by Mel Duncan, Cofounder and Director of Advocacy and Outreach

In December for the first time in history, the UN Security Council recognized unarmed civilian protection (UCP). The language was contained in a Security Council Resolution that renewed the mandate for the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). The language states:

Recognizing that unarmed civilian protection can often complement efforts to build a protective environment, particularly in the deterrence of sexual and gender-based violence against civilians, and encouraging UNMISS, as appropriate, and when possible, to explore how it can use civilian protection techniques to enhance its ability to protect civilians, in line with the UN Secretary-General’s recommendation. 

This section recognizes NP’s strong contributions on the ground and calls upon the UN Mission to explore how they can use UCP to enhance their ability to protect civilians. The missions to the UN from Venezuela and Angola led the effort for the recognition of UCP.

Bigger than it sounds

To the average person, this brief recognition may not seem like much, but in the context of the UN where words are the local currency, it has caught people’s attention. It builds on a progression of work starting in December of 2014 following General Assembly Resolution (69/139). This resolution included the explicit roles of civilians in enhancing the safety of vulnerable populations and the promotion of peaceful settlements in disputes. Since then unarmed approaches for the protection of civilians has been recognized in a series of major UN studies and reports. Last October the missions of Australia, Belgium, Costa Rica, the Netherlands and the Philippines hosted a briefing at the UN on UCP that featured NP’s work in South Sudan and the Philippines.

How change happens

Changes in global norms often arise from this type of progression.

  • First the change must demonstrably address a need. NP and twelve other organizations are demonstrating that UCP protects civilians in some of the most violent places on the planet.

  • The changes have to be attractive and easy to replicate. Then the practices need to be captured in reports and academic studies, as we have seen in the development of the UCP course with the UN Institute for Training and Research. UCP is increasingly a focus of academic study as we have seen at Selkirk College (Canada), Leeds Beckett (UK) and Queensland (Australia), as well as in the independent research carried out by Drs. Bellamy, Bliesemann, Furnari, Janzen, Julian, McCarthy and Schweitzer among others.

  • And finally, there has to be constant advocacy.

Buckminster Fuller describes this process, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

Powerful forces against change This progress is not met with universal acclaim. Remember that major corporate interests fuel militaries. UCP does not yield much in the way of private profits. The UN Department of Peacekeeping fields over 100,000 armed peacekeepers with a budget that approaches U.S. $9 billion. Not everyone is convinced of the efficacy of unarmed approaches and remain skeptical. Some larger non-governmental organizations either advocate for military interventions and/or feel their turf is threatened. Yet, these critiques will only sharpen our intellects and improve our work.

Evaluate, document, repeat

Simultaneously, we have begun to work with various units in the Department of Peacekeeping to develop pilot projects that can be evaluated and replicated.

At the end of the day, our work goes beyond the promotion of NP. It is about developing a methodology to protect civilians that can be used by many. Today, violent conflict displaces more civilians and for greater lengths of time than any period since WW II. More people are also becoming vulnerable to violence in the United States. Therefore, we must develop and promote methods for protecting civilians that are not only effective but also economical and easily replicated. In December, the Security Council brought us a step closer to that realization.

“To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete”

—Buckminster Fuller

 

by Marna Anderson, Director of Development and Communications

On one of the coldest weekends in January, I had the opportunity to participate in NP’s first peacekeeper training for community protectors in the U.S. The site, Bismarck, North Dakota, is approximately 50 miles away from the Oceti Sakowin camp, where tribal members and water protectors lived over the last year in an effort to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. Approximately twenty community members attended the training looking for the opportunity to connect with one another, discuss the conflicts they faced and together find a new way forward. The group represented a wide array of members from the community including retired teachers, religious leaders, social service workers and members of the legal collective.

Those present were very engaged. What brought them together was the longing to discuss the conflict and the challenges it has created with their neighbors and friends. They wanted to learn new tools and skills to provide protection for community members who feel unsafe and to open up channels of communication between people with opposing views about the pipeline.

The power of training

Throughout the group’s time together, they participated in a few of NP’s experiential training activities that prepare civilian protectors to work in places such as South Sudan, Myanmar and the Middle East. They learned to step into others’ shoes to build empathy with people they may not agree with, to better understand the dynamics of the conflict and each party’s role in it, and to provide protection when people are under threat of violence.

Plan of action

Towards the end of the training, the group broke into smaller groups and determined three actions to take:

  • Organize community members to accompany people feeling unsafe when they are in the larger towns of Mandan and Bismarck. Because of the intensified anger and racism, many report not feeling safe when going to town.
  • Assist NP and other civil society organizations to conduct other trainings, so knowledge and protection skills are shared and have broader reach.
  • Provide safe space for dialogue and use their own connections to break down barriers, as well as create opportunities to understand one another’s perspective.

The takeaway

To conclude Saturday’s training session, we stood in a circle and asked people to share what they were taking forward or how the training impacted them. One person said that being at the training was a “huge gift.” Another said she felt less alone and more connected to her community. Others responded with these words: Deepened relationships; new threads of connection; confirmation that peaceful change is possible; appreciation of how much working for peace stretches you; and motivation to do more.

Learning to step into another’s shoes and to discover our shared humanity is the first step to ending violence. President Obama said this so eloquently at the memorial service for the Dallas police officers who lost their lives at a protest in July, 2016:

“Can we find the character, as Americans, to open our hearts to each other? Can we see in each other a common humanity and a shared dignity, and recognize how our different experiences have shaped us? ...the Lord tells Ezekiel: I will give you a new heart, the Lord says, and put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. That’s what we must pray for, each of us: a new heart. Not a heart of stone, but a heart open to the fears and hopes and challenges of our fellow citizens. Because with an open heart, we can learn to stand in each other’s shoes and look at the world through each other’s eyes...”

“... working for peacestretches you and motivates you to do more.”

—training participant

 

Update

Ten community protectors from January’s training, along with NP peacekeepers, provided protective accompaniment to water protectors evacuating the camp on February 22.

“It was inspiring to see that the working groups were proactive, organized to use strategies of unarmed civilian protection to respond to the needs of civilians. People believe in UCP and they are using it. “

Martha Hernandez, NP Peacekeeper, Bismarck, ND

by Tiffany Easthom, Executive Director

I usually love January. I love the fresh start the beginning of the calendar year brings, along with the resolve that so many of us feel to make positive life changes. With 2017 however, we are off to a rather rough start. The actions of the new administration in the U.S., the process that has brought about BREXIT, escalating protectionism and deepening identity politics in parts of Europe bring a great deal of uncertainty and fear. These events threaten the very foundations of justice, rights and equality.

All of this happens in a world where wars grind on and 65 million people have been forced to flee their homes to escape violence and persecution.

It is heavy. While it can feel overwhelming, it is ultimately a call to action.

Reason for hope

I was heartened in recent weeks to see millions of people take to the streets across the world to show support for women’s rights and refugees fleeing violent conflict and persecution. I take solace knowing that people are speaking out and standing up against bigotry and fear.

Standing up and speaking out against violence is at the core of NP’s mission. In all the places we work, our peacekeepers inspire local communities to action, using nonviolent strategies and personal resolve. Together, with our partners, we provide people with the tools they need to deter violence and protect their families, friends and neighbors. Here are a few examples from 2016:

  • Negotiated a three-hour ceasefire and evacuated 300 people caught in the crossfire when violence broke out between two armed groups in Myanmar.

  • Supported Women Peacekeeping Teams in South Sudan. These Women Peacekeeping Teams courageously spoke out against domestic violence and sexual assault in their villages and in the camps for displaced people.

  • Brought together community members in Bismarck to learn how to use unarmed civilian protection strategies at Standing Rock.

NP is working harder than ever to protect civilian lives, to support and strengthen local organizations and to adopt nonviolent approaches to safeguard lives and human dignity.

Making a move

After 10 years of having our global headquarters in Brussels, we moved to Geneva to strengthen our policy and advocacy work. Geneva houses the global humanitarian architecture, the global discourse on civilian protection and is home to innovative work on dialogue and mediation.

We currently have 200 staff working in countries at war. To better support our field-work, we are concentrating on strengthening NP from the inside out. We are focusing on building our own organizational capacity, improving all of the functions that support programming — administration, financial management, safety and security, and staff welfare.

In the face of the immense challenges in the world today, we know that we have to work together. Reducing violence and engendering conditions for peace is not an isolated process. We need to strengthen our collective capacities to prevent violence, to protect ourselves and each other with unarmed strategies.

I draw strength from the millions of people who gathered together in love and compassion in recent weeks. They demonstrate that we will not allow hate to win. We will continue to be inspired by the thousands of people we have the honor to serve each day. The people who commit and recommit to surviving, thriving and rising against odds.

On behalf of the NP team, I extend our deep gratitude for your support and invite you to join us in this journey. Onwards!

 

Women peacekeepers in South Sudan with NP staff By Tiffany Easthom, Executive Director

Rebecca, is a South Sudanese woman who fled her home to escape violence. She is an activist in the Protection of Civilians camp where she now lives. As she says, “no matter how difficult life can be, women have the ability to come together and cooperate to achieve something for the collective good.”

In the humanitarian world, women impacted by war are frequently described as vulnerable. Vulnerable to violence, exploitation, deprivation and assault. We are continually told that women are weak and in need of protection, without which they will be easily harmed.

However, it only takes spending time in those situations to know that while the suffering is real, women are consistently amongst the most powerful force for improving security and stabilization. We need to stop treating women as victims entirely reliant on third party protection. Once we remove barriers for women to take active, leadership roles in peace and security   ̶   we see tangible improvements in violence reduction, community security and the personal security of the women involved.

While it is too simplistic to assume that women are inherently more peaceful than men, women working on peace and security, tend to focus on inclusivity and civilian protection. In comparison, traditional male approaches focus on power and territorial control. While women only make up 4% of the forces within the UN Department of Peacekeeping, women make up on average 50% of unarmed civilian protectors. Without weapons, they stop rape, negotiate local ceasefires and advocate for protection from the local community. They also prevent youth from engaging in armed conflict, prevent children from being separated from their families and protect them from recruitment as child soldiers.

Women’s leadership potential in peace and security is one of the greatest untapped resources we have for ending violent conflict within the home or on the battlefields. On this International Women’s Day, call upon your communities, your governments, your friends and families to do whatever they can to unleash this force for good.

Joan BernsteinJoan Bernstein -- advocate, activist, peacemaker and passionate organizer -- was sadly struck with Multiple System Atrophy (a Parkinson-like disease) several years ago that cut short her life's work of bringing peace to our nation and the world through Nonviolent Peaceforce. Joan died December 19, 2016 at 65 years old.

Joan was the heart and soul of the U.S. and Canadian chapters of NP for many years. She helped organize the founding conference for NP, and later the annual conference of North American chapters. She provided us with vision, inspiration, resources, skills -- and the endless belief that we could rise to any challenge. In fact, one of her greatest skills was making us believe that her pet project was our own idea and at the top of our priority list!

I first met Joan when the Boston chapter of NP was in its childhood. We had coalesced around Elise Boulding's well-known workshop: "Imaging a World Without War," which Elise suggested we change to "Imaging a World with Nonviolent Peaceforce Instead of War." Firmly believing that a society cannot reach a goal until we have a clear vision of it, Elise, at 85, trained several of us to run her workshop under NP's auspices.

Then Joan came along with a vision of her own: a community training model that would teach ordinary US citizens basic conflict resolution skills while they learned about NP's work and became inspired to support it. Joan was not a trainer, and asked for volunteer trainers to help write the manual and run pilot workshops. I started out telling her I didn't have time for this project and ended up spending more hours on it than any other over the next several years!

Joan's vision of a self-duplicating model of trainings in the US to build support for global NP was smart, and it worked in many ways. Lack of consistent volunteer time and budget constraints slowed the progress of the trainings, but many hundreds of new adherents to NP bought Peace Bonds, contributed regularly, and were able to solve neighborhood or family conflicts better than before. Joan wholeheartedly gave technical and emotional / spiritual support to our cadre of trainers in a consistent and deeply devoted manner.

Her vision of the Listening Project, where inner city voices were amplified by NP volunteers, was another example of Joan's endless creativity -- and how she got volunteers in many cities around the US to join her on this effort.

Joan's life and peacework may have been cruelly shortened, but we all can carry it on!

I will long remember what she taught me, and will always miss her.

-Sherry Zitter

Read more: A Tribute to Woman Peacemaker Joan Bernstein

Dear NP Supporters,

 

I am sitting in Juba. I have just returned from the field where I had the opportunity to visit multiple field sites and see our civilian protectors at work. Amid extreme violence and chaos, they are saving lives. Those of you who made an initial investment seven years ago can be very proud. Your support has led to 145 civilian protectors working in 11 locations.

We have a team of 21 at the Bentiu camp for internally displaced people in the northern part of the country where 129,000 people have fled violence. The majority are women and children. My heart has broken many times on this trip. Yet, there are glimmers and rays of hope as embodied by the women' groups with whom we are working at the camp (pictured below). Their spirit is strong. I am convinced that women will build the road to peace here.

Thank you so much for your on-going support and for promotion of unarmed civilian protection. I've shared some photos from South Sudan below.

With hope and resolve,

Mel Duncan
Founding Director and Director of Advocacy and Outreach

Read more: Women Will Build the Road to Peace- An Update From Mel in South Sudan

March MinneapolisLeft: March in Minneapolis (MN) protesting Executive Order banning immigrants and refugees from predominantly Muslim countries entering the US. Photo by Fibonacci Blue.

On January 21st, an estimated 5 million people around the world joined the Women's March following the inauguration of US President Donald Trump. According to political scientists, this was the largest single-day demonstration in the US [1]. Protestors gathered to protect legislation and policies regarding women's rights, human rights and other issues including immigration reform, healthcare reform, the natural environment, LGBTQ rights, racial equality, freedom of religion, and workers' rights.

While for many this is a frightening time, we can be inspired by those standing up to bigotry and fear. Thousands of people took part in rallies following Trump's order to ban Muslim refugees and legal immigrants entering the United States. Volunteer lawyers scrambled across the country to assist immigrants detained at airports.

 

Read more: Marching for Change

You showed up in a big way. And, we want to thank you. Together, we raised $1.2 million to protect people living in conflict in South Sudan, Myanmar, the Philippines, the Middle East and North Dakota. You helped reunite families, prevent violence against women, protect children from being recruited as child soldiers, and negotiate ceasefire agreements. You helped save lives. And, we are grateful.

2016 was a great year for Nonviolent Peaceforce.

We expanded to new areas and saw increased recognition of unarmed civilian protection. Here is a short recap:

• Nonviolent Peaceforce was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016! The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947, nominated NP saying, “Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Nonviolent Peaceforce would highlight and strengthen their work and the work of other similar organizations, at a time when worldwide tensions seem to be at a boiling point, and their work is vital and relevant,”. To read the letter that was submitted to the Nobel Peace Prize committee, click here: http://www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org/images/Blog/2016_Nobel_Nomination_-_Signed.pdf.

• NP’s work and executive director, Tiffany Easthom, was featured in the documentary film, In Pursuit of Peace. The film has been shown at film festivals and in theatres in Canada, the USA and Europe. NP hosted film screenings in Lebanon, Minnesota, Belgium and France. To plan a screening in your community, please contact our U.S. office - we'd love to help you with planning! You can watch the trailer here https://vimeo.com/150351138.

• We explored new missions in Greece, Burundi, Thailand and Uganda. In 2017, we will work to set up programming and to continue assessing other new opportunities.

• We also had the opportunity to send a team to the Standing Rock community in the state of North Dakota in the USA. This is the first time we are implementing UCP programming in the USA and it represents a very important opportunity to demonstrate that even the wealthiest countries need to develop nonviolent responses to conflict. If you want to learn more about what the team is doing in Standing Rock you can read about it here http://www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org/about-3/press-clips/642-nonviolent-peaceforce-sends-team-to-north-dakota-will-train-more-volunteers.

• For the first time in history the UN Security Council officially recognized unarmed civilian protection.

• Finally, we closed out the year with co-founder Mel Duncan receiving the Peace Maker of the Year from the Minnesota Fellowship of Reconciliation. As he received the award he recognized, "I accept this recognition not only on behalf of our unarmed civilian protectors who are on the front lines at this very moment but also on behalf of our other staff who keep NP running and our thousands of volunteers and supporters who have believed that another way is possible."

“Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.”
~ John F. Kennedy

(Photo by Chris Juhn)


A few weeks ago, a historical event occurred at Standing Rock. It wasn’t the decision by the Army Corps of Engineers to deny the easement, though that was historic. But something else happened — a ceremony where veterans asked forgiveness from Lakota elders for past wrongs committed by the U.S. military. This was a symbolic gesture that helps to erode old barriers and build new structures for peace. The work that NP civilian peacekeepers do everyday erodes barriers by creating space for dialogue and builds partnership to resolve conflict peacefully. Our teams work in some of the most violent conflicts around the world: South Sudan, Myanmar, the Philippines and Middle East.

As our supporters, you have asked us many times, “When will NP start working in the US?” That time has come. Your help is needed to raise $50,000 for staff and volunteers to provide prospective presence and create space for dialogue.

Read more: A role for unarmed civilian protectors at Standing Rock