CAIN: Democratic Dialogue: New Order? International models of peace and reconciliation (Report No. 9)

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New Order?

International models of peace and reconciliation

Framing the architecture

Robin Wilson

The words 'peace and reconciliation' have often been bracketed together rather glibly in Northern Ireland. Yet this publication began by pointing to the 1990s reality across Europe that peace has often been premised on ethnic separation, rather than on the construction of new relationships of comity between individuals and groups.

This point was forcefully underscored in discussion at the Europa of the Belgian intercommunal relationship - how it operated on the assumption that 'good fences make good neighbours'. Reconciliation, by contrast, implies that those who have formerly lived apart in relationships of mutual suspicion will henceforth share in constructing, and then inhabiting, a common home - building trust along the way.

It is thankfully becoming safe once more to use the word 'ethical' in politics without being sniggered at, and clearly the moral choice is in favour of the second approach. A genuinely civil society requires no less. In any event, as indicated earlier, in Northern Ireland at least there is no alternative.

But it is a tremendous challenge. Contrast the entirely non-violent and mutually supported unification of Germany in the aftermath of the fall of the Wall. Even there, divisions between Ossis and Wessis remained, and remain, deep long after. Five years on, one (western) journalist likened it to "sharing a bathroom with a stranger".[1]

In constructing a new international order, therefore, which can realise this ambition, what is needed is:

(a) a consensus that this is indeed the direction in which the international order can and should go;

(b) a clear vision, which can be shared across the international community, of what this entails in terms of new norms; and

(c) the development, plan by plan, and then brick by brick, of the architecture to guarantee security and human rights, an architecture which makes co-existence possible.

Some of the pieces of the architecture have already been put in place in this decade - the Council of Europe framework convention being an obvious one. The three-day Europa discussion concluded by putting more flesh on these skeletal bones.

One issue was a need for greater clarity about the role of NGOS, some kind of codification. A charter was thus felt to be a good idea. There could be more standard-setting, discouraging the temptation of all new NGOS to start from scratch. And it was suggested that NGOS could enjoy a recognised status-a kind of 'press card' - in conflict zones.

While the professionalisation of NGOS was generally to be welcomed, the perceived downside was a loss of the original connection to a voluntary, subscriber base. That could leave out the ordinary citizen and engender a loss of independence vis-à-vis government funders. Clear values and principles were thus required.

NGOS were inherently diverse, of course, and this needed to be recognised by intergovernmental organisations. By the same token, however, NGOS had to recognise their interdependence. International NGOS could play a leavening role in weakening the particularism and sectarianism sometimes characteristic of local social movements. Put another way, they could provide a language of tolerance in support of NGOS facing intolerance at home. The fact remained, of course, that some domestic NGOS played a partisan, rather than a peaceful, role.

But if it was necessary to recognise the diversity of NGOS, it was also important to recognise that conflicts underwent different phases - in which NGOS had a greater or lesser role to play. In the 'total' phase, it was a matter solely of peacekeeping by regional or international forces; as violence diminished, both NGOS and IGOs could assist with emergency aid and assistance; it was after ceasefires, when the task was increasingly reconciliation and reconstruction, that NGOS could come into their own, providing what was described as an "underpinning for democratic control".

But this was equally true before conflicts developed - or, hopefully, didn't. In particular, NGOS could do three things:

  • provide early warning of conflicts, whereas states and IGOS tended to react only when matters were already too serious
  • engage in preventative measures, the menu of options available when a particular situation was deteriorating; and
  • work proactively, at all times, promoting the positive side of a global community which ethnic protagonists presented as a threat.

In that sense, NGOS did not so much need to develop as such as to develop their interrelationships. They were the basis of a social fabric, an international civil society appropriate to a complex world.

Sub-state structures could also play a role in this emergent order. The Assembly of European Regions, for example, had been instrumental in establishing the Committee of the Regions of the EU and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. But there was now some fatigue within the organisation, which had a pan-European reach. Perhaps it could find a new role in assisting this architectural work.

As for IGOS, it was recognised that they tended to jump from crisis to crisis, often intervening too late-Kosovo providing a contemporary example where everyone was waiting for something to happen. They should avail themselves more effectively of the sensitivity of NGOS to emergent conflicts through opening up their recruitment and promotion to NGO personnel.

But short-termism was a larger problem. For a small organisation like the Council of Europe, there was an obvious tendency to launch into conflict situations to make its presence felt. Even though it was clearly better to spend $10,000 to forestall a conflict than be forced to spend $10 million two years down the line to pick up the pieces, funders - and IGOS - tended to focus on the 'sexy' issue of the day.

The problem was compounded by deep uncertainty about future roles in a climate where many old landmarks had gone. As the OSCE representative put it, "We have not yet found a new way of doing things." The representative of the Council of Europe reported that a 'committee of wise persons' was reflecting on that organisation's future.

But some elements of the IGO architecture were clear. Thus, for example, there was an understanding between the Council of Europe and the OSCE on conflicts involving minorities. The former was in effect the 'department of safe housing', ensuring safeguards existed to prevent conflicts; the latter was the 'fire brigade', with the high commissioner on national minorities stepping in as a crisis-intervention mechanism to douse them. This underscored the need for the council to take a longer view.

Clearly, the council's 'niche' was human rights. Indeed, it was suggested the council had been key in placing human rights "at the centre of the European ethos". It had a mechanism for implementing existing standards (the Strasbourg commission and court) and a role in developing new concepts of rights.

It could explore further, it was suggested, the potential for sending special rapporteurs to investigate situations where there were warning signs of conflict - a breach in conventional notions of sovereignty which only in Europe might be deemed acceptable. The Finnish idea of a high commissioner for human rights was already under consideration, though some council members would prefer a 'low commissioner' - it would have to be a properly resourced office to be effective.

A key issue in the evolving IGO architecture was NATO, whose representative was keen to stress that it cost its member citizens less than the cost of a packet of cigarettes a year. He claimed its enlargement was demand-led, rather than expansionist-indeed there was something of a 'golf-club' attitude amongst some members: why do we need new ones?

As to NATO'S role, what was previously 'clear' was now 'blurred', since-this sardonically-"the glorious days of the cold war unfortunately are over". As it expanded, it could not become another OSCE, but nor could it become the 'global police force' the us seemed to want. Yet, equally, any idea of a UN army had to be ruled out, as this would be like the old French Foreign Legion writ large.

There was also a need to avoid creating new boundaries in Europe, and the hope was that through Partnership for Peace there could be closer relations with Russia and the Ukraine. In other words, 'security' would have to come to mean not strength and secrecy, but co-operation and transparency. NATO'S role could also enlarge in a different sense-into new areas of work. Thus, for example, problems of terrorism were unlikely to go away.

By contrast, the UN was in effect having to narrow its peace-keeping interests, given member states' reluctance to enter into new commitments. But documents like Agenda for Development and Agenda for Peace had identified the intellectual continuum from peace-keeping (keeping the sides apart) through peace-making (facilitating political deals) to peace-building (developing civil society). And there had been substantial practical advances in dealing with this continuum in terms of different phases of conflicts.

The UN also had considerable experience from elsewhere in terms of developing networks and coalitions with and among NGOS and relationships with governments: the World Conference on Women in Beijing had been a prime example. This methodology could be transferred to conflict situations, at a regional or international level depending on the particular conflict.

For two centuries, the enlightenment held out the hope of a universal civilisation - whether encapsulated in the Rights of Man or the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

Nineteen eighty-nine encapsulated the collapse of that enlightenment project. But underlying that collapse was a paradoxically global trend towards new particularisms, increasingly clashing with each other in a less deferential world. Hence the growth of ethnic and national conflicts.

We now all inhabit, therefore, a less secure order in which fear is a spur to conflict itself - fear of oppression, fear of abandonment, fear of loss of identity, fear even of massive communal loss of life.

Hence the focus of the Europa round-table on what potential there was for a new order to emerge, in Europe at least, which could guarantee security and human rights - in Kosovo, Cyprus, Northern Ireland or wherever.

The round-table did not set down detailed blueprints, but it painted an impressionist picture of this emergent order and clarified, to change the metaphor, at least some of its building-blocks. With the crisis of traditional ideologies, these are the great human questions of our time.

1The eagle's embrace', Economist, September 30th 1995

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