Community Mediation and Conciliation
Quakers have often been caught up in communities involved in violent conflicts – in Northern Ireland, South Africa, several countries in Central and East Africa, Indonesia and Latin America, amongst others. In many cases they have been able to make a contribution to community reconciliation and to building peace for the future.
Sometimes they have been able to use their ‘good offices’ to bring together those who regard each other as “enemies”, just as Quakers have done in international contexts. In recent years, as well as bringing people together, they have made extensive use of workshop tools such as AVP (Alternatives to Violence), and HROC (Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities).
They have also taken peace-building initiatives, intended to reduce the risk of future conflict. Common examples are peace education, vocational skills development, mediation training (for nonviolent ways of resolving disputes), training in nonviolent direct action (so as to be able to protest peacefully) and democratic education (election preparation and monitoring).
During the apartheid era in South Africa, Hendrik van der Merwe did much to bring the white South African government and the African National Congress together at a time of much violence. He is credited with ‘getting the ball rolling’ that eventually led to democratic government. The Quaker Peace Centre in Capetown works on post-apartheid issues such as strengthening democratic participation, and peace building in schools, and makes considerable use of AVP.
Quakers played a valuable part during ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland. Quaker House in Belfast, established in 1982, was a place where people could meet in safety. It brought many people from both sides together.
The Friends’ community in Palestine has lived through many conflicts. Ramallah Meetinghouse has hosted many community projects over the years, and done what it could to foster peace.
During the Balkans war in the 1990s, Adam Curle developed the concept of ‘peacebuilding from below’ - mobilising local people who wish to resist war and build peaceful communities. He helped to found the Osijek Centre for Peace, Non-violence and Human Rights in Croatia, whose work continues today.
In Kinshasa, capital of DRC, Congolese Quakers set up Project Muinda, where ‘peace cells’ provide training in facilitation, non-violent communication, conflict mediation and resolution, community building, policy dialogue and election observation. In the east of this vast and troubled country, Friends in Goma (North Kivu), and Bukavu (South Kivu), are using AVP and HROC.
After the violence following the 2007 Kenyan elections, Quakers established the Kenya Friends Church Peace Team. There had been much violence in western Kenya, where most Kenyan Friends live. Painstaking reconciliation work, including much use of AVP, eventually enabled many refugees to return home. HROC is now being used too and a new peace curriculum is being implemented in Friends schools. In preparation for the 2013 elections, several Quaker agencies collaborated to minimize the risk of another round of violence, including training in nonviolent direct action and election monitoring. Thanks in part to these efforts, the elections passed remamrkably smoothly.
Friends Peace House in Kigali, Rwanda, founded in 2000, has made much use of AVP and HROC in its work to help reconcile Hutus and Tutsis after the 1994 genocide. They have also used AVP in work with the Twa (a small minority group), and in training judges in community (gacaca) courts. Much peace building work is done in Friends’ schools, which are open to all.
Burundian Quaker Adrien Niyongabo led the development of HROC in Rwanda, and then established it in Burundi, where there had also been Hutu-Tutsi conflict over many years. Quaker David Niyonzima leads THARS (Trauma Healing And Reconciliation Services). The 2010 elections were observed by a Quaker-trained team.
In 2005, in Aceh, Indonesia, a peace accord concluded a long independence struggle with more autonomy for Aceh within Indonesia. A Friends Peace Team of Acehnese and New York Quakers have worked to reconcile the divided community, with much use of AVP. They also work on reducing the likelihood of future conflict, with training in nonviolent direct action, peace education and transformative mediation.
Since 2007,Friends Peace Teams have worked on ‘Peacebuilding en las Américas’in several countries in Central and South America. AVP is being extensively used, and HROC is being increasingly taken up after some Colombian facilitators saw it in action in Burundi.