Minneapolis, MN (WiredPRNews.com) As Southern Sudan celebrates its first independence day, unarmed civilian peacekeeping — a new approach to human security with Minnesota roots — is saving lives and protecting civilians there.
Over a year ago, Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP), an international nongovernmental organization based in Brussels with a U.S. office in Minneapolis, deployed an international unarmed civilian peacekeeping team to Southern Sudan at the invitation of local organizations.
The team protects civilians and works with local civil society to prevent violence in the states of Western and Central Equatoria. NP peacekeepers live and work shoulder-to-shoulder with civilians living under extreme threat of violence. NP provides direct protection to those vulnerable to violence, including women and children, especially children at risk of abduction by armed groups.
On a strictly nonpartisan basis, NP also works with opposing factions in Southern Sudan on the brink of, or already embroiled in, conflict; peacekeepers offer a neutral third-party presence, safe gathering places and nonviolent strategies aimed at de-escalation of violence and peaceful resolution of differences. In addition, NP trains and empowers locals to take charge of their own security needs and helps them establish early-warning and early-intervention systems, thereby creating a stable foundation for durable peace.
“As the celebrations are underway in Southern Sudan, the new nation faces immense challenges,” said Mel Duncan, founding director and the director of Advocacy and Outreach for Nonviolent Peaceforce. After decades of civil war, Southern Sudan will join the family of nations as one of the poorest in the world. Close to 50 percent of the population is under age 17 with minimal education and few prospects of employment.
Further, profound issues remain that require resolution around the division of Southern Sudan’s substantial oil reserves and the demarcation of portions of the north-south border. Severe inter-tribal animosities in the south must also be addressed. “In this volatile environment, any conflict has the potential to destabilize large areas and derail a peaceful transition process,” adds Duncan.
While many organizations are at work in Southern Sudan, NP is unique because it employs direct nonviolent tactics to protect civilians and prevent violence. The organization, which began in a spare bedroom in St. Paul, Minn., in 1999, has proved the worth of unarmed civilian peacekeeping in lives saved, communities protected and people empowered to take charge of their own safety in Guatemala, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Sudan.
“In some conflict situations around the world, it makes good sense to consider using international unarmed civilian peacekeeping teams,” says Duncan. “Further, he added, grassroots peacekeeping methods can often be more effective in solving conflict and building peace, with less loss of life than other means.”
Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) deploys professionally trained, paid unarmed civilian peacekeepers to protect civilians under acute threat of violence. Current deployments include Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Southern Sudan with explorations underway in South Caucasus and Kyrgyzstan.