Press Clip Source: Pax Christi USA
Link to source: Here

Women coming from a long day of collecting firewood

By Mary T. Yelenick, Pax Christi Anti-Racism Team

(UN-NGO Representative of Pax Christi International to the United Nations)

Even at the United Nations, whose founding purpose and daily work is directed toward achieving peaceful global coexistence, "peacekeeping missions" often rely on armed troops (the so-called UN "blue helmets"). The internal illogic of using violence to quell violence is being increasingly questioned, with the international community steadily coming to the realization that the use of violence begets only more violence. For even if violent intervention succeeds, in the short term, in staving off a threat, it fuels a cycle of loss, humiliation, and vengeance that will likely erupt as renewed violence.

There do exist powerful alternatives to violent conflict resolution. Among the most compelling is “unarmed civilian protection,” as practiced in some of the most violent regions of the world by peacekeepers working for nonprofits such as the Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP), www.nonviolencepeaceforce.org, and Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), www.cpt.org. (Over the years, several Pax Christi USA members have been peacemakers with CPT.) NP and CPT send unarmed civilian protectors to live in community and solidarity with people trapped in violent global conflicts.

At a recent United Nations event, NP workers shared dramatic stories of their remarkable work in countering violence effectively through their simple daily presence in affected communities. Among the most remarkable accounts of the power of nonviolent civilian accompaniment was provided by a charismatic young NP worker who shared her experience living with the members of a refugee community in South Sudan.

Few places on earth have suffered such horrific violence in recent years as has South Sudan. Even those South Sudanese who have succeeded in fleeing their villages to the relative safety of a refugee camp continue, daily, to confront unspeakable horrors. If, for example, you are a South Sudanese woman living in the camp, you must still procure firewood and water. In order to do so, you must venture outside the camp. Yet once you leave the confines of the camp, you may be required to pass through a series of “checkpoints,” each controlled by a different armed group. And at each of these checkpoints, you will likely be raped.

If you pass through eight such checkpoints on your journey outside the camp, you will be raped eight times. And on your return journey to the camp you will again have to pass again through those eight checkpoints – again risking rape at each one.

However, if you make your daily trip outside the camp not alone, but instead accompanied by a Nonviolent Peacekeeper, you will likely be allowed to pass safely and

unimpeded through those checkpoints. For your daily journey will no longer be an anonymous or solitary one: it will be accompanied and witnessed.

It is the relative anonymity and powerlessness of the people in the refugee camp that emboldens militia members to assault them. Would-be rapists and other potential assailants know that their crimes against civilians will not be witnessed, reported, or have any meaningful consequences. The simple presence of an outsider – here, a member of an internationally known and respected civilian accompaniment team – changes that equation, and erases potential assailants’ sense of impunity. When combatants know they are being watched by someone from outside the community, their behavior changes.

The unarmed civilian peacekeepers make it a point personally to get to know everyone in the community – the refugee families, the guards, the local villagers – and the militia members themselves. “I talk to everyone,” the peacekeeper explained. She does not judge, or criticize, anyone; she recognizes that the members of the local militia may be the family members of the elderly aunties in the camp – and that the men’s own life choices and actions may have been cruelly shaped by brutal external forces thrust upon them. The peacekeeper does not plead, or cajole; she simply informs the militias when and where the refugee women will be crossing the militia-controlled territory each day. And in response, she and the people she accompanies daily are given free and unhampered access.

Unarmed civilian protectors do not carry a gun, nor any other weapon. They disarm through nonviolence.

And it is not only the actions of the combatants that are transformed: it is also the lives and psyches of the people whom the peacekeepers accompany. For while people protected by armed soldiers may feel safe, they do not feel secure – because there are guns constantly surrounding them. By contrast, the members of the community with whom the peacekeepers live and work on a daily basis do feel secure: they are secure in the knowledge that they are not alone; that their lives and well-being are of importance to someone else; and that someone else is personally invested in, and devoted to, them. As the NP peacekeeper explained “I am with them 24/7. If they are attacked, I experience it, too.” In this way, the community remains connected with the larger world, as opposed to being walled-off, encircled, and guarded.

And the effects of Nonviolent Peaceforce accompaniment on the physical and psychological security of the refugees are striking: no refugee woman accompanied by a NP unarmed civilian peacekeeper on a daily trip outside the refugee camp in South Sudan has ever been, in the course of such a journey, attacked or raped.

None.

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