Peacemaking and peace-building in Guyana Viewpoint
By Dr Martin Jagdeo Boodhoo
Guyana Chronicle
July 8, 2002

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ONE of the major challenges, possibly the most demanding challenge, the world over, is how to manage conflict. In whatever geographical area you look, one encounters the polarisation of views, violence and the quest for power. If this trend is not contained, mankind runs the risk of creating more and more divisions and disasters.

In this Viewpoint, I wish to examine the urgent need for the exploration of a common wavelength of mutual respect and understanding between people of differing views and so court Reconciliation in order to enjoy peaceful co-existence. In this regard, I shall focus on the efforts being made by the United Nations Association of Guyana (UNAG) to promote the peaceful resolution of conflicts and the pacific settlement of disputes in keeping with the principles and ideals of the United Nations Charter.

The United Nations Association of Guyana (UNAG) during the past four years has been promoting programmes for Guyanese adults and children on the need and advantages of avoiding conflicts and settling disputes peacefully by way of organised community efforts rather than resorting to the formal judicial system which more often than not is costly, inadequate and unable to resolve conflicts expeditiously. This process otherwise known as “Alternative Dispute Resolution” (ADR) has been practised by communities, especially rural communities, for centuries in many parts of the world. The underlying rationale is that the responsibility for maintaining stability and peace, mutual understanding and cordial social relationships should be undertaken by members of the respective communities rather than depending totally on the institutions of the state. This approach is not only relevant but also realistic in the case of Guyana, which has been disrupted in recent years, by social, ethnic and political conflicts.

It is universally accepted that there can be no meaningful socio-economic development without stability and peace. With this objective in mind, UNAG has been involved in the setting up of Community Peace Councils in a number of areas in Guyana since the launching of the Community Peace Project in August 2000.

The Project is supported by a grant provided out of a “Peace building Fund” monitored by the International Humanitarian Assistance Division of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). As at June 2002, I am pleased to say that Ten Peace Councils have been established in various coastal areas of Guyana complementing three Councils, which were established prior to the initiation of the Project.

In a nutshell, the basic aims and purpose of the Peace Councils are:

(a) To provide a framework of peacemaking through the active involvement of the parties concerned with the support and assistance of Peace Councillors who endeavour to resolve disputes and conflicts by such methods as negotiation, facilitation, conciliation, mediation or arbitration; and

(b) To promote peace-building through various community activities, such as sports and games, literary activities, joint public celebrations, self-help projects, etc., in order to enhance cohesion in social relationships.

The peacemaking procedures help citizens to resolve their differences with the aid of trained peacemakers, while the peace-building process assist communities to maintain harmony, sustain a culture of peace; and build trust, understanding, care and concern for other people’s problems and rights as well as respect for differing opinions.

A typical Peace Council is concerned with settling conflicts and disputes within the community, reducing the risk and rate of violence, educating and encouraging its inhabitants to live peacefully, emphasising the importance of harmony in the community, persuading individuals, groups and organisations to accept responsibility for stability and peace in the community and to work out peaceful solutions for their problems.

The Community Peace Councils are Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and have good working relationships with other NGOs and with Government and Public Service agencies as well as religious organisations, community policing groups, the local police, Probation Officers, Neighbourhood Democratic Councils, Magistrates, Parent-Teachers’ Associations, Justices of the Peace, political leaders, youths and sports organisations, women’s organisations, senior citizens’ groups and other community groups.

The voluntary contributions and dedication of members of the 13 Peace Councils, so far in operation, are indeed commendable. The demand to set up more Peace Councils is growing, but our resources are limited. Funding from the Canadian International Development Agency is coming to an end but we trust that additional assistance would be soon available in order to sustain the existing Peace Councils and expand our work in other areas in Guyana.

The United Nations Association of Guyana wishes to enlist the support of all our leaders in the political spectrum, the Private Sector, the Trade Union Movement, religious organisations and NGOs, to re-double their efforts in finding solutions to problems and differences through peaceful means. Such an approach would avoid unnecessary confrontation and lead towards reconciliation and cooperation.

In conclusion, I wish to call on all our citizens, including the youths, to play their individual and collective roles in promoting peacemaking and peace-building at the community, regional and national levels in order to build a stable and progressive Guyana for ourselves and posterity.

(Dr. Boodhoo is currently a Management Consultant. He is a former United Nations Adviser and Pro-Chancellor of the University of Guyana)