Far from great peace conferences, absent from international media, almost forgotten by the world public opinion, several countries are in situations where violence is experienced every day. In Yemen, Western Sahara, Kashmir, Democratic Republic of Congo and more, populations are not in a state of war, yet they do not know peace. We thus have to enlarge our conception of what peace is: more than an absence of conflict, peace allows the transformation and articulation of these conflicts with democracy and human rights in order to create a constructive “living together”.
Militaries, diplomats or members of civil society organizations talk about “low intensity conflicts”, “latent”, “dormant”, “absence of conflict” or even “forgotten conflicts”. But none of them talks about peace when, in those countries, weapons are detonated almost every day, women are raped, or children are scared to go to school. Can we say that Parisians are living in peace in their “cité” when drugs are everywhere, fights and racketeering are frequents and when mothers will not let their daughters go out after nightfall? These continuing situations of violence are very often developing where governments are not strong enough to maintain a constant order, but it could also happen in our neighborhoods. These situations are said to imply “non-state actors”… which basically means everybody.
Here is the heart of the issue which is also what makes its universality: the ability to “live together” rests on the responsibility of everyone. The thug or the bully who is humiliating his junior is as much responsible for the deterioration of his daily life as the Congolese rebel; a father passing rumors and stereotypes on to his children is as much guilty as a Taliban of the degradation of society’s well-being; a husband mistreating his wife is as much reprehensible for darkening the future of his pairs. The violence is maybe not the same everywhere, but the dynamics and its consequences are identical.
The ability to “live together” rests on the responsibility of everyone
However, this does not mean that we have to avoid every conflict. A conflict can be positive and constructive. It can create bonds and common values if it is non-violent. Conflict is not the opposite of peace because it exists in every single human society. It is even the basis and principal characteristic of democracy. Actually, living in democracy means constantly disagreeing, debating, being different and thinking differently. Violence, on the contrary, often expresses itself when people find themselves powerless or in situation of weakness. Especially when confronting points of view in a dialogue does not appear as a solution.
Thus, concepts of peace and democracy are intertwined and interdependent: peace is characterized by the individuals or groups’ ability to live together despite their differences. Here, democracy is understood in a wider perspective: living together implies social justice and law enforcement, “without distinction of any kind” say the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Respecting human rights in their wider understanding is a way to create the conditions for living together. Peace and human rights are thus inseparable.
With such a conception of peace and its links with democracy and human rights, we can now better understand how many violent conflicts there are worldwide. We also realize that they will hardly be efficiently addressed and resolved with international conferences or UN resolutions, etc. Moreover, it is a daily effort on mentalities and perceptions: promoting dialogue instead of shouting, looking for a common solution instead of dictating its own one, listening and respecting the other in a cooperative problem-solving dynamic, etc. Easy to say but not always to do, especially when we are sure to be right and fair (and we are always convinced to be right and fair, aren’t we?). This is not a one day job, but should be an everyday experience. Unfortunately, politicians and other “mediators”, are not always going in that direction in the media when they arrive with already-made solutions. Of course, it is more “sexy” to talk about peace and to invest in efforts that are obvious – and when international delegations arrive in Geneva, it is really obvious – than strengthening local daily efforts by daily small actions. Some NGOs, like the association Eirene Suisse, have well understood this and are quietly working to support these efforts. But they should not be left alone.