Civil Society in Violence Prevention and Post-War Reconstruction

Paul van Tongeren

Executive Director of the European Centre for Conflict Prevention

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Two years ago, Kofi Annan made a report for the general assembly of the United Nations on conflict prevention. One paragraph in that report is about civil society and the growing recognition that civil society is very important. It continued to say if there is sustainable peace, civil society should be more involved. In all of the civil wars, the civil actors are the victims, or play a part in the conflict, but it doesn't help only that two parties come to the table and have discussions; a broader civil society has to be involved. Inspired by that paragraph of that report Kofi Annan, I recommend an international NGO to organize an international conference on the role of civil society in conflict prevention. We responded with saying that we are documenting a lot of the work of those NGOs in our Searching for Peace program. Secondly, we have organized many larger international conferences. We believe that the role of civil society is very important, so we are eager to organize those conferences. Since then we are in contact with the UN and the idea now is to propose that conference with the UN in 2004, and in 2005 roughly eight to ten regional conferences will be organized. In West Africa a civil society conference may be held on what civil society can contribute to peacebuilding. Women's organizations, religious groups, the elderly, the youth, and the media will discuss these issues. Those conferences will come with recommendations, and then all those draft recommendations and draft action plans will be brought together to the UN. 

This process is very well received in regions in many countries because they think it will strengthen the profile of civil society. It will strengthen the profile of this field by gaining some more weight and prestige when there is a conference at the United Nations. I think there are several gains and advantages to start this whole process and to work to that conference. Another important point is that the interaction with international organizations, governments, and the interaction with the United Nations also are seen as more important issues. It is not easy. We need to know how to cooperate with governments, how to cooperate with United Nations or the African Union. There is a growing concern that we have to look for mechanisms to improve our relationships, to cooperate, and to work as one. How can we better attune our activities and perhaps cooperate, so that is also a main scene of this conference, and in the preparatory process to develop those mechanisms.