2,3 June 2014 , New York , United States - Delegates from all corners of the globe were joined by leading academics and UN officials. Ambassadors from Botswana, Sweden, Trinidad and Tobago, as well as Head of the European Delegation to the UN, joined UN representatives from UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) UNESCO, UNDP and from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Vilolence against Women shared panels with academics from Brandeis, Columbia,and Yale as well as experts from the Carter Center and World Vision. These experts shared information and insight on strategies for conflict prevention, which involves inter alia, mediation skills, peacebuilding, rapid and accessible humanitarian assistance, political and military analysis and most of all political will and capability. To this end, experts emphasized the need for a better early warning system and the importance of institution and capacity building.
The first session, Examining Intrastate Conflict and its Causes was led by both UN personnel from DPA, DPKO and a academics from Yale. They analyzed how the UN peacekeeping force works, and how conflict has becoming more internal since the end of the Cold War. Dr. John Pittard pointed how there are two different types of religious conflict: Religious Identity Conflict, where religion is not the driving force in the conflict, however by the end, the conflict has evolved into somewhat of a religious conflict. Secondly, Religious Ideology Conflict is purely based on religious disagreement. Often minority groups are often used as a scapegoat during times societal shocks as they are “morally deficient.”
In session on the delegates learned about the different multilateral and regional tools available for mediation. The UN is inherently more of a conflict prevention organization as its roots and based on this principle and reinforced in Article 33. The EU on the other hand is becoming and ever so important player in this field, with multiple conflict prevention operations around the globe.
The afternoon session of the first day was dominated by the mediation simulation led by Professor Theodore Johnson from Brandeis University. The simulation exercise comprised a mediation of community conflict scenario that Dr. Johnson carried out with the late President Nelson Mandela. The second day started with a session on the consequential tragedies of intrastate conflict, and this included humanitarian assistance and protection of civilians, including women. John Solecki from the High Commission of Refugees shared information on refugee issues in Syria, as well as the growing problem of internally displaced people as a result of conflict.
The second morning session was on Early Warning Systems. Josh Fisher from Columbia University and John McNaboe from the Carter Centre. The former gave a very academic view on the issue, and gave a sound background to the topic. McNaboe on the other hand described the tools applied for visual mapping in Syria and how they have been able to distinguish more than 5600 armed groups thanks to video uploads. While Early Warning used to rely on social media, there is a lot more coordination on the group with local groups and NGO’s.
Before the negotiations simulation led by Beth Fisher-Yoshida from Columbia University, Ufuk Gokcen from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and Viebeke Jensen from UNESCO presented on creating a culture of peace. Governments must focus on preventing conflict, rather than trying to win a conflict. Today the latter is still preferred by local governments, which means conflict prevention lies in the hands of multilateral diplomacy. Issues in Myanmar were mentioned by the OIC, and how Islam both affects and is affected by intrastate conflict. UNESCO on the other hand focuses on education and how there needs to be training for the education pillar to be implemented.
The day and workshop ended with the Negotiation simulation, which was deeply appreciated by the participants. It was in this session and in the mediation exercise that we saw the intelligence of the diplomats present, and how they are the future of conflict prevention.