un site de ressources pour la paix

Iréné est un site de ressources documentaires destiné à favoriser l’échange de connaissances et de savoir faire au service de la construction d’un art de la paix.
Ce site est porté par l’association
Modus Operandi

En librairie

Transformation de conflit, de Karine Gatelier, Claske Dijkema et Herrick Mouafo

Aux Éditions Charles Léopold Mayer (ECLM)


Brussels, novembre 2007

Peace teams: Relationship to local groups, INGOs and GOs working in the regions.

George Willoughby, one of PBI’s founders, admonishes that foreigners cannot know what they can do for a people in conflict. A long-term relationship needs to be formed with groups in a region if intervention is to take place (1).

The necessity of a long-term relationship with groups in a region if intervention is to take place

The forming of this relationship to local groups is often referred to as partnership, but the term has no consistent definition among peace team organisations. It sometimes connotes a formal arrangement with the local group, which includes agreed upon goals and tactics. I use the word in this chapter to indicate a working relationship in which the third party organisation is invited to contribute its energy and expertise and the local organisation is relied upon for insight to the conflict, connections to other groups and leaders, and the personal investment of its members.

Lisa Schirch advises approaching this relationship by asking the following questions:

  • What kind of peace efforts are already going on inside the country? - Who are the non-aligned groups that the teams can work with and empower with moral and practical support?

  • Who are the authentic leaders that might already be involved in efforts towards peace and reconciliation and who will have the authority to provide leadership after the teams have left? (2)

  • Is there broad-based support for intervention among local people who will be working with the invited team (3), clear and shared perception of goals of outside intervention (4), and a common understanding of how and by what means those goals will be achieved (5)?

Schirch proposes empowerment of the leaders locals turn to (which might be traditional leaders such as chiefs, elders and religious leaders) (6) and a multi-track approach to the field with relationships on levels which include government, middle-range actors (religious, ethnic, sectoral leaders and NGO), and grassroots (Indigenous NGO, community developers, women’s associations, local religious, health, municipal and business leaders and refugee camps) (7).

Partnership to local groups has direct bearing on non-partisanship. Placing volunteers with a local group means that you are working for them–any claim on non-partisanship would be misleading. This becomes even more complicated when “formal” partnership is established and yet the project seeks to remain somewhat independent. Some organisations have decided against having a local partner (or at least a single local partner) in order to avoid identification with one side (e.g. Pax Christi in Herzegovina) (8).

There are four models of ‘having local partners’ (9):

  • a) International volunteers are placed with the local group, working for them as their international volunteer. Examples: most projects of the Austrian Peace Services, Pax Christi (one volunteer with church community in Columbia), BPT-France plans to do the same in Kosovo/a (10).

  • b) With a formal local partner, but volunteers bring their own (an ‘extra’) project. This could be done in two ways:

    • 1) with a formal invitation but carried out as independent work (as BPT and PBI)

    • 2) as a partner with whom a project is then developed (typical for German CPS, and especially for German development services.) (11)

  • c) With no single partner but with a developed relationship to a network of groups. Example, Pax Christi in Herzegovina. Reason: Having one partner (as required by law in order to get government funding under the CPS scheme) would be detrimental for mediation work because it would place PC with one of the ethnic groups. Therefore, PC made its own locally registered office the formal ‘partner’ and works with a variety of groups.

  • d) Formation of a network of mutually supportive partner organisations, which includes both local and third party groups

Witness for Peace practices the third kind of partnership, with a network of local groups. They have maintained a practice of working closely with local groups in each country they have entered, and their intervention goals develop from contacts with religious communities and government officials (12). One of the factors of their success, according to Ed Griffin-Nolan, is the emphasis on development of partner relationships with local people and agencies (13). These include organisations that do educational and religious work, regional and local task forces concerned with Central America, and the Inter-religious Task Force on Central America.

BPT worked on peacebuilding with a variety of local groups. One service valued by the local groups was helping them keep in touch with each other. BPT found it problematic to be asked by embassies and donors about the groups they worked with; so “an informal policy was made that we would not recommend any groups but give a neutral answer that was honest.” (14)

Sandra van den Bosse reports that local appreciation of BPT was spotty; “We were not appreciated by all at all times.” (15) A very positive evaluation of Balkan Peace Team’s work comes from Albanian and Serbian activists in the region. Ymer Jaka, a leader of the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms stated: “If reconciliation is going to happen, the work of the Balkan Peace Team must continue and be strengthened."(16)

Christian Peacemaker Teams, in Hebron, has worked closely with the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions and the Palestinian Land Defense Committee on the issue of the demolition of Palestinian homes by Israeli authorities. CPT also engages in non-violent actions with Israeli peace groups such as Gush Shalom and Rabbis for Human Rights. Any slight claim they have to non-partisanship is helped by the affiliation with Israeli groups while living in solidarity with Palestinians. CPT does not have formal partnerships, but works with local groups who share their desire for nonviolent pursuit of justice.

Local groups report that they respect the CPT team and feel encouraged to keep up the work because of their presence. In Chiapas it was harder to gain good rapport with local groups simply because there are so many NGOs working there. “Now we have gained respect”, says Claire Evans. “Though some groups think we’re too weird; that our public nonviolent actions are too scary.” (17)

Peace Brigades International has a unique partner relationship with the groups it accompanies, e.g. returning refugees, human rights groups or labour movement. They have been practitioners of multi-track entrance to the field since their first year in Guatemala, which they spent “visiting rural farmers, clandestine contacts, and government and military officials, introducing themselves and feeling things out.” They were determined above all, to take the lead from local groups. (18)

SIPAZ, as an international coalition, has Latin American member organisations, a Mexican woman on the Board of Directors and a local team leader in Chiapas. This helps with the issues of outside intervention. SIPAZ is usually viewed by local organisations as “cautious”, according to Director Poen. He believes they find this caution comforting in the beginning, perhaps allowing them to enter into a relationship with less fear. The SIPAZ team strives to develop affiliations with every level and category of organisation.

The Michigan Peace Team was in Chiapas at the invitation of the Delores Hildalgo community, which sought internationals to be present but absolutely covert so armed factions wouldn’t know when they were there and when they were not. “Each community we went to was a community that invited us. That’s foundational.” Extending the invitation is a risk to the communities in and of itself in a counterinsurgency situation. The difficulty is that it doesn’t stay clear what they invited you to do and what you came to do. “An invitation doesn’t protect you from the opinion that you shouldn’t be there.” (19)

Being sufficiently clear about the relationship with local groups is a challenge all intervention teams face. Teams have had to learn how be very explicit in describing their mission and goals in order to avoid misunderstanding and false expectations. All have had the experience of discovering that the local people thought they would bring money or material aid, that they would work for them (doing translations or driving people around), that they were missionaries (20) or U.S. spies (21).

Working closely with local organisations is essential to all the teams. They would no doubt share the basis for an evaluation Dave Bekkering made about BPT, “The future of Otvorene Oci depends on the length of time domestic NGOs think they need its support.” (22) Intervention decisions are best made within relationship. This is the strength of third party “outsider” but at the same time an inhibitor. An example might be made of the Delores Hildalgo community decision that MPT volunteers should be covert in their movements from village to village. If peace team experience is that tactics of presence and accompaniment depend on visibility for effectiveness, does this wisdom take precedence over the wishes of a local partner? Will the partner agree? Is the partner perhaps right, bringing judgement on specifics of the local situation unknown to the team? CPT Director Stoltzfus draws the line at risk. “We as outsiders can and should make the decision about the amount of risk we are willing to face based on advice we choose to listen to, recognising that the final responsibility for the decision is ours.” (23)

Relationship to other INGOs and GOs working in the region

Following a time of armed conflict, a region is sometimes inundated with international NGOs, perhaps tripping over fresh grant money and one another as they try to help locals get back on their feet. This less often true before or during the escalation of violence, but it remains important for INGOs and GOs to co-operate and allow one another to utilise the special skills each brings.

The organisations studied and other compatible INGOs usually support one another’s work. WfP works with SIPAZ, Mennonites, AFSC, and the Interreligious Task Force on Central America. PBI entered Sri Lanka with the help of Quaker Peace Service and other INGOs (24). SIPAZ co-ordinates its work in Chiapas with CPT, WfP, and Michigan Peace Team and will accompany the relief caravans of INGOs. Osijek teams work in good relationship with INGOs from Norway, US and Sweden and partners with Austrian Peace Services (25).

Often it takes more than one INGO to get a job done, as can be seen in the case of protection for Selvakumar in Sri Lanka. The ICRC visited him in prison and documented his case; Amnesty International in London contacted PBI and suggested a visit; a Sri Lankan human rights organisation arranged a meeting between PBI and Selvakumar, and Amnesty International sent out an Urgent Action appeal. This sort of information-sharing and task-sharing is a typical activity among INGOs like PBI and Amnesty International (26). Likewise, in order to monitor Sri Lanka’s election in 1994, two domestic coalitions joined with a third group made up of PBI and two other INGOs (27).

CPT’s use of civil disobedience sometimes keeps them a bit separate from other INGOs and definitely suspect to GOs. Some international groups want to keep their distance from CPT for fear of being lumped in with the activist team when dealing with immigration officials (28).

CPS in the Balkans strives for co-operation by simultaneously making contacts for logistical and security reasons, for goodwill, and for pursuit of program goals (29). Examples include participation in NGO meetings, attendance at security briefings, checking passports and registration with UN/ KFOR/ OSCE, arranging for mail delivery via the German army (ForumCPS in Kosovo/a), registration for evacuation lists with KFOR/ SFOR. These early contacts would also include registration with embassies for any of several reasons: protection, because the embassies might be asked to give information on the project if a government is asked for funding, or because volunteers are COs doing alternative service.

Witness for Peace actively seeks meetings with governmental and international organisations for both long-term teams and delegations. This has been so from their beginning, as can be seen in early work along the Nicaragua/ Honduras border. At that time they met with government figures Ernesto Cardenal, Sergio Ramirez, and Interior Minister Tomas Borge and with Daniel Ortega, head of the governing junta (30). WfP finds that governmental organisations are sometimes more willing to meet with them because of their outspoken policy against advising locals on how to govern themselves. This policy of non-interference does not guarantee amicable relations with governmental organisations, however, if they depend on U.S. connections for money or military and WfP has taken a stand against the U.S. foreign policy that provides it (e.g. paramilitary in Colombia).

SIPAZ volunteers visit embassies, political offices, and leaders of military groups. Their mission involves relationship on as many levels as possible and with as many groups as possible. One thing the team will do for government officials is arrange meetings and visits for them, for example a visit last year for the Undersecretary of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of Great Britain into rural areas of Chiapas (31).

The work and presence of Osijek teams is tolerated by governmental authority but sometimes seen with suspicion (especially under Tudjman government). A good relationship exists with OSCE and UNHCR. For example, in order to begin work in Berak and Popovac, the Peace Team made arrangements with the National Committee for Trust Rebuilding, municipality authorities, and OSCE (32). BPT utilised the Refugee Protection Working Group meetings provided by the United Nations High Commissioner on a bi-weekly basis, which provided networking and sharing of resources with other NGOs.

Like every other action in the field, affiliations with other organisations must be based on careful analysis of that group’s relation to other actors and to the conflict. An example of this would be BPT’s decision in Croatia to remain distant from UN and European monitors because they were despised by locals; BPT did not, therefore, use UN cars or carry their passports around openly. In another situation, that relationship might be quite different. Case by case analysis is urged here. Good relations to the international military might be helpful in a practical sense, but will certainly affect the perceived identity of the group.

Good connections in this international scene can clearly make program goals possible. They have the additional benefit of making it possible, when appropriate, to introduce one’s local partners to INGOs which will be helpful to them. Then again, perhaps familiarity with the operations of INGOs and GOs might reveal that these groups do not act in the interest of conflict resolution and justice. Then the opportunity and responsibility for whistle-blowing will present itself. (For example Pax Christi criticism of OHR for not implementing the requirements of the Dayton agreement quickly enough). (33)


  • (1) : Schirch 1995: 16

  • (2) : Schirch 1995: x

  • (3) : Schirch 1995: ix

  • (4) : Schirch 1995: iii

  • (5) : Schirch 1995: iv

  • (6) : Schirch 1995: x

  • (7) : Lederach, John Paul in Schirch 1995:1 pp.

  • (8) : Schweitzer interview with Weber, 4/01 and Wilmutz, 3/01

  • (9) : Outlined by Christine Schweitzer

  • (10) : See “Exploration Mission Report to BPT members from Pierre Dufour (BPT France), Tanya Spencer (BPT-Coordinating Committee ) to Kosovo/a, 2.-114.March 2001

  • (11) : See Schwieger 2000

  • (12) : Schirch 1995: 17

  • (13) : Griffin-Nolan in Moser-Puangsuwan/Weber 304

  • (14) : van den Bosse - interview with author

  • (15) : van den Bosse, Sandra - interview with author

  • (16) :

  • (17) : Evans - interview with author

  • (18) : Mahony / Eguren 1997: 16

  • (19) : Heid, John - interview with author

  • (20) : Weishaupt 2000

  • (21) : Schweitzer, verbal information

  • (22) : Bekkering in Moser-Puangsuwan / Weber 2000: 206

  • (23) : Gene Stoltzfus, verbal information

  • (24) : Coy 1997: 131

  • (25) : Hämmerle, Peter - interview with Christine Schweitzer

  • (26) : Coy 1997: 157, 158

  • (27) : Coy 1997: 168ff (For this event, the sensitive relationships between NGOs and INGOs was made easier because PBI chose not to monitor the election but to accompany the local monitoring teams and observe the degree of freedom they had to conduct their polls watch.)

  • (28) : Evans - interview with author

  • (29) : verbal information from Schweitzer, see appendix to 2.2

  • (30) : Griffin-Nolan in Moser-Puangsuwan / Weber 2000

  • (31) : SIPAZ Report, February 2001: 12

  • (32) : Culture of Peace. Osijek, 1/2001: 22

  • (33) : Weber - interview with Schweitzer