Geneva Peace Week Coverage News

Day 1 of the Geneva Peace Week

Geneva Peace Week Opening Ceremony

Organized by the Geneva Peace Week Consortium 

by Laura Silva Aya

The Opening Ceremony of Geneva Peace Week 2020 was characterized by lively and reflexive discussion amid unprecedented circumstances. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, this year GPW is taking place entirely online. This shift has changed the nature of the forum dramatically, as people from all over the world now have the opportunity to be present, participate, and raise their voices in discussions about peace and security in ways that had not been possible before. Although it is taking place in an unprecedented way, the capacity of this GPW to actually reach the people who do the most to construct peace – the people on the ground – is a positive development.

This sense of a broader and more inclusive GPW was not lost on the panelists and moderators of the opening ceremony. They highlighted the duality of the current situation: Covid-19 brings disruption to political, economic, and social structures all over the world, yet it also presents as an opportunity for GPW to be a space for new possibilities. The panelists of the opening ceremony included Pierre Hazan, senior advisor at the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, Leoluca Orlando, Mayor of Palermo, Maria Luisa Silva, Director of the UNDP Office in Geneva, Paolo Petralia Camassa, Deputy Mayor of Palermo, Swiss Ambassador Jürg Lauber, and Marie-Laure Salles, Director of the Graduate Institute for International and Development Studies. They agreed that GPW 2020 can be the site for a truly global construction of ideas and relationships that will aid in helping the global peacebuilding efforts overcome the seemingly insurmountable challenges it faces. The dialogue centered on two specific questions: how do we rebuild trust after disruption? And how do we reset international cooperation, especially considering the expertise and value harnessed by International Geneva?

The collective trauma the world is living through (and its resulting paradigm shifts) remained at the core of the discussion, with the panelists and moderators – Dr. Achim Wenmmann, as well as Dr. Claudia Seymour and Danson Gichini from the Geneva Peacebuilding Platform – agreeing that the world’s commitment to building peace must remain robust. In the face of uncertainty about the future, the erosion of trust in public institutions, the unequal distribution of necessary goods and services,  tensions in peace negotiations and peacebuilding efforts are escalating.  Yet, as Tatiana Valovaya, the Director-General of the UN Office in Geneva, highlighted, those are the very reasons why it is necessary to press ahead with efforts to rebuild trust and peace.

According to the panelists, the collective and everyday efforts of peacebuilding – especially in the face of despair – needs to look beyond the conflict and to see the complexity behind it. Likewise, it needs to recognize the different tools that can be operationalized at different levels to resolve it. They also agreed it is necessary to view as equals and to listen to the populations whose lives they are trying to improve, which means abandoning neo-colonial imposed approaches to peacebuilding Instead, listening with humility the experiences, promoting trust by using the same language, shifting the prevailing paradigms of collective and individual identity and freedom, and most fundamentally, pushing for a  shift in conflict resolution’s approaches and peacebuilding from those that are harmful to more constructive ones. 

In a particularly poignant reflection, Dr. Salles spoke up about the role of academia in the context of peacebuilding, and it’s responsibility to reinvent the narratives regarding leadership and citizenship, especially with regards to students’ education of today who will be tomorrow’s leaders. Students should be taught empowerment in the face of complexity, and leadership that personifies full and total responsibility. They should be able to confront and accept radical uncertainty, and have the competence to collaborate, not compete with others. In this way, this generation can make a difference in the world, helping to discover deep courage, empathy, and humanity. It is through those values that it will be possible to build societies based on trust. 

Interspersed with thought-provoking artistic representations that reflected the way art can help in designing a better future, the opening ceremony for this year’s Geneva Peace Week framed what will undoubtedly be a forum very unlike from those that have come before it. GPW 2020 will host over 550 speakers from 100 countries, with 70 live sessions and an innovative digital series accompanying it. More than 2000 people from over 170 countries around the world have registered to participate and discuss the 8 thematic tracks at the core of GPW 2020 – thus making this year’s forum truly global and truly innovative. 

Rebuilding Trust in communities through locally-owned solutions to conflict

Session organized by International Rescue Committee, Islamic Relief Sverige, Norwegian Refugee Council

Coverage by Manon Déglise

The International Rescue Committee organized this panel in partnership with Islamic Relief, and the Norwegian Refugee Council. Three speakers from different organizations were invited to share their experiences in rebuilding trust through locally-owned solutions. Usman Said started the session by explaining his involvement in Islamic Relief Pakistan, an organization dedicated to providing support to vulnerable people. They aim to support local communities and to reinforce social cohesion in situations of mistrust. The second speaker, Gareth Gleed, works in the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), an independent humanitarian organization involved in countries in crisis that works to help and support displaced people. As conflict is one of the main factors of human displacement, mediation teams have been deployed in countries to address and try to solve the conflict. Finally, David Ngoy Luhaka, director of the Justice and Peace Commission in DRC, has been involved in the resolution of inter-community conflicts for years. He explained the complex and sensitive approach needed to overcome mistrust between communities.

Although the speakers presented different cases, they all agreed on the core responsibilities of their organizations. Several intertwined aspects need to be met to successfully rebuild trust in communities. The first crucial component is impartiality. The mediator leads the debate but never takes part in it, and they try to be the most neutral possible. As stated by Gareth Gleed, “Building a bridge is not enough if those communities don’t trust it is solid”. Another related key element is to ensure inclusion in the dialogue. Each stakeholder must have fair representativeness and equal chances to discuss their perspective. The third point emphasized by each speaker is the need for transparency and communication. Communities sometimes feel mistrust towards third parties, thinking that they can be biased. While this feeling can be legitimate, it needs to be addressed and explained. The organization has to be clear on their principles, their goals, what they will do, and how they will do it.  In this respect, a good pre-existing reputation will help to establish fairly quickly a relationship of trust. As much as the whole process takes time, mediators should try to establish good relationships as soon as possible. As time goes on, frustration and anger may escalate and create even more tensions. Once a stable and positive bond is made with the organization, the discussion with the stakeholders usually takes place quite naturally. The outcome will then depend on the willingness of the local actor to find solutions through dialogues.

From warriors to local peacebuilders? Lessons from reintegration processes in conflict settings through the voices of former (female) combatants

Session organized by Gender Centre (Graduate Institute), Muhammadiyah University of Maduin, and the Swiss Programme for Research on Global Issues for Development

Coverage by Manon Déglise

Female combatants have long been made invisible and marginalized in conflicts analysis, yet they have crucial importance. The same is true when they become ex-combatants; they largely remain unrecognized. The speakers of this session highlighted the relevance of a gendered approach to analyze conflicts, violence, and peacebuilding. The first speaker – Arifah Rahmawati – is a lecturer and researcher at Muhammadiyah University of Madiun and currently Indonesia’s coordinator of the Gender and Conflict Project. She addresses the reinsertion of Indonesian women after their involvement in the anti-governmental movement, the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). These women – the Inong Balee – were involved in armed violence and in the guerilla in the same way the male wing of GAM was. The second speaker – Mia Schöb – is a PhD candidate at the Graduate Institute and works as an Associate Researcher and Gender Focal Point at the Small Arms Surveys. She’s also interested in women ex-combatant’ reinsertion, but this time, the focus is on Colombian women previously involved in different armed groups, notably the FARC. Interestingly, the community’s perception was very different in both cases. While the Inong Balee are respected for their involvement in the fight, female combatants in Colombia seem to suffer more from pejorative judgment, particularly due to an overly masculine image of women. Apart from that, several common denominators can be found in both studies. 

One of the first similar mechanisms is the unequal treatment of ex-combatants in reintegration, due to their gender. As explained by Rahmawati, the reintegration related to the peacebuilding process is still largely gendered, in both the participation in decision-making and in the access and control to funds and other resources. While men are benefiting from useful reintegration programs, women have been put aside and marginalized. From there, one notices the second similarity: in the face of this inequality, women do not remain passive. The former Inong Balee created committees to empower themselves and to provide economic assistance. Colombian  women get involved in social struggles , such as observed in a testimony collected and shared by Schöb: “I am not an extreme feminist, but I do think that we need to fight for gender equity, to acknowledge the other sex”. Women’s empowerment and visibility are hence a central claim of female ex-combatants. The way they are fighting constitutes the third and last common element: women’s peacebuilding actions have to be seen in the domestic sphere. Peacebuilding usually occurs at an institutional – or at least public – level. However, as they are not represented in the institutional formal settings, women are engaged in peacebuilding through their everyday reintegration practices. Peacebuilding starts in the home, with the inner, close circle. Hence, as emphasized by both speakers, the relevance of embracing a bottom-up peacebuilding approach.

Rebuilding Trust in Fragile Societies: Improving Access to Reliable Information

Organized by Fondation Hirondelle, UNESCO, BBC Media Action, The New Humanitarian, and the Graduate Press

Coverage by Silvia Ecclesia 

On Monday November 2nd,  the first event organized with the collaboration of The Graduate Press took place: “Rebuilding Trust in Fragile Societies: Improving Access to Reliable Information”. This GPW’s live session was also organized by Fondation Hirondelle, UNESCO, BBC Media Action, and The New Humanitarian. The panel was composed by: Caroline Vuillemin, General Director of the Fondation Hirondelle; Obi Anyadike, Senior Africa Editor for The New Humanitarian; Alasdair Stuart, Senior Researcher at BBC Media Action; and Guillherme Canela De Souza Godoi, Chief of Section of Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists at UNESCO. 

The journalist Stéphane Bussard from “Le Temps” moderated the session brilliantly by posing sharp questions to the panelists and highlighting the contemporary relevance of the issue of mis/disinformation given the current pandemic and the imminent US presidential election. 

There has been much discussion on the role of the media in  building peace in fragile States. Vuillemin from Fondation Hirondelle emphasized the importance of providing quality accessible information in all the local languages and through trusted local journalists and leaders. Proximity, local language, and facts are key for building credibility. Also Anyandike expressed strong  support for  independent journalism and also solution journalism in order to provide different policy solutions and to positively impact peace processes. 

Media, because of the spread of mis/disinformation, have lost people’s trust. The Covid-19 pandemic worsened the situation, making the diffusion of fake and  unreliable news even worse . New types of misinformation are emerging and to fight them, content creators need a more proactive approach, stated Alasdair Stuart, as well as a better understanding of the structural challenges posed by misinformation. It is important to address the cultural relation with information and media, and encourage people to reflect before sharing information as BBC Media Action is doing. 

As Canela De Souza Godoi  pointed out, the gatekeepers of information have  changed from before: often obscure algorithms are in charge of filtering news making the process not transparent. People build “bubbles” of information where they echo only what they already believe. Media should bridge different views and bring back to the surface their role as mediators of conflicting ideas. This was also emphasised by Vuillemin, who supports the use of media in bridging between different communities in fragile States. Transparency was Canela De Souza Godoi’s mantra during the event. 

Tackling  these problems is not easy. We need a more inclusive approach comprehensive of different multi stakeholders, according to the UNESCO Chief of Section. Vuillemin  emphasized the fact that being a journalist is a profession with rules and codes of conduct: people cannot invent themselves to be journalists from one day to the other. Anyandike himself spoke of  how journalism is a process of continuous learning and improving the effectiveness of one’s work. 

The closing question was about measuring the impact of the media in building peace. Providing a precise measure of the influence content creators have on a  peace process is impossible; however, it is still important, even if not accurate, to consider. Professionality, support of  freedom of expression, and positive feedback from people have been identified as possible indicators by the panelists. In the end, however, “talking about the issue is the beginning of change”, as Vuillemin said.  

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