Publications & reports

Civilian Peacekeeping

Preventing Violence and Making Space for Democracy

While military peacekeeping efforts are put in place in response to international laws and agreements, civilian peacekeepers use a different set of criteria for decision-making. This book outlines how civilian peacekeeping efforts are planned and explores the dilemmas and internal contradictions between approaches to civilian peacekeeping.

Lisa Schirch presents both valuable information and a basis for discussion, particularly relevant for non-governmental organizations, and students or others interested in these issues.

Publication details


Already in the 1970’s Johan Galtung observed the fact that the closer you come to a conflict, the more difficult is it to stay unbiased in your judgment on who is to be blamed. This research was conducted on UN peacekeeping personnel. The same occurs for civilian peacekeepers. One response to this problem is to have a really good preparation before you go on a mission and be aware of the risks you are running into. On the other hand - the deeper you get in the understanding of a specific conflict, the less inclined you are to make simple and general statements.

It is inspiring and thought-provoking to read about people who try to address problems that have been treated by humankind for centuries, with new approaches. This book describes one of these. Under what circumstances can a non-armed third party presence in violent surroundings make a difference, through a coercive exercise of power, based on a conviction that it is not through arms but through other means that the conflict is successfully dealt with so that peace can be built? Lisa Schirch, a well-known US-based peace researcher, is well equipped to give this overview of how the civil and non-armed alternatives to traditional military peacekeeping can be structured and elaborate on why, when, who, for whom etc. I have had the chance to participate in both the selection and preparation of volunteers, who under very basic circumstances have participated in missions as peace observers in conflict zones in Latin America. It has been inspiring to meet and get to know these applicants, mostly very well educated with relevant academic background, with experience from the region and fluent in Spanish. To get to know how much they are aware of the task they are supposed to take on. And it has been even more inspiring to know afterwards that both the peace observers and those they have been sharing their time and lives with witness of the great impact the international presence has made.

In a parallel process, we also arranged south-south encounters where peace practitioners from Angola, East Timor, Western Sahara, Guatemala, Colombia and Mexico met to share their experiences on local peacebuilding, and the differing contexts and conditions under which this has to be done. In the same way as civilian peacekeepers are sent to conflict zones, individuals from these areas have come to the south-south encounters to discuss the conflict in the country they come from and get a better understanding of the peacekeeping mission. As a preparation for the mission in the field area, the peace observers mentioned above have participated in these encounters. There is no better preparation than this.

Together with persons from six ongoing violent conflict-ridden areas the discussions on what the international community, and especially the civil society, can do has given both the peace practitioners from the countries at stake a better understanding of how we can work together.

The Life & Peace Institute has field programs in conflict zones, where many of the war-zone logics apply. It is really not a simple question how to deal with the blind logics of violence when the infrastructure has broken down, and drugged, frustrated and angry young men are ruling the streets. Should we send in unarmed peace observers? Who would be willing to assume the responsibility in these situations? What we often forget is to analyse why it has even come so far, and that civilian peacekeeping most probably could have made a difference if the appropriate preventive measures would have been timely applied. Secondly, the mandate on which one can act is often different. Where military coercive approach has been a traditional response, a “moral” mandate based on the authority of being a wellknown, unarmed and respected peace-force is often better equipped to go to certain areas than correspondent armed contingents. It is certainly a risky task, regardless if you are armed or not.

The interest in a third party intervention is increasing. One recent example is how the task is described in the Global Action Agenda on Conflict Prevention, adopted in July 2005 at a conference at the United Nations, where it is said that “the UN should work with existing civil peace services in order to develop shared rosters of specialists, taking into account the importance of cultural and gender diversity as key resources of such teams. Governments should provide political and financial support for Civil Society Organisations that place multinational trained unarmed civilian peacekeepers”. Another example could be in the context of the European Union, where the civilian dimension of crisis management and prevention is being rapidly developed. In the shift from reaction to prevention the civilian peacekeepers will have an increasingly important role.

I have often reflected upon the fact that it is a much more advanced task to try to make a difference by being present in a conflict zone without arms than with. Yet it is often still regarded with some suspicion, something that is also described in this book. But at the same time we can observe a growing understanding of what this can be and how it can be done.

In the first chapter Lisa Schirch refers to the often-heard cry by a frustrated world observing that horrendous events are taking place that “something must be done”. This book shows in concrete and pedagogical terms that there are viable and alternative ways of reacting besides sending in armed people.

Peter Brune Executive Director Life & Peace Institute