Paul van Tongeren
Executive Director of the European Centre for Conflict Prevention
Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003
This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).
A: The European Centre was established five years ago. We established two things at one moment. One is a European platform, a network of the key organizations in Europe in the field of conflict prevention and peace building. That is now some 150 key organizations in Europe dealing with these issues, but it is a loose network. We convene once a year, because they thought it is useful to have some information exchange, to meet, and to look to common concerns. It is also always important that you have also a sort of secretariat with a staff and with a board, and are also implementing our own projects. We established at the same moment the European Centre for Conflict Prevention, which is on one side the secretariat of the platform, but also developed the last year's several projects.
The largest project until now, and I think also relevant to mention in relationship to the database, is the Searching for Peace Program, which we started in 1998. Our idea was that in the last decade thousands and thousands of people, organizations, institutions, and governments have to deal with all sorts of violent conflict everywhere. They often are asked to support it, to send people, to train people, to take political decisions to intervene or not, and often they have no clue about the background of the conflict or about, say, who is working for peace, and what are key organizations or persons who have a lot of knowledge about those conflicts. That was the reason we started the Searching for Peace Program. Until now we have published three books, one on Africa, one on Europe and Central Asia, and one on South Asia.
We are working on other volumes on Southeast and East Asia, and also on Latin America; the idea is to summarize a conflict. Take Rwanda or take Central Asia or take Sri Lanka, and to summarize in some ten pages the background and dynamics of the conflict, then to describe what are all the efforts and activities to bring peace to that conflict, who are the International actors, if it is UN, regional organizations, but also local actors, and what are international NGOs doing in this respect. Then we have in the end always, a sort of reference of two pages with websites, newsletters, and what are the key resource persons. There's a lot of knowledge about that conflict and what are local organizations, and that is, say, a project which is now growing and growing and so at this moment we have now I think soon 1,500 or 2,000 contacts with key NGOs in those conflict regions.
Just an anecdote. Now, because it's this way perhaps I wouldn't name the government. I visited the capital of one government and there the head of peace building told me he liked the book.
Yesterday I got a call from colonel, from the ministry of defense, and he said, "We have to go for a peace keeping operation to deaden that remote conflict, and we have to go soon. I don't know hell about that conflict." Then he mentioned the name of the head of the peacebuilding unit, and asked if I had any information. I had no clue. Then I came with the book and the ten pages of description, and who are all sort of the resource persons, and I directly gave it to him.
Q: Explain to me a little bit more about why that's useful. Why is it useful to know who is working for peace on the ground in a certain conflict, from an intervener's perspective?
A: It is, I think, sort of common knowledge that a lot, local people who work on conflict, or international people who have worked already ten or twenty years in a specific region are often frustrated that international NGOs or government representatives fly in, come with their perceptions that they have to help. They have this perception that they have to mediate, that they have to do this or that without consulting, without discussing this with sometimes people who are doing this work in that region already for ten years. So there are a lot of mistakes that are why this didn't work over the last many years. These mistakes are sometimes not exchanged. I think also one should look to the literature of the last years about the mapping of conflicts and conflict analysts that really do this work well and prepare you well. It is also important to then go to the people, the local people, but also sometimes international NGOs with a presence already of ten years.
Q: You mentioned that the "European" of the name might be dropped. I was going to ask you earlier if a European Centre is enough for the whole world to do these sorts of networking activities, or if it should be organized more by Continent. You already mentioned the limitations in Asia. Does there need to be an Asian or South Asian or North Asian Centre for conflict resolution?
A: Sure. Thanks for that question. In the framework of the project now with the UN we are linking up to many networks or key organizations in other regions. What we hope is that within some years, what is now existing in some regions... Take West Africa, for example. Already, for years, we have been cooperating with the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP). They are doing work similar to ours, but it is being done in a very conflicted region. Regularly, they attend our conferences and speakers, and vice-versa. I hope that in the coming years, we can stimulate this process in other regions. In some regions you already have some smaller networks, but we hope to strengthen that. I hope that perhaps in two or three years, we'll have ten or fifteen regional networks, which we would then link.
It shouldn't be done just from Eutria to half of the world. In the end, we should have strong regional networks.