How to Transform Conflict?: A note from 20th School of Peace and Conflict Transformation

Illustration. – On February 26th, Boothan Verawongse, Secretary-General of the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) and Secretary-General of the Campaign Committee for Human Rights (CCHR), talked about his experience as a human rights activist in the ASEAN region and presented the legal framework of human rights.

In the afternoon, an interactive mid-term evaluation exercise was organized in order to collect the first impressions and recommendations of the participants on the training. Globally, the participants were satisfied. Other participants required more pieces of training on the topic of Conflict Transformation.

In the evening, a cultural night was organized. This event gave a glimpse of the cultural richness of the countries that were represented. For the occasion, the classroom was transformed into a dance area and, on the side, a table was covered with international delicacies.

On February 27th, the participants gave a 15 minutes presentation in groups. The presentation was based on different texts that had been assigned at the beginning of the training. The topics of the presentations were the following:

  • Patriarchy.
  • Islamophobia.
  • The Majority-Minority Nexus.
  • Militarization.
  • Hegemony, Justice and Peace.
  • Intercultural and Inter-religious Dialogue.

On February 28th, the participants had a free day. Some of them went to Pattaya and some others to Ayutthaya.

On February 29th, the session was designed to give an overview of conflict transformation and to introduce elements of conflicts to the participants. In this activity, the fire was used as a metaphor to illustrate conflict.

In the early stage, which can be called ‘Potential Conflict’, materials for the fire are collected. Some of these materials are drier than others. Materials for the fire can be identified as factors potentially contributing to a breakout of violence, for example, unjust structures, inequality, and violation of human rights. It should be noted here that materials do not always lead to a burning fire. If underlying problems in society are properly addressed and satisfyingly solved, then peace prevails.

In the second stage or ‘Confrontation’, a match is lit and the fire begins to burn. Usually, a confrontation between conflicting parties, like a large public demonstration, serves as the match, which quickly ignites the dry and ready-to-be-burned materials.

In the third stage called ‘Crisis’, the fire burns as far and fast as it can, burning wildly out of control. During this stage, the conflict reaches a crisis and, just like the fire, conflict consumes the materials fuelling it.

In the fourth stage or ‘Potential for Further Conflict’, after some time, the fire abates, the flames largely vanish and just the coals continue to glow as most of the fuel is burnt up. At this stage, conflicts can either continue to burn themselves out or, if new fuel is added, can re-ignite. Overt violence usually cycles between periods of increased fighting and relative calm. If peace accords are signed, then the violence usually decreases at least temporarily. However, if the causes of structural violence and injustices are not addressed then overt violence often increases again.

In the fifth stage called ‘Regeneration’, the fire is finally put out and even the embers are cool down. At this stage, it is time to focus on other things besides the fire, and to rebuild and help regenerate what was lost. If the injustice of structures and systems are adequately addressed, there will be space for reconciliation, regeneration and renewal.

Other handouts on ‘The Who, What, and How of Conflict’ were also distributed. In it, an explanation of the main elements of conflict was given. The Who of Conflict describes parties involved in a conflict and their relationships. Parties are of primary, secondary levels as well as only stakeholders. Relationships between these parties can be good or broken as well as of alliance, tension or conflict. The “What” of conflict was described metaphorically as a tree.

Root causes of conflict are underlying under the soil. The core problems are the trunk and the main support of the tree. The effects of the conflict were like the many branches and leaves of the tree. The “How” of conflict identifies the factors that escalate or continue the conflict and the factors that transform or resolve the conflict. Factors supporting continuation or escalation may include, for instance, exploitation of natural resources under cover of war and violence, poverty, or history of previous violence between parties. Factors supporting transformation or resolution may include, for example, peace processes, community development efforts in war-affected regions, trading relationships that carry on across divided communities despite ongoing war, or groups of people working actively to encourage tolerance and peace.

Finally, the participants divided into groups of two persons and were invited to prepare to represent a specific group (media, corporations, school, church…) that could possibly attempt against the right of a child. After the preparation of talking points, each group underlined how their actions could increase the child’s vulnerability.