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Preventing Conflict Escalation


Lecture by Professor Jan Pronk on Preventing Conflict Escalation

In UPEACE The Hague’s Lecture Series “Peace building in Progress”, Professor Jan Pronk, Chair in the Theory and Practice of International Development at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam, gave a lecture on:

Preventing Conflict Escalation. Hearts & Minds. Boots & Brains

The lecture was held on 27 May 2014, at the Academy Building of the Peace Palace in The Hague. It was attended by some 50 people, young and old, from various backgrounds.

Based on his long experience in international development Prof. Pronk raised the question to which extent peace operations could be improved in the field: Can we learn from experience and formulate some general guidelines, based on the insights gained in development policy and conflict management?

A summary of the guidelines offered by Prof. Pronk for improvement of peace operations in the field:

  1. There are no general guidelines, uniformly applicable in all situations. Just as with development policy or adjustment policy there is no fit for all, such policies should be tailor made.
  2. Peace building is a bottom up endeavour, just like development, with people and by people themselves. Peace building and peacekeeping ought to be mutually integrated and take place at the same time.
  3. Give the highest priority to multilateral prevention of escalation of conflicts within countries. Strengthen the capacity of the UN system to this end, build up a strong knowledge base regarding individual countries, far in advance of a possible peace intervention.
  4. When it has been decided to launch a peacekeeping operation, this should be done on the basis of the principle of the Responsibility to Protect “R2P”. The acceptance of R2P in 2005 as a norm justifying international intervention in situations of mass atrocity, genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing was a major step forward.
  5. The so called DDD approach for international peace operations should imply more than carrying out diplomatic, defence and development activities at the same time. They should also serve the same purpose: ensuring human rights, together with human security and human development.
  6. Once a peacekeeping operation has started the utmost should be done in order not to harm peace building, for instance if carried out as a narrow exercise, a military intervention only, or when it results in many civilian casualties, rape or sexual misconduct, causing loss of credibility.
  7. Peace operations should use boots on the ground. Using a direct approach, person to person: listening to people, talking with them, seeing them in the eye, understanding body language, exchanging information and sharing insights.
  8. A unified approach by all components of a peace operation in conjunction with each other is essential. This implies that all agencies, units and organizations declare having the same objective and obey the same boundary conditions set by those who carry the ultimate political responsibility for launching the operation.
  9. It is crucial that peacekeepers and development workers understand that they are guests, not new occupants of the house. They come and go, the locals stay. It is their country, their history, their culture, their future.
  10. Peace-making, peacekeeping and peace building require talking and negotiations. It is not up to peacekeepers from abroad to decide who should be invited to sit at the negotiation table, and who not. Foreign powers acting as mediators should exercise restraint.
  11. Peacekeeping based on R2P should leave space for relief workers, taking care of food and nutrition, health care and medication, and water and shelter.
  12. Lasting peace requires justice, and justice requires ending impunity. In most cases peace-making requires talking, and      talks require the cooperation of people in power. Atrocities should stop  and the perpetrators should be held accountable. However, bringing them to court before concluding the talks will not bring peace close by.

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