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Georgian youth listen attentively to negotiation skills workshop presented by NP Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeper, Rosemeary Kibabki from KenyaNonviolent Peaceforce in the South Caucasus has trained a dozen youth living along the Administrative Boundary Line (ABL) between South Ossetia and Georgia in conflict resolution. The ABL is the epicenter of a lingering unresolved conflict which witnessed violent conflict between Russia and Georgia in 2008.

The four-day training addressed conflict-theories on root causes and included practical exercises in analysis and resolution, human rights, human security, Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping, negotiations and dialogue skills.

The training gave me hope, I saw there are (nonviolent) tools and methods to resolve our 20-year-conflict. I especially enjoyed the process of finding the best solutions through teamwork,” said one participant.

The 12 youth participants (7 male and 5 female) ranged from ages 17-28, and came from a multitude of background including unemployed farmers, lawyers, students and human rights activists. They were selected as they face a similar broad challenge relevant to NP’s work: the unresolved conflict could again break out in violence often exacerbated by misperceptions that partially fuels the conflict and indeed reinforces it. 

The participation was active, and participants reflective. Their own comments mirror what they perceive as the impact of the four days:

I learned and realized conflict can’t be solved without negotiation, and negotiation can’t be without dialogue of equals, that successful dialogue can’t happen without understanding interest and needs of the other side.

 “This is the first time in my life I realized that conflict can be perceived by different people in different ways. After the training on Human Rights for example, I now believe it is the responsibility of all human beings to protect the rights of other human beings,” said one participant.

The course used experiential methodology, which has previously supported various participants with an opportunity to ‘get in touch with their inner self’ and conceptualise theory into their own reality.

The mission of NP and intervention strategies were used to highlight with practical experiences how Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping is actualized in the Philippines, South Sudan and South Caucus.

The Director of the Institute for the Study of Nationalism and Conflict (ISNC), NP’s local partner whom training was conducted, Nino Kalandarishvili, commented that the course was very successful.

These youth will stimulate dialogue and using the strength of NP, as I experienced in the exposure visit to NP in the Philippines, and the knowledge and skills of ISNC, we can utilize the narrow path currently available to use dialogue opportunities to impact positively on conflict resolution in the South Caucus Region.

As a follow-up, the youth who underwent the training participated in a two-day IDP network meeting, from Abkhazia, and a two-day youth conference in late 2012. In addition ISNC has contacted Go-group media, a social media that shares South Caucus life stories for participants to perform documentaries on their personal experiences in the conflict.

NP has already linked all the youth to the existing CIT structures and aims to further strengthen the capacity of the youth in conflict resolution aimed at preventing violence at the grassroots-level.

Rosemary Kibaki, an Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeper, conducting a training on Monitoring and Reporting sexual and gender-based violence, October 2012Nonviolent Peaceforce in the South Caucasus trained women human rights defenders and gender equality advocates working in conflict-affected areas from across the Caucasus and South Asia.

The 6-day training of trainers, held in Tiblisi, Georgia in October 2012 was attended by 18 participants from Pakistan, Afganistan, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Participants learned how to effectively and meaningfully engage, influence, and mobilize for dialogues on security and peace issues at various levels nationally and regionally.

NP worked with UN WOMEN to enhance the capacity of women’s human rights activists and gender equality advocates and their networks to effectively and meaningfully engage, influence, and mobilize for dialogues on security and peace issues at various levels nationally and regionally in the South Asia (Pakistan and Afghanistan) as well as the Southern Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan). 

“I will engage the stakeholders on the ground as soon as I get back,” said one participant from Armenia. 

The above quote, from a Government representative, speaks to the need of supporting both civil society and government agencies on learning how to positively engage one-another with a spirit of cooperation and the need to build meaningful partnerships with common goals.

The training was conducted in partnership with UN Women in Georgia, under the EU-funded Programme, “Women Connect Across Conflicts” which aims to build accountability for implementing UN Security Council Resolutions relating to women and conflict.

In this spirit, the training course provided the participants an opportunity to conceptualise sexual and gender based violence issues in relation to their own intervention strategies and reflect on proactive strategies to document, report and monitor human and women rights violations.

“It has been my privilege to be a part of something that instils a sense of empowerment for individuals and communities in specific areas where NP works and in other regions affected by violent conflict,” said Rosemary Kibaki, co-facilitator of the training and an NP Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeper.  Rosemary, from Kenya, joined NP some two-and-a-half years ago, spending the initial two years with NP in the Philippines.

The skills imparted during the training will in turn strengthen referral mechanisms for victims of such violence during and after conflicts. NP’s reporting and monitoring techniques were vital in facilitating skills development.

“I will be more proactive in using these skills in monitoring and reporting as a Human Rights Defender in strengthening linkages,” said a participant from Pakistan.   

NP’s ten years of accumulated expertise in enabling skills enhancement in civilian protection mechanisms provided an ideal opportunity for these selected human rights defenders from around the region to maximize on their impact on addressing and redressing sexual and gender-based violence.

The above training was in relation to NP’s participation and engagement in the ‘Experts’ meeting on ‘Mainstreaming a Gender Perspective into Security Sector Reform’ held on 18-19 September in Tbilisi.  In addition to the presentations and spirited discussions on cross regional initiatives from security sector representatives and experts from NATO, Tajikistan, Georgia, Estonia, and Albania, Members of the Working Group from the Gender Equality Council in Georgia,

As a follow-up to the training, UN WOMEN and NP held a one-day meeting with members of the Working Group of the Gender Equality Council on 26 October.   The Working Group members, composed of representative from Parliament, Government and NGO’s, considered and identified support mechanisms for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. 

Hands on experience from NP in Philippines, was enormously appreciated by the Working Group as it enabled them to relate to the practical workings of a National Referral Mechanism – a crucial tool in enabling the early monitoring, reporting and response of human rights violations in conflict and post-conflict scenarios.  

‘I really appreciate the work of your organisation (NP) and thank you for your input in Georgia,” said the Gender Equality Council Chair.

Nonviolent Peaceforce program in the South Caucasus is being implemented thanks to continuous support of the Belgian government.War in the Shida Kartli region of Georgia, along the boundary line with the disputed territory of South Ossetia, in August 2008 exposed civilians there to the trauma of family members perishing, destruction of livelihoods and displacement. The local population residing in close proximity to the boundary line report feeling abandoned and permanently exposed to security risks.

Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) in the South Caucasus, in partnership with local stakeholders, is establishing Community Initiative Teams, which will address locals’ protection needs through the establishment of a mechanism enabling locals to come together and identify and develop strategies to address their security concerns without resorting to violence.  The need for such support is evident. 

“A group from Tbilisi came to monitor our living conditions. A woman from the delegation asked me – how do you protect yourselves? I pointed to the hammer against the wall”, stated one of the villagers in her discussion with NP.

Jake Good, Acting Representative, NP in the South Caucasus, said, ”Because of the support it could bring in developing confidence in community safety and enable the local communities to develop the ability to address local concerns, the Community Initiative Teams (CIT) project is an effective and relevant Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping practice, which is unique in the context of the South Caucasus’ protracted conflicts, where violent conflict has erupted sporadically during the last twenty years and grassroots-oriented solutions have not yet gained wide recognition among key regional stakeholders.”

Due to its particular exposure to the effects of unresolved conflict, the hub of villages in Shida Kartli was identified as the first location to implement a Community Initiative Team – named as such because it aims to support local initiatives to develop local solutions to local protection concerns.

“There is a need for a mechanism such as Community Initiative Teams in order for the local population to be more actively involved in establishing mechanisms to assure their own security. They are ready and willing to engage…” said a representative from NP’s partner, the Rehabilitation and Development Center Ergneti, a local grassroots NGO, based alongside the contested boundary line and who will manage the CIT on a daily basis.

With the support of local partners active along the boundary line, NP is actively engaging national and local authorities including law enforcement agencies and other international organisations in building synergies and promoting the CIT concept.   

After extensive profiling by NP of some 40 villages, 18 residents were chosen by their communities to be dedicated to the introduction of the CIT concept in early September. These men and women, of various age and backgrounds, participated actively in CIT sessions launched on 21 September 2012, the International Day of Peace.

There “was a need to identify community human security needs in communities and to coordinate the NGO and international organizational answers to the human security needs of the population residing close to the administrative boundary line in Shida Kartli,” said Executive Director, The Charity Humanitarian Center Abkhazeti, an NGO working for vulnerable conflict affected populations in Georgia since 1995 and NP’s partner in the project.

NP envisages that the success of the CIT can serve as a model that can be utilized in other conflict-affected communities across the South Caucasus.

“CIT structures can serve a very important role all across the administrative boundary line and in the greater Caucasus region,” echoed Nino Kalandarishvili, member of NP Advisory Council for the South Caucasus, and Program Director of NP’s partner organization, the Institute for the Study of Nationalism and Conflict.

NP’s partners and CIT participants expressed their firm commitment to non-violent resolution of the conflict and expressed their interest in restoring relationships with South Ossetians on the other side of the boundary line.

NP Advisory Council for the South Caucasus with NP founder Mel Duncan, NP Programme Advisor Sofia Skrypnyk and NP staff in Cotabato, at the meeting with the International Monitoring Team Head of Mission and Civilian Protection Component Head Coordinator“No other organization I knew of before could do the work that NP does. NP knows how to work with conflicts: it has opened the channels of communication between communities in remote areas, NGOs and armed forces, and spread confidence among all those actors”, says the Director of Society for Humanitarian Research in Baku, as he reflects upon the week he spent learning about the multi-faceted work of Nonviolent Peaceforce on the conflict-affected island of Mindanao.

The Society for Humanitarian Research is one of the prominent civil society organisations from the South Caucasus invited by Nonviolent Peaceforce to visit its programme in the Philippines.

In the last two years, NP has carried out several exploration projects in Eurasia, resulting in a deployment of first field teams in Georgia, and increased visibility throughout the South Caucasus. As NP continues its effort to consolidate constituency and knowledge base for Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping in the South Caucasus, a study visit "Civil society innovations for civilian security and human rights: NP's lessons from Mindanao" has been organized between August 28 – September 5, 2012.

Study Visit participants have been introduced to both civil and military representatives of the parties in conflict, explored the working of the ceasefire monitoring mechanisms, but also met community and civil society leaders cooperating with NP. The group has been exposed to divergent narratives about the conflict, civil society discourses and efforts for peace, as well as multifaceted realities of the Mindanao context – drear consequences of conflict and promising development efforts in Cotabato, Maguindanao and General Santos areas.

The visitors have been impressed by the scale of NP work, local acceptance and respect enjoyed by the organization, as well as its strict practical adherence to the key guiding principles of its work, such as impartiality and primacy of local actors.

Coming from Abkhazia, a volunteer of the Center for Humanitarian Programmes underlines: “I have worked for international organizations operating in Abkhazia many years, including UNOMIG. Yet, what I notice here is that even without the capacity and resources of the UN, NP has been able to achieve significant results. NP has also been able to maintain impartiality, which is particularly difficult”.

Representatives of NP’s Georgian partner organizations inquiring with NP staff member in the Philippines about the community meeting they just observedShe is supported by the Chair of the Association of Women of South Ossetia for Democracy and Human Rights: “NP work has its similarities with the work of other organizations operating in conflict zones. But what makes NP different is its strategy excelled into the science. It is breathtaking – I was able to witness the results of decreasing escalation of armed violence and civilian protection. For NP, individuals are important, regardless of their position. Those things cannot be faked. I would be very happy if NP would start operating in South Ossetia.”

Truly so, while NP work in the Philippines enjoys wide acceptance and succeeds to ensure tangible impact for civilians, the organization remains a newcomer in the South Caucasus and needs local constituency to jointly respond to the complexities of the challenges faced by the conflict-affected civilian population in the region. The increased understanding of theory and practice of Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping by select civil society leaders from the South Caucasus, achieved during the visit, will contribute to NP’s progress in the region.

The founder of the Ergneti Center for Rehabilitation and Development in Georgia explains: “Comparing the situation in the Philippines to the one in Georgia, we have already passed this stage of the conflict. NP managed to create a network, which is working in the Pilipino context, and we made first steps in this way as NP partners in the Georgian region of Shida Kartli. We are happy that things already started working out, and happy to have the opportunity to discuss and exchange on the best way forward for NP in our region with civil society representatives from all parts of South Caucasus.“

Meeting with grassroots activists in MaguindanaoThe Chairman of the Civil Society Institute, Yerevan has envisaged local application of NP mandate: “I had an opinion that NP will not be able to work on the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan because of the complex border issues that we are facing. But what is interesting and positive about NP is the clarity of the mandate in comparison to other international NGOs. There is a need for a clear mandate in the South Caucasus, which would allow avoiding many recurrent mistakes. The main focus of NP work is peacekeeping and this is a significant reason to have this organization work in our region”.

The civil society participants of the Study Visit have concluded their stay in Mindanao by holding a founding meeting of the South Caucasus Advisory Council of NP, which took place in Maasim, Sarangani province. The Advisory Council will guide the organization on plans and implementation strategies in the South Caucasus and will help ensure the sustainability of its projects in the region.

 

Nonviolent Peaceforce expresses its gratitude to the Kingdom of Belgium for the untiring support to its programs globally, including in the Philippines and in the South Caucasus. Nonviolent Peaceforce extends its compliments to the relevant governments in the South Caucasus and in the Philippines for their prompt cooperation towards rendering the Study Visit to Mindanao possible. 

Deputy Executive Director with Shida Kartli Field TeamNonviolent Peaceforce has started the preparatory work to open its first field office in Georgia. This will be in the village of Nikozi in the Shida Kartli region, adjacent to the disputed territory of South Ossetia.

Shida Kartli stretches along the line of divide between the Georgia controlled territory and the South Ossetian controlled territory. There are over thirty Georgian villages located in close proximity to the line of divide and as a general rule there is little or no communication between the communities on both sides of the conflict. It is generally alleged that the people on both sides do not have much sympathy towards each other as a result of the conflict and of differences in culture and traditions. However, NP’s first experience in the region shows that common people separated by the conflict retain connections and care for each other despite the political and military reality that they have to live in.

NP's work will rely on these human connections, and aim to increase safe options for communities affected by disputed boundary lines in Shida Kartli and in the South Caucasus as a whole, helping them to address the challenges they face living in these contested areas.

NP has now hired two International Civilian Protection Officers (IPOs) and three local staff members who will work and live in the community of Nikozi.

These IPOs who were chosen to live among the conflict affected communities and help them first had to complete a demanding and intense Mission Preparedness Training. Robert Rivers, NP’s longstanding trainer, well acquainted with local realities and needs, led the training.

NP’s Nikozi field office is the first office to be run by an international organization outside Gori, the administrative capital city of Shida Kartli region, in the immediate proximity to war-affected communities and the line of conflict divide. The opening of this office will be an important milestone in the development of NP’s mission in the South Caucasus, and will be the result of a lot of hard work on the part of NP South Caucasus team who have been making all the necessary preparations for this moment. NP’s programme in the South Caucasus became possible at the end of last year thanks to the generous contribution of the Belgian government, a long-term NP donor that previously also supported the start-up of crucial NP projects in other parts of the world.

The Shida Kartli Field Office has been relocated to the village of Tkviavi for logistical reasons in April 2012