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UN Day of Coordinated Action for Peace
by Rene Wadlow
2014-12-05 10:39:57
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The UN General Assembly has designated 5 December as an annual celebration of the role of volunteers in cooperation with UN values and goals. The term “volunteer” is somewhat dated. With the end of compulsory military service in many countries, most everyone is a “volunteer” in what he chooses to do. Today, the term “civil society” is more often used, although in practice, most UN cooperation is with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in consultative status through the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

It is in the field of conflict resolution in reducing and preventing armed conflicts that NGO efforts with the UN is most important but also most difficult. The relations among security, conflict resolution, respect for human rights, and the creation of democratic institutions have now assumed a more dynamic form than at any other time since the creation of the UN in 1945. This wide mission for peace demands the concerted attention and efforts of individual States, of regional intergovernmental bodies such as the European Union, of NGOs and all the UN system.

The UN must walk a difficult line as it is obliged to respect the fragile balance between the sovereignty of States and actions in such fields as electoral assistance, humanitarian aid, administrative activities, rural de-mining operations, the promotion of democracy, and the protection of human rights which have in the past been under the control of the individual State.

NGOs can take a lead or cooperate creatively in a number of ways:

Fact-Finding and Early Warning: NGOs, because of their familiarity with the local situation, are well placed to play a role in early warning mechanisms by drawing the attention of governments to emerging conflicts. More must be done to coordinate activities to stop violence before it spreads. Coalition-building among NGOs can have a multiplier effect on the ability to understand the complexities of conflicts. Better consultative avenues within the UN should be developed to enable NGOs to provide early warning information and to receive information from the UN.

Keeping channels of communication open between opponents:

One of the most difficult yet necessary tasks is to keep communications open between different protagonists in an armed conflict. Every faction in a conflict is looking for allies and outside support. Often one side will break contact which is then difficult to reestablish. Given the importance of a steady flow of information among protagonists, NGOs need to develop better ways of communication with all parties and, if desired, to pass on communications from one side to another.

Advice on constitutional issues:

Constitutional issues are at the heart of many armedconflicts as we see in the Ukraine, Burma, and Darfur-Sudan conflicts. Constitutional issues involve questions about the balance of power between central and local government, the authority of various government branches, and citizens' rights. This is a field in which there is a growing interest within the UN. Thus, there is a need to develop networks between university-based experts in constitutional law, NGOs and the conflicting parties themselves.

Today, there is a recognition that there is a good deal of uncertainty among those who make policy as how to best deal with the increase in the numbers and types of armed conflicts around the world. One of the major uncertainties is an understanding of why local, traditional forms of conflict resolution have broken down or proved inadequate. All societies have techniques of dispute settlement which function much of the time. However, the techniques of dispute settlement among tribes in South Sudan have broken down or have become overtaxed.

As with any new field, increased NGO-UN cooperation in conflict resolution requires a process of presenting ideas, of drawing upon different fields of thought, of distilling experiences and then of a growing acceptance of a common core of ideas. Conflict resolution highlights a common understanding that conflicts are not static. Conflicts change in the process from latent to manifest, from escalation to de-escalation. Conflicts can be transformed positively or negatively. 5 December should be a day for a useful reflection on the steps needed to be taken for strong coordinated action.


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