Beyond the Blue Helmet: The Human Rights of Peacebuilding

This third and final panel sought to examine the role of NGOs, humanitarian organizations, faith-based, and grassroots organizations in the peacebuilding process in post-conflict settings. The panel featured three individuals with highly diverse backgrounds and experiences relating to peacebuilding as well as general visions as to the tools available to achieve such reconstruction in the aftermath of conflict.


As a federal officer in U.S. government assigned to the National Defense University in D.C., Michael Miklaucic brought a unique perspective based in his experiences not only working directly in the aid field through USAID but also as a government official. Openly expressing his views on conflict and emphasizing that his views did not represent those of the U.S. government, Miklaucic put forth several propositions for anyone wishing to engage in peacebuilding to consider:


There is no such thing as “post-conflict” but rather, a mater of how conflict is expressed. While conflict is inherent in human nature and a natural outcome of conflicting interests, he made the distinction that war, on the other hand, is not inevitable and is subject to human agency.

Miklaucic also emphasized the necessity to never underestimate the law of unintended consequences or the role of human agency. In this, he specified that NGOs should also be wary to adopt an attitude of working in ways that will “do no harm,” as it will often lead to nothing being done.


While many of his comments alluded to the challenges inherent in peacebuilding and reconstruction in any scenario, Miclaucic posited the solution to lie in support for state-building and recognition of the resources available within countries. He advocated for people to recognize in particularly the usefulness of working with the armies of the war-torn countries, which often represent one of the few stable institutions and thus must be part of the state building enterprise.


The second panelist, Libby Hoffman has been active in peacebuilding through the nonprofit sector as President of Catalyst for Peace and co-founder of Fambul Tok, a community-owned reconciliation program in Sierra Leone. Through her work in Sierra Leone, a country that has experienced civil war for 11 years that had defined a new standard of brutality, she came to understand the usefulness of grassroots, local level programs in combatting the aftermath of such devastation. Following the civil wars, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Sierra Leonne granted blanket amnesty to perpetrators of crimes during the war, thus creating a situation in which people often lived next door to those who have committed grave abuses against them or their families.


Catalyst for Peace grew out of the idea that justice must be based at the community level and draw from the local culture and tradition. Fambul Tok, which translates to Family Talk, is an ancient tradition in Sierra Leone of truth-telling and public apology that the local people wanted to bring back.

In talking to the local people and asking what they wanted most, Hoffman saw that people wanted what was broken during the war: community.  They wanted reconciliation and way of celebrating their culture as it was before the war. Fambul Tok is a means of rebuilding peace in local communities outside of the courtrooms or the international institutions. It is about promoting justice where those in Sierra Leone perceived that it must belong: within the communities.


The third panelist, Bukeni Waruzi brought another unique perspective based in a grassroots approach and focused on means of peacebuilding outside of the UN or international courts like the ICC. As a human rights advocate from the DRC who sought to help prevent the recruitment of child soldiers in the Congo, Waruzi ended up joining the video-advocacy human rights non profit Witness in New York.


Similar to Hoffman, his goal was to bring awareness to people’s stories and start dialogues about issues that persisted as a result of the silence surrounding them. He utilized video as a tool to present to the communities and the parents of the children being recruited the situation of what was happening to these child soldiers in the camps.


Waruzi emphasized the need to recognize the importance of such tools as video advocacy and the power of grassroot local organizations to make a difference in the peacebuilding process. The UN is often a last resort for countries in need of actors to maintain peace and security and protection for citizens. But for many of these countries, the protection of civilians does not necessarily occur. In the case of the Congo that contains the largest UN peacekeeping mission and has had the UN operate there for 12 years, there still has not been much dramatic change in the protection of civilians.


According to Waruzi, the best tool to provide this protection and start building peace is not through the UN but through the mandate of the state. National jurisdictions must be the means in which conflict is resolved and the state is restored. Still, as with all other mechanisms and tools available, from state-building to grassroots organizations to UN missions to military aid to state mandates, the solution is never simple. As all three panelists illustrated, the important point is that there is no quick-fix easy solution. Rather, there are many channels and resources through which “peacebuilding” may occur, and each has its benefits and challenges.




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