Conflict Transformation as defined in the tradition of Berghof Foundation’s support for peace and peace constituencies rests on four guiding principles.
- First, war as an instrument of politics and conflict management can and should be overcome.
- Second, violence can and should be avoided in structures and relationships at all levels of human interaction.
- Third, all constructive conflict work must address the root causes that fuel conflict.
- And fourth, all constructive conflict work must empower those who experience conflict to address its causes without recourse to violence.
In short, conflict transformation must provide those who experience violence with appropriate and innovative methods and approaches, and assistance by a third party if necessary. Ultimately, this is about changing individual attitudes and addressing the issue of structural reforms. Our vision, then, is to create conditions that allow for conflict to be dealt with in constructive and peaceful ways, i.e. to transform the relations of violence that too frequently define the experience of conflict.
Several terms are used to describe the range of efforts to mitigate conflict, including conflict management, conflict resolution, conflict transformation, conflict prevention and peacebuilding. In our view, the term “conflict transformation” is the most comprehensive of these, as it encompasses all the activities that influence inter-group conflicts with the aim of promoting sustainable peace and social justice. This understanding pertains to structure- and process-orientated endeavours for crisis prevention, strategies for empowering groups and building communities, conflict management and resolution activities, as well as rehabilitation, reconstruction and reconciliation efforts in post-war situations.
Our concept of conflict transformation was elaborated in specific response to one prototype of intra-state conflicts: the “protracted social conflict”. This term was first coined by Edward Azar in the late 1970s. It is now widely used to describe long, enduring ethnopolitical conflicts sharing common features. According to Azar, such conflicts have four key characteristics:
- They are conflicts between identity groups, of which at least one feels that their basic needs for equality, security and political participation are not respected.
- They are essentially about access to state-related power, often in the form of an asymmetric conflict between a government and an insurgent party.
- They cannot be understood without also understanding various types of international linkages affecting the course of events (e.g. kin states, diasporas, international interference).
- They are often based on deeply-rooted antagonistic group histories.
Stressing the need for transformation as it relates to protracted social conflicts means that all four constituent aspects must be addressed. For example, the legitimacy of ethnic demands in multi-ethnic political systems has to be acknowledged. Comprehensive concepts of power sharing and state reform are necessary. The roles of international actors and the international community have to be properly assessed and some kind of integration of the violent and painful past will be necessary. Furthermore, the need for transformation is based on the experience that long, enduring bloody conflicts not only take lives, destroy livelihoods and damage social, political and economic infrastructures, but also undermine the overall social capital of the society. Therefore, conflict transformation efforts address a wide range of issues: relief, rehabilitation, resettlement and reconstruction, as well as regaining humanity and working on reconciliation.
Based on this comprehensive understanding of the problem of violent conflict, we choose the term “conflict transformation” as the central concept for the Berghof Handbook.
See also: Conflict Transformation in Berghof Glossary >