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Interpeace: local solutions, lasting peace


A new approach to finding local solutions to armed conflict and to build lasting peace — now being practiced in 15 countries — grew out of a response to a disturbing trend in the early 1990s.

Although the Cold War had ended, new civil conflicts — sometimes extensions of long-simmering ethnic tensions, often involving irregular armies — were on the rise.

“In 1994 there were 65 armed conflicts across the globe,” recalls Matthias Stiefel, the founder of Interpeace — today an international peacebuilding organization. Sending peacekeeping troops to these regions was — at best — a short-term fix, and when ceasefires failed “nobody knew how to stop those countries from falling back into an endless cycle of violence.”

With funding from IDRC, a UN pilot initiative, the War-torn Societies Project, sought durable, locally rooted solutions to the conflicts in four test countries: Somalia, Eritrea, Mozambique, and Guatemala. The goal: bring together credible representatives of rival factions in a “neutral space” to search for solutions acceptable to all parties. The process was later formalized for use in other countries, and a new organization — Interpeace — was born in 2000.

Today, Interpeace facilitates this kind of peace process in 15 countries. With IDRC support, it has also launched a multi-country project to address gang violence in Central America. IDRC also backs Interpeace’s efforts to create guidelines for constitution-building, an essential process for countries emerging from conflict, but one that can reopen old wounds, leading to renewed fighting.

IDRC was visionary in supporting new approaches to ensuring local ownership of the peacebuilding processes. This meant that local people from their own society needed to run the processes rather than the typical approach of flying in a great expert from the north and then leaving. IDRC remains a ‘catalytic’ supporter to this day.

Scott M. Weber, Director-General, Interpeace

In the early 1990s “it became clear that what the international community had been trying to do — imposing solutions — was not going to work. We had to find a way to get all these people who had been fighting each other, at times for generations, to sit together around the table and find some kind of consensus. Peace had to be built from inside these war-torn societies.

Matthias Stiefel, founder of Interpeace

The issues the projects were working on were defined by the stakeholders — all of them Guatemalans. They were not dictated or imposed or suggested by the international community. These projects were always implemented by teams that were 100% Guatemalan. All the project directors, research directors, and advisors were nationals.

Bernardo Arevalo de Leon, Director of Interpeace’s Joint Programme Unit for United Nations/Interpeace Initiatives, on Interpeace-sponsored peacebuilding in Guatemala

See also...

Interpeace: local solutions, lasting peace
Audio slideshow

An international peacebuilding organization

War-torn Societies Project
UNRISD publications, research team, related information

IDRC Digital Library
Search research outputs from the War-torn Societies Project