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Preventing Election Violence in Liberia

By: Jonas Claes; Inken von Borzyskowski

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Liberia will hold presidential and legislative elections on October 10. The run-up to the vote has been primarily peaceful, and the country has engaged in ongoing efforts to prevent election violence. This Peace Brief, based on USIP research, assesses the risk of election violence and the scope of violence prevention efforts, and provides recommendations for ongoing prevention.

Summary

  • There is reason for optimism as Liberia prepares for its October 10 elections. Thus far the run-up to the vote has been calm and peaceful, with few instances of hate speech and property damage reported and no intimidation or physical attacks. A peaceful transition of power would be an impressive achievement considering Liberia’s brutal civil wars ended only fourteen years ago.
  • Despite the cautious optimism there is no room for complacency as tensions could escalate rapidly. Most concerning are budget gaps and the lack of institutional strength that, even with significant international investments, could prevent the Liberian National Police and National Election Commission from providing adequate election administration and security.
  • Ongoing efforts to prevent election violence, including domestic and international election observation and peace messaging efforts, may help the country achieve this important milestone in its recovery from civil war.
  • In the coming weeks, international diplomats should coordinate with African leaders in the region and encourage the leading candidates to call for restraint and live up to their commitments to avoid violence.

Introduction

On October 10, the people of Liberia will participate in critical presidential and legislative elections in what may become Liberia’s first post-war transition between democratically elected governments. Considering the overwhelming development challenges Liberian institutions face, peaceful elections cannot be taken for granted. Elections often present significant challenges in countries that recently emerged from violent conflict, but Liberia may be defeating the odds. Civil society, the police, the electoral commission, international diplomats and—above all—leading Liberian politicians will further determine whether the country’s fragile peace will hold.

Sources of Conflict

Liberia remains one of the least developed countries worldwide. Roughly the size of Virginia, the country was battered by two civil wars (1989–2003) that claimed the lives of 250,000 Liberians, and experienced an Ebola crisis (2014–2015) that killed another 4,800 people. Liberians appreciate the political stability of the past fourteen years but remain cognizant about the risk elections pose to peace. A nationally representative survey indicated that a majority of Liberians (61 percent) were convinced that election disputes could reignite violent conflict.1

As provided for by the country’s constitution, current Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf will leave office in 2017 after two terms (2005, 2011). The 2017 presidential race is quite competitive, with two major and several other presidential candidates, and almost one thousand candidates for the 73 seats in the House of Representatives. About half of all voters (49 percent) are undecided, according to a recent poll. One of the current frontrunners is Joseph Boakai, who also served as vice president under Sirleaf, from the president’s Unity Party. His main challenger is George Weah, leader of the opposition Coalition for Democratic Change.2 Weah ran for president in 2005, for vice president in 2011, and remains popular among the growing youth population. His vice presidential candidate is Jewel Howard Taylor, the former wife of warlord Charles Taylor, who maintains a broad support base. Other contenders include Charles Brumskine, leader of the Liberty Party, Benoni Urey of the All Liberian Party, Senator Prince Johnson of the Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction, and Alexander Cummings of the Alternative National Congress.

In its previous post-conflict elections (2005 and 2011) Liberia experienced limited violence despite significant administrative flaws and heated rhetoric. The memory of civil war was still fresh, the international community endorsed the elections, and the political elite generally kept their cool in the face of technical challenges, urging restraint among their supporters.

Despite optimistic expectations for peaceful elections, important sources of conflict remain that could escalate into violence. Primary concerns are budget gaps and institutional weaknesses that can prevent the election commission and Liberian National Police from guaranteeing adequate election administration and security. Any technical mistakes or delays by the National Election Commission, any real or perceived fraud, and a close or tense race may encourage candidates to mobilize their supporters and challenge the election result.

Moreover, the recent enforcement of a national Code of Conduct has raised tensions among political candidates and their supporters. Section 5.2 of the Code requires ministers and other officials who want to run for an elected office to step down at least two years prior to election day. Presidential appointees with tenure positions are required to resign three years prior. The rule is designed to prevent the use of state resources to fund campaigns, but was heavily contested as it could block several lead candidates from participating in the 2017 elections.

Elections often present significant challenges in countries that recently emerged from violent conflict, but Liberia may be defeating the odds.

Whether the elections are a democratic success or precipitate a return to violence is to some extent determined by the efforts taken to prevent election violence—first and foremost by the leading candidates, but also by election observers, the election commission, police, international diplomats, and civil society. Currently, various efforts are ongoing to prevent election violence, including engaging youth constructively, restoring popular trust in the Liberian police, and ensuring the ability of the National Election Commission to hold credible elections.USIP research in Liberia aims to assess the risk of election violence in carefully selected counties and the effectiveness of the most common and promising tools to prevent its outbreak. The findings will help identify ways to prevent violence with demonstrated impact, prioritize efforts in the upcoming months, and develop more effective remedies for future elections in Liberia and other countries.

The Road to a Critical Election—Will Prevention Work?

With the support of the Liberia-based Center for Democratic Governance, USIP conducted a survey in 150 communities across Montserrado, Nimba, Lofa, and Bong counties, interviewing 1,050 community representatives. The communities were randomly selected from a larger pool of towns at risk of election violence, as they are all voter-rich and have some history of local conflict. The baseline data gathered through USIP research offers an initial indication of the risk of violence and the scope of violence prevention efforts, and may help inform ongoing prevention efforts. The same respondents will be interviewed again after the election to assess the impact of prevention activity.

The scope of violence prevention programming in Liberia has varied. The USIP survey indicated that election monitoring, peace messaging, and—to a lesser extent—civic and voter education are widely used to promote credible elections and prevent violence. Respondents valued the role of monitors in helping to reduce violence and prevent fraud. Peace messaging efforts were praised for their inclusive character: 91 percent of respondents indicate that peace messages usually reach all members of society. Civic education finds a fertile environment in Liberia, since most Liberians already demonstrate strong civic attitudes, recognizing the value of democracy and the importance of peaceful participation in elections.

Despite several ongoing initiatives, including a youth debate series and leadership trainings held by NAYMOTE,3 the survey revealed a striking need for youth programming outside Monrovia. Youth are important because children were heavily recruited during the civil wars, particularly by the army of Charles Taylor. Without appropriate education, training, or employable skills, today’s youth (ages 18–34) could be easily mobilized by charismatic politicians.

Citizens consider the police a trustworthy security provider. However, Liberian respondents also indicate that police are rarely present to prevent election violence and do not have the necessary resources to guarantee election security. Building a capable police force remains a priority given the gradual withdrawal of the UN Mission in Liberia, which helped provide election security after the civil war. Despite significant capacity-building efforts, the budget and equipment of the Liberian National Police does not match its increased responsibilities for election security, especially in the communities outside of Monrovia. A majority of Liberian respondents (57 percent) have not communicated with police officers about election security, and most (82 percent) think that police officers do not protect all voters and candidates equally.

Unlike the Liberian National Police, the National Election Commission is perceived by Liberian respondents as well prepared to organize free, fair, and credible elections, and received praise for its voter registration drive. That said, the National Election Commission has sizeable shortages in budget and equipment to organize smooth elections during the rainy season and is often confronted with impassable roads and a poorly informed electorate. Respondents’ preferred point of contact for complaints about the election is security forces or community authorities rather than the National Election Commission4, and only about half of Liberian respondents know their local National Election Commission magistrate.

Given the limited institutional capacity in Liberia, international efforts are mainly focused on technical election assistance.5 The European Union, the UN Development Program, and the US government fund the majority of programs and materials needed to ensure a credible election process. International donors seem to be focused on the right priorities, emphasizing support for both the election and security authorities as, according to prior USIP research, these are often critical in mitigating election violence.6 Internationals also engage in preventive diplomacy, but only 17 percent of Liberians interviewed think foreign diplomats can influence local leaders. The UN Mission in Liberia is considered the most influential diplomatic presence to engage on election security, followed by the US Embassy and the Economic Community of West African States.

Risk of Violence in the Months Ahead

The election process has been calm and peaceful thus far, with few instances of hate speech reported between parties and some damage to posters and banners at the start of the campaign period. While the risk of violence remains low in the coming weeks and months, promising indications should not lead to complacency as significant capacity gaps remain.

Domestic and international election observers play a valuable role in detecting technical deficien-cies, but should also report on intimidation, gender-based violence, hate speech, and other forms of election violence. Support for youth programming and the build-up of a capable police force should not end on election day, but carry forward across several election cycles.

While international prevention efforts can help, Liberian politicians and institutions hold the keys to peaceful elections. International diplomats should coordinate with African leaders in the region and encourage the leading candidates to call for restraint, and live up to their commitments to avoid violence. So far, there is reason for optimism. The election process will not be perfect (it rarely is), but Liberia seems well on its way to a historic election.

Notes

  1. “State of Peace, Reconciliation, and Conflict in Liberia,” Catholic Relief Services Report Brief, (2016): 8, www.crs.org/sites/default/files/tools-research/state-of-peace-reconciliation-liberia_0.pdf.
  2. The Coalition for Democratic Change includes the Congress for Democratic Change, National Patriotic Party, and Liberia’s People Democratic Party.
  3. NAYMOTE–Partners for Democratic Development is a grassroots organization promoting democracy, peacebuilding, and human rights by empowering community representatives and youth leaders in Liberia.
  4. The NEC and local magistrates are mandated to hear and investigate complaints.
  5. Inken von Borzyskowski, 2016, “Who Seeks and Receives Technical Election Assistance?” Review of International Organizations, 11, no. 2 (2016): 247–82, http://www.borzyskowski.net/wp-content/uploads/Technical-Election-Assistance.pdf.
  6. Jonas Claes and Geoffrey Macdonald, “Findings and Conclusions,” in Electing Peace, ed. Jonas Claes (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2016): 200–01.

About this Brief

Through evaluative research the US Institute of Peace aims to identify what works to prevent election violence in Liberia. This preliminary analysis is based on baseline findings from Montserrado, Nimba, Lofa, and Bong counties, and offers insight into the risk of violence and the scope of prevention efforts. Jonas Claes is a senior program officer at USIP, where he conducts research and analysis on the prevention of election violence. Inken von Borzyskowski is an assistant professor of political science at Florida State University. Her research focuses on international organizations and their effect on domestic conflict and elections.

Source : United States Institute of Peace

The Significance of the Argungun Festival

The Argungun festival  made its debut in 1934, that year, Sultan Hasan Dan Muazu Ahmedu visited Kebbi kingdom and the festival was organized in his honour.

The festival’s significance stems from its role in ensuring peace between the former Sokoto caliphate and the Kebbi kingdom.

The festival featured men and boys, who compete, to catch the largest fish, which was afterwards presented to the Sultan. Ever since, the festival has become an annual event, held between February and March.

Over the years, the festival has attracted people from all walks of life, who travel from far and wide, to watch land and water events, from arts, crafts, music, traditional dancing to bicycle, Donkey and Carmel racing. In addition, wild duck hunts, swimming and diving competitions and horse races featured prominently.

The four day cultural event, involved thousands of fishermen, carrying traditional nets and gourds. The sound of a gunshot, signified the commencement of the competition. The fishermen move towards the well stocked  Matan Fada river and leap into the water. They are expected to catch the biggest fish in one hour. Those who triumph are rewarded accordingly.

Of note, is the fact that the festival  has been a source of unity  and peace among the people. For centuries, the empires had fought battles, which only ceased with the arrival of the British.

Initially, the festival allowed the participation of women, but since it was in conflict with  the Islamic Sharia law, it was stopped.

In this dispensation. the psyche of Nigerians has been adversely affected  by the agitations of ethnic groups,  this is not  good for development. What obtains today,  are Ethnic summits, organized to push forward sectional positions on a wide range of issues.

The task of reversing this ugly trend does not dwell in issuing public statements and making frequent broadcasts, but in practically and positively impacting on the lives of the people, who now have a very different impression of governance.

 

 

 

Troops, Reforms, Regional Role Define Afghanistan Plan

U.S. Officials Brief at USIP to Fill in Details of Trump Announcement

By: USIP Staff

Along with military pressure to coax the Taliban into a peace process, the new U.S. plan for Afghanistan will support government reforms such as tackling corruption, economic development to make the country less dependent on foreign aid and diplomacy to persuade Pakistan to help—rather than hurt—the cause, top U.S. officials said in a briefing at the U.S. Institute of Peace today.

Farmers working in a field in the Shibar Valley in Bamian province, Afghanistan.

Farmers working in a field in the Shibar Valley, July 2016. The farmers’ unions in Afghanistan help ensure a more reliable/diverse food supply, while also empowering its female leadership. Photo Courtesy of The New York Times/Adam Ferguson
“We’re not looking at nation-building or economic development as an end in itself,” said one of four senior administration officials who briefed two dozen policy experts from a range of research institutions to explain and respond to questions about the plan President Trump announced in a prime-time television address on Aug. 21. But support to Afghanistan is “necessary to protect the ultimate goal of a stable Afghanistan, where the government is in control of the territory and terrorists cannot set up shop there.”

The briefing aimed to add details to the military, political and economic plan the new administration will pursue to achieve the goal, which one official described as “a political settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban that protects vital U.S. national security interests.” The officials spoke on condition they not be identified by name, to allow a more candid discussion.

The plan calls first of all for increasing military pressure on the Taliban to reverse some of its gains in recent years, as the militants have retaken parts of Helmand Province in the south and briefly twice seized control of the major northern city of Kunduz. ISIS, too, has made inroads, prompting the U.S. to drop its largest non-nuclear bomb for the first time in combat in April, to destroy a system of bunkers and tunnels the group was using in Nangarhar Province in the country’s east. The influence of ISIS also is turning more Taliban members to further extremes, one of the senior officials said.

The heaviest burden … will still be borne by the Afghan people.

U.S. senior administration official
Trump’s announcement this week didn’t specify the number of American troops that might be added to the current contingent of 8,400, down from a peak of 100,000 in 2010-2011, but news reports say the Defense Department has authorization to add as many as 3,900. The U.S. will work with Afghan forces to step up counter-terrorism operations and to increase training, advising and assistance, the senior officials said. NATO allies and partners also will continue their contributions to the mission, they said.

“We believe this will send a clear message to the Taliban that you can’t wait us out,” one official said. “The heaviest burden, though,” another said, “will still be borne by the Afghan people and their security forces.”Afghanistan lost some 6,700 soldiers in the fighting last year alone, another official noted, adding, “I don’t think we can doubt the commitment of Afghan security forces.”

‘Kabul Compact’

Government reform will be a key element to sustaining a more stable Afghanistan, the officials said. One outlined a recent “Kabul Compact” initiated by Afghan President Ghani and co-led by his governing coalition partner, Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, as well as U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens and U.S. Army General John W. Nicholson, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan. The four met this week to discuss the compact’s four lines of effort on governance, economic development, the peace process and security.

“The Afghans have already made significant progress on some of its elements, including replacing 150 ineffective or corrupt generals and filing corruption charges against prominent business people,” one official said. “The Afghans have to build their own nation; we can’t do this for them. But we can work with them as friends and encourage the kinds of reforms that we think are necessary.”

One official expressed confidence that the Trump administration will have the funding needed for a range of effective assistance to Afghanistan, considering its requested budget for fiscal year 2018 and remaining funding for longer-term projects such as infrastructure. “There’s no dearth of assistance to be working our objectives over the next several years.”

The U.S. also will revive regional peace efforts to persuade the Taliban to negotiate, including pressure on Pakistan to eliminate safe havens for the group across the border, and measures to cut off other supply lines. The officials didn’t specifically mention Russia and Iran, but reports have surfaced in recent months that the Taliban are getting weapons and other new support from those sources as well.

The officials repeated several times that the U.S. considers Pakistan an “important partner” that shares many common interests—and enemies—and that the U.S. recognizes the sacrifices Pakistan has made in the fight against certain terrorist elements.  The officials said they aim for a “mature, constructive relationship” with Pakistan even as the U.S. develops strategic ties with India and encourages India to support democracy and economic development in Afghanistan.

Nuclear Weapons

Pakistan and India have fought repeated wars and skirmishes along their disputed border, and Pakistan’s security establishment supports the Taliban to maintain influence over Afghanistan as a defense against being encircled by hostile forces. The fact that both Pakistan and India have nuclear weapons continues to concern the U.S., too, the senior officials said.

“We are particularly concerned by the development of tactical nuclear weapons that are designed for battlefield use,” one of the administration officials said. “We see these as more susceptible to terrorist theft and also increasing the likelihood of nuclear exchange in the region.”

As a result, the U.S. will urge India and Pakistan to take confidence-building steps and re-engage in dialogue about their points of tension.

But the U.S. reserves the right to use “more punitive, more disruptive, persuasive” measures if needed, and American officials will take up most such issues with Pakistani counterparts “in private,” one official said. U.S. talks will “mark a change in how we approach the challenge of terrorist safe havens in Pakistan,” and likely will play out over time, rather than immediately, the officials said. One reiterated Trump’s warning, saying Pakistan “has a lot to gain” by working with the U.S. and “a lot to lose if it fails to take adequate steps.”

The gains would include close involvement in any peace process for Afghanistan, as part of regional groupings. “We understand Pakistan has legitimate interests in Afghanistan and what happens there.”

The losses might involve, for example, U.S. security assistance, which already has fallen in recent years.

China could be key to “encouraging better behavior” by Pakistan and giving it the confidence “to engage in a more constructive fashion,” one official said. The  Chinese “want to play a bigger role. We’ve seen the foreign minister do shuttle diplomacy between Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Source : United States Institute of Peace

South Sudan: Friendship Over Fear

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A civil war that has plagued South Sudan, the world’s newest country, over the past four years verges on ethnic genocide and has left half the prewar population in need of humanitarian aid. As the international community tries to help end the violence, the U.S. Institute of Peace brought two of the country’s promising young leaders—one from each side of the divide—to Washington to pursue research on ways to heal the rifts. By the end of their stay, they may have learned just as much from each other.Read more……

 

 

Top Civic Leaders Aid Nigerian Fight to Curb Extremism

Muslim and Catholic Clerics Pursue Strategy with Retired Army Chief, Foreign Minister and Others

By: Fred Strasser

Nigeria’s Roman Catholic cardinal urges his flock to embrace diversity. The spiritual leader of the country’s Muslims leads efforts to prevent radicalization and condemns Boko Haram. A former United Nations envoy advocates for professionalism among civil servants. A retired army chief of staff presses for the government to reach out more to alienated groups. These leaders and seven other prominent figures form a new high-level advisory group helping northern Nigeria’s powerful state governors address the social, religious and political forces that fuel extremist violence.

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The crisis in Nigeria’s north—including the Boko Haram insurgency and a looming famine that is related to the conflict—have forced more than 2 million people from their homes and destabilized other countries in the Lake Chad Basin. Confronting these conflicts falls in significant measure to Nigeria’s elected state governors, according to USIP Senior Advisor Johnnie Carson, a former assistant secretary of state for African affairs.The 11-member senior working group, brought together by the U.S. Institute of Peace to support a strategic approach to dealing with the sources of violent conflict in the north, is made up of some of the leading figures in Nigerian public life.

There is a limit to how much arms and guns can do in this matter.

Nigerian Cardinal John Onaiyekan
The Sultan of Sokoto,Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III, is the highest authority in mainstream Islam in Nigeria. He and Roman Catholic Cardinal John Onaiyekan, the Archbishop of the capital, Abuja, are well-known for their Interfaith Initiative for Peace, which seeks to defuse conflict over issues ranging from elections to land use. Abubakar often says in public that terrorism has no place in Islam. Onaiyekan, in a Christmas television address last year, urged “peace and harmony” between religions and within each faith, in a country where divisions include the role of moral norms in legal codes.“We need to agree on the place of religion in our nation,” the Cardinal said. “If we sincerely want a nation that is united and integrated, we must work seriously towards one law for every citizen.”

Other members of the senior working group include former Chief of Defense Staff and Chief of Army Staff General Martin Luther Agwai, who led the U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur and last year headed a committee investigating violence in Kaduna state; Ibrahim Gambari, a former minister of foreign affairs and U.N. under-secretary-general who now heads the Savannah Center for Diplomacy, Democracy and Developmen in Abuja; Fatima Balla Abubakar, a well-known diplomat and politician; and Aisha Murtala Muhammed, the founder and chief executive of the Murtala Muhammed Foundation, an organization that seeks to bolster business philanthropy throughout Nigeria and Africa.

Thinking Strategically

“The working group aims to expand the conversation from ‘poverty is a cause of conflict’ to thinking practically and strategically,” said Oge Onugobu, a USIP senior program officer for Africa. “For example, where do you locate a school so no one feels disadvantaged? Or does some group appear to have impunity from prosecution? These are things the group, with its deep expertise, can help governors to consider and plan for.”

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H.E. Cardinal John Onaiyekan and Dr. Usman Bugaje in discussion at the senior working group meeting. Dr. Bugaje is an advisor to the Sultan of Sokoto.
With a population of 180 million, Nigeria is the continent’s most populous state and its biggest democracy. More than half of the country’s citizens live in northern Nigeria.USIP has worked for more than a decade with Nigerian civic, religious and government leaders to prevent or halt violent local conflicts. The initiative with the northern governors is funded by the State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, and USIP collaborates with a local partner, the Center for Democracy and Development, in Abuja. Onubogu leads USIP’s programs on Nigeria and attended the senior working group’s first meeting on February 28 in Abuja.

A dozen of the northern governors met at USIP in October. They broadly  concluded that ending the war and poverty plaguing their region requires initiatives for education, reconciliation and political inclusion of minorities and women. The working group is aimed at developing plans to address those needs and keeping the governors focused on implementing them.

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Amb. Fatima Balla makes a point, as Dr. Chris Kwaja looks on.
The full working group meets with the governors next month for the first time. In preparation, it will conduct a review of peacebuilding initiatives in northern Nigeria. It also will examine a new peacebuilding organization in Plateau state to see if it’s a model other northern states could use.

A Microcosm of Nigeria

The Plateau State Peacebuilding Agency, a publicly-funded body under the governor’s office, was set up last year to reduce conflict in a state considered a microcosm of Nigeria for its social, ethnic and religious stresses. Over two decades, more than 5,000 people have died in communal violence in Plateau state, stalling economic development and shredding community trust.

The current governor determined that past crisis-oriented attempts to end the conflicts—from interfaith dialogues to citizen input to the use of security forces—were inadequate. The agency seeks to create institutional mechanisms for long-term peacebuilding, including conflict-resolution training, coordination among civil society groups and ongoing interfaith dialogue.

The working group’s efforts to advance stability in Nigeria remain urgent despite what President Muhammadu Buhari calls the”technical defeat” of Boko Haram, said Onubogu. The Cardinal said the same in his Christmas message, lauding Buhari’s efforts against the insurgency but saying, “It is not yet all over.”

“There is a limit to how much arms and guns can do in this matter,” he said. “Religious communities and leaders must come out to play their role, which is often very efficient and very cost effective, in comparison with budgets for military action.”

Source :USIP

As Netanyahu, Trump Meet, How to Keep Doors Open to Peace?

Can Israelis and Palestinians—With U.S. Support—Find a Vision and Take Steps Forward?

By:
Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington tomorrow is likely to produce at least a few initial signs of next steps in a decades-long conflict—and equally long efforts to resolve it. It’s unclear how President Trump will engage on the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but he has indicated his interest in “making the ultimate deal.” He also recently issued a statement on the unhelpful nature of settlements, and affirmed his commitment to the two-state solution.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a floor-to-ceiling map that has Israel at its center, in his office in Jerusalem, July 2016. Photo Courtesy of The New York Times/Uriel Sinai

Certainly, after decades of effort, initiatives to resolve this conflict engender cynicism. One Israeli analyst I recently met referred to the collective perennial diplomatic efforts as the “rest in peace” process, and a refrain from Palestinians is that diplomacy has been heavy on process, light on peace.

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Yet majorities of Israelis and Palestinians still support a two-state solution as the preferred end to the conflict, even while harboring pessimism regarding its prospects. As time passes, this goal becomes more difficult to implement as settlements expand, attitudes harden, political division persists, and mutual mistrust in the existence of a good-faith partner deepens.

But should President Trump take up the challenge, the opportunity still exists. Ultimately the onus is on the Israelis and Palestinians, but in this climate of leadership inertia, and against a backdrop of regional turmoil, there is a role for responsible U.S. engagement. Playing that role sits squarely within U.S. national security interests.

The broader Middle East may be on fire, but those who seek regional stability ignore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at their peril. The conflict captures the imagination well beyond its borders, and remains an easy rallying cry for violent extremists. This also means that Israelis, Palestinians and many Arab states now share regional security interests. But cooperation among these players on mutual threats will be limited until there are clear signs of a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The prospect of pushing the parties to meaningful direct negotiations in the near term is dim, and trying is inadvisable. But things can, and should, be done short of that objective. Above all, progress will require a clearly-defined vision for how this conflict ends, an articulated commitment by the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships to a shared goal of a two-state solution, and practical steps on the ground that provide a tangible sense to the Israeli and Palestinian publics that the vision is achievable.

The U.S. cannot effectively go it alone as a third party, but it can lead in corralling our European and Middle Eastern allies around a coordinated package of incentives, disincentives and steps that pave the way. These include easing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza; advancing stronger governance and institutions in the West Bank; improving economic opportunity in East Jerusalem; halting settlement activity; guarding against official provocation and incitement; and strengthening support for civil society initiatives that build trust and prepare the ground for peace.

It’s a tall order, but clear avenues and mechanisms exist, should President Trump decide to take up the charge. Peace inevitably will require process, but to succeed, that process must be implemented with an unambiguous destination, and a set of defined landmarks en route.

Source : USIP

In a Divided U.S., One Event Proved There’s Still Bipartisan Foreign Policy

By:
Nancy Lindborg

Amid the public debate about America’s divisions, it may have been easy to miss this image just days before the inauguration: the national security advisers of Presidents Obama and Trump standing side by side to vow bipartisan cooperation in the transition of authority.

The advisers — Obama’s ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser — went beyond simple cordiality. Over two days, they met national security, diplomatic and international development leaders from across the political spectrum to explore common ground for the shaping of America’s foreign and security policies.

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America’s recent political acrimony has been profound, but this gathering — “men and women who have, between them, witnessed every crisis to buffet American national security for 40 years,” noted The Economist — transcended it.The conference, called ”Passing the Baton,” is convened by the U.S Institute of Peace at presidential transitions.

It showed that, even now, dialogue can build the bipartisan foundations of effective policies so vital for national security.

As the Trump administration and a new Congress take on America’s security and foreign policy challenges, here are areas of broad agreement that emerged at Passing the Baton:

1. U.S. leadership is indispensable and will require allies.

Even more than most elections, last year’s contest spurred talk of an isolationist America inclined to turn inward, away from many of its international engagements and allies. But oceans long ago ceased to buffer us against turmoil abroad and every administration ends up having to respond to global crises and the threats they raise for America.

“We have to … take on a much greater leadership role” that “whether we like it or not, the world demands,”Flynn told us. The new administration will review U.S. “relationships around the globe,” he said.

 

But he joined Rice and others from both parties in urging that the United States continue to work with our partners. “In fact, alliances are one of the great tools that we have, and the strength of those alliances magnify our own strengths,” Flynn said.

2. America’s engagement abroad will include “strengthening its platform” at home.

Democrats and Republicans agreed that the United States needs to reinforce internal foundations from which it exercises its role abroad. This means “strengthening our economy, getting our politics to work, [and] restoring our military” following years of exhausting deployments and budget sequestration, said former National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, who served under President George W. Bush.

3. Getting ahead of crises abroad means addressing their root causes.

Across the political spectrum, policymakers and experts declared it urgent that the United States lead in an international partnership to focus on fragile states. These countries, governed ineffectively and often repressively, are generating the civil wars, extremism, refugees, pandemics and other crises that have roiled Europe and that threaten American security, noted retired Gen. Jack Keane.

Sen.Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) renewed his idea for an international public-private partnership — a “new Marshall Plan” — to offer greater development and investment to those states willing to enact tough reforms.

Graham and others noted that it is far cheaper to prevent crises in fragile states than to firefight wars and refugee emergencies after violence breaks out.The U.S Institute of Peace recently helped formulate strategic recommendations on that prevention work for the new Congress and administration.

4. U.S. policy must use all available tools and must strengthen those critical to building sustainable peace abroad.

Sens. Graham and Tom Cotton  (R-Ark.); former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who served under President Clinton; and others, military and civilian, all underscored America’s need for strong tools of diplomacy, development and reconciliation.

Many focused on what federal budgeters call “the 150 account,” which covers all international activities except national defense. This spending “is 1 percent of the budget” and “is a great tool in the war on terror,” said Graham. If setting a budget to improve America’s “defense doesn’t mean the 150 account, you made a huge mistake,” he said.

Development work in strategic areas is “incredibly inexpensive compared to … military systems,” said retired Adm. James Stavridis. “These are really penny-on-the-dollar investments.”

5. American policy will need a bipartisan response to attacks on the rules-based international regime.

Leaders from across America’s political spectrum voiced concern at aggression by Russia; military assertiveness by China; a weakening in Europe’s cohesion; and the outsized influence that small groups or individuals can wield through advanced technology and weapons. These signal an erosion in the international system that has managed conflicts and advanced shared values, effectively if imperfectly, for seven decades.

“The world won’t get more orderly without U.S. leadership,” noted Frederick Kempe of the Atlantic Council.

6. Successful foreign policies require long-term consistency — perhaps for a decade or a generation.

Only sustained, consistent policies can solve or prevent crises, and this underscores the need for a bipartisan core to those policies. As Albright noted, the world’s challenges don’t present themselves in four- or eight-year segments.

Last year’s peace deal to end Colombia’s civil war was facilitated by a U.S. policy of economic development, security assistance and support for peace negotiations sustained by three administrations over more than 16 years.

Not all the talk at the conference was harmonious. But Americans from all sides showed their commitment to cultivating common ground on our relationship with the world.

For decades, American leaders have agreed that a bipartisan basis for our foreign policy is essential. Those who gathered at the recent Passing the Baton conference showed that it remains possible.

Originally published in The Hill. Republished with permission.

Source : USIP

The Accord: Colombia’s Commitment to Peace

This accord seeks to correct an accumulation of historic inequities and injustices left unattended for far too long.

By:
Virginia M. Bouvier

There are landmark moments in the history of a nation that transcend borders and herald a new vision for the future. The signing of the peace accord in Colombia represents such a moment. If the Colombian people ratify the Havana peace agreement in the plebiscite scheduled for October 2, it will be the beginning of a transition that finally puts decades of war behind and opens the way to genuine peace. It will be mined across the globe for lessons that might apply to other intransigent conflicts.

Artwork of doves with the Spanish word for “yes,” urging support for a coming referendum, in the window of a kindergarten on the day of the signing of a peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in Bogota, Sept. 26, 2016. In a moment that generations of Colombians yearned to see, the state and Marxist insurgents confirmed an accord to end a 52-year-old conflict, the last major war in the Americas. (Federico Rios Escobar/The New York Times)
Artwork of doves with the Spanish word for “yes,” urging support for a coming referendum, in a window on the day of the signing of a peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC. Photo Courtesy of The New York Times/Federico Rios Escobar

As senior advisor for peace processes at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), an independent and bipartisan organization funded by the United States Congress, my work in the past decade has been dedicated to facilitating a political resolution to the armed conflict in Colombia. In this capacity, I have had the privilege of witnessing this process and multiple attempts to achieve peace. As a result, I recognize the significance, the challenges and the possibilities of this historic moment.

“Even in past peace processes in Colombia, the country has benefited from opening the way for ex-combatants to participate in politics.”

No one should underestimate the significance for Colombia of the signing of a peace accord. After four years of hard and steady work at the negotiating table in Havana, two bitter enemies have agreed to end a conflict that has lasted over half a century.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP), the most persistent insurgency in the Western Hemisphere, has promised to hand over all of their weapons within six months of the signing to the United Nations, the principal guarantor of both the ceasefire between the sides and the decommissioning of arms.

In exchange, the government has agreed to guarantee the FARC security conditions and 10 seats in Congress for the next two terms.

The practice of opening space in political life for insurgents who demobilize has helped make successful transitions in South Africa, Northern Ireland, El Salvador, Guatemala, the Philippines and other countries affected by armed rebellion. Even in past peace processes in Colombia, the country has benefited from opening the way for ex-combatants to participate in politics.
Preventing Resumption of War

The peace agreement not only silences the guns in Colombia but also provides a roadmap to prevent any resumption of warfare. The accord institutionalizes profound changes—though not radical ones—that go to the heart of the issues behind so many years of violence. This accord seeks to correct an accumulation of historic inequities and injustices left unattended for far too long.

These changes include long-delayed proposals such as formalization of land titles and a better balance of resources between rural areas and major cities; more equitable political participation with guarantees for everyone; development programs, credit, and plans that offer alternatives to illicit crop production; and a greater effort by the state to fight criminality.

The final agreement creates mechanisms to confront the past through historical memory in ways that conform to international standards. In addition to establishing a new comprehensive transitional justice system, both state and FARC representatives are taking responsibility for their victims in places including Putumayo, Bojayá, La Chinita, Valle del Cauca and Chocó.

Over the past year, without any media attention, each side has begun to offer symbolic reparations, as well as emotional relief, to victims, as they prepare to address the local impacts of the war and to implement a peace accord.
Innovations

For the world, the peace agreement in Colombia has additional significance. Colombia has introduced a series of innovations that are already becoming models for other countries in conflict. I will mention a few here:

First, the agreement formally signed in Cartagena provides evidence that peace is possible even in conflicts generally viewed as intractable. There are no conflicts where resolution is impossible, only conflicts that have not yet been resolved.

Second, Colombia has put its victims in the center of the process. The negotiators established shared principles on victims, they invited victims to participate at the negotiating table in Havana, they listened to their proposals, and they gave them a leading role in the new transitional justice system established by the accords. These roles are unprecedented.

Third, the accord provides a reasonable formula to balance the tension between peace and justice; the lead government negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, asserted that the accord achieved in Havana represents the best deal that could have been obtained. The Colombian formula is one of the first to explicitly deny amnesty or impunity for sexual violence or other war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide. The amnesty it offers will apply only to crime of rebellion and related activities, a practice promoted by international humanitarian law when a war ends.

Fourth, the Colombian formula favors restorative justice. Rather than throw criminals in jail (generally at a high cost without many positive results), the new system (through the Special Jurisdiction for Peace) seeks to establish a dialogue between victims and victimizers that satisfies the rights of the victim to truth, justice, reparation and non-repetition of the wrongs committed. It goes futher, though, as it also seeks to contribute to reconciliation and to the restoration of the victim into society, and a constructive re-weaving of the social fabric.
Paths for Reconciliation

In Colombia (as in other countries like Sierra Leone), where perpetrators are often young or have been victims themselves, a generous approach can offer new paths for reconciliation. This process is being watched carefully from around the globe.

Fifth, the process offers some important innovations on the issue of gender. The table in Colombia established a gender sub-commission with a mandate to ensure the final agreement has a differential gender approach, something that was fully fulfilled. The only other peace process that ever set up a similar sub-commission was Sri Lanka’s, and theirs fell far short of Colombia’s.

Colombia’s final agreement reflects and responds to the differences in harm experienced by women and the LGBTI community. It meets the demands made by delegations of women, lesbians, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex people to protect their rights and recognize them as citizens equal before the law.

As the agreement is implemented, it is expected to close traditional social gaps that have blocked these groups’ access to land, credit and training, education and justice, and economic projects. It should also be noted that indigenous and Afro-descent organizations established an ethnic commission apart from the negotiations, spurred by their exclusion from the formal process and supported by members of the international community. At the last minute, this effort resulted in a chapter on ethnic groups placed at the end of the final peace accord document. The experience of these ethnic organizations reminded the international community that going forward, it will need to think more concretely about how to integrate excluded voices in other peace processes in order to avert new conflicts later.

At the end of the day, the significance of a peace process depends on the rigor with which it is implemented. For now, the route forward set by the accords is clear. The next hurdle is the referendum. The world watches with hope and anticipation, ready and willing to assist Colombia and contribute whatever it may need to end an anachronistic war.

While Colombia enters this new stage—one perhaps even more demanding than the negotiations themselves—the world wishes Colombia success and looks forward to learning from Colombian efforts to establish a stable, lasting and inclusive peace.

Virginia M. (Ginny) Bouvier is USIP’s senior advisor for peace processes. She also is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Latin American Studies; and editor of Colombia: Building Peace in a Time of War (also available in Spanish). Dr. Bouvier blogs at “Colombia Calls” at vbouvier.wordpress.com. This article first appeared in Spanish in the Colombian publication Portofolio: “El acuerdo: un compromiso de Colombia para la paz”
Source : USIP