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ARTICLES > PEACE, NON-VIOLENCE & CONFLICT RESOLUTION > The Emerging Role NGOs in Conflict Resolution
The Emerging Role of NGOs in Conflict Resolution
By Siby K. Joseph
With the multiplication and escalation of conflicts at various levels, the need for conflict resolution has become more urgent than ever before. There has been a realization among governments, international organizations and non-governmental organizations that more resources and time need to be set apart for managing conflicts and that the work for peace has to take place by harnessing the cooperation of several agencies at different levels. Governments by virtue of their rigid structure very often fail to address adequately questions related to conflicts of a delicate and complex nature. Also, failed agencies and resources available with governments have been found inadequate in this respect. The latest tendency is to search for other tracks of conflict resolution and also to tap resources to compliment government effort.
Towards Multi-Track Approach
The movement from 'track-one diplomacy' to 'track-two diplomacy' resulted in the emergence of a large number of actors in conflict resolution and peace building processes. John McDonald and Louis Diamond have identified nine actor categories or tracks in conflict resolution: official diplomacy, education, research and training, business, funding, media and communication, religion, NGOs and advocacy groups and private citizens. In addition to these group of actors the Carnegie Commission recognized the role of the UN and religion organizations in the peace building process. Barnett Rubin and Susana Campbell in a study for the Center for Preventive Action pointed out that "the multiplicity and variety of actors involved in generating conflicts requires a similar multiplicity of international partners to resolve them". The multidimensional nature of conflicts has been partly giving rise to the concept of a multi-track approach in conflict resolution.
According to Diamond and McDonald Multi-track diplomacy is "a conceptual framework designed .... to reflect the variety of activities that contribute to international peacemaking". They pointed out that track two diplomacy is designed (1) to reduce or resolve conflict between groups or nations by improving communication, understanding and relationships; (2) to lower tension, anger, fear or misunderstanding by humanizing the "face of the enemy" and giving people direct personal experience of one another; (3) to affect the thinking and action of track-one (i.e. official diplomacy) by exploring diplomacy options without prejudice, thereby preparing the ground for more formal negotiations for re-framing policies. The successful resolution of conflict mainly depends on track-two diplomacy complimenting track-one diplomacy. Thus a combined effort of track-one and track-two is essential in the process of conflict resolution.
NGOs and International Agencies
Over the years there have been a tremendous increase in the number of NGOs, so also the variety of their activities and their geographical spread. Because most of the NGOs are involved in work relating to development, relief and advocacy, which are of direct and visible benefit to the people, they have achieved a high degree of good will. In addition, many of the NGOs have skilled personnel who can intervene in conflict situations creatively in order to bring resolution. This fact has been recognized by the United Nations as well as international funding agencies like the World Bank who now bank upon the resources of NGOs for conflict resolution, particularly in areas like early warning, third party intervention, reconciliation and peace building. The UN General Assembly recognized the role of NGOs and called upon the UN Department of Public Information (DPI) to work with NGOs interested in communicating information about the United Nations. In continuation of the General Assembly resolution, the NGOs and Institutional Relations Section was established within DPI to provide information and other liaison services to the growing number of NGOs accredited to the United Nations. In 1968, the UN Economic and Social Council formalized its consultative relationship with NGOs. However it is to be noted that NGOs were not given any formal status in the General Assembly or other powerful bodies like the Security Council.
Now NGOs have become key partners in development assistance especially to less developed countries from international agencies like the UN, the European Union and the World bank. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, former Secretary General of the UN affirmed that NGOs "are an indispensable part of the legitimacy without which no international activity can be meaningful.
The Role of NGOs
NGOs constitute an essential part of civil society and they have the potential to play key roles in resolving conflicts and restoring civil society. NGOs can support to form well knit local infrastructures or peace constituencies comprising of people from different sectors of civil society whose aim is to attain sustainable peace and whose activities are based on long term commitment. NGOs should invest more resources for capacity building activities at different levels. It involves the training of its own staff, identifying indigenous partners, local leaders and so on. They can act as mediators to bring consensus among different conflicting groups with the help of local peace constituencies.
Pamela Aall suggests the number of roles that NGO's can play in the peace making process. NGOs should presume their traditional relief and rehabilitation activities with a long-term perspective. "The initial emergency relief response should be linked to a set of activities that leads to the transformation of those conflicts in a way that promotes sustained and comprehensive reconciliation among the warring parties". Aall cautions us against the dangers of using external resources in relief and rehabilitation activities. Excessive use of external resources can foster dependence and passivity. It can also become a new object of contention, inadvertently fueling conflict. NGOs should mobilize local resources which empower the people and enroll new participants into their activities, especially women who have often been kept passive in the peace process. They should continue to monitor human rights abuses. They should undertake the task of providing an early warning of potentially violent conflicts and should pursue conflict resolution activities. Aall warns that these roles must be kept separate, both for the safety of NGO workers and in order for it to be effective.
To work effectively in a conflicting situation NGOs should preserve their own identities and neutrality and should appear to be impartial. Unofficial status of NGOs provides more access to conflicting parties, which helps in the process of negotiation. The long-term commitment of NGOs is a crucial factor in establishing trust among the people and to attend to the goal of lasting peace. Pamela Aall prescribes four conditions for NGOs more directly engaging in conflict resolution activities: (1) the NGO must be very familiar with the country, issues and participants in the conflict (2) the NGO should have indigenous partners (3) NGO staff must be well grounded in conflict resolution skills and knowledge and (4) NGO workers must understand and accept the personal risk they run in attempting to intervene directly in the conflict.
State is often seen as one of the parties in a large number of conflicts. Therefore, it is important for NGOs to maintain their independence without loosing trust of the conflicting parties including the State. NGOs should work in co-operation and co-ordination with each other to reduce duplication in their activities. In this process NGOs should not loose their individual identities. Coordination and networking of NGOs is a key factor in lobbying and advocacy at a higher level. NGOs should not limit their scope of work to mere conflict resolution, but expand it to address the root causes of conflict and enhance the process of peace building. Hence, the role of the NGOs in conflict resolution is based on their presence at the ground level as actors with a reservoir of good will generated through years of development and rehabilitation work. Apart from creating a congenial atmosphere for negotiations, where the prospects for such negotiations are not visible at the level of the conflicting actors, NGOs can play a key role in many intractable conflicts. Peace building is now seen as a part of sustaining agreements reached. No organization is perhaps more equipped than NGOs in undertaking this task. However, in order to play a more effective role in conflict management, NGOs may have to reorient themselves with the requisite attitude and skills, which of course should be seen as an additional element of their development work.
Source: International Seminar on Conflict Resolution, February 15-17 , 2003