Nongovernmental Organizations and Peacemaking
by Pamela Aall
Summary written by: Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium
Citation: "Nongovernmental Organizations and Peacemaking," in Managing Global Chaos, eds. Chester Crocker, Fen Hampson and Pamela Aall, (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1996) pp. 433-444.
Aall observes that the nature of conflict has changed since the end of the Cold War. There are fewer conflicts between states, and more conflicts over power and dominance within states. These internal conflicts often form along religious or ethnic lines. Ethnic and religious conflicts "are often perceived as being rooted in past atrocities and recur from generation to generation, each new conflict building on the last."[p. 434] Internal conflicts often result in the breakdown of governance and civil society. The changing nature of conflict poses new challenges for NGO intervention.
The author argues that NGOs have the potential to play key roles in restoring civil society and building peace. First, however, NGOs must recognize that their interventions do affect the course of conflicts, and "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."[p. 436]
New Roles for NGOs
Aall suggests four roles that NGOs might play in the peacemaking process. First, NGOs should pursue their traditional relief and rehabilitation activities. Secondly, they should continue to monitor human rights abuses. NGOs should also take on the newer tasks of providing early warning of potentially violent conflicts and should pursue conflict resolution activities. Aall warns that these roles must be kept separate both for the safety of the NGO workers, and in order to be effective.
While NGOs should continue their traditional relief and rehabilitation activities, the author argues that NGOs must adopt a more long-term perspective on their activities. Aall suggests that "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."[p. 439] Many NGOs act at the middle and grass-roots levels of society, and so are well-placed to develop such links and transformative activities. In providing relief and rehabilitation, NGOs should seek to draw on local resources. Developing local resources empowers people. Excessive use of external resources can foster dependence and passivity. External resources can also become a new object of contention, inadvertently fueling the conflict. NGOs should also seek to draw new participants into their activities. For example women, who have often been overlooked in peace processes, have recently played key roles in reestablishing communication and economic ties between fighting groups in Somalia. One way to make peacemaking more effective is to shift more towards a preventative approach to conflict. Local and grass-roots oriented NGOs are uniquely placed to recognize the early signs of conflict and deteriorating social conditions. In many cases, the international community has had early warning of a potential conflict, but has lacked the political will to act. Here, NGOs might also act as advocates for early intervention.
NGOs should consider engaging more directly in conflict resolution activities when four conditions are met. First, the NGO must be very familiar with the country, issues, and participants in the conflict. The NGO should have indigenous partners. The NGO staff must be well grounded in conflict resolution skills and knowledge. And finally, NGO workers must understand and accept the personal risk they run in attempting to intervene directly in the conflict.
Generally, NGOs and other international organizations need to better coordinate their efforts. In particular, NGOs must learn to cooperate with military peacekeeping forces. Aall suggests that NGO and military cooperation would be improved by a clearer understanding of the overall mission objectives on both sides. She also recommends that, given the changing nature of conflict in the post-Cold War era,"humanitarian operations should form a key part of training for the armed forces."[p. 441] International and NGO coordination would be improved by developing a single unified chain of command for conflict interventions. Procedures for holding NGOs accountable for their actions should also be developed.