Civil Society: Civil Society & Peacebuilding Processes
Civil society is conceived of as a critical sector in peacebuilding. It is involved in broader peacebuilding processes in a number of capacities. In addition, it is a pillar of democratic systems and, as such, plays important roles in democracy and good governance for pre- and post-conflict societies. Further, civil society contributes in a number of other areas of the peacebuilding agenda, including facets of economic and psycho-social recovery, justice and the rule of law, and security and public order. Finally, through its involvement across sectors, civil society serves a number of important functions that span different peacebuilding themes and institutions.
Intermediaries and sub-contractorsCSOs may serve as intermediaries between outsiders and local communities. In many cases, they operate as sub-contractors for international agencies.
Complementary or alternative modes of governanceCSOs may provide complementary (or even alternative) governance structures where the state is weak, incapacitated, or indifferent to its people's needs. Here, their role is actually twofold. They often play a key role in delivering a certain number of public goods and basic social services, reaching the poorer sectors of the population, providing socio-economic opportunities, and enhancing the national capacity. They sometimes serve as actual substitutes for the state, filling a nearly total political vacuum. Such practices have often been denounced as part of a neo-liberal agenda to privatize the state, and as undermining sovereignty and allowing state responsibility to be skirted. However, it is interesting to note that even institutions like the World Bank, which have championed such an approach, have warned against further undermining state capacity. Paffenholz and Spurk argue, "In emergency and conflict situations, a critical judgment is required on the allocation and sequencing of external support, i.e., how much and how long to rely on CSO service provision, and when to shift focus to strengthening state capacity."2
In addition, through monitoring and lobbying activities (in particular on issues such as human rights violations or corruption), civil society pushes the state to fulfill its obligations to its citizens and provides some of the necessary checks and balances on government excesses.3
The support and development of civil society may appear more feasible and promising to donors in terms of effecting quick and visible change than the reform of government institutions, which requires large-scale and long-term undertakings.4
A key pillar of the democratization agendaSupport to CSOs is part of the democratization agenda. In particular, CSOs contribute by providing a link between state and citizens, producing information and ideas, promoting democratic values, encouraging open debate, pushing for social, economic, and political change, and building social capital. According to Pouligny, "They are often seen to carry the best hopes for a genuine democratic counterweight to the power-brokers, economic exploiters and warlords who tend to predominate in conflict-ridden weak or failed states, and may even capture the electoral processes."5
Go to Civil society as a key pillar in a democratic system
An effort to rebuild trust in the societyAs they sponsor activities that can build bridges across divided societies, CSOs participate in the effort to (re)build trust within and between communities, as well as to reestablish the state-society relationship and renegotiate a social contract.Pouligny argues, "From that perspective, the objective of strengthening local civil societies is a matter both of enlarging the range of interlocutors with whom outsiders need to interact to help rebuild a new society and of better understanding the bases on which this society can be actually rebuilt and further conflicts peacefully transformed."6
A way to enhance local participation and ownershipThe support for and participation of civil society serve to enhance local participation, capacity, and ownership, which some perceive as key factors in the sustainability and success of peacebuilding processes.7
In this regard, CSOs have two key functions: (1) in the implementation of field projects, to ensure local ownership and sustainability, and (2) as advocacy agents, to bring important issues to the peacebuilding agenda that might otherwise be forgotten.8 In practice, these functions are often combined in CSOs' actions. Today, CSOs are implicated in almost every aspect of any peacebuilding process.
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Roberto Belloni argues, "Individuals and groups fighting dictatorships in these regions viewed the struggle as one between civil society against the state, with the two confronting each other in a zero-sum relationship. When the Berlin Wall fell, civil society became endowed almost with a heroic and magical aura."9
A vibrant civil society is broadly considered one of the three main pillars of a democratic system (or what Thomas Carothers has called the "democracy template"), along with elections and capacity building for state institutions.10 The ideal is to attain "a diverse, active, and independent civil society that articulates the interests of citizens and holds governments accountable to citizens."11 Almost all international donors mention civil society as an important factor to "'influence decisions of the state,' highlight civil society's responsibility for a democratic state and "its dynamic role . . . in pushing for social, economic and political change,'" or stress its role in encouraging open debate on public policy.12 Major bilateral donors, as well as international organizations, engaged in democracy and governance work are now giving attention to civil society development. Major private American, European, and Japanese foundations are also deeply involved in this arena.13
In the literature on democratization, the assumption that civil society promotion and democratic viability go hand in hand is debated. That link is based on the idea that civil society is key to the establishment and maintenance of competent citizen activity"a necessary component of democratic sustainability. These arguments are themselves often premised on Alexis de Tocqueville, who, in Democracy in America, considered civic engagement in associations to be schools of democracy, capable of checking abuse of authority. Go to Democracy and Governance: Definitions and Conceptual Issues
Thus, civic virtues such as tolerance, acceptance, honesty, and trust are really integrated into the character of civic individuals through associations. Civic engagement in associations is thought to build confidence in democratic mechanisms, or, as Robert Putnam later described it, social capital. For Putnam, democracy may not be defined by associational activity, but such activity is what makes democracy work.14 It is important to note, however, that this argument is the object of much criticism. "Social capital" remains a much-debated concept.15 Many scholars have undermined the stability of Putnam's argument, given some concerns concerning the historical selectivity and endogeneity of the methodology he used.16
Go to Key Debates and Implementation Challenges and Constitutions
Some scholars argue that "even if CSOs are not democratically organized or do not fully articulate democratic values, agreement on the rules of the game may be sufficient to underpin 'democracy as process,' particularly in deeply divided, post conflict societies."17 From that perspective, any CSO, whatever its purpose and sector of activity, would contribute to the democratization process. However, under the democratic agenda, donors and international agencies tend specifically to target groups that are directly involved in, or pursuing, political activities.18
Civil society and participation in local governanceThe notion of civic engagement--of citizen organizations, associations, businesses, neighborhood committees, and the like--has become central to the concept of local governance.19 CSOs deliver services at the local level, provide information to the public, articulate interests in society, advocate for social needs and reforms, give opportunities for citizen participation and consultation, and provide technical services, such as gathering data on social problems.20
In post-war contexts, local government institutions may try to rely on more participatory and democratic governance models through partnerships with CSOs, which can introduce more participatory approaches to community-level decision making. Development projects themselves often form community-based organizations (CBOs) that act as intermediaries between communities and external development organizations.21 According to Timothy Sisk, "Building effective participatory procedures at the local level offers a strategic opportunity to build democracy and manage social conflict at the national level. Local governance with strong citizen involvement and meaningful participation forms the ground-level tier of democracy."22 Of course, the degree of application and impact of such mechanisms greatly varies from one context to the next, and often between regions inside the same country.
It is important to note that while many practitioners emphasize the vitality of participatory processes in democratic processes, the concept that such participation is always beneficial is often debated by academics and practitioners alike. Some have shown how participatory government can result in unjust and illegitimate exercise of power, stressing the gulf between the almost universally fashionable rhetoric of participation, which promises empowerment and appropriate development, and what actually happens when consultants and activists promote and practice participatory development.23
Civil society as a check on political corruption, inefficiency, and illegitimacyIn the direct heritage of de Tocquevilles perception of the role of civil society, CSOs can play an important role as a check on the state. In that view, as Richard Crook argues, "democracy depends on checking the power of the state by diffusing power and influence amongst a multiplicity of cross-cutting civic organizations . . . no one of which can dominate and which prevent the state itself from being captured by a particular class."24 Generally speaking, CSOs contribute to making the local government more responsive to its population, in particular through monitoring and lobbying activities.25
The role of CSOs in electoral processesCSOs generally play a key role in voter information and education activities, in particular in encouraging broader participation and turnout. Voter education initiatives are of particular importance in countries with a limited democratic tradition and/or low levels of literacy. CSOs also often participate in electoral processes through domestic non-partisan election monitoring, enhancing the transparency of the electoral process and public confidence in the credibility and legitimacy of an election. CSOs may also contribute by promoting codes of conduct for candidates, undertaking parallel vote tabulations, hosting public meetings or debates, and proposing and commenting on electoral reform.
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CSOs support economic recoveryBoth the planning and implementation of reconstruction in post-conflict societies increasingly engage the participation of civil society. CSOs are involved in crucial components of post-conflict economic recovery.
Discuss poverty reduction strategy papers
CSOs engage in discussion of the poverty reduction strategy papers (PRSPs) that constitute the economic framework for most post-conflict situations. These strategies are supposed to be country-driven, prepared and developed transparently with the broad participation of civil society, which can assist in identifying knowledge on poverty and social conditions, as well as potential partners for developing and monitoring PRSPs. However, despite this mandate, PRSPs are often critiqued as being externally driven and top-down in their design. Independent experts have indicated that, in the majority of countries, the participatory and transparency elements in the elaboration of PRSPs do not function and that the participation of CSOs is rather symbolic and superficial, limited to consultation mechanisms rather than amounting to a real involvement in the decision-making process.26
CSOs are engaged in the preparation and implementation of plans to promote employment, more particularly youth employment. It is important to note, however, that youth organizations themselves are generally only peripherally involved and in a passive way.27
Promote financial accountability
CSOs offer support aimed at improving economic and political performance and controlling crime and corruption through monitoring and lobbying activities. Although they are relatively new participants in public finance management, CSOs are increasingly involved in monitoring public finance practices to ensure transparency and accountability.28
Natural resource management
CSOs participate in the design and implementation of natural resource management plans through work with extractive industry companies and local governments.
CSOs deliver fundamental socio-economic services (that complement or partially or totally substitute for state service provision) and support the development of economic opportunities (in particular through micro-finance programs, which are mainly supported by CSOs).
CSOs support the process of post-war return of refugees and internally displaced persons, as well as the reintegration of former combatants. This includes the reconstruction of infrastructure, the delivery of community services, and the creation of economic opportunities.29 CSOs are often key to supporting the linkage between grassroots initiatives and local, as well as central, government.
Go to Disarmament, Demobilization, Reinsertion and Reintegration
CSOs support psycho-social recoveryCSOs are generally the first to attend to the needs of members of society in the aftermath of violence. They provide invaluable services for the different dimensions of the psycho-social recovery process at the community level. Their role is particularly crucial in three components of those processes:
Deal with trauma and memories of violence
CSOs are generally the first (if not the only) to provide crucial trauma support services to victims of violence, which is a dimension sometimes missing in transitional justice programs.30 They also play a crucial role in developing mental health services at the community level, identifying and supporting existing resources in the community, and assisting local people in expanding their own capacity to address their needs.31 CSOs' contribution is particularly decisive when they integrate the symbolic and spiritual dimensions of healing processes in more conventional approaches. Research has shown, in particular, the important role played by traditional healers and indigenous strategies that are deeply rooted in the social and cultural context.32 CSOs are also at the forefront of memorial work.
Support community reintegration
CSOs support reintegration processes for refugees, displaced persons, and former combatants. In contrast to international actors, CSOs generally work to integrate the different dimensions of community reintegration, and may in fact have a more comprehensive response to IDPs [internally displaced persons] than international agencies.33 Cooperation with CSOs, in particular at the community level, is also decisive in the work of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which increasingly relies on CSOs local capacities and offers support to CSOs in order to facilitate dialogue with and effective participation by different constituencies.34 In their work with ex-combatants, CSOs are generally better situated to maintain closer contact with ex-combatants, involving them in various community-based peacebuilding efforts while simultaneously providing them with a range of services.35 Community-based organizations generally are key to ensuring that the different dimensions of the reintegration process are addressed for all and that these strategies integrate average citizens own resources.36 These projects are generally backed by activities supporting dialogue and local capacity building in the form of training.
Participate in different dimensions of the reconciliation process
CSOs help to build bridges between various sectors of society. The involvement of a diverse set of local groups helps provide a sense of ownership of such a delicate endeavor.37 A significant number of transnational non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are also engaged in this type of work, which aims to foster coexistence, reconciliation, mutual tolerance, and mutual respect. They provide training in skills that contribute to such relations through workshops, dialogue circles, and other structured experiences.38
Go to Reconciliation and National Dialogue
CSOs contribution to justice and the rule of lawCSOs generally play a leading role in justice and rule of law issues. This is probably one of the sectors of peacebuilding in which they are the most active.
Human rights NGOs often form the most vibrant and powerful component of local civil society. They frequently are the first institutions with which outsiders interact at the different stages of a violent conflict. They are particularly involved in monitoring and advocacy activities, playing a vital role in drawing global attention to specific cases of human rights abuse in conflict situations.39 They can also assist groups in developing capacity to seek justice, and are involved in different types of public education and training activities around these issues.
Rule of law and justice assistance programs
CSOs have been increasingly involved in a broader justice agenda. Their role is particularly crucial in the so-called "bottom-up" approach, which focuses on civil society and local communities.40 It is part of an effort developed by outsiders to build domestic justice capacity.41 The activities typically developed in such programs include legal aid in rural communities, monitoring of the justice system in order to strengthen its overall accountability, promotion of non-state mechanisms of dispute resolution, and training activities. Victims groups, legal reform advocacy groups, and groupings of lawyers, such as women and young lawyers or law students, as well as human rights advocates, are the most active in this field.
Alternative traditional and informal justice systems
CSOs may establish or help run alternative traditional and informal justice systems, such as informal dispute resolution mechanisms, paralegal mechanisms, and security committees. These systems are particularly crucial when the state judicial system is unable to administer justice or the number of perpetrators is high enough that it is logistically impossible to prosecute each individual. CSOs may train traditional and informal justice systems personnel on procedural or substantive issues, or they may train them as paralegals to advise or represent parties in a dispute. They also monitor the activities of non-state judiciary systems, report on human rights abuses and discrimination against women and marginalized groups, and help ensure more equitable outcomes in the justice system. CSOs help raise awareness and can engage in advocacy and lobbying for alternative justice systems.42
Access to justice
Access to justice has received increasing attention, and it is a domain in which CSOs are strongly involved, in particular by providing information and counseling and legal assistance services.43
Transitional justice mechanisms
CSOs have often been central in documenting human rights abuses during civil conflict or counter-insurgency actions, which are contexts that may require transitional justice efforts once the conflict is over. In the post-conflict environment, civil society frequently is a prime advocate of accountability for the past, often conducting its own investigations into human rights abuses and pressuring national and international authorities to investigate the past. It also shapes the debate on which transitional justice mechanisms are the most appropriate for its country, and what form reparation programs should take. CSOs often provide legal expertise, turn over information they have collected, and bring forward courageous individuals who play key roles in efforts to uphold justice. They also help mobilize broader sections of society to participate in transitional justice and disseminate the lessons of that experience to a wider national audience. Last but not least, some CSOs provide international volunteers who accompany important witnesses to trials.44
CSOs' contribution to security and public orderFostering security and focusing on community needs and community involvement
Although their involvement is less common in this sector and they are more rarely in the lead, CSOs can play a role in enhancing security. Groups and organizations may patrol neighborhoods in the absence of a functioning police force. CSOs may put in place alternative mechanisms that promote security, in particular crime prevention and victim support systems, in partnership with the police.45
Security reform processes
CSOs often are involved in security reform processes (in particular the reform of the police and prison systems), helping enhance results orientation and the transparency of reforms. Broad participation also minimizes the risk of setbacks.46 As such, civil society constitutes an important actor for security reform.
DDR and small arms control
CSOs play an important role in providing opportunities to former combatants to demobilize after war, but their participation in other dimensions of disarmament, demobilization, reinsertion and reintegration (DDR) programs can be as important for the success and sustainability of these aims. Among the few DDR and small arms control success stories are experiences that have aimed to introduce normative compliance through local, informal "peace agreements" that include voluntary disarmament and reintegration clauses (such as the peace agreement in Papua New Guinea and, to a certain extent, the Community Arms Collection and Destruction Program in Sierra Leone). They also might include declarations of weapons-free areas where civilian as well as combatant weapons are collected (as in South Africa and the Solomon Islands). These initiatives rely on the strong involvement of community-based organizations and the authorities.47
CSOs are generally very involved in mine clearance programs, in terms of both advocacy work and participating in different dimensions of field programs. In addition, "global civil society" has been particularly active in mine clearance campaigns. The most prominent example is the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, a coalition of international NGOs working for the banning of anti-personnel mines.48
[Back to Top] 49 Expanding on a report for the World Bank, this section suggests distinguishing seven key functions of civil society that provide a comprehensive framework for disaggregating and mapping civil societys contributions to peacebuilding.50
(1)Protection of citizens
Other, slightly different, classifications are also available. For instance, one school of thought started by German political scientists presents a model of five functions of civil society extracted mainly from research on system transformation in Eastern Europe. The model is enriched by a large number of practical case studies of the role of civil society in different contexts: protection; intermediation between state and citizens; participatory socialization; community building and integration; and communication.51 However, the model above provides a useful and comprehensive tool for understanding civil society roles in a range of undertakings.
Go to Case Studies: Civil Society Engagement in the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission
1. Pouligny, "Civil Society and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding;" Roberto Belloni, Civil Society in War-to-Democracy Transitions (paper presented at the 47th Annual Convention of the International Studies Association, San Diego, March 24, 2006), 7.
2. Paffenholz and Spurk, Civil Society, Civil Engagement, 3.
3. Pouligny, "Civil Society and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding;" Mashumba and Clarke, Peacebuilding Role of Civil Society, 16.
4. Foy, From Civil War to Civil Society, 14.
5. Pouligny, "Civil Society and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding," 496.
7. Conflict Transformation Working Group (CTWG), "Building Peace from the Ground Up: A Call to the UN for Stronger Collaboration with Civil Society" (New York: CTWG, 2002), 23.
8. Paffenholz and Spurk, Civil Society, Civil Engagement, 34.
9. Belloni, "Civil Society in War-to-Democracy Transitions," 4.
10. Lund, Uvin, and Cohen, What Really Works, 5; Thomas Carothers, Aiding Democracy Abroad: The Learning Curve (New York: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1999), 86.
11. Carothers. Aiding Democracy Abroad, 87.
12. Paffenholz and Spurk, Civil Society, Civil Engagement, 10.
13. Thomas Carothers and Marina S. Ottaway, Funding Virtue: Civil Society Aid and Democracy Promotion (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2000), 3.
14. Paffenholz and Spurk, Civil Society, Civil Engagement, 4; Foy, From Civil War to Civil Society, 13-14; Putnam, "Bowling Alone," 65-78.
15. Janine Aron, Building Institutions in Post-Conflict African Economies, Journal of International Development 15 (2003): 476.
16. Sidney Tarrow, "Making Social Science Work Across Space and Time: A Critical Reflection on Putnams Making Democracy Work," American Political Science Review 90, no. 2 (1996): 389-97.
17. Crook, Strengthening Democratic, 20.
18. Foy, From Civil War to Civil Society, 12.
19. Timothy Sisk, ed. Democracy at the Local Level: The International IDEA Handbook on Participation, Representation, Conflict Management, and Governance (Stockholm: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2001), 12.
20. Ibid., 23, 30.
21. World Bank Social Development Department, Engaging Civil Society Organizations in Conflict-Affected and Fragile States: Three African Country Case Studies (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2005), 11.
22. Sisk, Democracy at the Local Level, 147.
23. Bill Cooke and Uma Kothari, ed. Participation: The New Tyranny? (London: Zed Books, 2001).
24. Crook, Strengthening Democratic Governance, 9.
25. Pouligny, "Civil Society and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding," 496; Lund, Uvin, and Cohen, What Really Works, 3.
26. Fantu Cheru, The Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative: A Human Rights Assessment of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSP) (New York: United Nations, 2001), 32-33; World Bank Social Development Department, Engaging Civil Society, 23; World Bank, Toward a Conflict-Sensitive Poverty Reduction Strategy: Lessons from a Retrospective Analysis (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2005).
27. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), Review of National Action Plans on Youth Employment: Putting Commitment into Action (New York: United Nations, 2007), 22-23.
28. Vivek Ramkumar and Warren Krafchik, The Role of Civil Society Organizations in Auditing and Public Finance (Washington, DC: International Budget Project, 2005).
29. Elizabeth Ferris. The Role of Civil Society in Ending Displacement and Peacebuilding (New York: United Nations Peacebuilding Commission, 2008); Brookings Institution, When Displacement Ends: A Framework for Durable Solutions (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2007).
30. Eric Brahm, "Transitional Justice, Civil Society, and the Development of the Rule of Law in Post-Conflict Societies," International Journal of Not-for-Profit Law 9, no. 4 (2007).
31. Binta Barry and Nancy L. Pearson, Rebuilding Communities: Training Trauma Survivors to Help Communities Heal after Atrocities (Minneapolis, MN: Center for Victims of Torture, 2004).
32. Pouligny, Civil Society and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding, 502; Richard F. Mollica and Laura McDonald, Project 1 Billion: Health Ministers of Post-Conflict Nations Act on Mental Health Recovery, UN Chronicle 4 (2003).
33. Ferris, Role of Civil Society.
34. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Handbook for Repatriation and Reintegration Activities (Geneva: United Nations, 2004).
35. Mashumba and Clarke, Peacebuilding Role of Civil Society, 27-28.
36. Pouligny, Civil Society and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding, 502.
37. Harpviken and Kellman, Beyond Blueprints, 8.
38. Louis Kriesberg, "External Contributions to Post-Mass-Crime Rehabilitation," in After Mass Crime: Rebuilding States and Communities, ed. Beatrice Pouligny, Simon Chesterman, and Albrecht Schnabel(New York: United Nations University Press, 2007), 263.
39. Fitzduff, Civil Society and Peacebuilding, 12. See also, Kriesberg, "External Contributions," 259.
40. David Tolbert and Andrew Solomon, "United Nations Reform and Supporting the Rule of Law in Post-Conflict Societies," Harvard Human Rights Journal 19 (2006): 29-62.
41. United Nations Security Council, The Rule of Law and Transitional Justice in Conflict and Post-Conflict Societies (New York: United Nations, 2004), 1.
42. Department for International Development (DFID). Non-State Justice and Security Systems: A Guidance Note. (London: DFID, 2004); Ewa Wojkowska.Doing Justice: How Informal Justice Systems Can Contribute(Oslo: United Nations Development Programme Oslo Governance Centre, 2006), 34, 42.
43. Ferris, Role of Civil Society; United Nations Development Programme, Access to Justice: Practice Note (New York: United Nations, 2004).
44. Brahm, "Transitional Justice, Civil Society."
45. Department for International Development (DFID), Safety, Security and Accessible Justice: Putting Policy into Practice (London: DFID, 2002), 26-27.
46. UNDP, Access to Justice, 16.
47. Pouligny, "Civil Society and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding," 498.
48. Maxwell A. Cameron, "Global Civil Society and the Ottawa Process: Lessons from the Movement to Bank Anti-Personnel Mines," Canadian Foreign Policy 7, no. 1 (1999): 85-102.
49. Paffenholz and Spurk, Civil Society, Civil Engagement, 34; World Bank Social Development Department, Civil Society and Peacebuilding, 12.
51. Ibid., 6.