Local UN group pushes conflict resolution scheme

by Shirley Thomas
Guyana Chronicle
October 24, 2000

A LOCAL non-governmental organisation feels conflict here can be reduced at the national level once peace is maintained in the individual communities.

But it sees the justice system as "inadequate, and in many instances unable to resolve many of the disputes" which continue to haunt the country.

The United Nations Association of Guyana (UNAG) which promotes awareness of the United Nations and encourages understanding of and adherence to the principles and ideals of the United Nations Charter, supports a pro-active approach to conflict resolution.

It sees "prevention" as being better than "cure".

UNAG has said that while Guyana continues to be disrupted by social, ethnic and political conflicts, which ultimately "waste resources and destroy lives", the answer lies in charting a peace course through the establishment of "community peace councils".

"In no country in the world can people benefit from constant conflict and confrontation. Violence must be replaced by peace.

"There can be no development without peace," said Dr Martin Boodhoo, Chairman of the Economic and Social Committee.

His call came at a community peace project seminar UNAG sponsored Saturday at the Guybernet Training Centre in Georgetown.

Held under the theme: `Working together for progress', the seminar brought together some 30 participants from community development, religious, youth and other non-governmental organisations.

The seminar aimed to sensitise the public - particularly youths - to the importance of "peace" in their communities, while giving them an understanding of the nature of "conflict", and gearing them to effectively map out strategies aimed at conflict resolution.

The project places a high premium on reducing the risk and rate of violence within communities; educating and encouraging people to live in more secure communities; emphasising the need for harmony among Guyanese communities, and persuading such communities to accept responsibility for maintaining peace.

The scheme will also allow people, organisations and institutions within these communities to establish and develop procedures for peaceful solutions to problems.

It was made possible through a grant from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) in June.

The grant is to "fund a project which will expand and reinforce peace promotion initiatives with the eventual objective of establishing Community Peace Councils in several local communities."

It was provided out of a "peace-building" fund monitored by CIDA'S International Humanitarian Assistance Division.

Officials of UNAG said the body, supported by CIDA, will work to promote peaceful resolution of conflicts and the peaceful settlement of disputes, in keeping with the principles and ideals of the United Nations Charter.

Saturday's seminar was declared open by CIDA Head of Aid, Mr Kamogi Wachiira, while UNAG's President, Justice Donald Trotman gave the participants a background to the project.

Other resource persons included Boodhoo; Mr Trevor Benn, Director of Guybernet; consultants, Mr Harry Dyett and Mrs Marieanne Cholmondely; Mr Gordon Payne and Mr Hubert Hyman - lecturers at the University of Guyana; Mr Ramkissoon Maharaj, Attorney-at-Law; and rapporteur Ms Eileen Quamina.

UNAG said it has over the past three years been promoting programmes for Guyanese children and adults on the need to settle disputes among themselves in a peaceful manner.

Discussions have so far been held with schools, community service organisations, religious groups, political and social leaders, and with established non-governmental organisations.

Georgetown was used as a case study as a municipality "rife with conflict".

Participants examined:

** the main causes of interpersonal and organisational conflict;

** the role of the peace council functionaries in resolving conflict;

** suggestions for solving the various problems identified.

Coming out of the seminar, peace council members will be chosen and receive further training in the basic concepts and techniques of mediation, conciliation and other methods of resolving conflict.

Trotman noted that "over the past ten years or so, Georgetown has grown considerably, by attracting a constant rural/urban drift", becoming the "hot spot" of conflicts.

He said that very often there is interpersonal "fighting" and sometimes even "in-fighting" at the organisational level, rather than getting on with the common purpose of the organisation.

Referring to the seminar, he said: "We are here to develop a culture of peace, because if we can't settle disputes among ourselves peacefully, how will we settle them with our neighbours?"

He added: "If they know that we can't settle our own disputes, they are going to take advantage of that and exploit our own vulnerability."

"We can't wait for disputes to happen then call in high level delegations to settle them at the national level," Justice Trotman affirmed.

Examining approaches to be taken to bring about a settlement of disputes in our various communities, so that people's lives would not become "consumed" in violence, he said, "We felt that starting at the level of the people, and not the government would be a good starting point."

Children in schools, youths in their various oganisations, and people in the communities, are the best focal points, he said.

Wachiira who hails from Nairobi, Kenya, said that based on past experiences, he can affirm that "Prevention is the way to go."

"The best thing is not to try to stop conflict after things have broken down, the best thing is - before," he said.

"It is the small step that matters, not at the macro level, but at the micro level", he advised.

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