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WHAT IS ROLE OF NONVIOLENCE?

One of the key questions around the globe today, is what is the role or the possible impact of non-violence and non-violent action in helping to end violent conflict and build peace? In many of complex and challenging conflicts in the world, where civilians are increasingly the targets and victims of violence, does non-violence have a positive role to play?

Within the field of conflict resolution, what is the role of non-violence and is using force to end a conflict ever justified? There are widely diverging perspectives on this within the field, among scholars and practitioners. Some would argue that trying to stop violence by using force is only adding fuel to a fire. While others would stress, that using force to end genocide or extreme violence is morally justified and necessary. It is most important to stop killing and injustice and that with the proper intervention, at times using force may be necessary.

There are many powerful examples of the use of nonviolence in conflict zones, whether it is the strategic nonviolence action to challenge autocratic regimes, such as in Serbia (Otpor), the innovative work of civilian nonviolent accompaniers who help to ensure the safety of frontline human rights and peace activists in conflict zones (see the pioneering work of Peace Brigades International), or the creation of over 100 communities for Peace in Colombia

, in some of the most violent parts of the country (see the Zones of Peace Book listed below). Nonviolent tactics do not always work or produce immediate results, however there is strong evidence that in the long-term such approaches have a significant positive impact on societal change (see the article below on Why Civil Resistance Works).

Regardless of your personal or organizational perspective on non-violence, I wanted to provide an overview of some of the key resources that can provide tactics, tools, and research from the current application of nonviolence today. Some organizations are motivated by their particular religious faith, while other see nonviolence as a tactic that can have a significant impact in affecting personal, community and structural changes.

In terms of careers related to the intersection of nonviolence and conflict, there are countless community based organizations working in conflict regions around the world to challenge unjust structures, serve as witnesses, advocates, and more. There are also a number of international nonviolent based organizations, such as Peace Brigades International, Nonviolent Peace Force, and others, that specialize in providing nonviolent accompaniment and witnessing to help prevent atrocities (they do sometimes have openings for individuals to work in the field).

Please feel free to add your own comments on the application of nonviolence, is it effective? How can communities be trained in the techniques? What are the underlying ethical principles?

KEY RESOURCES ON NONVIOLENCE

1) Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict – Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth’s in-depth study on why civil resistance works in International Security. The authors examine 323 violent and nonviolent campaigns from 1900 to 2006 found that violent campaigns succeeded in only 26 percent of all cases, compared to 53 percent for nonviolent, civilian-based campaigns. As well, in the face of crackdowns, civilian-based campaigns are six times more likely to succeed than violent campaigns that also faced repression. This shows that violence is not the ultimate form of power. People themselves — who experience the nexus of violent insurgency, crime and corruption — can move from being victims and bystanders to becoming a force for transforming their societies.

2) International Center on Nonviolent Conflict – is an independent, non-profit, educational foundation that develops and encourages the study and use of civilian-based, nonmilitary strategies to establish and defend human rights, democracy and justice worldwide. The center also produces teaching tools and video games about nonviolence.

3) Zones of Peace Book (Kumarian Press, 2007, edited by Dr. Christopher Mitchell and Landon Hancock – The notion of having sanctuary from violence or threat has probably existed as long as conflict itself. Whether people seek safety in a designated location, such as a church or hospital or over a regional border, or whether their professions or life situations (doctors, children) allow them, at least in theory, to avoid injury in war, sanctuary has served as a powerful symbol of non-violence.

The authors of this collection examine sanctuary as it relates to historical and modern conflicts from the Philippines to Colombia and Sudan. They chart the formation and evolution of these varied “zones of peace” and attempt to arrive at a “theory of sanctuary” that might allow for new and useful peacebuilding strategies.

4) Albert Einstein Institute – is a nonprofit organization advancing the study and use of strategic nonviolent action in conflicts throughout the world. We are committed to the defense of freedom, democracy, and the reduction of political violence through the use of nonviolent action. Our goals are to understand the dynamics of nonviolent action in conflicts, to explore its policy potential, and to communicate this through print and other media, translations, conferences, consultations, and workshops. Also provides a list of 198 techniques for nonviolence as developed by Dr. Gene Sharp.

5) University of Peace/Africa Program – The program has published several key resources on the use of nonviolent action in Africa (see below). All the documents are available for free as PDF downloads, These include:

  • Teaching Model: Nonviolent Transformation of Conflict, Editors: Mary E. King and Christopher A. Miller, presents a framework for use by instructors in teaching students the basic theoretical and historical background of nonviolent action and successful practice of it. The model assumes a twelve-week term for teaching one topic, or module, per week for final-year undergraduates, but it can also be adapted for graduate work.
  • Strategic Nonviolent Struggle: A Training Manual, Editor: Christopher A. Miller, is a tool for civil society leaders—in youth movements and programmes, churches, athletics, and other areas—who are interested in creating workshops or training programmes on realistic alternatives to armed struggle. It presents an overview of the effectiveness of nonviolent struggle and can complement the more theoretical Teaching Model.
  • ‘Bite Not One Another’: Selected Accounts of Nonviolent Struggle in Africa, Editor: Desmond George-Williams, ‘Bite Not One Another’: Selected Accounts of Nonviolent Struggle in Africa chronicles events and activities from sub-Saharan Africa, highlighting colonial era nonviolent struggles that resulted in independence and contemporary collective action to secure human rights and social justice.
  • Only Young Once: An Introduction to Nonviolent Struggle for Youths, Editor: Christopher A. Miller, is a practical guide geared alike towards university or secondary school students, young soldiers, young professionals, civil society leaders, and youthful parliamentarians. It challenges the blind faith in violence so often found where there is conflict while also explaining the basic ideas and principles of nonviolent action.

6) Nonviolence International – promotes nonviolent action and seeks to reduce the use of violence worldwide. We believe that every cultural and religious tradition can discover and employ culturally appropriate nonviolent methods for positive social change and international peace. Also maintains the Nonviolent Action Network to link practitioners from around the world.

7) Peace Brigades International – is an international grassroots NGO that has promoted nonviolence and protected human rights since 1981. We send international volunteers to areas of conflict, providing protective accompaniment to human rights defenders threatened by political violence. We also facilitate other peace-building initiatives.

8) Nonviolent Peace Force – is a nonpartisan unarmed peacekeeping force composed of trained civilians from around the world. In partnership with local groups, Nonviolent Peaceforce members apply proven nonviolent strategies to protect human rights, deter violence, and help create space for local peacemakers to carry out their work.

9) War Resisters International – War Resisters’ International exists to promote nonviolent action against the causes of war, and to support and connect people around the world who refuse to take part in war or the preparation of war. On this basis, WRI works for a world without war. They have many resources available, including the Handbook of Nonviolent Campaigns

10) Founded in 1919, International Fellowship of Reconciliation – IFOR has taken a consistent stance against war and its preparation throughout its history. Perceiving the need for healing and reconciliation in the world, the founders of IFOR formulated a vision of the human community based upon the belief that love in action has the power to transform unjust political, social, and economic structures. Today IFOR has 82 branches, groups, and affiliates in 48 countries on all continents.

11) Relevant Books There is very extensive literature on nonviolence. Some suggestions of texts include:

Nonviolence in Theory and Practice , Second Edition, edited by Robert L. Holmes and Barry L. Gan.

This Second Edition adds twenty-three new readings to an already impressive collection of writings by some of the leading theorists and practitioners of nonviolence. Holmes and Gan provide a diversity of articles on both secular and religious origins of nonviolence; articles by or about Gandhi, King, Tolstoy, and Chavez; feminist approaches to nonviolence by con-temporary writers; new articles addressing the theory and practice of nonviolence with respect to nature and animal rights; and fresh examples of the application of nonviolence to conflicts in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and Tibet.