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Lasting solutions

by Dagmar Wolf

In brief

Young people in Rwanda producing a radio programme.

Young people in Rwanda producing a radio programme.

War and conflict are escalating in many places. Attempts to stop violence by military intervention often only make matters worse. The essential thing is to find non-violent solutions that deal with a conflict’s root causes.

Peace cannot be made over night, and it cannot be enforced from outside. Local parties must resolve the issues themselves. It takes dialogue and mutual understanding to analyse the reasons of conflict and keep them in check. Unless that is done, there can be no lasting peace. Germany’s Civil Peace Service (Ziviler Friedensdienst – ZFD) has the mission to support and promote long-term peacebuilding all over the world. It is an association of several organisations that are involved in development and peace issues. The ZFD is funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

The ZFD seconds experts to partner organisations in foreign countries. It cooperates with civil-society organisations as well as state agencies. Two principles are to rely on local networks and make use of traditional approaches to peacebuilding. A recently published reader with 14 essays from 13 countries and four continents conveys insights into ZFD activities.

A programme in Bosnia and Herzegovina, for example, lets war veterans raise awareness of peace among the youth. The initiative started in a ZFD-supported trauma centre in Serbia. When veterans tell youngsters of their war experiences, the youngsters’ attitudes to violence change. After coping with their personal trauma, many veterans want to contribute personally to reconciliation and peace. On the other hand, many young people are frustrated because of a lack of jobs and opportunities. Lingering ethnic tensions, moreover, foster a violent culture. Mindsets change, however, when veterans convince the youth of helping to build peace. This programme has proved successful and will be expanded, including into neighbouring countries.

Rwandan society remains marked by the genocide of 1994, when members of the Hutu majority murdered members of the Tutsi minority. Distrust and unresolved issues keep breeding new tensions, and children of perpetrators tend to be stigmatised today.

The ZFD is involved in cross-border activities concerning trauma counselling, non-violent conflict management and the promotion of dialogue in Africa’s Great Lakes Region. Among other things, it supports a civil-society organisation called EYE (for “Eyo! Youth Echo”) which has been running a radio programme to reach out to young people in Rwanda, the DR Congo and Burundi. All parties affected by conflict are invited to share their views. The goal is to tackle prejudice and promote peaceful coexistence.

An advocacy campaign in Uganda is dealing with conflicts of a different nature. In 20 years of civil war, people suffered atrocities and severe human-rights violations. Many people are still traumatised and mentally ill. The John Paul II Justice and Peace Centre (JPIIJPC), a faith-based agency, managed to raise awareness for the plight of the persons concerned. It was supported by the ZFD.

The JPIIJPC sensitised the public to the medical needs of the mentally ill who typically do not get the treatment and therapy they need. All too often, families reject members. Mentally ill persons live on the streets. Others are locked up by their families or in prison. Women who have mental problems are sexually abused. The JPIIJPC campaign shocked the public and contributed to greater social acceptance of disturbed people.

Other examples in the book concern Palestine, Guatemala, Kenya, Bolivia, Sierra Leone, Colombia, the Philippines, Mexico and Burundi. They all indicate ways of building peace by non-violent means.

Dagmar Wolf

ZFD, 2016: Ein Lesebuch des Zivilen Friedensdienstes (A ZFD reader, only available in German).
Civil Peace Service:

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