Colombia is undergoing a historic transition. Following the 2016 peace agreement with the FARC, the last open conflict in the Latin America region has concluded, signalling not only optimism for Colombia but also for the region as a whole. It seemed as such the ideal place for the Foundation to bring together different stakeholders from the Latin American and Caribbean region for a dialogue on the concept of sustaining peace.
Organised together with the Igarapé Institute, the event was an opportunity to think about local leadership and the role of external actors, including the United Nations, in effectively promoting peace and wellbeing in Latin America. The consultation gathered stakeholders working on different aspects of conflict prevention, resolution, and peacebuilding from diverse sectors in the region including civil society, government, the UN, and academia.
“This consultation demonstrates that partnership is crucial to sustaining peace and that is why we need to hear from all stakeholders,” said Miroslav Lajčák, President of the UN General Assembly, during a video message shared at the opening of the event. “Although Latin America has no open conflict, it has its own vulnerabilities and trigger points. But it has also produced some pioneering initiatives to prevent these from spilling out into conflict. We need to learn from that.” Mr. Lajčák also noted that the best practices and ideas identified during the consultation will feed into the High Level Meeting on Sustaining Peace, which he will host in New York in April.
On the concept of sustaining peace
Although participants generally agreed that sustaining peace is highly relevant to the region, several qualifications were made with respect to the concept—as well as the related idea of conflict prevention, and how the two are related within the Latin American context. It was noted by some, for example, that although wars in the traditional sense (both inter-state and intra-state) have been all but eradicated across the region, Latin Americans do not live in peace due security issues, underdevelopment, and human rights violations.
Discussions focused on the need to differentiate between direct prevention, which addresses conflict that is about the break out or escalate, and indirect prevention, which addresses the root causes of conflict. In Latin America, innovative mechanisms such as the use of guarantor states and a sophisticated interlocking web of subregional organisations have successfully been developed for direct prevention. However, there is need for more systematic and comprehensive approaches to address underlying causes of social conflict, such as large-scale corruption, organised crime, environmental degradation, and persistent poverty and social inequality.
Participants also noted that, given sensitivities around the concept of conflict prevention, the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) may be viewed as a strategic starting point for advancing sustaining peace in the region. At the same time, the sustaining peace vision should not be seen as contiguous with the 2030 Agenda, both because the former should aim for a longer timespan, and because it will entail dealing with elements that are not necessarily captured within the SDGs.
Strengthening the UN architecture
The review of the UN peacebuilding architecture carried out in 2016 underscored that the peace and security, development, and human rights pillars of the organisation must be more coherently linked. This new approach, reinforced by the holistic nature of the SDGs, requires the UN to overcome the pervasive fragmentation within the system and get agencies, programs, and funds to work in more integrated ways.
Participants underscored that for this to work in individual countries in Latin America UN entities must operate in pursuit of shared strategic objectives established in close collaboration with the local government. Joint analyses and planning can enable a more comprehensive and ultimately effective approach to supporting governments and other stakeholders in country.
At the same time, national leadership must be understood and respected as a cornerstone of sustaining peace. This requires that the UN’s relationships with government, civil society, regional organisations and the private sector are repositioned with stronger focus on the organisation’s normative role and efforts at strengthening local capacities.
In contexts where local leadership remains weak, the UN system should support capacity-building at all levels as well as help enable the creation and maintenance of inclusive dialogue spaces that that penetrate beyond elite circles into communities at the most local level. While inclusion of and dialogue with organised criminal groups is controversial and raises challenging questions, it warrants thorough consideration.
Transforming UN funding and financing
Participants argued that innovative partnerships with the UN are key to advancing the sustaining peace vision, and that Latin America has a few positive examples that may serve as sources of inspiration elsewhere. In Guatemala, the UN Peacebuilding Fund has experimented with joint assessments and consultations with civil society, transitioning from a “split the pie” approach to a more integrated UN support that focused more sharply on nationally defined priorities.
In Colombia, the Multi-Partner Trust Fund (MPTF) was established early on for fast-tracking and harmonising the implementation of key components of the peace agreement signed between the government and the FARC. In addition to being designed around clear priorities (for instance, through the agreements and the Peacebuilding Priority Plan), the MPTF has generated a governance mechanism to avoid duplication and to promote dialogue among external actors involved in Colombia.
Latin American innovations
Despite the region’s vulnerabilities and challenges, several innovations and achievements were noted by participants. These include the establishment of a nuclear non-proliferation zone in the region; the development of a complex network of bilateral and multilateral arrangements that promote peace and development through integration; and a tradition of peaceful resolution of conflicts that runs the gamut from government to negotiations to local forms of mediation involving civil society, youth, women, and indigenous groups.
The initiative led by the Kroc Institute (the Barometer program) to monitor the implementation of the 2016 peace accord between the government and the FARC was highlighted as a noteworthy effort to increase accountability and transparency in post-agreement peacebuilding. Participants suggested its preventive effects and may serve as inspiration even beyond the region.
Participants also noted that Latin America is an active contributor to international peace and security both within and outside the region, for instance by contributing troops, police and civilians to peacekeeping operations, or by playing key roles in normative debates about conflict prevention. Latin America should as such not just be viewed as region striving to implement sustaining peace but should also be considered a player in promoting this vision globally.