Although governments and armed groups are the main actors in armed conflicts and in the brokering of peace agreements, many of the most important peace building efforts are carried out at the grassroots or community levels by civil society organizations.
What is Civil Society?
Civil society organizations are essentially any group not affiliated with a government or armed faction, and usually consist of women’s groups, labour organizations, religious communities, student movements, community development organizations, the press, as well as human rights and other humanitarian organizations. In many crisis situations, civil society has played a crucial role in the mobilization and utilization of resources, as well as the delivery of assistance in post-conflict reconstruction.
One of the major challenges facing societies experiencing violent conflict is their ability to address human needs and alleviate immediate suffering. Civil society organizations do an incredible job at assessing needs once conflicts begin and taking action in a timely manner. For example, in collaboration with international partners, civil society can organize for emergency aid involving the delivery and distribution of food and medical supplies, as was the case after the Tsunami in South East Asia in early 2005. Civil society organizations also organize for the needs of refugees and displaced peoples forced to flee their homes in search of safety during periods of violent conflict.
In addition to providing humanitarian assistance during crisis and conflicts, civil society organizations also often participate in the process of peace negotiations. Some civil society groups can popularize peace deals, put pressure on belligerents, and mobilize popular support for the peace process. They may also play a very useful role in securing peace deals and ensuring that all parties involved respect those agreements.
In addition to addressing the needs of people during conflict situations, civil society is also essential in the process of peace building in post-conflict situations. Often with funds from the international community, civil society organizations become the main actors in the rebuilding of the physical infrastructure destroyed by war, especially surrounding the restoration of basic social services like primary health care and education. Civil society also assists in the process of demilitarization, demobilization, and adaptation to civil life for soldiers. This might include activities like de-mining operations, retraining programmes for demobilized soldiers, and rehabilitation programmes for child soldiers.
Furthermore, civil society organizations help to create a new awareness and consciousness regarding the futility of war. Since they are doing work on the ground, civil society organizations are essentially the eyes and ears of the conflict and are able to share information with the rest of the world and expose the human face of war. Also, civil society organizations play a role in public advocacy, and media campaigns often help to shape public understanding of the crisis, which puts pressure on governments to take action.
Civil society also helps to ensure that the principles of popular participation, rule of law, fairness, justice, and equal citizenship for the people are realized, as these are usually the fundamental issues that form the basis of conflicts in many regions of the world.
As an internationally focused civil society organization, War Child Canada embodies a variety of these roles and helps to provide children and their communities living in areas of violent conflict with humanitarian assistance. For example, after the devastating tsunami in 2005, War Child sprang to action by raising funds for humanitarian relief and reconstruction efforts in partnership with the Butterfly Peace Garden in Sri Lanka. Furthermore, War Child Canada teams up with local partner organizations in various countries affected by war like Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Thai-Burmese border, where it provides humanitarian assistance through reconstruction, rehabilitation, and retraining projects in efforts to help communities heal from the devastating impacts of war.
According to the U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the U.N. Security Council’s intention to strengthen ties with civil society could enhance U.N. peacekeeping operations. “The aim must be to create a synergy with those civil society groups that are bridge-builders, truth-finders, watchdogs, human rights defenders, and agents of social protection and economic revitalization,” Annan said at high-level discussions on post-conflict peace building on June 22nd, 2005.
War Child Projects that Make a Difference:
To learn more about what War Child Canada is doing to assist war-affected children, visit our international projects page here: http://www.getloud.ca/en/gpi_project.asp
Want to Find Out More?
The United Nations and Civil Society: