The U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) hosted a roundtable event on December 14 to discuss the integration of the internal displacement issue within the peace process. USIP’s Deborah Isser moderated. The featured speakers were Khalid Koser, the deputy director of the Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement at the Brookings Institution and Donald Steinberg, the vice president for multilateral affairs at the International Crisis Group. Koser began by discussing the importance role that that internally displaced persons (IDPs) issue plays in the peace process. Every human being, Koser said, “has rights grounded in international human rights law and international humanitarian law and states in post-conflict situations have an obligation to protect those rights.” He also argued that it is impossible to plan for peace if IDPs are not taken in consideration in the process. “They could be the ones to end the conflict,” Koser said. If they become political active, he added, IDPs can make decisions for the country’s future and prevent future conflict. Koser identified to three main obstacles to IDPs’ direct participation in the peace process. First: it can be difficult for civilians to take part in the high-level talks that are often held in a peace process. Second: many IDPs are at a disadvantage because of their social identity and background – many are illiterate and belong to an ethnic or religious minority for example – and they are often seen as second-class citizens. Third: international assistance is often lacking and obtaining an accurate picture of the IDP situation is very difficult given data collection impediments. Despite the obstacles, Koser maintained that there are many good examples for how IDPs can meaningfully contribute in the peace process, citing as one the fact that womens groups are often strong and vocal participants. Koser also called attention to complementary strategies for facilitating IDP involvement such as “substitution,” where NGOs bring to the table the information that they gather from IDPs. Steinberg echoed Koser on the point that IDPs have an important role in the peace process. “They are the ones that know what is needed,” he said. “They are aware of the social factors that often are forgotten.” Steinberg also said that few people realize that many things change during a conflict situation. He cited as an example, the fact that when the men go to war women often take on enhanced roles. When the men return, it is often difficult for them to adjust to these new roles. This sometimes leads to divorce and problems such as alcoholism and violence against women, Steinberg said. Because of the reality of circumstances like this, he argued that it is important that international mediators receive trainings on gender issues. Steinberg stressed that international mediators need more power in the beginning of the peace process, adding that having the “men with the guns” “sit down” is the first step in the process. Both of the speakers noted that it is important to work with the local people and teach them how they themselves can change their situation through participation in civil society and the political process.
Labels: Event, Institute of Peace, Internally displaced persons