Peace is often defined in the negative, as freedom from war. Peace, development and democracy are mutually reinforcing. Without democracy, fair distribution of economic progress and wealth is unlikely. Without sustainable development the disparities become marked and can be a cause for unrest, and without peace, developmental gains are quickly destroyed.
The United Nations recognises four major stages of conflict resolution and supporting peace.
Preventing and resolving conflict before it results in violence is far less costly, both in human and financial terms, than responding to it once it has occurred. Preventing and resolving conflict includes strengthening governance, improving access to human rights, economic and social development, and developing a culture of peace.
Once fighting breaks out, negotiation of a ceasefire and an agreement by all parties accepting that no gains are to be won by continuing the conflict is needed before reconciliation can begin.
Peace agreements are fragile. The presence of groups of neutral soldiers, observers, police and human rights monitors can encourage hostile groups not to return to the use of weapons. Peacekeepers’ tasks can include establishing and policing buffer zones, demobilisation and disarmament of military forces, establishing communication between parties, and protecting the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
Rebuilding society after conflict requires the establishment of a climate of tolerance and respect for the truth. It is built on political, development and human rights programs to reintegrate soldiers and displaced people, economic rehabilitation and social reconciliation. This is a lengthy process and the legacy of conflict can remain in communities for generations.
Some of the activities and issues to consider in peace building include the following.
Humanitarian relief and development
Delivering aid (food, water, healthcare and reconstruction of infrastructure) to communities that have suffered conflict needs to be carefully managed to avoid deepening divisions between groups by apparent favouritism.
Disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of combatants
Transforming ex-combatants into peaceful and productive members of society is a critical but challenging task. Removing weapons, returning ex-combatants to their homes and supporting a return to civilian life are all vitally necessary.
Refugees and displaced people
People returning home after the conflict may find their property has been destroyed, littered with unexploded ordnance and landmines, or occupied by others. Mechanisms are needed for resettling people and helping them return to a safe and productive life and preventing future conflict.
Assisting communities to become self-supporting after so much has been destroyed is vital. It can be done through small loans, training, and food for work programs. Rebuilding infrastructure supports these developments through making access to markets and contact with other communities easier.
Armed conflict affects women and men differently. Women bear the brunt of sexual assault as a tool of war. If they suffer the loss of partners and son(s), women may experience a change in their role to the breadwinner and head of the family. Their specific needs may be overlooked, as they are not as obvious as the resettlement needs of ex-combatants.
Children’s lives may have been disrupted severely during the conflict. They may have been forced to flee their homes, gone without food, education and healthcare and even witnessed extreme violence or been recruited or conscripted to be active combatants. Rebuilding their lives entails assisting with social rehabilitation, trauma counselling and peace education.
All wars are brutal and particularly so when there has been the mass killing of civilians. Developing trust and cooperation within communities of people who have been enemies is a long and difficult process. It involves balancing the competing demands for justice and accountability for perpetrators of violence with the need to reconcile differences and move forward. Timing is crucial as too few compromises may threaten peace in the short run but too many compromises may undermine lasting peace. Reconciliation activities have included public confession, granting amnesty, community involvement to discuss appropriate punishment or acts of reconciliation, community building activities and peace education.