I recently attended the International Conference on Strengthening Peace and Security Cooperation towards Democracy and Development, hosted by the OSCE Secretariat in Vienna and organized in partnership with International IDEA, GPPAC, UNU-CRIS, and the OAS. The conference was focused on discussing and strengthening the crucial role of Regional Organizations in conflict prevention and peacebuilding. The OAS is one such organization which has been increasingly called upon to help in implementing and sustaining peace in the Americas through such initiatives.
My presentation during the session of the conference on Conflict Prevention: Concepts and Practices, specifically, Regional Experiences of Conflict Prevention allowed me to share my experience in mediating the unconventional conflict between gangs in Central America, specifically El Salvador. During this, I highlighted some of the lessons learned through our experiences in these processes. Particularly the importance of targeting the root causes of violence and conflict, implementing comprehensive approaches that operate on a case by case basis, and being inclusive by encouraging private sector involvement, welcoming the participation of victims, especially women, and including the media as an important and influential actor.
Issues on the table surrounding conflict prevention are too important for the current deliberations at the conference to be inconclusive. While we learned many things in El Salvador as I’m sure we have in other conflicts across the globe, in El Salvador we were able to try mediating a non-traditional conflict only due to the willingness of our Secretary General, José Miguel Insulza, to take a risk and lead beyond traditional approaches. We can forever discuss best practices and what works and what does not work but change will only be made if policy makers and leaders are willing to take the risk and implement those changes, moving away form past failed policies and welcoming new and innovative approaches.
At the conference, Lamberto Zannier, the Secretary General of OSCE spoke on the “multidimensional challenges that require different tools, diversity of actors and institutions –that must include civil society and gender.” This is all true and I commend his recommendations, but these different tools need to be designed not just by those in charge but diverse actors. Women and civil society, in particular, need to be acknowledged and included by policy makers in order for progressive change to occur in the hopes of building peace and preventing future conflicts.
In addition to forwarding an inclusive approach and taking risks there is also a dire need to move beyond addressing only traditional conflicts involving state actors. High homicide rates and growing numbers of victims and displaced populations are now, by and large, emerging more from non-traditional or unconventional conflicts forwarded by criminal or non-state actors. It is therefore vital that this change in the nature of conflict is paralleled by a change in the ways we approach conflict, specifically prevention and peacebuilding.