Feature: Nonviolence

*We mourn the passing of Gene Sharp (1928-2018), an inspiration for nonviolent work around the globe.*

The 2011 Arab Spring has led to a revival of global interest in the phenomenon of nonviolent struggles for human rights and democracy. They are frequently seen as a powerful and constructive strategy for waging and transforming conflict.

Nonviolence might be described as a philosophy, arguing that the use of force is morally and politically illegitimate or counterproductive. It might also be described as a practice to achieve social change and express resistance to oppression.

We understand nonviolent resistance as a central dimension of conflict transformation, especially in contexts of highly asymmetrical power relations, where negotiations and reconciliation needs to be preceded by effective methods of levelling the playing field between conflict parties. Nonviolent action indeed acts as a tool in the hands of oppressed minorities or dominated groups to mobilise and take action towards empowerment and restructuring relations with their powerful opponent (power-holders or pro-status quo forces). The aim is both dialogue and resistance – dialogue with the people on the other side to persuade them, and resistance to the structures to compel change.

Nonviolent movements thus pursue the same goals as peacebuilders, namely, those of social change and increased justice through peaceful means.

Adopting the analytical lens of nonviolence helps us build bridges between research, practice and activism, and across communities or disciplines (e.g. social movements, conflict resolution, security, human rights). 

Key factors determining the success of unarmed movements

Building on: V. Dudouet, Nonviolent Resistance in Power Asymmetries, Berghof Handbook Article 2011, 244

Based on the recently published edited book “Civil Resistance and Conflict Transformation. Transitions from Armed to Nonviolent Struggles” (Routledge August 2014), this webinar provides insights on the interplay between civil resistance, armed insurgency and conflict transformation. Relying on evidence from such various settings as South Africa, Palestine, Western Sahara, West Papua, Mexico, Colombia, Nepal and Egypt, the webinar talk reviews the dynamics of organisational and strategic shifts from armed to unarmed conflict and factors inducing such transitions - from a change of leadership and a pragmatic re-evaluation of the goals and means of insurgency in the light of evolving inter-party power dynamics, to the search for new local or international allies and the cross-border emulation or diffusion of new repertoires of action.

“Dynamics and Factors of Transition from Violence to Nonviolent Resistance.” Webinar > 

The Berghof Foundation on Nonviolence

The Berghof Foundation has a long history of funding projects on nonviolence and nonviolent action, especially in Germany. We are particularly interested in pursuing (or supporting) research, training and educational activities that focus on the following dimensions of nonviolence:

  • Violence prevention through peaceful activism and educational learning
  • Transitions between violent and nonviolent resistance
  • The role of peaceful mobilisation and nonviolent accompaniment in contexts of armed conflict
  • Interplay between nonviolent conflict and negotiations,  post-struggle democratisation, reconciliation
  • Nonviolent education as part of curricula development (schools and universities)


  • Fostering Civic and Nonviolent Education in Jordan Link >
  • Nonviolent Resistance and Democratic Consolidation Link >


  • Values vs. Violence Link >
  • Dealing with the Past for a Nonviolent Future Link >

In 2013, Berghof Foundation’s PhD Scholarship call invited applications on the topic of "Nonviolent Resistance". The two PhD scholars chosen for the period 2015 - 2017 are

  • Malaiz Daud: "Violence and Nonviolence: The Dynamic Landscape of Pashtun Resistance." Link>
    Malaiz Daud  has joined the Berghof Foundation team in February 2015.
  • Monika Onken: "The Paradox of Violence accompanying Nonviolent Movements." Link >
    Monika Onken is going to start with the Berghof Foundation in May 2015.

Selected Berghof Publications

  • Uli Jäger / Anne Romund / Hannah Reich. Fostering Civic and Nonviolent Education in Jordan. Manual for Schools, Universities and Teacher Training. 2014. PDF >{also in Arabic >}
  • Anne Romund. Frieden Lernen mit Reportagen. Kapitel: Gewaltfreie Aktionen. 2014. [German] PDF >
  • Gewaltfreiheit. Global Lernen Themenheft 2/2013. [Materialien für den Unterricht. German] Link >
  • Günther Gugel: Gewaltprävention III. Für den Vorschulbereich und die Arbeit mit Kindern. Grundlagen – Lernfelder – Handlungsmöglichkeiten. 2014. [German.] Book >
  • Berghof Glossary: Violence & Non-Violence. 2012. PDF > {also in German >}
  • Berghof Glossary: Empowerment. 2012. PDF > {also in German >}
  • Véronique Dudouet: Nonviolent Resistance in Power Asymmetries. Handbook Article. 2011. PDF >{also in Spanish >}
  • Nenad Vukosavljevic: Preparing for Nonviolence. Experiences in the Western Balkans. Handbook Article. 2011. PDF > {also in B/S/C >}
  • Véronique Dudouet: Transitions from Violence to Peace. Berghof Report No. 15. 2006. PDF >
  • Martina Fischer: Conflict Transformation by Training in Nonviolent Action. Berghof Occasional Paper No. 18. 2001. Hardcopy & PDF >{also in German >}

Selected Staff Publications

  • Véronique Dudouet 2014. "Civil Resistance and Conflict Transformation: Transitions from Armed to Nonviolent Struggle." Routledge. Soon also as Paperback Link >
  • Véronique Dudouet 2013. "Dynamics and Factors of Transition from Armed Struggle to Nonviolent Resistance." Journal of Peace Research vol. 50 no. 3 (May 2013): 401-413 Link >
  • Nonviolent Civic Action in Support of Human Rights and Democracy. 2009. Directorate-General for External Policies of the Union, EXPO/B/DROI/2008/69. Expert Report by Véronique Dudouet and Howard Clark. Brussels: European Parliament. Link > 
  • "Guide to Civil Resistance: A Bibliography on People Power and Protest since 1945" with contributions by Véronique Dudouet. Link > 

CERCAPAZ - CERCAPAZ (Cooperación entre Estado y Sociedad Civil para el Desarollo de la Paz) is a major GIZ-administered peacebuilding programme in Colombia, which was supported by Berghof Foundation through facilitation and advice between 2011 and 2014. Out of this collaboration grew numerous lessons learned publications, including:

  • Joerg de Blanc. "Iniciativas con jóvenes en prevención de violencias y Construcción de Paz." 2014. [Spanish.]  PDF >

CNA - The Centre for Nonviolent Action in Belgrade/Sarajevo has been our partner in many activities relating to nonviolent conflict transformation, training and peacebuilding over the past two decades. One of their early contributions to the discussion in the Balkans was:

  • "Nonviolence? Training Manual for Nonviolent Conflict Transformation. For Work with Adults" CNA. 2000. [Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian; also available in Hungarian, Macedonian and Albanian. Link >

PAX is a partnership between IKV (Interchurch Peace Council) and Pax Christi from the Netherlands, which is active around the globe. PAX has been a long-standing partner in our work in the Caucasus region. Their support for nonviolent action includes:

  • The Activist Hive is an online and offline community, created to inspire, empower and connect peace activists in Europe, Eurasia, Middle East and Africa. It offers educational material, and space for exchange, such as an Activist Lab and Activist Academy. Link >

ICNC - The International Center on Nonviolent Conflict has been a steady partner and co-funder in our work on nonviolent resistance and offers numerous online educational, media and research resources. See for example:

  • "Pressing Your Case: Nonviolent Movements and the Media". An Educational Video Series. Link >