We are very happy to present the completed Handbook Dialogue on Armed Social Violence in print and online. To recap: Our starting point was the observations that in some countries, more civilians are being killed by armed gangs and criminal organisations than in traditional combat. Still, these pockets of armed social violence – "undeclared wars" marked, among other things, by criminal, gang and/or urban violence – have long received much less attention than politically motivated forms of armed conflicts. Their effects, however — social-political destabilisation, in some cases coinciding with high numbers of victims — are becoming more pressing. In recent years, national and international actors have begun paying attention to the issue. Our dialogue ask what shapes armed social violence takes in diverse localities: what actors and factors are associated with it? What are successful or promising strategies in dealing with armed social violence?
The lead article suggests that frameworks to effectively address phenomena such as urban violence, violent youth gangs, vigilantes and organised crime are still rudimentary. Referring to the conventional “political conflict violence” paradigm or an iron fist approach against “criminals” in situations of armed social violence have so far been ineffective.
The lead authors argue that the inclusive and participatory methodologies offered by peacebuilding approaches provide an operational strategy that would allow the international community to engage successfully with issues of armed social violence.
Respondents examine these propositions with a view to evidence from various localities, including Colombia, El Salvador, Syria, Myanmar, Guinea-Bissau, Timor-Leste, the UK and Mexico. Issues as diverse as the inter-connectedness of political, social and private violence, the need to work closely with government agencies, civil society and agents of violence, as well as the merits of specific participatory methodologies are brought to the fore. The authors discuss what peacebuilding and other initiatives have achieved, and where they have fallen short.
At the end of the debate, the lead authors’ final reflection offers nine recommendations:
1. Prepare to stay put long-term... and invest
2. Allow local leadership to emerge
3. Foster the development of state-society coalitions
4. Foster the development of a new global consensus on countering violence in society
5. Invest in the strengthening of local analytical capacity
6. Encourage the development of violence sensitivity approaches
7. Invest in the strengthening of local facilitation/mediation capacity
8. Foster and reward experimentation
9. Review legal/operational frameworks.