Quaker Network for the Prevention of Violent Conflict
Le Réseau de quaker pour l'Empêchment de Conflit Violent
Quaker Consultation on Peaceful Prevention of Violent Conflict, Focus Africa
2nd Annual Gathering
September 30 – October 5, 2001
New York City and Washington, DC
III. What We Learned
IV. Themes of Discussion
VI. View of the Future
From September 30, 2001 to October 5, 2001 representatives from 11 Quaker organizations in North America, Europe, and Africa met together in New York City and Washington, DC in the second international Quaker Consultation on the Peaceful Prevention of Violent Conflict. The meetings were hosted by the Quaker United Nations Office in New York and the Friends Committee on National Legislation in Washington, DC. The American Friends Service Committee provided partial funding for the consultation and hosted the group at Davis House in the Washington portion of the meetings. As planned, we looked at the prevention of armed conflict through the lens of conflicts in Africa. The meetings, however, were shadowed not only by decades of suffering and grief in Africa’s wars, but also by the fresh tragedies of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as well as the looming U.S. military response in Afghanistan.
Friends and colleagues who gathered came from the American Friends Service Committee, Canadian Friends Service Committee, Quaker Peace and Social Witness (Britain), Friends Committee on National Legislation, Quaker United Nations Offices in Geneva and New York, Friends United Meeting, the Friends Peace Teams African Great Lakes Initiative, Burundi Yearly Meeting, Muinda Peace Project and Kinshasa Friends Meeting, and Quaker Peace Centre (Cape Town). As individuals, we committed ourselves to bringing to our respective organizations and Yearly Meetings, the sense of this gathering that Friends organizations should commit themselves to a 10-year goal of articulating a new vision of the peaceful prevention of violent conflict, and to taking the practical steps to make this vision real.
The following report provides a summary of the consultation’s purpose, themes of discussion, and outcomes, as well as a view to the future. We hope it will be widely shared and discussed among Friends organizations, meetings, and other bodies. We offer this report not as a final product of one meeting but as the beginning of a conversation which we hope will deepen and expand in the coming years.
The 1999 U.S. war in Kosovo greatly challenged Friends to not only continue witnessing against the use of violence, but also to articulate viable peaceful alternatives to managing gross human rights abuses and intra-state conflict. With generous funding from British Friends, Quaker Peace and Social Witness hosted a meeting in London in the fall of 2000 which brought together representatives from a number of Quaker organizations, individual Friends working on peace and conflict issues, and outside experts to serve as resource people. During that seminar, entitled “Alternatives to Bombing,” participants discussed the tendency for many, including Friends, to wait until a conflict has reached the 11th hour before serious attention and effort is devoted to addressing it. Considerable discussion focused on the need to be working in a preventive manner, to address conflicts early and effectively before they reach the level of what seems inevitable violence. Friends are best-equipped to address conflicts in the pre-violence and post-violence stages. In the midst of violence, we can offer suggestions that might limit the harm or plant seeds for future peacebuilding, but once violence has broken out, we have in some sense already failed. The challenge for Quaker peacemaking is not simply to heal the wounds of war, but to actively seek to address the roots of conflict before they have erupted into violence. This may require a paradigm shift in how we approach our work.
In the initial “Alternatives to Bombing” seminar in London in 2000 participants agreed that their conversation and active follow-up to it should continue. They decided to meet annually, and FCNL and QUNO New York agreed to plan the second meeting for the Fall of 2001. The idea was raised of rotating the annual meetings between “centers of power” and regions of conflict. Means for documenting the meeting and for establishing an email network were also agreed upon. Participants recognized that the South was largely underrepresented in the seminar and that a greater balance in global representation should be sought in future gatherings. A broad sense of the meeting emerged that this was the beginning of a long-term effort to help move Quaker peacework toward preventive, rather than reactive, approaches.
The 2001 Quaker Consultation on Peaceful Prevention, Focus Africa was the second annual gathering in this continuing initiative. Participation was expanded to include more individual Quaker and Quaker organization representation, including three African Friends. Friends met for a full week, spending three days in New York City and three days in Washington, DC. The consultation hoped to engage more Friends organizations and networks in seeking collaborative strategies for effectively preventing and addressing violent conflict, with particular attention to Africa. It also sought to build on the beginnings of a network strategy discussed in London, to solidify what began to be called a Quaker Prevention Network, and to develop a consensus on concrete activities to be undertaken within a feasible timeline.
III. What We Learned
The 2001 Quaker prevention consultation included time for discussion of current activities and trends related to conflict prevention at the international level (through the UN in New York) and at the U.S. level (through time in Washington, DC), as well as information-sharing on the work of all those gathered. Those who participated welcomed the opportunity to hear what other Quaker agencies were doing at the grassroots, national, and international levels, and to explore possibilities for increased collaboration and interaction. Discussions with policy-makers, academics, and other non-governmental groups working on peacebuilding and prevention further informed the consultation. Some of the highlights of the week included:
- Presentation by Ambassador Arthur Mbanefo, Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the UN, highlighting the challenges and opportunities for conflict prevention in Africa.
- Discussion of how efforts to restrict the trade in small arms and how policies on development can act to prevent violent conflict.
- Discussion of the meaning and practice of the Peace Testimony among Quakers and Mennonites today, noting especially the need to help Friends articulate the alternatives to military force.
- Consideration of various models for peaceful conflict prevention that are already available. Typically successful efforts at conflict prevention receive little media attention and are little known.
- Discussion with Ambassador Stig Elvemar, Permanent Mission of Sweden to the UN, of Sweden’s leadership at both a national and international level to prioritize and implement conflict prevention policies. We reviewed especially Sweden’s National Action Plan for Preventing Violent Conflict.
- Presentation by Eden Grace, FUM representative to the World Council of Churches, on the WCC’s initiative for a Decade to Overcome Violence and the importance of Quaker peacework in that context, followed by engaging discussion.
- Presentations by Friends from Africa on their peacebuilding work and discussion of the wealth of other Quaker work in the region as well. We were encouraged by the work of Burundi Yearly Meeting to establish a newtwork of trauma and reconciliation centers throughout Burundi, by the work of the Muinda Peace Project of Kinshasa Monthly Meeting to encourage grassroots dialogue among various factions in the Congolese civil war, and by the work of the Quaker Peace Centre in Cape Town as South Africa continues the transition from apartheid.
- Meeting with staff of the Genocide Watch project and the Woodrow Wilson Institute’s Conflict Prevention Project to discuss new research and programs to prevent genocide, as well as the possibilities for cooperation with individual projects.
- Participation in the Great Lakes Forum, a monthly discussion with Washington policy-makers. One Friend from Africa served as a speaker for the forum.
- Discussion with Congressional staff and lobbyists on the inside scoop in Washington. We heard the discouragement of Friends in the U.S. at the climate of war fever in Washington at the time of our meetings.
Through these discussions participants gained a sense of the emerging opportunities and challenges, both in the policy arena as well as at the community level, around early warning and the prevention of violent conflict. Conflict prevention is clearly moving forward at the UN and in the European Union much faster than in the U.S. The African Union (formerly the OAU) is also focusing increasing attention on preventing and peacefully handling conflict through its own Mechanism on Conflict Prevention, as well as the New African Initiative. In all cases, though, the rhetoric at the policy level has yet to translate into significant investment and implementation of conflict prevention at a ground level. Communities living with conflict are actively engaged in conflict prevention on an ongoing basis; however, they often lack the resources to fully realize the potential of their work.
All those gathered were energized by discovering anew the wealth of Quaker work underway in Africa, from educational and training projects in Burundi to the creation of “peace cells” in the DRC to community peacebuilding and development in South Africa to the growing work of Quaker service agencies and the presence of individual Quakers and Quaker representatives living and working across the region. Participants also learned more about the work of Quakers at the policy level, focusing attention on conflict prevention and Africa through both advocacy and facilitation of dialogue. How to support, enhance, and connect this work became a central topic of discussion throughout the week.
IV. Themes of Discussion
The 2001 Quaker Consultation on Peaceful Prevention came less than three weeks after the September 11th terrorist hijackings of four planes and subsequent attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Despite the difficulties posed by those events, the consultation went forward and maintained its focus on Africa with time for discussion on September 11th built into the agenda as possible. The interplay between these different discussions added richness and texture to the group’s time together, and provided numerous opportunities for unplanned ministry, sharing, and worship.
The breadth and depth of brainstorming, strategizing, and creative thinking that developed over the course of the consultation illustrated the value of face-to-face gatherings among Friends and Friends organizations. A number of particularly salient themes that emerged from our discussion are worth noting.
1. Wealth of opportunities and challenges to preventing conflict in Africa. While Africa remains one of the world’s most war-torn areas, it is also a region of remarkable promise. The New African Initiative and African Union (formerly the OAU), the peace processes underway in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone and elsewhere, the changing dynamics of global economic structures and markets, and the growing international attention to Africa all suggest potential openings for supporting short and long term violence prevention. Efforts already underway in Africa by African Friends locally, as well as by international Quaker service agencies (for example, AFSC’s new Africa Initiative), provide arenas for supporting and enhancing Quaker peacework as well as new partnership possibilities. Africa continues struggling with the challenges of conflict, poverty, development and governance, and the events of September 11th have diverted attention (and potential resources). However, the problem for Friends does not appear to be one of coming up with new ideas for valuable preventive work, but rather of how to realize and focus the good ideas already formulated with limited resources.
2. Lack of shared knowledge, connection, and cooperation among Quaker work on conflict prevention, in Africa and elsewhere. Both the 2000 and 2001 brought to light a real hunger among Friends to be connecting more, sharing information and knowledge, strategizing and cooperating on the work of preventing conflict and promoting peace. Not only were participants unaware of all the work being undertaken by Friends and Friends organizations, we were also struck by how complementary and supportive our efforts appeared when revealed in a common light. There appeared to be a desire not to simply continue working in our separate orbits, but to collaborate in new ways that might place our individual work within a broader, more complete framework. The value and need for more face-to-face discussion, networking and sharing were emphasized repeatedly, recognizing financial and resource challenges to even these annual meetings.
3. Changing nature of conflict in the world and the need for a strengthening and reexamination of how Friends work for peace. Not only has the world seen a change in the nature of conflict (from inter- to intrastate, with dramatic increases in civilian casualties and new economic dynamics fueling war), the international community is also coming to recognize the importance of focusing resources and attention to addressing disputes before they reach the level of violence, rather than responding in the 11th hour when creative options have been severely limited. The shift “from a culture of reaction to a culture of prevention” is one that also challenges Friends and our understanding of the Peace Testimony. A preventive paradigm to addressing conflict would seek to understand and unravel the roots of violence, unveiling the intersections of conflict with economics, human rights, environment, disarmament, and other issues in the process. Such a paradigm echoes George Fox’s call to live in the spirit that “takes away the occasion of war,” or as one Friend noted, to “make peace profitable” in every sense.
4. Recognition of unique niche for Friends (positioning of Friends witness at international, national, and grassroots levels), coupled with need to work with others (WCC, Mennonites, etc.) Thanks to the foresight of earlier Friends, and to the continuing guidance of the Spirit, Quakers have come to be uniquely placed in the world to address issues of peace and violence at various levels. Friends and Friends organizations are working across the globe at the local community level to build a culture of peace from the ground up. Quaker organizations working at the national and regional levels in the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere access policymakers and advocate on issues of concern to Friends. Meanwhile, a Quaker presence at the UN strives to build relationships and open dialogue on critical issues at the international level. How can this fortunate, multi-leveled placement be better utilized to create channels of communication, understanding, and action? How can Quaker grassroots experience inform national and international policymaking? How can Friends working at the policymaking level to create structures of peace and conflict prevention support and build on local peacebuilding work? What other groups should we be working with at different levels, and how best can we engage them? All these questions provide food for further thought and action.
5. Bridge-building among Friends, North and South. Friends are not immune to the problems of global disparities of wealth and access to resources. Finding opportunities for honest, Spirit-led dialogue among Friends and Quaker organizations from North and South is an important element of enhancing all our work. Friends engaged in both the 2000 and 2001 gatherings recognized the need to continue laboring with the North-South resource gap among the worldwide Society of Friends and its implications for Quaker work to prevent violent conflict.
In addition to the benefits of sharing and connecting with each other, of revisiting old friendships and forging new ones, of traveling and getting to know one another over a week’s time in two different cities, the 2001 Quaker Consultation on Peaceful Prevention generated a number of working principles and a framework of activity for the coming following year, leading up to a third annual gathering to be organized and hosted by African Friends in Burundi in the Fall of 2002.
As backdrop to its activities and gatherings, the group determined a number of working principles:
1. We Want to Proceed.All participants expressed great interest in continuing the development of the work on conflict prevention and of the conflict prevention network. In deciding to go forward, the group acknowledged that conflict prevention as a goal represents a profound shift in human consciousness that Quakers have sought from our founding. It is a move from protesting what is, to developing and supporting policies that will prevent war. The only way to abolish war, as we have known it, is to prevent it. Although this is a simple statement, it represents a sophisticated understanding of the task ahead.
2. A Time Frame of a 10-year Program. Although those gathered recognized that the work may take twenty years or a hundred years, they also recognized that a time frame for the present work was needed. A ten-year commitment was noted as an important first step for a variety of reasons. It is long enough to make some achievements possible, but not so long that it is beyond the professional life of those individuals gathered. The decade also corresponds to the UN and WCC decades of peace and nonviolence. Even in the framework of a decade however, it is important to consider and prepare the successor generation.
3. Continue the Focus on Africa.Participants in the 2001 gathering also determined after discussion to continue the focus on Africa for the next two or three years at least. This reflects the importance of the progress made together thus far, the enormity of the task and the scale of human suffering due to Africa’s conflicts. It was noted that a small handful of Friends cannot make a difference worldwide, but may be able to work together with some effect in one region. We would also like to bring in Friends working on conflicts in other regions, such as the Middle East and Latin America. This would enable the development of South-South as well as North –South partnerships.
Flowing from these principles, the framework of activity for the network for the coming year included:
Funding: Collecting information on where to look for funding for the conflict prevention work.
Documentation: Descriptions of existing Quaker conflict prevention programs and identification of some models of conflict prevention so that we can describe our work in clear, concise fashion.
Interpretation: How can we more clearly present our work at the various levels, from local to international? How can we make better links between grassroots and policy levels?
Liaisons: Maintaining contact with Eden Grace in her effort to represent Friends with the World Council of Churches, and considering what other people and groups we should reach out to, especially youth.
September 11: Developing a paper on September 11th, and what it means to conflict prevention.
In addition, the practice of sending monthly email updates on relevant issues to the group via an email list maintained at QUNO New York was replaced with the creation of Quaker Prevention Network Listserve, which is hosted through FCNL’s server and managed by QUNO New York.
Finally, African Friends offered to host a 2002 Quaker Prevention Consultation to be held the following Fall in Burundi. This gathering would allow us to review progress and activity over the past year, build on our ongoing connections and efforts, and further expand participation in the network among African Friends and perhaps including participants from the Middle East or Latin America.
In addition to these concrete outcomes, participants acknowledged the intrinsic value in being among a diverse group of Friends – to discuss and share work, to collaborate and vision together, to minister with each other, and to listen for the leadings of the Spirit.
VI: View to the Future
In the Fall of 2002, this emerging network of F/friends from Quaker organizations, Quaker meetings, and other programs will gather again to discuss the work of Friends to prevent violent conflict, to promote peaceful alternatives to armed intervention, and to foster reconciliation and peacebuilding among peoples. They will meet this time in Africa at a consultation organized and hosted by African Friends. They will continue to focus attention on violent conflict and its prevention in Africa, while also perhaps expanding their participation to include Quakers and Quaker organizations from another region of the world (i.e., the Middle East or Latin America). They will likely return to some of the themes of discussion raised in 2000 and 2001, while no doubt new issues and topics will also arise. The framework of activity will be revisited to see what has been achieved, what still needs seasoning, what might need laying down, and what opportunities could be seized for joint activity in the near and long term. Friends who gather will again be renewed, enlightened, and challenged by sharing and laboring together in the Spirit.
We hope annual gatherings will continue in this way for the coming 10-20 years, with communication and collaborative growing and deepening year-round among various pools of participants and within the entire network. We hope our vision of a Quaker Prevention Network will indeed become an active reality, a collaborative network bridging Friends and Friends work to prevent violence and promote peace at the policy and grassroots level, from South to North, and across traditions – linking Friends peacework and supporting a whole that is greater than its individual parts. We hope Friends meetings and organizations will come to recognize, call upon, and empower this network, contributing their own wisdom, experience, and talents to its efforts.
Realizing such a vision, though, will require commitment to a program of action spanning two to three decades, if not longer. We will be challenged to work on God’s time, not our own, and to understand our daily work to heal the devastating effects of war, prevent the outbreak and reoccurrence of violence, and undo the roots of conflict that entrench ourselves and our societies as small steps along a network of paths leading to a common center.
As we embark on this historic endeavor to find a new expression of the historic witness of Friends that God wishes all peoples to learn to live in peace and love with one another. We ask God’s blessing on this work, recognizing that we can only succeed as we are guided by the wisdom of the divine Spirit
Following the first gathering of the Quaker Prevention Network in London, 2000, the organizers of the 2001 consultation had a vision of rotating the annual meetings each year between centers of political power (New York, Washington DC, London, etc.) and regions of conflict (Colombia, Burundi, the Middle East, etc.). We recognized early on, however, that for 2001 we did not have the resources or time to organize an international conference outside of our own organizational locations, New York City and Washington DC. We never could have guessed that by the time of the 2001 consultation, our own cities would have been touched by mass violence. The September 11th terrorist attacks on the U.S. came only a few short weeks before the consultation, knocking out the organizers’ phone and computer lines, disrupting international travel, and opening the door to a new “war against terrorism.”
Just after September 11, faced with the prospect of unforeseen logistical problems or even further terrorist attacks, as well as our own new-found fears, the organizers questioned whether the consultation could go forward and whether the focus could remain on Africa. With assurances from participating Friends that they were willing to make the trip, we agreed that we must go forward as we were able with the gathering. After a brief reflection we also realized that our own recent suffering could not be measured against the suffering of millions of Africans in wars that have ravaged the continent for years. The focus would remain on Africa, with time for discussion of recent events built in as possible.
We were thrilled when Friends arrived from other parts of the U.S., Europe, Canada, and Africa. Despite considerable obstacles, the gathering was happening. What we could not have anticipated, however, was the deep ministry we would receive from our African Friends. Having lived with violence for decades, they knew too well our pain and they spoke to our condition in unexpected ways, during unplanned moments. We are grateful to all who participated in the 2001 consultation for the warmth and wisdom they brought to our discussions and time together. The gift of being among Friends was, for many of us, a shining light amid an ocean of darkness.
Report prepared by
Bridget Moix, Quaker UN Office, New York
Mary Lord, Friends Committee on National Legislation
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