forum

Debate title: The peace deal dilemma: From short-termism to lasting peace

Date: 12 November 2020

There is statistical evidence that today’s world is marked by a historic surge in violent contestations. There are currently 52 active conflicts around the globe, and this figure is continuously susceptible to rise: between 2020 and 2021, for instance, several violent protests erupted in countries such as Myanmar, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, and many more.

What is striking about this increase is that most of the countries exposed to such surges in violence were not new to internal strife: on the contrary, most of them were already subject to war and instability in the past. However, the failure to successfully actualize a durable and sustainable peace process fed new animosities, eventually igniting the fire of renewed clashes. Indeed, as former Dutch  Minister of Foreign Affairs Bert Koenders rightly pointed out during the session, “most of the peace processes we see fail after seven to twelve years”, and “90% of the conflicts today are in countries that experienced several wars previously”.

A fundamental fault in the way peace is understood and achieved by the international community clearly emerges from these considerations. Peace processes are often mediated and legitimized by the presence of international guarantors, chiefly the United Nations, but evidently fail to provide the necessary sustainability and durability.

Among the many factors evoked during the Paris Peace Forum debate, the need for more inclusive participatory frameworks was stressed. Indeed, so far, the international community has stuck to old approaches based on short-term table negotiations. By perpetuating elite-dominated power-sharing agreements, these approaches have “failed to reach strategic inclusion”, but rather represent a “form of tokenism”, as Hiba Qasas, Head of Secretariat Principles for Inclusive Peace at Interpeace, remarked, indicating South Sudan as a noteworthy example. Indeed, it is precisely through exclusionary and elitist negotiation processes that inequalities get perpetuated and consolidated, planting the seeds for future animosity and violent reactions. Mali and Colombia are two other noteworthy instances of such dynamics: in both cases, widening inequalities empowered by structural unbalances are giving rise to an increase in illicit activities, illegal economies, and security threats. These, in turn, can engender new potential for violent altercations, reinvigorating the vicious cycle of instability and losing local communities’ trust, as underlined by Bert Koenders.

New instabilities can only be anticipated and prevented via inclusive approaches allowing for the underlying roots of tensions, often grounded in imbalances and inequalities, to be uncovered and addressed. Ideating such an inclusive and participatory framework for peace also spotlights the ownership that citizens necessarily need to embrace, thereby encouraging “the participation of different actors that feel this is part of their way to contribute to the transformation”, as Paula Gaviria, Director of the peace-building organization Compaz Fundación said concerning Colombia. A peace process that is bound to be lasting and sustainable should be a collective endeavor, one in which local communities, distinguishably women, youth, and victims of violence, can recognize their power and agency and therefore come together to communicate effectively and visualize a common narrative for the country’s future. As mentioned by Paula Gaviria, “good stories, stories of hope, transformation, and common heroes […] have to be at the front line of the conversation”, in order to cement a common understanding of the drivers, intended outcome, and overall importance of the process itself and its implications for a better tomorrow.

Paradoxically, the international community has a vital role in rethinking peace based on a bottom-up approach. Indeed, firstly, it is the only credible actor for legitimizing peace processes from their inception. Moreover, it is the main stakeholder when it comes to defining a much needed “broader frame of reference to rethink and to bring different frames together, to provide a frame that would enable us to engage in peace processes that are more inclusive and that lay a foundation for lasting peace, that also respond to the aspirations and expectations of communities, so they own them, hold on to them and keep them over”, as per Hiba Qasas. The work that has been produced so far through frameworks such as UN Women’s Women, Peace and Security agenda and the UN’s first ever progress report on Youth Peace and Security may serve as a significant stepping stone for the production of a broad-scale, overarching plan for global governance in the name of long-term peace. We have identified the problem: it is now time for a pivotal shift, a decisive rethinking of peace for a better, more peaceful future.

By Denise Morenghi

Watch the full debate

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