Peace Building and Stabilization

Peacebuilding and stabilisation programs over the last two decades have incorporated humanitarian aspects into their mandates, contributing to serious problems in the field for dedicated humanitarian actors. As such, it is imperative to understand the role of these programs and how they relate to humanitarian action.

Peacebuilding as an operational format gained traction in Boutros Boutros-Ghali 1992 “Agenda for Peace”. This framework was defined as "an action to identify and support structures which will tend to strengthen and solidify peace in order to avoid a relapse into conflict". It encompasses dimensions of peace making, peace keeping, and development to foster a positive peace throughout the afflicted area. Here, “positive peace” refers to a sustainable peace in which society ceases violence, and secures justice as well as economic and socio-political development. In contrast, a “negative peace” is one in which the violence subsides yet the underlying structures remain. The broad range of activities labelled under the “peacebuilding” umbrella has culled interest in synthesizing the expansive definition to avoid a loss of focus and relevance among projects.

Stabilisation is a newer term that limits peacebuilding’s expansive definition. Yet, even with this tailored subset of the broad definition, “peacebuilding” continues to cover a multitude of possible activities designed for positive peace. The main focus of stabilisation efforts is on supporting existing leaders and maintaining the status quo, to stabilize the situation. This narrow version of peacebuilding often procures a negative peace in the stabilized area. Of the two frameworks, peacebuilding and stabilisation, the latter offers the biggest hurdle to humanitarian actors as it involves breaking neutrality to actively support one party to the conflict.

Humanitarian access and assistance in armed conflict rely heavily on an organization’s humanity, impartiality, and neutrality. Aid consisting of necessities must be granted to all who need it, regardless of their party or position, by an organization that remains unengaged in the conflict. Within international armed conflicts, humanitarian action and assistance is arguably an implied right, as article 38(1) of the fourth Geneva Convention states that non-nationals “shall be enabled to receive the individual or collective relief that may be sent to them”. Non-international armed conflicts, however, have no such legal guarantees. Under article 18 of Additional Protocol II, organizations may offer assistance but States have no obligation to accept. Given the proliferation of non-international armed conflicts, neutrality of organizations is recommended not for legal, but rather for practical purposes of negotiating access and ensuring safety.

A loss of this neutrality and independence threatens to place scores of civilians and humanitarian actors in the battlefield at risk. Those favouring a traditional, needs-based, approach to humanitarian action reinforce this view and conduct their activities separate from broader peacebuilding schemes. Their mandates rest within the principles set forth in the Geneva Conventions: humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence. That is, they address suffering wherever it may be found; their assistance is provided without discrimination; it is provided without partaking in hostilities or choosing sides; and it has autonomy from political , military, and economic objectives. While a peaceful and secure setting would grant ultimate protection to civilians, needs-based actors limit their operations to ensure that adequate protection and aid are received by those in the heart of conflict.

Organizations that embrace a human rights-based approach see the peacebuilding framework as instrumental in addressing underlying structural problems contributing to the conflict and in deterring relapse into violence; ultimately providing sustainable protection of and needs to the civilian population. As part of the UN Development Group’s adoption of the UN’s Statement of Common Understanding and its encouragement of a human rights-based approach to programming (HRBA) in 2003, UN agencies are required to “further the realization of human rights”; be guided by human rights standards and principles; and “contribute to the development of the capacities of ‘duty-bearers’ to meet their obligations and/or of ‘rights-holders’ to claim their rights”. Other organizations that follow this approach may either have dedicated projects within their overall structure dedicated to peacebuilding efforts or may work in tandem with separate agencies to fulfil a peacebuilding mandate.

Peacebuilding and stabilisation have become inseparable components of peace processes in the post-Cold War era. As more ‘whole of government’ approaches to conflict resolution are adopted, the transformative nature of peacebuilding will continue to overlap and intersect with humanitarian action in the field.

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