Preventing violent conflict

It is not unusual for violent conflicts to flare up again after a period of calm or following a ceasefire. However, it is possible to break recurring cycles of violence by addressing the root causes of the conflict and taking statebuilding factors into account, for example. Governments that do this are more likely to achieve good governance, the rule of law and the protection of human rights and thus promote constructive conflict resolution. The term ‘resilience’ is also commonly used.

What does ‘violent conflict’ mean?

Conflicts are not exclusively negative: they can also help societies to develop. Norbert Ropers, an expert on peace matters, sees conflict as an inevitable phenomenon associated with co-existence in all societies and, indeed, a necessary corollary of social change. He defines conflict as the expression of tensions and incompatibilities between different, mutually interdependent parties with regard to their respective needs, interests and values.

The problem starts when conflicts are settled through violent means. The prevention of violence therefore aims to resolve social and political conflicts through peaceful means. Fostering peaceful, just and inclusive societies is one way of doing so.

What does ‘preventing violence’ mean?

Preventing violence involves more than merely ensuring that crises do not happen in the first place. It also means tackling the root causes of the conflict in question in order to prevent the recurrence of violence.

Establishing lasting peace also depends on statebuilding factors, i.e. strengthening state structures in general to improve their capacity to resist conflict. Good governance, the rule of law and the protection of human rights play a key role.

The SDC’s contribution to reducing violent conflicts

Development actors are increasingly required to accompany pathways out of fragility and towards long-term change, particularly by working directly in and on a conflict instead of organising their programmes around a conflict. Besides adapting their working methods, this also requires them to examine the nature of the conflict and its causes. Restoring security and the rule of law for the population is essential to break the cycle of violence and prevent conflicts from flaring up again. The SDC focuses on supporting civil society and building up local government institutions, while promoting participatory decision-making processes. Two concepts play a key role: security sector reform (SSR) and dealing with the past.

Since the publication in 2005 of the 'In Larger Freedom' report by the former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, the concept of SSR has gained a firm foothold in the fight against poverty. Annan stressed that development and security were inextricably linked and interdependent. SSR promotes the following objectives:

  • Establishment of effective governance, oversight and accountability in the security sector
  • Improved and sustainable access to security and justice services
  • Development of local leadership and ownership of the reform process

A case in point is the SDC’s project supporting police reform in Honduras, the country with the highest homicide rate in the world. By realigning the law enforcement mandate to focus on community policing, establishing a system of internal controls and sanctions, and creating an independent complaints body, the SDC is contributing to the fight against impunity and an improvement in the security situation.

The SDC’s actions for dealing with the past are based on the four ‘Joinet principles’ proposed by the French human rights expert and former long-serving UN official Louis Joinet. The principles, which Joinet formulated after the war in the former Yugoslavia and the genocide in Rwanda, were adopted by the UN Human Rights Commission in 1997 and are based on the following pillars:

  • The right to know: Both individual victims of human rights violations and society as a whole have a right to know what happened during a war or armed conflict. Truth and reconciliation commissions are often used to this end.
  • The right to justice: Victims have a right to see that the perpetrators of serious human rights violations are criminally prosecuted. National, international or mixed courts play an important role in this respect.
  • The right to reparation: Victims have the right to be restored to their situation prior to the human rights violation (‘restitution’). When this is not possible, they should at the very least be compensated for the injustice and suffering (‘compensation’), and receive medical care (‘rehabilitation’). States often issue apologies and build memorials to the victims as a form of reparation.
  • The guarantee of non-recurrence: Victims have the right to be protected from all future violence. This process often begins with free and fair elections and goes hand in hand with the demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration of rebels.