The CSS Blog Network

Mediation Perspectives: Visioning the Future and Dealing with the Past

 Flag of Concert of Parties for Democracy (Concertación)

Flag of Concert of Parties for Democracy (Concertación), a Chilean political coalition founded in 1989. Image: B1mbo/Wikimedia Commons.

Chilean director Pablo Larrain’s 2012 film No, about the 1988 plebiscite that brought an end to General Augusto Pinochet’s 17-year dictatorship, vividly captures the tensions between a society’s need to be forward-looking at times of political transition (be this at the end of dictatorship or at the end of violent conflict) and its need to deal with past injustice. On March 5th 1988 Chileans were asked to vote whether General Pinochet should stay in power for another eight-year term. The film focuses on the television campaign aired by advocates of the “No” vote in the days leading up to the referendum. Veterans of the anti-Pinochet opposition, many of them victims of the state’s repressive apparatus, called for a campaign that would showcase past crimes: forced disappearances, torture, and killings. » More

SSR Lessons from the DRC

A model unit for the future of the Congolese military. Photo: US Army Africa/flickr

A series of regime changes following violent conflict in the past year will make security sector reform (SSR) a top priority on the peace and security agenda in 2012. In places like the Ivory Coast or Libya, a key question will be how to reconcile a fragmented society with the creation of national army and police services as inclusive and neutral institutions. To illustrate some challenges and ways forward in addressing those issues, I will present a few SSR insights based on two years of field experience in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The following ethnicity-linked security dilemma was omnipresent during my assignment in the Kivus in 2009 and 2010: the law enforcement agencies were not perceived as truly national and neutral by the communities. As a consequence, ethnic groups trusted their own militias more to look after their security. Accordingly, armed groups in the Kivus legitimized their existence inter alia based on the need to protect their own ethnic community, often against the perceived threats of other ethnic groups and militias in the vicinity. As a result, armed groups were only willing to integrate into the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) if they could remain in their habitual area. Similarly, those which had previously integrated in the army refused to deploy outside of the area in which their community lived. The security institutions could either refuse to exercise this option (with the consequence that the armed groups would stay out of the army) or sign up for a process that inherently leads to ethnic segregation within their forces.

One such example is the Yakutumba armed group. Yakutumba deserted from the FARDC in 2006 during the ongoing integration process because he was unwilling to redeploy outside of the area inhabited by his ethnic community. His stance had not changed when I worked in the area years later. However the FRF armed group finally integrated into the FARDC in 2011. This move was conditional upon the group receiving control of the military command of the area where its ethnic group is based and the promise that its men would not be redeployed outside of this area for five years.

Another key issue is the re-distribution of command positions in an integrated army. The integration into the FARDC of the Congrès National pour la Défense du People (CNDP) armed group in 2009 resulted in an apparent de-facto sharing of command positions between integrated CNDP officers and long-standing regular FARDC officers. Smaller armed groups regularly complained about this perceived preferential treatment of the CNDP. They felt that they were marginalized, their concerns not taken seriously and that they were denied high ranking posts. The danger here is that perceived unequal treatment can produce enough resentment to potentially derail the process. I also remember heated discussions regarding how many – or how few – commanders ethnic groups had in the armed forces. The dilemma between creating an ethnically balanced army and making competence and experience the first appointment criteria is particularly difficult to resolve. One example for favoring the former approach is the FRF leader who was appointed as a high ranking commander in the FARDC – yet is not able to read.

What lessons can be drawn from the DR Congo experience? First and foremost, a minimum level of trust by the people in the armed forces is imperative. This requires a certain display of professionalism and disciplinary measures taken by the army if the former is violated. Impunity for soldiers who commit human rights abuses animates them to commit more crimes in the future, and encourages local communities to seek protection by local militias. During my assignment, I experienced the value of confidence building activities that bring together different representatives from local communities and from the law enforcement agencies. These meetings included, but were not limited to human rights sensitization and open debates.

Obtaining high level posts in the army is a goal of any armed group in the process of integration. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, this came with the side effect of forced recruitment of children by rebels in order to boost numbers and gain leverage vis-à-vis the FARDC. The latter chose a strict approach and carried out military operations to crack down on the groups which refused to integrate or disarm. In principle, such a carrot and stick approach — combining opportunities for the rebels with military pressure — makes sense, as the rebels can no longer tie their integration to exorbitant demands. Unfortunately though, the DRC’s military operations often violated international humanitarian law. The government also opted for delaying tactics, by creating additional military structures in order to be able to give command positions to newly integrated armed groups. From a long term perspective, this does not appear to be a sustainable approach and the challenge of cutting down the number of high ranking officer posts in the army will resurface at a later stage. Given the country’s history, it seems negligent to hope that time will solve the problem.



Isabelle Peter has worked with the UN Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo (MONUSCO) in political affairs and with the EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) in war crimes investigations. Her interests cover various aspects of conflict resolution and peacebuilding, such as armed groups, SSR, international humanitarian law, international criminal justice and mediation.

Development Possibilities in the DPRK

Informal markets – pointing the way forward?

Informal markets – pointing the way forward? Image: fresh888/flickr

Next Tuesday, July 19th, ISN partner organization the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) will be hosting a one-day conference in Washington, DC exploring various transformations inside North Korea that will have significant implications for the regime, as well as for US policy toward North Korea. Speakers at the event include a group of Seoul-based North Korean defectors, as well as various USIP experts.

Informal Markets and Peacebuilding in North Korea” is part of a multi-stage USIP research project on informal markets in North Korea, drawing upon key findings from ongoing interviews with defectors, as well as the Northeast Asia Track 1.5 dialogues. With regard to North Korea, the role of informal markets is largely understudied: most research either focuses or speculates on nuclear weapons development, or troubled relations with South Korea, the US and other Asian states. This conference breaks new ground in examining the remarkable transformations that have been taking place at the local level: Informal markets constitute important coping mechanisms and survival strategies for members of diverse socioeconomic groups close to the Sino-North Korean border. » More

Geneva Peacebuilding Platform

Geneva Peacebuilbing Platform

The Geneva Peacebuilding Platform (GPP) has just launched its new website – have a look!

The platform was founded in 2008 as a hub for peacebuilding actors, resources and expertise in Geneva. Behind the initiative is the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP), an ISN partner, as well as Interpeace, the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) and the Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding (CCDP).

GPP aims to serve as a forum for the development of innovative and practical approaches to peacebuilding. In their own words, it “works to build bridges across communities, to advance the practical understanding of peacebuilding and to provide a springboard for new ideas.

I recommend you check out the Peacebuilding Guide hosted on the website. It provides a database of over 70 organizations within the Geneva peacebuilding community with several interesting filters. You can search by sector or country of activities, or by entering keywords corresponding to the organisation’s mandate.

Interesting inspiration for the ISN’s own IR Directory!

Fund Peace, not War

Tunnel, courtesy of twicepix/flickr

Tunnel, courtesy of twicepix/flickr

Back in the days when I was practising for my driving test came the moment to overcome my first tunnel. There are lots of these in Switzerland, and they tend to be rather long… My teacher warned: “Don’t look at the wall, or you’ll crash right into it; focus on the middle of the lane instead”.

Indeed, one of our many cognitive biases is to focus too much on immediate dangers, while losing sight of the way out.

The US Congress was contemplating the wall and forgot about the lane when it voted to cut all of the funding for the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) on 17 February.

If you aren’t familiar with USIP yet, I recommend you take a look at their excellent publications series, or at this praise of their field work by Anthony C Zinni, a former commander in chief of the United States Central Command.

Meanwhile, a wave of support for USIP’s work has spread in the hope of persuading the Senate to vote otherwise. Two senior staff members argue here that it makes a lot of economic sense to invest in peace and conflict prevention rather than pay for the wars these efforts contribute to avoid. As Anthony Zinni puts it, “the institute’s entire budget [$43 million] would not pay for the Afghan war for three hours“.

Last autumn, a study by Media Tenor and the Institute for Economics and Peace measured peace reporting in international media. Their detailed case study of Afghanistan demonstrates that media coverage has been focusing on defence and crime, while neglecting news of progress in critical areas needed to build lasting peace.

Lack of visibility is a real problem when it comes to persuading busy non-experts to give you money. On the face of it, “I trained 20 people in negotiation skills this month” doesn’t sound quite as decisive for national security as “I killed an insurgent today”.

Building peace is not spectacular. It’s slow and a lot hard unrewarding work. But it’s still the most efficient way out of the tunnel. Good luck and a lot of courage to our colleagues at USIP!

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