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Virginia University Promotes Peace-Building


Peace-building -- as defined by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan -- is "the process of creating the basic conditions for sustainable peace in war-torn societies," and is one of the principle tasks of the world body. VOA's George Dwyer recently spoke with some prominent – and prospective – peace-building advocates outside Washington, D.C. about their role in helping societies resolve conflict.

After decades of armed conflict, and a dangerous on-going insurgency against its elected government, Afghanistan -- like many other nations -- is looking for ways to promote peace. At George Mason University's Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, outside Washington, D.C., Professor Dennis Sandole and his students are trying to find ways to help.

"We offer insights about relationships between human beings that have gone bad -- so bad that they try to kill each other," said the professor.

This semester, Sandole is conducting a class in Peace building – coaxing his students to examine the specific policies, organizational structures, social and political climates that tend to breed violence. Later they will learn strategies for transforming conflict into cooperation.

"Peace building" interests me just because it approaches what happens after the conflict as well as during, which I think is an important piece of the process,” said one student.

"Since I am from Kenya I thought it is good to take a class on peace building,” said another student. “Kenya has been negotiating for their peace for the last many years."

"It is not just about teaching and grading and reading,” said Sandole, “it is about making them "peace-builders."

Sandole's peace-building class promotes listening, negotiation, and mediation as workable strategies for resolving disputes and avoiding, or stopping, violence. He says the role of "peace-builders" is to facilitate conflict resolution, not impose solutions.

“We should not be doing the work for them,” he said. “For them, the parties to really arrive at something that is going to be sustainable, self-maintaining, they have to come up with it. What we should then do – and this is really an art form more than a science – what we then should do is help them."

The United Nations has promoted peace building throughout its existence. But it was given a new impetus in 2005 when the U.N. Security Council met to discuss the current state of Peace Building in the world today.

Executive Director of the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict, Paul van Tongeren, called for more active measures to promote peace-building activities. "It's intolerable that millions of civilians die from violent conflict at a time when the international community has the knowledge and resources to prevent it.

Today that knowledge and those resources for preventing conflict are being passed on to a new generation of peace-builders in places like Dennis Sandole's class in Northern Virginia.

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