Geneva Peace Week 18


This year’s Geneva Peace Week saw 63 events over 5 days with over 140 organisations – from Aegis Trust to World Federation of Mental Health – gather to strategize for “Building Peace in a Turbulent World”. We were there, too, to share, discuss and learn!

Our event “Preventing Violent Extremism: Strengthening a Holistic Understanding and Transformative Approach” was located in a topical and policy area that is rather emblematic of turbulence, fear and short-changed analysis, as well as their unintended consequences. With the presentation of two recent in-depth publications on a contextualised understanding of the ecology of extremism as well as a dialogue on transformative approaches to preventing violent extremism, we therefore set out to contribute to more evidence-based knowledge. Beyond false certainties (“all radicalism needs to be suppressed”, “youth are predominantly violent”, “all extremism is Islamic”), we engaged in discussions of what can be observed in concrete localities. Beyond isolated thinking in silos (or “rabbit holes”), we managed a cross-panel, cross-organisation, cross-generational and cross-country exchange which made new connections.

“This is the discussion we should be having at the UN and not just at a side event. These are the important questions to raise.”

The discussion highlighted the following needs for future peacebuilding practice and policy:

  • Good peacebuilding practice needs to start from a localised and contextualised / systemic understanding of where it will take place.
  • Peacebuilding practice will be more effective if it allows for the possibility of violent extremist groups’ ability to change tactic and strategy from violence to non-violence. In this, violent extremist groups are thought to be not much different from other non-state armed actors.
  • Future peacebuilding practice will do good to integrate, and even take leadership from less mainstream actors (e.g. youth, religious institutions). At the same time, these actors, just as the established ones, need to acquire skills and should not be romanticized or be expected to solve the conundrum of (extremist) violence “on their own”.
  • In tackling violent extremism and the lack of peaceability, it is of utmost importance to understand the “violence of exclusion”, oppression and marginalisation.

One participant said after the session that “This is the discussion we should be having at the UN and not just at a side event. These are the important questions to raise.” Besides Berghof Foundation’s Véronique Dudouet and Beatrix Austin, the panel brought together professor Lisa Schirch of Toda Peace Institute, Milicent Otieno from Local Capacities of Peace (Kenya), as well as Graeme Simpson and Ali Altiok to contribute voices from the UN Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security.

Véronique Dudouet, head of Berghof Foundation’s Conflict Transformation Research Programme also contributed – alongside Lisa Schirch and Milicent Otieno, among others – in a panel on “Integrating Human Rights, Nonviolent Action and Peacebuilding to Sustain Peace”. It set out to explore how nonviolent action and peacebuilding approaches (and their respective frameworks at the policy level) can be strategically integrated to build just, sustainable peace that puts human rights at the centre. (In this setting, we rediscovered the continued relevance of a Berghof Handbook Dialogue on Human Rights and Conflict Transformation, which we published back in 2010).

The panel highlighted a number of policy and practical recommendations for the UN and its member states to encourage international support for nonviolent human rights activism for change:

  • Although the conflict prevention imperative has come to the fore on the international agenda, a shift of mindset is required for peacebuilding agencies to embrace the language of ‘violence prevention’, thereby recognizing that physical violence, rather than conflict, is the real problem.
  • When preventive diplomacy fails to stop the escalation of violent warfare, peacebuilding agencies should seek to identify, support and protect grassroots social movements mobilizing nonviolently for basic human rights. Despite their inclusive nature and democratic aspirations, they tend to be sidelined by elites, armed groups (those who took up arms) and urban/professional civil society organizations, when the time comes for participating in negotiations and subsequent peacebuilding mechanisms.

The panel also discussed two new publications on this topic: the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC) report Powering to Peace: Integrated Civil Resistance and Peacebuilding Strategies and the US Institute of Peace action guide on Synergizing Nonviolent Action and Peacebuilding (SNAP).