“Of course, I cannot stop the war, but I feel an obligation to do as much as I can in that direction. That is why advocacy about the causes and solutions to war has always been important. But it is not enough. Today’s protracted conflicts arise from profound crises of governance, economic factors, and social relations. They are not ended simply by peace talks, but depend upon the transformation of all these factors… Humanitarian aid should play a role not only in saving lives today but also in saving lives tomorrow. Issues such as participation, consultation, gender equity, and respect for minorities are not just ‘quality’ aspects of a humanitarian response. They maybe it’s essence, if they contribute to peace. Tony Vaux
As seen in the previous chapter, humanitarian organizations values have evolved along the international system. Most large humanitarian agencies working today are the product of the Second World War, the Cold War, and the Post 9/11 evolving context. The separation of humanitarian from peacebuilding, in particular, changed after what has been labeled the end of the Cold War during which HNGOs were kept out of the realm of real politics. As Identity group conflicts fueled by grievance, greed and grief reshaped the field of clashes in the early 1990s, HNGOs that had gained increasing access to local population found themselves in the realm of these conflicts. Their presence on the stage and the difficulties of traditional diplomacy to limit violence on the ground precipitated HNGOs in the field of peacebuilding.
In this chapter, I explore why HNGOs contribution to peacebuilding is challenged by internal and external agendas and limited, even though the idea of real peace corresponds to their ideals. In the first part of this chapter, I argue that for most HNGO, commitment to peacebuilding was never spontaneous and conscious. Neither was it the outcome of agencies internal evolution or reflection but rather an idea imposed upon HNGOs as Northern powers attempted to establish a universal model of liberal peace based on democratization and free trade in the late 1990s. In the second part, in light of the previous arguments, I review the outcomes of the voluntary or involuntary involvement of HNGOs in this endeavor. It must be noted that this chapter attempts to go beyond the common understanding that humanitarian assistance may exacerbate conflicts and rather explore and focus on the policies and state of minds of those who advocate for a more active role of HNGOs in the area of peacebuilding.
Before undertaking the analysis of IHNGOs contribution to peacebuilding or in support of the reestablishment of coexistence in the communities they are helping, it is useful to provide some clarifications about the concept of peacebuilding, which varies among various fields of practice or studies.
Governments and academics have a different approach in defining peace. Joan Galtung often referred to as the “father” of peace studies has established a distinction between “negative and positive peace.” While government tends to associate peace to the absence of violence frequently as the result of a ceasefire, it is referred to as negative peace because it does not suggest the creation of harmonious relationships or the reestablishment of an adequate social system fulfilling the needs and rights of the populations. Positive peace occurs when countries or communities not only interact in a nonviolent way but are also managing the conflict. One of the first and better-known conceptualizations was put forward by Johan Galtung (1969, 1975), who defined it from the perspective of the structure of the society rather than from an actor. He also kept the theories related to peacemaking and peacekeeping, which are creating what he called negative peace. Positive peace extends the definition of peace by associating it with the absence of structural violence, implying that violence is rooted in the structure of societies (Galtung, 1975). By associating violence with the structure of the community, Galtung articulated the nexus between peace, conflict, and development which would become one of the cornerstones of the new security paradigm adopted by the United Nations and most Western governments.
When asked by the UN security council to develop an agenda that would bring an end to the conflicts of the 1990s menacing the stability of Europe in particular, UN General Secretary Boutros Boutros-Ghali integrated the neo-Marxist concept developed by Galtung in the Agenda for Peace. It was to eliminate structural violence and bring what Galtung called positive peace. The idea of positive peace was reiterated by the United Nations in the Brahimi report published in 2000. It reaffirmed that peacebuilding should aim “to reassemble the foundations of peace and provide the tools for building on those foundations something that is more than just the absence of war” (United United, 2000, p. 3).
This initial conceptualization is succinctly supplemented by John Paul Lederach’s observations:
“[Peacebuilding] is understood as a comprehensive concept that encompasses, generates, and sustains the full array of processes, approaches, and stages needed to transform conflict toward more sustainable, peaceful relationships. The term thus involves a wide range of activities that both precede and follow formal peace accords, which is an area where HNGOs certainly have a role to play. Metaphorically, peace is seen not merely as a stage in time or a condition. It is a dynamic social construct” (1997, p. 20).
The concept of coexistence has been used in political science and international relations for most of the 20th century. It was originally used for referring to a peaceful relationship between states and mostly related to the Cold War context. In the late 1980s, it was reframed to express principles such as “non-aggression, respect for sovereignty, national independence in internal affairs.” (Weiner, 1998). The term evolved further to express the idea of existing together, in a respective state of tolerance (Oxford Dictionary, 1997 ed.), Kumar Rupesinghe described coexistence as the process to acknowledge and live with differences (1999). Louis Kriesberg defines it as the construction of relationships among groups or individuals in which the parties do not attempt to annihilate each other (1998). The central themes that emerge from these short definitions are that coexistence is recognizing that groups and individuals differ in the way of ethnicity, gender, religion, political beliefs, ethnicity, these differences can stratify around the development of conflicts. A coexistence policy approach attempts to reduce the likelihood that these identity differences escalate into violent conflicts. Another characteristic of the concept of peace is its fluidity, coexistence is not static and evolve and transforms with social changes.
The official inclusion of NGOs in peace process followed the end of the Cold War and the “opening” of territories that were previously unreachable through various UN interventions, HNGOs gained increased access to remote areas in Africa and the former Soviet Union which were the theater of a vast number of these conflicts. IHNGOs could thus reach populations, which were previously inaccessible allowing them to alleviate the suffering of civilians and become directly involved in this “dynamic social construct” (Lederach, 1997, p. 20). Increasingly, IHNGOs were closer to the front lines, and their work became more dangerous, and frequently, they pull out when instability becomes too unpredictable, working with the ICRC in these contexts, we were often the only organization with Doctors without Borders deciding to continue to assist and protect civilians. Nevertheless, even though humanitarian presence was not reliable, the opportunity for a government to direct funding closer to the sources of suffering by avoiding greedy and corrupted government through NGOs was a welcome channel.
As shown in the chart below, the funding for humanitarian assistance between 1970 and 2012 has increased by 1167 %.
Chart 1 – Source: OECD DAC
With such exponential financial growth, the structures of HNGOs expanded exponentially during this period. The presence of UN forces allowed HNGOs to benefit from their negotiations with governments to obtain access. Although this was a positive outcome, at the same time, it prevented these organizations from conducting their negotiations with rogue governments, gaining some first-hand knowledge and developing relationships, and maybe trust from them. In other cases, HNGOs did not even seek approval or inform governments of their presence. For example, in Rwanda in 1995, the government expelled 123 international organizations, which were not legally registered in the country, most had benefited from the guiltiness of the international community following its
In the mid-1990s influential experts, products of the Washington consensus, such as Andrew Natsios or Pamela Aall developed a thread of thought envisioning the development of a role for HNGOs in managing, preventing and resolving conflicts and even substituting themselves for local governments (Hulme, 2000, p. 8). During this period of change in the relationship between diplomacy and conflict, a new paradigm emerged emphasizing the need for collaboration among agencies to provide collective security. The United Nations was given greater responsibilities in implementing this agenda, but smaller players such as NGOs were also acknowledged for their potential contribution in this enlarged approach to diplomacy. As traditional track one diplomacy was weakening with the intensification and multiplication of intrastate conflicts, Joseph Montville, a former diplomat created the term track two diplomacies which incorporated other actors in conflict mediation, including NGOs in general, since then, many forms and records for peacebuilding have been created.
International aid donors, including the United Nations and the European Union, also embraced this new aid-coalition/peacebuilding paradigm based on the central argument that the complexity of internal conflicts required a common and coordinated approach including as many as actors as possible, including organizations, which were providing humanitarian assistance. In 1996, the European Commission recognized that peacebuilding was an intrinsic element of development cooperation strategies and that “relief actions should, apart from their primary objectives of saving the lives of victims, take account of the longer term objectives of reconstruction and development” (1996). Jessica Matthews wrote that the 1990s were the “decade of NGOs” as liberals argued that NGOs were acting, in a way, as a check and balance body against the social injustice resulting from the worldwide deregulation following the disappearance of the bipolar order that had prevailed during the Cold War. Oliver D. Richmond’s remarks summarize this strategic thinking:
“Disarming, repatriating refugees, building a consensus for peace under the auspices of the UN, and moderate local political leadership plays a role in this method… NGOs can often provide this because of their unofficial and human security oriented focus. State-centric approaches cannot operate at this level. What this means is that first generation approaches fail in many conflicts because the structural asymmetry between state and non-state actor make compromise unlikely.” (Richmond, 2001)
Between rhetoric and reality, assessing the contribution of IHNGOs in the area of peacebuilding is a complicated undertaking since they have differing mandates and activities and some degree of variation in their values and modus operandi. Also, peacebuilding has a political component that is not necessarily compatible with the “mandate” that HNGOs have developed. From an empirical perspective, including humanitarian assistance within peacebuilding strategies generates three questions. Are humanitarian principles consistent with the objectives of peacebuilding objectives? Are HNGOs’ difficulties in coordinating their actions too much of an obstacle for them to work efficiently in the peacebuilding area? Does the lack of understanding of the contexts in which they are operating further hinder their capacities for a large role in engaging humanitarian assistance in the peacebuilding processes? If these questions are addressed, the achievement of a state of positive peace should result in the resolution of conflicts underlying causes: “economic despair, social injustice, and political oppression.” (Boutros-Ghali, 1992, p. Paragraph 15).
A literature review contrasting articles was published shortly after the Cold War ended. It covered the new Agenda for peace and articles published after 2003, ten years after the agenda was published. It revealed that while there were high expectations of the capacities of HNGO in supporting peacebuilding strategies prevailed in the first period, the literature published after the 2000s is more cautious and critical of the qualifications of HNGOs and their capacities in this undertaking. The general publications of the UN are the most positive, scholarly analyses are mixed, and HNGOs’ secretive publications rarely address the subject. But far from being negative, the evaluation of HNGOs’ positive and adverse outcomes has provided advice and direction that was missing in the early years.
It was initially expected that HNGOs could conduct low-profile diplomacy and increase peace prospects at the community level, due to their comparative advantage of being present on the ground. Pamela Aall (1996a), a preeminent figure in the field of peacebuilding was an early advocate and believer in the capacities of HNGOs to further peace processes at the community level. Aall examined four different areas in which NGOs could play a role: first by continuing to provide various types of assistance as in the past, second by monitoring human rights violations, third by providing early warning of impending eruptions of violence and fourth by pursuing conflict resolution activities. The author also adhered to the Wilsonian movement in favor of developmental relief activities incorporating longer term perspectives rather than focusing exclusively on immediate relief programs. “The initial emergency relief response should be linked to a set of activities that leads to the transformation of those conflicts in a way that promotes sustained and comprehensive reconciliation among the warring parties.” (Aall, 1996a, p. 439). Due to their presence at the field level, in communities, HNGOs would reinforce and support the development of local resources. Furthermore, they would transform societies and empower communities. One of the problems with this early theoretical analysis was the belief of scholars, such as Aall, which HNGOs possessed a thorough understanding of the context in which they were operating. But as later observed by Michael Scholms (2003)
“evaluation reports frequently demonstrate ‘a significant gap in agencies’ understanding of the context in which they were intervening.’ This lack of analysis further hinders a comprehensive and efficient engagement of aid in peace efforts” (p 41).
Aall identified one precondition for the success of HNGOs’ involvement in peacebuilding, which was “that their work in relief and development affects not only the social and economic well-being of their target groups but also the larger political situation.” (Aall, 1996a, p. 436). At the time, HNGOs were still holding strictly to their principle of independence from governments and most of them did not cooperate or even have any form of relations with the government.
Like Aall, Farouk Mawlawi emphasized the privileged position of humanitarian HNGOs on the ground to address social conflicts, but he considered faith-based organizations as being better prepared, organized and fit for this mission. “Although religion often has been a divisive influence in human relations, religious and spiritually oriented HNGOs have been among the earlier and most prominent actors in conflict mediation and resolution. Religious beliefs, rooted in spiritual values motivate these groups to undertake the difficult and often frustrating task of mediation” (Mawlawi, 1993, p. 395). The values and long term presence of these organizations and their in-depth knowledge of these communities represented a comparative advantage in their potential in soft diplomacy (Track 2) but expanded on their primary purpose, which was to prepare the ground for formal diplomacy (Track 1) when conflicts were not ripe for official negotiations. Unlike Aall, he acknowledged the fact that IHNGOs are not affiliated with governments and saw their independence and their impartiality as aiding negotiation. According to Mawlawi, these unofficial negotiators would attempt “to understand the conflicting viewpoints, and to isolate open-mindedly the concrete issues from those caused by misperceptions and misunderstandings.” (Mawlawi, 1993, p. 403). By engaging the parties in the conflict in informal settings, HNGOs could develop the favorable conditions to restore confidence. Also, they were removed from the official pressure created by formal peace talks. While Mawlawi’s transformative approach was valid, he mistakenly based his low-diplomacy role for HNGOs on the assumption that they had a long-term approach to peacebuilding. In practice, the high turnover of staff working for HNGOs makes it difficult to establish the long-term relationships necessary to build trust and confidence. According to Mawlawi, the main obstacles facing HNGOs was their lack of diplomatic skills and immunity, which could put them in danger as well as the resistance and pressure from governments to not get involved in mediation and negotiation. However, these disadvantages would be compensated by the arguments presented earlier.
The paradigmatic change in conflict and peace processes were at the roots of international organizations and governments recognition of IHNGOs potential in the conflict resolution field, Lindenberg and Bryant (2001) also attributed these changes to the evolution of the global system. Many humanitarian organizations were founded during World War II (CARE and World Vision for example), by the 1970s, most of these organizations had added some development work to their initial agendas, which were mainly directed towards saving lives. By the 1990s, some elements of civil society building, advocacy and peacebuilding appeared. Thus, according to the authors, humanitarian trends have been affected by an external impulse. However, they forget to look at the internal changes that led these organizations to review their modus operandi. Three perspectives have been identified. First, most of the HNGOs involved in peacebuilding are faith-based, and their faith identity influences their work for peace and justice. In contrast, secular organizations perceive peacebuilding as integrated into their effort to provide relief to victims (mainly civilians) affected by conflicts (Foreman, 1999; Henry, 1999; Lindenberg & Bryant, 2001; Salm, 1999). Michel Edwards and David Hulme offer an impressive third perspective, based on the idea that HNGOs is undergoing a midlife crisis that is a regular part of the life cycle of organizations. This crisis is at the root of their self-examination and subsequent changes in their identification and mission perception (1996).
One of the main concerns expressed in the literature mostly published before 2000 was the degree of IHNGOs interaction with governments, “The relationship between NGOs and governmental bodies is complicated. NGOs work against, with, and for states and intergovernmental organizations” (Lorami C. Gerstbauer, 2005) and the difficulties of these IHNGOs to remain independent as they became increasingly financed by the ditto governments. One of the chief arguments presented in the literature is based on the fact that HNGOs’ primary source of funding comes from governments. There is a trickle-down effect from the influence of these governments on the type of assistance and the areas in which HNGOs should engage, which are preventing them from being the neutral and impartial peace builders they should be (Edwards & Hulme, 1996) (Smillie, 1994, p. 155). As shown in Chart 2 below,
the amount of relief assistance provided by governments is two to three folds the amount of relief assistance provided by private donors. With the information revolution, the fact that IHNGOs funding is mostly coming from governments, which are meddling in the proxy war, is widely known and creates further resentment towards a large number of these organizations.
Another concern of significance during this early period of support for the involvement of IHNGOs in soft or preventive diplomacy resided in the potential for coordinating all the various interveners. Mohamed Sahnoun cautioned that the enterprise would be successful only if efforts between all parties involved in peacebuilding actions would coordinate their efforts. “A well coordinated and well-organized intervention can open so many avenues to those trusted with the search for a political solution. Information gathering, securing the interests of minorities, and useful contact with local leaders are only possible through humanitarian, rehabilitation, and development initiatives.” (1996, p. 3). Sahnoun concerns echoed Richmond’s question about the potential difficulties of coordinating the actions of organizations with different backgrounds and modes of intervention. Like Aall (1996b), Sahnoun believed in the transforming effect and rebirth of civil society under the auspices of HNGOs. Sahnoun (1996), when writing this article, was an ambassador for the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), one of the UN arms that were at the forefront in implementing the agenda for peace. However, as more recent literature indicates, the results of the engagement of HNGOs in this endeavor are mixed.
Rhetoric and Reality
The second part of the review explores the literature published after 2000 when enough experience has been gathered to report, comment or analyze on the degree of involvement and the outcomes of IHNGOs engagement in peacebuilding efforts. It must be observed that the literature directly linked to the humanitarian organization and the consolidation of peace is insufficient.
In the turbulence of the globalization movement that followed the End of the Cold war, the responsibilities of humanitarian organizations in the domain of peacebuilding were not explicitly defined but mainly remained an implicit outcome initiated by the UN and the recommendations from international bodies such as the European Council. From the start, there was a misunderstanding in IHNGOs’ capacities, will, and possibilities in this area. While international institutions were arguing that the contextual understanding of HNGOs was one of their comparative advantages in this area, it was in fact rather the opposite, at least at the time. In reality, one of the main issues faced by international humanitarian organizations was their lack of understanding of the causes, structures, and dynamics of conflicts (Carey & Richmond, 2003; Chen, 2014). This lacuna has been attributed to the high staff turnover (Loquercio, 2006; Schloms, 2001) in humanitarian organizations and the changes of objectives that often follow each new management team, the shifts in donors’ agenda, as well as the aid workers’ short-term contracts in the field due to the intensity of the work in these often insecure and needy areas. For these reasons, they do not have the time and energy, or maybe for some the interest from trying to understand and analyze the complexities of interests and power distribution present in communities. It might also come from their lifestyle, which is for a number of them look rather uninspired by ethnographic considerations and is close to those of college students (Fetcher, 2012; Hancock, 1989; Vaux, 2001).
The Trade-off Between Independence and Government Funding
Another important point mentioned in the literature is that being involved implicitly in peacebuilding activities or supporting coexistence informally or through existing programs require a certain amount of independence for humanitarian organizations which is one of the claims of most of their mission statements or principles. However, there are obstacles to achieve this independence. Firstly, most of the financing of IHNGOs is coming from governments as shown in chart 2 above. Secondly, as a potential consequence of this funding, governments might expect IHNGOs to work in certain geographical areas or implement certain types of programs (Coyne, 2013, p. 50).
In some particular cases, the American government has asked humanitarian non-governmental organizations to collaborate directly with the government. Afghanistan and Iraq are frequently cited examples in this regard. Of course we can argue that the US government’s emotional reaction to the attacks of September 2001 was part of the somewhat direct stand from the US secretary, but, it is not unusual in the country in which large “organizations like the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and CARE  found themselves dedicating more and more time at their board meetings to the problem of trying to maintain a high public profile in order to manage their relations with the US government, from which they received the bulk of their funding” (M. a. W. G. T. Barnett, 2011, p. 21). Analysis of humanitarian independence has consistently advised IHNGOs to remain independent in reasserting that assistance should “Not be connected to any of the belligerents or others (especially states) with a stake in the outcome of war. Accordingly, there is a general rule that agencies should either refuse or limit their reliance on government funding, especially from those with interests in the results.” (M. a. W. G. T. Barnett, 2011, p. 9). For those organizations that are closely associated with their governments, the concept of independence is mere rhetoric and is not supportive of their potential in reconciliation at the local level in particular. It must also be noted that although some international humanitarian organizations such as Doctors without Borders and the International Committee of the Red Cross, in particular, have remained loyal to their principles, in the field, officials and other interlocutors have stereotyped humanitarian organizations as the right hand of the Western powers.
Another major impediment to some of the potential accomplishment in the field of reconciliation and peacebuilding for humanitarian agencies has been in many instances their affiliation with military from a political standpoint or for the sake of their protection. Also, when violence prevents humanitarian organizations to supply victims with life-saving provisions, they have often requested protection from private of state armies (Stoddard, 2006). Even though they have tried to avoid being associated with militaries, armed groups or other carriers of weapons to maintain their moral authority and independence, these instances have become more frequent. Shannon D. Beebe and Mary Kaldor, starting in the 1990s, observed “the distinction between ‘battlespace’ and ‘humanitarian space’ was dissolving” (2010, p. 2). Although the humanitarian-military relations are contextual, they have increased since the end of the Cold War, and the example of Bosnia and Somalia in which humanitarian personal worked in close collaboration with militaries and with some private security companies have generated a lot of concerns about their independence or capacities to be involved in peacebuilding activities.
The military has also become more and more involved in providing humanitarian assistance. Although some reports, publications, and conferences have been organized to study civil (humanitarian)/military cooperation, the analysis of their relationship remains limited. The majority of papers have concluded that it was inevitable that the engagement of militaries in humanitarian activities would expand leading researcher to improve cooperation between them (Barry, 2002). However, for most humanitarian organizations, this cooperation with militaries would alter their principle of impartiality, neutrality, and independence. It has been a crucial topic in the debate, militaries are not impartial and are pursuing political goals established by the state, Hugo slim remarked that military interventions are “highly selective and inequitable” (Slim, 2001), which is at odds with humanitarian principles.
Another issue which is complicating the involvement of humanitarian organization in the field of peacebuilding rests in the coordination of actions among organizations (Minear, 2002) for various reasons. Firstly, each organization is differently structured “with its governance, resource-base, agenda, and priorities” and secondly, “there is a fierce competition among agencies for funding from governments and other donor agencies which “complicate sector-wide cooperation.” (M. R. Barnett, Ben, 2010).
Between Rhetoric and Reality
A first element to appraise the involvement of humanitarian organization in elements of peacebuilding is to look at the state of HNGOs conflict sensitivity. Conflict sensitivity can be used as a proxy measure to evaluate, first the consciousness of field workers to the idea that they have the mandate to limit conflicts or a role in peacebuilding and second that they have an understanding of the conflict in which they are working. DFID for example (2002) has established some guidance notes to conduct conflict assessments identifying risks “conflict-related risks that need to be mitigated and opportunities for programmes/policies to better contribute to peacebuilding” (p22). Interestingly, a study titled “Applying conflict sensitivity in emergency response: current practice and ways forward” reviewing cases in Pakistan, Haiti and Sri Lanka published by the Humanitarian Policy Network (HPN) of the Office of (ODI) in 2011 found a limited knowledge and involvement in the area despite a significant number of publications on the subject. According to ODI definition, “the term ‘conflict sensitivity’ is defined as the ability of an organization to:
- • understand the context in which it operates;
- • understand the interaction between its intervention and the context, and
- • act upon this understanding to avoid negative impacts and maximize positive impacts on conflict.” (Zicherman, 2011, p. 1)
While there was little explicit but rather implicit evidence of a conflict-sensitive approach in Pakistan and Haiti, in Sri Lanka there was a formal conflict analysis. Overall, some of the findings revealed that “interviewees had little emergency interventions that helped reduce conflict or build peace; most staff interviewed reported that the emergency response programmes they had been involved in did not include peace-building objectives or activities…. Even for agencies that do have peace-building strategies and plans, this was seen as something to be considered during the recovery or transition phase at the earliest” (Zicherman, 2011, p. 6). The participants in the study, at all level, expressed their interest regarding conflict sensitivity, “84 % of humanitarian practitioners thought it should be ‘top priority for the sector’ to better equip aid workers to be conflict sensitive in emergencies.” (p. 6). Eighty-five percent of informants recalled having been involved or witnessed some relief activities that had exacerbated existing conflict or created some conflict. Another interesting finding was that they wished to have a better understanding of the context in which they were working and that this was on “of the top challenges faced by frontline workers” (p. 6). This last point has also been noticed by researchers, according to Michael Schloms (2001, pp. 4-5), humanitarian organizations should invest more efforts and time learn and analyze the political context in which their work.
Few of the respondents had experience with some interventions, which had helped build peace, or participated in conflict reduction. Also, most of the “staff said that the emergency response programmes they had been involved in did not include peace-building objectives or activities, and few recalled examples of this happening inadvertently.” (p. 6). Moreover, “Even for agencies that do have peace-building strategies and programmes, this was seen as something to be considered during the recovery or transition phase at the earliest.” (p. 6). The review also highlighted that most humanitarian workers did not find the active involvement in peace-building as central to emergency humanitarian response, they were rather considering their role as more limited, focusing on reducing the potential for harming relief efforts. However, the majority of the interviewees shared their thirst for tools or approaches that would help them “to deal with the dilemmas and challenges posed by conflict issues.” (p 6). However, tools and methods that have been developed by organizations such as Alert International and some recommendation by government offices such as DFID and although conflict sensitivity is necessary for personnel involved in humanitarian work, training remains limited in this area. The most widely used and acknowledged conflict sensitivity approach is the “Local Capacities for Peace” (LCP) framework developed by Mary Anderson (1999). It has been adopted and implemented –at least partially, by many HNGOs. The framework provides a conflict sensitivity methods based on the analysis of “connectors” and “dividers” in communities (1999). Although it does not provide a model for conflict resolution or negotiation, it does help field workers to get a better sense of the tensions and potential impact of their activities on these tensions.
Other tools have been developed by humanitarian organizations internally. The best known project developed by a group of humanitarian agencies in the mid 1990s is the Sphere Project (“The Sphere Project,” 2011). It does not directly and explicitly provides a conflict sensitivity framework. However, it nonetheless links humanitarian action to a conflict sensitive approach. For example, the Charter reads, “attempts to provide humanitarian assistance may sometimes have unintended adverse effects.” It further states that HNGOs must “aim to minimize any negative effects of humanitarian action in the local community or on the environment.” It also states that “the way in which humanitarian assistance is provided may potentially render civilians more vulnerable to attack, or may on occasion bring unintended advantage to one or more of the parties to the conflict.” As we can see, the tone of the Charter is remaining neutral and places humanitarian assistance at the center of the debate rather than the conflicts themselves even though it reads that parties are “committed to minimizing any such adverse effects.” (“The Sphere Project,” p. 23).
Interestingly, in the current cluster approach developed by the Office of Coordination of Humanitarian assistance (OCHA), activities and actions related to peacebuilding are frequently included under “protection”, but there is no specific mention of “peacebuilding”. Protection is directed at the reparation and prevention of human rights abuses and is connected to international laws as well as national legislation. The respect for human rights is not a negotiation tool and is not directly linked to conflict resolution. Even though the UN was at the center of the idea of including some peacebuilding elements in humanitarian response, the theme has not been expanded.
Faith-Based Versus Secular Organizations
Although religious and secular humanitarian agencies share numerous characteristics, another interesting finding is the higher consciousness and engagement by faith-based organizations in the field of peacebuilding, confirming the early presumption of Mohamed Mawlawi’s (Mawlawi, 1993). They have shown more entrepreneurship and success in supporting peace processes in various conflicts areas. One of the most notable achievements was the role of the Community of Sant’Egidio in Mozambique, a Catholic mission that played the role of “third party” mediators, leading to a peace accord ending the internal conflict in October 1992. The Mozambican General Peace Accord was followed by an implementation process, which leads to a free multiparty election in 1994. Although the impact is difficult to measure, these organizations have been able to encourage communities to reduce violence, re-humanize the other, foster dialogue and change behaviors. They are particularly well equipped to provide psychological, emotional and spiritual support and to mobilize their communities. Their connections with government officials offered a platform for communication and a neutral venue for negotiations between the belligerent parties.
A later and broader analysis of the work of faith-based organizations in the field of peacebuilding undertaken by Lorami C. Gerstrauber (2009) revealed that the main characteristics that have been influential in this choice had been leadership and mission. It must be noted that this path was chosen not only based on external influences on IHNGOs as described above but also by internal reflection, readiness, and values. First, the leadership conviction in the organizations studied (World Vision (WV), Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Mennonite Central Committee (MCC)) was a principle catalyzer for the choice of direct involvement in peacebuilding activities. For example, the president of World Vision, Robert Seiple was personally deeply convinced of the importance of reconciliation; Andrew Natsios, the Vice President of the organization who supported this approach and conviction, backed him up in the process. When the two men left the organization, the agenda related to peacebuilding weakened significantly.
While the leadership played an important part in the adoption of peacebuilding as a full component of the organization’s activities, their religious foundation was the second tenet that made this involvement possible. In the case of CRS, the introduction of justice and peacebuilding was intended to reinvigorate the organization’s Catholic origins. But most importantly, for these faith-based agencies, the concept of peacebuilding originates from the thought that God reconciled himself to humanity through the embodiment of Jesus Christ. Thus, the idea of reconciliation is at the center of Christianity, in direct link with a value-based ethics. In general, faith-based organizations work openly with other faiths and believes that reconciliation involves working with people whose faith is not necessarily Christian. However, they recognize that operating across different faith traditions can be challenging and they cannot always choose this path. An empirical study conducted by Jonathan Goodhand (2006) confirms Mawlawi’s claim that the best results in peacebuilding come from the work of faith-based organizations. Among the seven case studies, one indigenous faith-based organization consciously worked to incorporate peace-building elements in its programs and objectives (Goodhand, 2006) and benefited from the vertical support of the church hierarchy. Another empirical study conducted by Jonathan Goodhand, also confirm that faith-based organizations have been more involved and efficient in the field of peacebuilding (Goodhand, 2006).
As addressed in the first chapter, religious values and traditions have been critical in the evolution of Western humanitarianism. However, at present, a large number of HNGOs have adopted a secular approach to humanitarianism. Paradoxically, this has happened with “the expanded space for religion resulting from globalization and the social changes that followed the end of the Cold War” (Hulme, 2000, p. 13). Secularism represents ideological neutrality and is well suited for HNGOs expecting to be perceived politically neutral. Although the secular model was originally adopted to separate the states from their religious roots and allow economic development and a modernization of society, humanitarians have adopted a secular discourse that tends to marginalize the strong religious identity of their clients. Religion is perceived as an impediment to the linear model of development adopted by the neoliberal order; religion is an obstacle to reason. For example, a training course for teachers in northern Uganda lead by an expatriate trainer asked the participants to suggest activities for the opening circle with students that could mark the beginning of the class. One of the participants suggested that they “pray together.”
The trainer was not comfortable with this suggestion and did not engage with the member. When another member suggested that they “play a trust game,” the trainer responded affirmatively and seemed relieved (De Cordier, 2009). Although the humanitarian response was not inappropriate per se, this example shows how limited was the awareness of this field worker and his unpreparedness in evaluating his interlocutors regarding their religious values. But even more importantly, this approach hampered the potential for humanitarian work with the community by suppressing and ignoring the role of faith in supporting recovery. This unconscious form of controlling the meeting does not seem important prima facie, but it creates some emotional barriers between insiders and outsiders, these barriers may participate in power relationship or create a distance between the partners.
The attacks against, the USA in September 2001 have affected the work of faith-based humanitarian organizations with the catalyzation around fundamentalism. Besides, the work of Christians evangelists in the field of humanitarian assistance has also been challenged. Elizabeth Ferris remarks “In early 2005, press reports in Indonesia that evangelical groups were trying to bring the Gospel as well as relief to Muslims affected by the tsunami led to questioning and criticism of the work if all Christians.” (2005, p. 323). However, drawing generalities would be inappropriate and the possibilities to work in area with different faith has also shown some potential, Serge Duss reminds us that
“in some non-Christian countries, Christian identification has enhanced our ability to work with local communities and national governments. Unlike Western society, which separates the spiritual from the physical, Islamic nations, in particular, integrate the spiritual into every aspect of their lives. Both Christians and Muslims believe that ‘there’s a witness of faith through charity that is a way of life and expression of obedience to God.’” (Farina, 2004)
Empirical assessments leading to best practices are still in their infancy in this area and might not even expand in light of recent shifts in the international system and the limited engagement of humanitarian organizations. In the most comprehensive empirical study, analyzing seven cases to assess humanitarian organizations achievements in peacebuilding, Jonathan Goodhand, an academic and practitioner, provides one of the most thorough evaluations on the subject. His conclusions are sobering. According to Goodhand (2006), humanitarian organizations have proved that they can save lives in affected populations, but the impact of their actions on peacebuilding are insufficient and often the product of “unconscious” actions or unplanned side effects.
More disturbing is the fact that HNGOs have tended to fuel conflicts by distributing valuable goods that fell into the hands of, or were stolen by, armed groups that are using them to purchase weapons or support their involvement in conflicts. In this sense, they have increased the risk of civilians being attacked and robbed and helped finance the war machine ((Goodhand, 2006; Hancock, 1989; D. Hilhorst, & Al., 2014; Katz, 2013; Kibreab, 2004). Goodhand also found that, often, their limited understanding of the various, sometimes numerous interlocking levels of conflicts prevent IHNGOs from seizing the opportunities to de-escalate conflicts at the local level or to fulfill the role of third-party negotiators. In the end, Goodhand did not find that in general HNGOs have a positive impact on conflict resolution; rather, their actions and presence often results in unintended positive or negative consequences (2006).
Alternative Emerging Models
Since there is no particular model for the engagement of HNGOs in peacebuilding activities, the example of Mercy Corps can illustrate some of the direct attempts made by organizations to continue to work in programs while developing some alternative to be involved in peacebuilding areas. To shape its capacity in this area, Mercy Corps merged with a service-oriented organization in the field of peace and justice, Conflict Management Group (CMG). At the time of negotiating its collaboration with Mercy Corps, despite an excellent reputation, CMG was experiencing some financial difficulties since it’s hard to finance work associated with peacebuilding without bringing goods when the objectives are reducing insecurity. On the other hand, Mercy Corps has a large budget of which 70.4 % is financed by the US Government and 29.6 by private contributions (Chart 3).
Chart 3 – Mercy Corps financing break down for 2014, source: Charity Navigator 
In 2004, the merging seemed mutually beneficial since Mercy Corps could increase its capacities in conflict transformation while CMG could survive financially. However, the merging did not start well. The CMG staff was mainly offering mediation services that were not initially compatible with the skills of Merci Corps staff members. After five years Mercy Corps’ conflict transformation program ranged from the resolution of land issues in Guatemala, to the support of regional initiatives aimed at reducing violence over water and firewood among clans in Somalia, to the training in negotiation and consensus building of Iraqi leaders and those efforts seem successful.
Partnering with local organizations involved in peacebuilding activities
In the following case study, Dorothea Hilhorst and Matthijs van Leeuwen (D. a. V. L. M. Hilhorst, 2005) analyze the experience of a local women’s peace organization, the Sudanese Women’s Voice for Peace (SWVP). The SWVP was created after a meeting organized by the People for Peace in Africa (PPA). As peace negotiations were unsuccessful between North and South Sudan at the time, PPA thought that factional leaders‘ wives might have some influence on the opinions of their husbands and so organized a meeting for the wives of influential local leaders. After the meeting, the women formed an organization with the goal of promoting women’s interests. However, they wanted to stay away from politics. Their idea was that women are mothers, and through motherhood, they are united by the wish not to see their sons killed in the conflict. In the beginning, they represented diverse ethnicities, were living in exile in Nairobi, all of them were well educated. Their diversity allowed them to serve all southern Sudanese women in the process of peacebuilding.
To attract the attention of the public to the situation of children and women in conflict situations they organized some public events. They obtained support from UNIFEM and from some bishops to train their members and visit the southern part of the country to conduct a workshop and to introduce their organization to the military command. In less than a year, the organization had gained international recognition and was invited to the Women Conference in Beijing; this increased their visibility. Funding and offers for training, as well as invitations to international events, ensued. The organization also became embedded in the international bodies working in Sudan. In five years, the organization grew to 90 members and organized itself into chapters that were to cover the country. However, the chapters did not materialize, remaining a rather abstract idea. A Dutch peace organization started to collaborate with SWVP to develop a program “to empower local women to participate in conflict prevention and peacebuilding at the local and regional level.”. (D. a. V. L. M. Hilhorst, 2005, p. 549).
At this point SWVP, at the request of the Dutch peace organization, registered as an NGO, departing from its original voluntary association, and started to have a few members who were salaried. It also resulted in the growth of its budget and the change from a horizontal form of organization to a vertical one. Jealousy arose from volunteer members who did not receive a ______. (Don’t know what the author wants to say). The leaders also did not have the project and planning skills to run a formal organization, and the Dutch funding agency hired consultants to improve SWVP management. Also, many of the women had traumatic experiences, and the work with SWVP became very stressful. They were also not used to discussing their unease as they were coming from very rough environments. The political powers tried to access their resources and, as a result, SWVP became very secretive about their funding sources, which in turn created rumors regarding the real motives of the organization. Trust among women in the society eroded.
Concomitantly, the Dutch organization used its partnership with a local Sudanese organization to legitimize its activities towards its constituency and donors. Increasingly, it acted more like a donor than a partner, as they had to prove that SWVP was fulfilling the conditions attached to its funding. The relationship between the representative of SWVP and the Dutch organization deteriorated, and trust was lost. Increasingly, SWVP “moved from an icon of hope for peace to a bunch of quarreling women.” (D. a. V. L. M. Hilhorst, 2005, p. 551).
The women associated with SWVP were committed to being part of the peace process in South Sudan, but at the same time, they were victims of the conflict, displaced from their villages and suffering from trauma. They also came from various backgrounds and were united under the identity conferred by the organization as well as by their gender identity. However, their different characters were also part of the organization. The Dutch organization failed to see that “While people shape organizations, inconsistencies between the living world of organizational actors and the objectives of the organization can easily occur.” (D. a. V. L. M. Hilhorst, 2005, p. 554). The organization was a social network and was also connected through its members to various other social networks, which made the boundaries blurrier than it appeared to the Dutch organization. While, for SWVP, these social networks were constituted and coalesced through the organization, providing its meaning and coherence, the Dutch organization was more preoccupied with formal activities and objectives. As SWVP faced the difficulties associated with accounting and normative reporting, they could not fulfill the Dutch organization expectations, which decided to end its support for the organization.
Defining Peace from a Citizen Perspective
The meaning of peace depends on how we define it, as well as the understanding and expectations associated with peacebuilding. Scholars and practitioners, such as David Hulme and Jonathan Goodhand (Hulme, 2000), started to look at the meaning of peace from the perspective of the citizen. A survey they conducted in several countries in the late 1990s illustrates the contextual meaning of peace in Afghanistan, where a man from Pashtun origin thought that the Afghan society was more peaceful under the Taliban rule, while a woman of Kabuli origin thought that they had brought oppression. At the ground level, in everyday life, peace can have different meanings for different individuals in different contexts. The following interpretations provide some example of how individuals and communities envision or perceive the concept of peace:
- ● Peace is to live together as we did before 1983 (Sri Lanka)
- ● Peace is the noninterference of foreigners in Afghan affairs (Afghanistan)
- ● Peace is when our children can go to school (Liberia)
- ● Peace is when an unmarried girl can go out at night in all her jewelry and come home safely (Sri Lanka)
- ● Peace means unity, for us to live together in our country (Afghanistan)”. (p 43).
The differences in expectations and interpretation of the peace concept remind us of the importance of understanding micro and macro elements in a context. At the community level, not all members are affected in the same way, and their expectations might not be identical to those of national leaders. It appears that some expectations such as schooling for children, for example, are goals that could bring humanitarian organizations in the realm of peacebuilding at the community level.
This short literature review illustrates various issues connected to the role of humanitarian organizations in the field of peacebuilding. First of all, their principles of independence and impartiality have been affected by their dependence on government funding and military cooperation. Second, the absence of institutional memory affects short-term contract humanitarian workers to grasp the forces at play in the conflict and lessen their potential to be more active in conflict prevention and resolution at the local level. Third, the anachronism in religious engagement limit secular organizations access to the capacities of a religious organization to foster co-existence among various groups at the community level. Fourth, the difficulties in coordinating the various efforts of humanitarian organizations also represent serious barriers, as well as the fierce competition among them for funding.
Today, HNGOs’ challenges are political rather than technical; in practice, humanitarian assistance projects can never be apolitical. In the case of peacebuilding, they are most often integrated into humanitarian/development projects. Most HNGOs had not incorporated the notion and concept of peacebuilding into their mandate and mission even though assistance programs, as noted by Hulme and Goodhand, “when applied judiciously and at the right time, can tilt the balance towards co-operation on the ground. At the inter or intra-community level, HNGOs have been able to re-establish links between communities living along ethnic fault lines (ADA, Southern Afghanistan, re-energize local leadership and institutions (CCA, Eastern Sri Lanka). They have also been able to support the reintegration of ex-combatants (SCF, Liberia) and resettle displaced communities (EHED, Eastern Sri Lanka)” (Hulme, 2000).