The need for peacebuilding in post-conflict societies grew out of the realization that signing agreements to bring fighting to an end is a necessary but insufficient step toward true and enduring peace. Peacebuilding is now conceived of as a multistage process to strengthen the peace accord and begin unifying communities through approaches ranging from governmental capacity-building and economic development to reforms of the legal and security sectors. Each initiative is intended to be a step toward improving human security, and the process often includes a transitional justice mechanism to foster societal healing and reconciliation.
Peacebuilding is often a laborious and expensive process—and one that can easily be undone. Witness Brexit’s triggering of the long-dormant fault lines between unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland. Moreover, as peacebuilding has evolved, there is still no consensus on who should lead these efforts. In the wake of Sept. 11, the United Nations introduced a Peacebuilding Commission, intended to push for the adoption of post-conflict interventions and then aid and track their implementation. But it lacks enforcement capacity, and key member states can block its activities. Regional bodies, including the European Union and especially the African Union, have shown an interest in prioritizing post-conflict peacebuilding, but their track records are mixed.
Transitional justice initiatives have a similarly rocky history. Designed to help a society document and reckon with a legacy of human rights abuses, they can take several forms, including criminal trials, a truth commission or a reparations program. Where early initiatives, like the post-World War II trials of German and Japanese war criminals, emphasized criminal justice, more recent efforts have expanded to focus on reconciliation, healing and societal transformation. But including discussions of transitional justice mechanisms in peace negotiations can also present stumbling blocks, particularly when people who might be held accountable by such processes must take part in establishing them. There is also the broader problem of sustaining these efforts in the face of the temptation to leave painful experiences in the past.
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For both peacebuilding and transitional justice initiatives, funding remains a key challenge—and a frequent excuse to stall efforts. The question of who should fund reconstruction is another regular obstacle to peacebuilding. In some cases, consensus over the need for stability drives international funding mechanisms for pledging aid. In other cases, such as Syria, reconstruction funding becomes a new arena for contests over influence and power.
WPR has covered peacebuilding and transitional justice around the world in detail and continues to examine key questions about future developments. Can Colombia get peace talks with its last major rebel group back on track? What lessons can countries draw from success stories, like Liberia, that appear to have successfully pivoted from conflict to peacebuilding? Will a global consensus emerge on who should lead post-conflict peacebuilding efforts and how to manage them? Below are some of the highlights of WPR’s coverage.
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Six months in, Sudan’s internal conflict has become a devastating humanitarian crisis, with tens of millions of people needing assistance. Worse still, neither side in the war is anywhere near ending the fighting. If concerted action is not taken soon to end the conflict, it could result in the collapse of Sudan.
Ending the Fighting
The first step toward building peace is ending war. But while self-evident, it is easier said than done. The mistrust and grievances that led to conflict are often exacerbated during the course of the fighting, making one or both sides unwilling to put down their weapons. Often, too, outside powers seeking to advance their own interests block or undermine efforts to bring the warring parties to the table. And even when peacekeeping forces are deployed to a conflict zone, they are often ineffective. But despite these obstacles, efforts to end conflict are preferable to doing nothing.
- Why ending Sudan’s civil war requires a united civilian coalition, in Only a United Civilian Coalition Can Bring Peace to Sudan
- What’s driving Indonesia’s efforts to broker an end to the war in Ukraine, in Indonesia’s Ukraine Peace Plan Makes Sense—for Indonesia
- Why initial talks to end Ethiopia’s “other war” ended without an agreement to halt the hostilities, in The Tigray War Is Over. Ethiopia’s Conflict in Oromia Is Raging On
- Why the West should take efforts by the Global South to end the war in Ukraine seriously, in Don’t Dismiss Non-Western Efforts to End the War in Ukraine
Making Peacebuilding Sustainable
Peacebuilding involves a suite of initiatives that a range of actors, from the government to civil society organizations, pursue. The idea, ultimately, is to transform the beliefs or systems that sparked violence in the first place. It is generally seen as a three-step process that begins first with basic efforts, like removing weapons, before transitioning to a period of rebuilding.
- Why the reduction in violence in Syria’s civil war has not brought peace, in Assad Has Survived Syria’s Civil War. Syria Might Not
- How flawed narratives about women’s participation in armed insurgencies have lasting post-conflict effects, in It’s Time to Take Women’s Role in Armed Conflict Seriously
- Why violence has returned to the Central African Republic, in Wagner Is Only One Piece in Central African Republic’s Messy Puzzle
- Why Libya’s post-conflict political transition is coming apart at the seams, in Libya’s Two Governments Make for One Intractable Crisis
Promoting Truth, Reconciliation and Transitional Justice
Transitional justice mechanisms can be an essential element of the third dimension of peacebuilding. Just because two warring parties have agreed to silence their guns does not mean they will meaningfully pursue efforts to reckon with atrocities they have committed and consider how—or whether—to hold perpetrators accountable. Efforts to do so in Africa, with regard to recent conflicts, and Latin America, for atrocities committed by authoritarian regimes from the 1960s until the 1980s, have had mixed results when it comes to delivering justice to victims.
- How the fault lines of Peru’s civil conflict are reemerging in its political crisis today, in Peru’s Political Crisis Is Reawakening Echoes of Its Civil Conflict
- How the lack of a true political transition in post-dictatorship Paraguay derailed the pursuit of justice and accountability, in The Specter of Stroessner’s Dictatorship Still Haunts Paraguay
- How Bukele’s “war on gangs” is reawakening painful memories of El Salvador’s civil war, in Bukele’s ‘War on Gangs’ Is Reopening El Salvador’s Civil War Wounds
- Why focusing on charges of genocide might not be the best way to hold Russia accountable for its crimes in Ukraine, in ‘Is Russia Committing Genocide in Ukraine?’ Might Be the Wrong Question
The ICC and Its Discontents
Understanding that not every country is going to be in a position to reckon with human rights abuses—particularly when the people committing those abuses cling to power—the global community created the International Criminal Court. The ICC is designed to provide an alternative outlet for victims seeking justice, but also for securing reparations for the crimes committed against them. But the ICC is currently under fire from skeptics in Africa, who object to the court’s so-far exclusive focus on African defendants. It also drew the ire of officials in the Trump administration who saw it as a threat to U.S. sovereignty.
- Why holding South Sudan’s government accountable for violence against civilians will be an uphill climb, in Could South Sudanese Officials End Up At the ICC?
- Why the ICC’s first indictment of Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes probably won’t be the last, in The ICC Is Just Getting Started on Going After Putin
- Why the ICC’s case against Putin could have unintended consequences, in The ICC Arrest Warrant for Putin Could Do More Harm Than Good
- Why the ICC may be the best hope for Afghan women under Taliban rule, in The Taliban’s Gender Apartheid Is a Case for the International Criminal Court
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in July 2019 and is regularly updated.