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President Benigno Aquino III witnesses the turnover of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law between Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal and Senate President Franklin Drilon in Malacañang on Wednesday, September 10. Also in photo are Presidential Peace Adviser Secretary Teresita Deles, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., and Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. - Photo courtesy of GMA News’ Benhur Arcayan -The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) has posted a set of frequently asked questions about the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the draft of which President Benigno Aquino III personally submitted to Congress leaders on Wednesday 10 September.

The Bangsamoro Basic Law abolishes the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and establishes the new Bangsamoro political identity in its place. The law is based on the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro signed by the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in March this year.

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A Day to Save a Life 2It was late Sunday night when I received a call from the County Commissioner of Uror. He was asking if we could respond to a rape case, the survivor had arrived in his compound that same day. My reply was, “We will, but not at this time, we will come tomorrow morning.” We are based in a deep-field location that is subject to frequent insecurity and traveling out at night would put the whole team at risk. So we would have to wait for the daylight.

In the early hours of Monday morning I prepare to respond to the call of the Commissioner. The night before I was very aware of the many activities we had planned already: a discussion meeting with the community leaders in Pieri (one of the Payams of Uror) and security assessments in Patahi and Pulchol (also in Uror). In my mind I thought of how we could respond, by possibly dividing the team into two or three so that we can meet all of our commitments. It is impossible however, as we only had one vehicle to ferry us in responding to this high priority case. Therefore, I decide to go with the team of three to respond and we leave the rest of the team to facilitate the cancellation of today’s meetings with key actors.

Read more: A Day to Save a Life

Jeya Murugan, Interim Director of Nonviolent Peaceforce Philippines, is the newest NP peacekeeper to become a Rotary Peace Scholar.  Jeya arrives early August in Mitaka (Tokyo) Japan where he will study Peace and Conflict Resolution in the Graduate Program in Public Policy and Social Research, leading to a Master’s Degree at International Christian University.  In his six years as a peacekeeper, Senior Program Manager, and Interim Director for Nonviolent Peaceforce Mindanao Philippines, he has helped make history. Quoting from his Rotary Peace Fellowship essay:

It has been a long journey: my transformation from being a supporter of Tamil struggle to Right to Self Determination in Sri Lanka to unarmed civilian peacekeeper in Mindanao Philippines sitting in the Presidential Palace receiving acknowledgements on my team’s role in the peace process between the Army of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. 

Despair over the injustices against the Tamil people, including being rejected for university only because he was Tamil attracted him to the Tamil cause. But he decided to work through nonviolent ways for the rights of Tamil people and for broader co-existence among Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslim communities when he saw the maltreatment of own soldiers by LTTE and the forced exile of Jaffna Muslims by the LTTE including his mathematics professor.

I saw through my own eyes how uncontrollable militancy of Tamil Liberation Organizations would be a great danger to the Tamil speaking people of Sri Lanka. I thought this alarming development should be taken seriously, and decided to work for inclusive peace so we could bridge the gap by promoting Co–Existence among Sri Lanka's three major communities. I knew that it would be a great task, but I started to believe in this approach as I anticipated that violent extremism among Tamils would damage the freedom struggle and destroy the spirit of external support of peace loving people around the world.

As part of this team, I was involved in dialogue with armed parties including the Army of the Philippines as well as opposition forces; dialogue with civilians to protect them as they shared information and made decisions about how to protect their families during the active fighting.  I was part of, on request of civilians, training on early warning for violence, human rights and rules of the peace process that was in place during that time.  After the peace process was abandoned, then reconstituted, Nonviolent Peaceforce was invited by both armed parties to sit on the civilian component of the International Monitoring Team headed by Malaysia. Every day, civilians we had trained reported incidents to us that had the potential to involve military forces and expand the fighting.  We reported these incidents to the Army of the Philippines, to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and to the International Monitoring Team.  Then we invited the parties to the incident to come together with a grassroots mediator, and if they agreed, we protected them while they worked out their differences.  We did this for four years, consistently reducing the incidents of violence.  This enabled civil society representatives to meet safely and make decisions and recommendations on the on-going peace proposals.Jeya founded the Team of Youth for Development, Unity and Progress, promoting co-existence among Tamils, Singhalese and Muslims in the eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. He organized several key co-existence committees in Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Amparai. His interaction with local grassroots communities led to a partnership with Nonviolent Peaceforce, jointly supporting local civil society and key community leaders to continue their peace work in areas in Sri Lanka.

Notably during this time, he worked closely with the Trincomalee Rotary Club, as well as nongovernmental organizations to provide youth programs for internally displaced youth, to bring drinking water to five villages and to provide semi permanent housing for displaced families. In 1998, during a polio eradication program, he negotiated with LTTE commanders to declare local ceasefires from 9 am to 5 pm, to create a humanitarian corridor for internally displaced people to receive polio vaccinations. With the support of displaced families they vaccinated 100% of children under 15 years.

Again, working with the Trincomalee Rotary Club in 2005, he provided leadership for the Tsunami relief effort, resettling three thousand families in three months. 

In 2006, he was trained in unarmed civilian peacekeeping in Kenya and by 2008 was sent to Mindanao to be part of the Nonviolent Peaceforce team.   

Jeya will be hosted by the Rotary Club, District 2770, in Japan during his studies. He begins Japanese language training in August, and his coursework starts in September.

The Rotary Club of Akron, Ohio, and District 6630 endorsed his application.

Congratulations, Jeya.

Question:  In the Philippines, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the government of the Philippines recently signed a final peace agreement. Having spent two and a half years in the Philippines and now working as Nonviolent Peaceforce’s Senior Program Manager in Myanmar, what do you see as the major difference between the processes?

Training with Paul FraleighPaul: First, it is worthy to point out that the final signing of the peace agreement in the Philippines happened after 17 years of difficult negotiations marked by periods of sustained violence.  In those 17 years, the government and the MILF learned a great deal about the peace process. When working with both parties, their level of competence and expertise in speaking about the peace process is striking.  It should be noted, this level of peace process expertise that the parties possess, was born out of hard-learned lessons including: two periods of all-out war, hundreds of thousands of civilian displacements and scores dead.

The process in Myanmar, on the other hand, is in its infancy. All parties in the conflicts are undergoing a very steep learning curve in basics of peacemaking. In my six months here alone, I have witnessed a marked increase in the competency of the parties and in particular with some of the ethnic armed group representatives.

 

Question:  You mentioned “conflicts” in its plural form when speaking about Myanmar. Can you speak to this?

Paul: Yes, going back to the Philippines comparison: NP was engaged in the peace process between the government and only one non-state armed group (the MILF). The government here in Myanmar is negotiating with no less than 16 armed groups in one process. Furthermore, the estimated number of armed MILF soldiers is 18,000; in Myanmar there are closer to 100,000 non-state armed actors. Those 16 armed groups are trying to negotiate with one voice. Positions within various ethnic armed groups differ and further complications arise with differing positions amongst the 16 different groups. It is a very complicated process, which also makes it fascinating.

 

Question: What exactly are they negotiating?

Paul: At this point, political dialogue has not even begun. The parties are currently negotiating a nationwide ceasefire agreement. Although there are many bilateral ceasefires between the various armed groups and the government; there is not one nationwide ceasefire involving all the armed groups. If a nationwide ceasefire can be agreed upon, it is envisaged that this will stipulate a timeline leading directly to political dialogue. The ethnic armed groups are adamant about this -- they want guarantees. There is little trust between the parties.

 

Question: There have been a lot of ceasefires between the government and various ethnic armed groups in the past.  How will this ceasefire differ?

Paul-Fraleigh-2Paul: The nationwide ceasefire currently being negotiated will differ a fair deal in comparison to previous ceasefires. As mentioned earlier, it will contain guarantees leading to political negotiations. This can allow a long-term political solution to be struck between the government, the ethnic armed groups and democratic parties within Myanmar. The previous ceasefires merely froze the armed hostilities as a short–term military solution. The signing of the nationwide ceasefire will represent only a first step in a broader peace process. It is not an end in and of itself, but is meant to create space for political dialogue.

 

Question: How does NP fit into all this?

Paul: We are currently assisting local civil society in setting up civilian ceasefire monitoring mechanisms. Previous ceasefires were not monitored and they also did nothing more than essentially freeze the fighting. The monitoring of ceasefires, presently, will help to ensure that the space created by the signing of the ceasefire is maintained. This space is where political negotiations will take place. Simply put, if the parties are shooting at one another on the ground (a situation that has horrible consequences for civilians living in the area), there would not be an atmosphere conducive to fruitful negotiations. Of course, concessions will have to be made by both parties.

Specifically we are at present setting up mechanisms with a local partner, the Shalom Foundation, in both Chin and Mon states. We will have some 120 monitors, 60 per state, active at the village level where violence is most likely to occur. As there is not yet a nationwide ceasefire, they will be monitoring on the basis of the bilateral ceasefires. This includes the various ethnic armed groups and the government. 

 

Question: Why not wait for the nationwide ceasefire to be signed to set up ceasefire monitoring mechanisms?

Paul: Peace must be proactively pursued. In the eventuality that no nationwide ceasefire is signed, civil society will still be able to monitor violence and ceasefire-related civilian protection issues. Having an active and informed civil society operating at the grassroots will contribute to an environment conducive to a process in which a just and lasting peace might be negotiated. This will also ensure communities’ interests and views are taken on board. This increases dialogue between civil society, communities and their governments making up key elements in Myanmar’s transition.

 

Question: How is that going?

Paul: It’s not without its challenges. For example, in the Philippines the international third parties were invited to monitor the ceasefires. Here in Myanmar the military is very weary of having any third party internationals on the ground monitoring. This arguably makes civil society organization comparatively weak.

 

Question: Where does that leave NP?

Training with Paul FraleighPaul: There is still a lot of room to operate and a lot of space to be created in which local civil society can confidently enter. 

However, we need to be sensitive to the local dynamics and move strategically.  At this point, we are acting as technical advisors to local entities or wanting to get into monitoring of ceasefires. Civilian ceasefire monitoring can be seen as a vehicle through which the peace process might gain legitimacy. This is done through participation at the grassroots level. Communities can see, interact with and benefit from it. For peace to be robust, it must be inclusive. It is envisaged that the current project’s locally-led civilian initiatives will compliment the top-down peacemaking initiatives, which emanate from the government and the ethnic armed groups.

Furthermore, there is an abundance of civilian protection-related issues associated with armed conflict that need support, regardless of any ceasefire(s).  This is the bread and butter of Nonviolent Peaceforce. 

The threat of famine in South Sudan is real, and civilians are already risking rape, abduction, and murder in their search for food.

 

By Sterling Carter

Leer, South Sudan –

Food at a costHere, humanitarians are witnessing the shadows of a looming famine. Leer, home of opposition leader Riek Machar, saw heavy fighting in February and government control through mid-April, when opposition forces retook the city. Over 1500 homes burned, and the once vibrant market, one of the largest in the region, was reduced to a broken husk of rusted iron shacks.

These market stalls are now occupied by hundreds of internally displaced persons who have fled continuing violence around the state capital, Bentiu. Schools, churches, and health clinics have similarly been occupied. Any available space becomes refuge against the heavy rains that started early and will continue  through September.

These internally displaced persons bring nothing with them, as they were forced to flee their homes during the conflict. They have no tools, no land, and no seeds. Even with immediate humanitarian intervention, they will most likely miss the planting time.

Read more: Food at a Cost

We’re the cowboys of the organizationIt’s been a slow couple weeks in Juba. I was supposed to be out on mission earlier in the week, but due to circumstances outside of my control, I was never manifested on the flight and found myself grounded for another week in the capital.

I’m on the mobile protection team – a new approach to protection mainstreaming that is being led by Nonviolent Peaceforce. The idea is to integrate the protection of civilians into the overall humanitarian response in a sustained, meaningful way.

The problem is that the humanitarian sector is often preoccupied with logistics – how to get food from A to B, how many households need mosquito nets, how to target vulnerable populations who have fled to the bush. These civilians are subsisting on emergency food, sheltering under trees or in disused cattle camps.  

Read more: Diary of a Peacekeeper From the Mobile Team

Mission Preparedness TrainingI arrived to the small hot Juba airport on April 24th. The airport doesn't have luggage belts or an intercom, or much in the way of signs as to where to go. However, with the information that was forwarded to me by my colleagues from NP in South Sudan before I left, I got through immigration, security and baggage claim. The security man went through my luggage and was very impressed (and confused) with my cigarette roller. I arrived out into the dust and heat of Juba to wait for my pick up. They were an hour late, as they had to bypass roadblocks, but I was a day late due to a delayed flight. Therefore, I wasn’t complaining. We went to the Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) office in Juba and then got settled into the rented compound for the training.

Read more: Mission Preparedness Training in South Sudan, May 2014

2014 05 Oslo SouthSudanConfThe international humanitarian and donor community convened in Oslo, Norway, on May 20th for a pledging conference on South Sudan, hosted by the Government of Norway in collaboration with the U.N. The conference garnered an additional $600 million to avert a looming famine. But there was a great deal of frustration among the donors. The South Sudan crisis is taking place while the world commemorates the 20th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide and the 10th anniversary of the Darfur genocide. What have we learned? Is it time for innovation and transformation.

On June 4th a tele-briefing was held hosted by the Peace and Security Funders Group (PSFG) on the South Sudan crisis, where experts on the issue discussed the problem, the current response and the unique dynamics in South Sudan. Doris Mariani – NP CEO along with Tiffany Easthom- Country Director of NP in South Sudan, Professor Mukesh Kapila- Senior Advisor of NP, and Lisa Monoghan- the Protection Cluster Co-lead of the Norwegian Refugee Council, shared their expertise and experience with the current conflict. Tiffany Easthom stressed the protection crisis in South Sudan and the critical nature of a direct protection program in response, quoted saying; “What we have seen, because there is such a high degree of targeting of civilians and an alarming use of sexual violence, is that the levels of rape is astronomical.” Women who are leaving the safe compounds are being raped as direct punishment for what their people are doing. Tiffany Easthom and the rest of the NP have scaled up protective accompaniment assistance in response to the crisis. Professor Mukesh Kapila states that today in South Sudan is “the latest stage of a long history of violence and it is important to get understanding of that history because if we don’t understand that history then it is very difficult to make sense of the confused environment that we have today.” Professor Mukesh Kapila, along with being an NP Senior Advisor, is the Professor of Global Health and Humanitarian Affairs at the University of Manchester was Undersecretary General at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and was the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sudan. Professor Kapila has written an article on the lessons learnt from the Rwandan genocide and conflict in Darfur. These lessons are not irrelevant when reflecting on the current conflict in South Sudan. To read more about the lessons from these grave incidents, click here:

http://www.e-ir.info/2014/05/15/lessons-from-a-personal-journey-through-the-genocide-in-rwanda/ 

The PSFG is a network of public, private and family foundations, and individual philanthropists who make grants or expenditures that contribute to peace and global security. PSFG releases a monthly newsletter that includes information about colleagues' programs and priorities; developments in the field of philanthropy; innovative research and resources; and upcoming events. Along with this, they coordinate high level panel discussion on current crises and topics.

The photo is of Zandro Escat, a Philippines native who has served in South Sudan for 2 years and previously for NP in Sri Lanka, checking in on the well-being of displaced children.As the conflict in South Sudan moves towards the 6th month, the intensity of the humanitarian crisis is intensifying. There have been 1.3 million people displaced from their homes, there is ongoing violence, cholera has broken out and pockets of severe malnutrition are emerging. The vast majority of displaced people are living in semi-urban and rural areas that are difficult to reach at the best of times, becoming increasingly difficult as the rainy season closes in. To address these challenges, the humanitarian community in South Sudan is establishing a mobile response mechanism across the sectors to make every effort to reach people in need. On May 6th we launched NP in South Sudan's Mobile Response Team (MRT) by accompanying the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on a nonfood item (NFI) distribution to Old Fangak, Fangak County, Jonglei State in South Sudan. NP's role was identify gaps in protection for a reported 1504 households who have been displaced due to the ongoing fighting in the area. The team consisted of three International Protection Officers (IPOs) – Thiago Wolfer, Zandro Escat, and Sterling Carter.

Read more: Update from South Sudan - 6th month of conflict