Brussels, November 2007
When has nonviolence failed? Some concluding thoughts
When failure of nonviolence results in the deaths or injuries of protesters or accompaniers, there are two important questions to ask:
1) Were there rules of engagement that required the armed perpetrators to pull the triggers? If so, what were those rules?
2) Was there panic among the perpetrators of violence, or provocation by demonstrators, whether intentional or not?
In the cases above, there was perhaps one instance where nonviolence training and a disciplined movement may have prevented violence. Before the Sharpeville Massacre, the police felt threatened, with 300 of them surrounded by 5,000 demonstrators. One scuffle, followed by the crowd surging forward, was enough to cause the police to begin shooting, though no order to do so was given.
In the cases of the White Rose, the killing of the US nuns, the Santa Cruz massacre, and the Timosoara massacre, nonviolence training might not have prevented the killings. Because their rules of engagement called for killings, the perpetrators would not have been deterred, even by 100 per cent nonviolent behaviour by the demonstrators or protesters. In the Santa Cruz massacre, Allan Nairn shouted “America, America” and Amy Goodman showed of her U.S. passport. Those two acts may have saved the lives of the two journalists. But the presence of journalists from the West was not enough to deter the Indonesian troops from firing on the crowd.
For the third party nonviolent interventions, better training and organization would certainly have helped the World Peace Brigade, and possibly could have made Mir Sada a success. If the organizers had other witnesses - perhaps a convoy of large numbers of observers present - the killings of the US nuns and the three civil rights workers might have been prevented.
Such actions may well have helped. But in the end, there is no guarantee that saying the right words and taking just best action will always prevent violence.
What this means for the future large scale civilian intervention projects is that:
1) Before any nonviolent intervention, there must be thorough evaluation of the likelihood of whether the rules of engagement of the armed parties requiring killings, even in the face of international opposition. If the rules approve killing in nonviolent situations, using nonviolent means to prevent killing will not work unless the intervenors - those in the crisis area and the group’s leaders - are willing to take a high risk of being killed, or possibly even to take that risk of being killed and send in more intervenors after the first group was slaughtered.
2) For any nonviolent intervention to work, there must be thorough training by the local group of its members in nonviolent behaviour. The wrong signals sent to the army, the police, or militias by a crowd could panic those with guns and cause them to fire.
3) Individual members of a nonviolent intervention team must be carefully selected for success in nonviolence, and must have training that goes far beyond merely being an unarmed bodyguard. Karen Ridd’s experience in El Salvador, and that of the PBI team in Colombia, where armed police raided a human rights group and demanded passports and cell phones, are clear cases where skilful, persuasive, well-trained team members are required to prevent setbacks, and even to prevent killings.