“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”.
She 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.“
The 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.