Over the last decades, the concepts of Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding have developed into academic fields, practical applications and principles of international relations and law. Here is how we understand them.
What is conflict transformation?
Conflict transformation is a concept designed to reframe the way in which peacebuilding initiatives are discussed and pursued, particularly in contexts of ethnic conflict. Traditionally the emphasis has been on conflict resolution and conflict management methods, which focus on reducing or defusing outbreaks of hostility. Conflict transformation, in contrast, places a greater weight on addressing the underlying conditions which give rise to that conflict, preferably well in advance of any hostility, but also to ensure sustainable peace. In other terms, it attempts to make explicit and then reshape the social structures and dynamics behind the conflict, often employing analytical tools borrowed from systems thinking. The very structure of parties and relationships may be embedded in a pattern of conflictual relationships that extend beyond the particular site of conflict. Conflict transformation is, therefore, a process of engaging with and transforming the relationships, interests, discourses and, if necessary, the very constitution of society that supports the continuation of violent conflict.
What is peacebuilding?
Peacebuilding aims at preventing and resolving violent conflict and injustice on a structural and cultural level, before (prevention), during (management or settlement) or after (post-conflict peacebuilding) any given case of violence.
As such, peacebuilding is a multidisciplinary, cross-sector approach which becomes strategic when it works over the long run and at all levels of society to establish and sustain relationships among people locally and globally—thus engendering sustainable peace for all. Strategic peacebuilding activities address the root causes or potential causes of violence, create a societal capacity for peaceful conflict resolution, and stabilize society politically and socioeconomically.
Successful peacebuilding activities create an environment supportive of self-sustaining, durable peace; reconcile opponents; prevent conflict from restarting; integrate civil society; create rule of law mechanisms, and address underlying structural and societal issues. Furthermore, it is most effective and durable when it relies upon local conceptions of peace based on the concept of local ownership.
In 2007, the UN Secretary-General’s Policy Committee defined peacebuilding as follows: “Peacebuilding involves a range of measures targeted to reduce the risk of lapsing or relapsing into conflict by strengthening national capacities at all levels for conflict management, and to lay the foundations for sustainable peace and sustainable development. Peacebuilding strategies must be coherent and tailored to specific needs of the country concerned, based on national ownership, and should comprise a carefully prioritized, sequenced, and therefore a relatively narrow set of activities aimed at achieving the above objectives.”