The Need to Include the Voices of Internally Displaced Persons in Peace Negotiations

A child of the Embera people, displaced by armed conflict, in Rio Suchio, Colombia. Rio Suchio, Colombia. UN Photo/Mark Garten.

A child of the Embera people, displaced by armed conflict, in Rio Suchio, Colombia.
UN Photo/Mark Garten.

Conflict, whether fought between legitimate state actors or among violent non-state actors, induces different forms of migration. In order to escape targeted killings, forced recruitment, or general violence, individuals and communities will relocate to avoid becoming involved in or a casualty of a conflict. This movement can be prompted instantaneously or be employed as a pre-emptive coping strategy as conflict develops and intensifies. During times of conflict, individuals, families, and communities may relocate to other local communities or to refugee camps, internally relocate to another part of their own country, or cross an international boundary and seek refuge in another country. In addition to how conflict creates displacement, when efforts to resolve a conflict through formal negotiation processes are conducted, it is necessary to include the voices of those who have been displaced in this process.

As the study and implementations of conflict resolution, peace negotiation, and peace implementation have progressed; the need to include a variety of actors has become clearer. Historically, only the leaders of the active warring parties have participated in these negotiations, completely silencing the voices of those who have been harmed and victimized by both sides of the conflict. In order to develop and then implement successfully post-conflict reconstruction efforts and transitional justice programs, it is necessary to have a more holistic understanding of the impact and consequences, and simultaneously, ideas and goals, of the entire population, not just the leaders of the warring parties. The Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement has published a “toolkit” on Integrating Internal Displacement in Peace Processes and Agreements and argues that internally displaced persons can affect the outcome of a peace process and need to have their specific needs and interests met and that this specific population can help create sustainable peace and development initiatives.

Countries such as Iraq, Colombia, Somalia, and Afghanistan have all experienced protracted periods of conflict with both state actors and non-state actors such as Islamic State (formerly ISIS), Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), BACRIMs, and al-Shabaab amongst many others. These conflicts have generated substantial numbers of internal and international displacement and forced local and international agencies to provide protection to those fleeing conflict. This protection comes in forms of refugee camps, social services, legal protection such as asylum or refugee status, and humanitarian aid and assistance. In certain situations, after a conflict has ended or subsided, it is possible for individuals, families, or entire communities to return to their communities and essentially “repatriate.” In the event that repatriation efforts are not possible due to continued conflict or the permanent destruction of livelihoods or communities, individuals may be forced to permanently relocate.

Most frequently, this permanent relocation is from rural areas to urban areas. Entire areas of a city or city outskirt can be constructed by internally displaced persons (IDPs). Ciudad Bolivar, which has since been incorporated into Bogota, Colombia, was in large part founded by IDPs of the armed conflict in Colombia. In some circumstances IDPs are afforded access to services, financial resources, and restitution for being forcibly displaced from their homes. Other times IDPs can benefit from community development projects within their new community. More often, IDPs are forced to adjust to their new living situation and rebuild from scratch.

Conflicts also prompt viable ways to end or resolve active fighting and violence and transition it into a non-violent political or social struggle. An increasing number of prolonged conflicts are turning to peace dialogues and negotiations as a way to end active violence. Countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala, and Israel and Palestine have all engaged in formal peace negotiations to end their respective conflicts. While the movement towards official negotiations is impressive, there needs to be continued efforts to include a variety of actors at the negotiating table so that the proposed peace accord and post-conflict reconstruction efforts can accurately reflect the needs of the country and those who have been adversely affected by the conflict. Including a larger variety of actors also helps ensure that the post-conflict reconstruction efforts can be tangibly implemented with the support of the majority of the state.

In order to incorporate different actors countries have employed a variety of strategies to make sure diverse voices and experiences are heard, but the ability to incorporate the voices of displaced persons has fallen short. For example: in post-Civil War Guatemala numerous interviews were conducted between peasant and indigenous populations to share their experiences during the War, as a way to establish historical memory. Currently, the government of Colombia and the FARC, have been engaging in peace talks in Havana, Cuba and have begun to hear oral and written testimony from different victim’s groups. The intention of bringing different victim’s groups is to demonstrate the multifaceted impacts of the conflict on all different sectors of society, such as on indigenous communities, cattle ranchers, coffee growers, students, and youth groups. Hearing a variety of perspectives and experiences can and should help shape an appropriate, inclusive, and holistic post-conflict reconstruction plan.

Individuals and communities, who have been forcibly displaced because of the internal armed conflict in Colombia, and other countries, should also be given an opportunity for their voices to be heard during peace dialogues or during the establishment of historical memory. Those who have been internally displaced have been affected by the conflict on numerous levels, by being forced to flee their home and family, losing their livelihood, and being forced to adapt to a new geographic location and way of life. Their direct voices should undoubtedly be included during such a process. Oftentimes, IDPs represent the resiliency of individuals and communities and their voices and experiences can bring creativity and ingenuity to defining what the state needs post conflict and the best ways to implement these proposed ideas.

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