The Basic Elements of PeaceBuilding

elements of peacebuilding

Peacebuilding involves a multidimensional range of measures to reduce the risk of a lapse or relapse into conflict by addressing both the causes and consequences of conflict.

Violent conflicts are a great challenge for any country’s development: they do not only result in lost lives, physical and psychological injuries, and substantial damages to infrastructure; they also compromise development efforts and worsen poverty. Since the end of World War II, there has been a steady rise in the number of violent conflicts. Most major violent conflicts are internal civil wars or rebellions. In 2004 only 2 out of 19 major armed conflicts were between states1, the others were internal, usually asymmetric conflicts such as civil wars, rebellions, and terrorism.

Peacebuilding can be transformative, changing or transforming negative relationships and institutions and strengthening national capacities at all levels for better management of conflict dynamics and to lay the foundation for supporting the cohesiveness of the society and building sustainable peace and development. Peacebuilding is multidimensional (including political, security, social, and economic dimensions), cuts across sectors (education, WASH, Health, nutrition, child protection, gender) and occurs at all levels in society (national to community levels), and includes governments, civil society, the UN system, as well as an array of international and national partners.

Peace Building Concepts

We often confuse the term of peace-building with peace-keeping and peace-making. Thus, it is important for us to explicitly define the term, peace-building on which we must focus here. It could be worth quoting definitions of these three terms related to peace from a famous document of the United Nations. Boutros-Ghali, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, clearly defined these three concepts in a UN document, An Agenda for Peace, as follows:

Peace Keeping

Peace-keeping is the deployment of a United Nations presence in the field, hitherto with the consent of all the parties concerned, normally involving United Nations military and/or police personnel and frequently civilians as well. Peace-keeping is a technique that expands the possibilities for both the prevention of conflict and the making of peace.


Peace-making is action to bring hostile parties to an agreement, essentially through such peaceful means as those foreseen in Chapter VI of the Charter of the United Nations.’

Peace Building

Peace-building is ‘action to identify and support structures which will tend to strengthen and solidify peace to avoid a relapse into conflict.’

According to the definitions by An Agenda for Peace, peace-keeping and peace-making are high-level political mediation which includes diplomacy and even military enforcement. In a sense, it may be said that peace-keeping and peace-making are supposed to be implemented during the conflict. On the other hand, peace-building by definition is action after conflict aiming at a structural change of post-conflict societies in order to avoid new conflict. Therefore, it can be said that peace-building is a concept that requires an approach focusing on the structural change of societies. In other words, it may require us to focus not only on high-level activities, such as politics but also on community and individual level activities.

Peace-building activities by humanitarian agencies include non-violent processes (such as advocacy interventions, development programs, and peace projects) which attempt to prevent, mitigate and transform violent conflict, and contribute to building societies in which people have fair access to resources, which are based on social justice, and which respect fundamental human rights recognized under international law. The rebuilding of benign functional relations is a vital part of this activity.

Causes Of Conflict

In order to contribute to conflict prevention and peacebuilding, it is necessary to consider the causes of conflict. The following provides an overview of structural conflict causes:

Political factors

Problems coping with transformation processes and rapid social change; Absence of a legitimate government and good governance, Limited social and political participation, Inadequate formal and informal channels for conflict management, and Limited institutional capacities.

Economic factors

Socio-economic inequality, Competition for natural resources, and Insufficient satisfaction of basic human needs.

Social factors

Social disintegration and marginalization, Political manipulation of ethnic, cultural, and other differences, discrimination, and Culture of violence, traumatization from earlier violence.


Uncontrolled army units and arbitrary police action, Presence of arms, especially small arms, and Inadequate security for the population (infringements of human rights, criminality)

External factors

Negative consequences of international involvement and Negative consequences of the national and international setting.

Peacebuilding vs Social Cohesion

Social Cohesion refers to the quality of coexistence between the multiple groups that operate within a society. Groups can be distinguished in terms of ethnic and socio-cultural origin, religious and political beliefs, social class or economic sector, or on the basis of interpersonal characteristics such as gender and age. Quality of coexistence between the groups can be evaluated along the dimensions of mutual respect and trust, shared values and social participation, life satisfaction, and happiness as well as structural equity and social justice. (UNDP ACT, July 2013)

Social Cohesion, or rather the reestablishment or strengthening of social cohesion, is one of the results that emerge from an effective peacebuilding intervention. However, under the PBEA program, this term has also been used, in many cases, to mean peacebuilding. The use of the term social cohesion has been necessary given the local sensitivities to the word’s peace or peacebuilding in some of the countries where the PBEA operates.

Elements Of Peacebuilding

The dispute resolution literature identifies three kinds of work: power-based, rights-based, and interest-based. Since these types have built up historically within different fields of practice, their logical links may not be apparent. In fact, to fully recover from war or the threat of war, a community needs all four – and so, they can be called “elements”, and together these terms provide a “typology” of peacebuilding. The four elements link together logically.

Power-Based Work

Power-based work is the task of arresting and stopping the people who are doing the hurting. There is an element of coercion. There is nonviolent power-based work that uses nonviolent coercion, and there is the work of just police using minimal physically hurtful force. Power-based work has to take place within a connected system that includes all four kinds of work.

Power-based work isolated (or separately directed) from the other three elements is damaging, if not war-making. Nonviolent coercion often involves people publicly suffering the hurts of injustice and thus appealing to the conscience and compassion of the people misusing power in an unjust system. Active nonviolence is based on a Gandhian analysis of power which recognizes a broad range of powers, many of which are available to those who have thought of themselves or been defined as “powerless”. When we act in solidarity with communities that are using nonviolent coercion to address an unjust power structure, we are doing power-based work.

Rights-Based Work

Rights-based work provides the accountability framework for power-based action. Even nonviolent coercion has to be guided by human rights and related values and often involves insisting that just laws or recognized rights be fully applied. The rights-based work also provides the trustable justice system to which the just police can deliver the people they have arrested. In order for their work to remain at minimal force, the people they are arresting have to believe that the justice system they face will treat them fairly, and maybe even help them start or continue a just life. Rights-based work is linked to the human faculty of conscience. When a human right is violated, our conscience is alerted. People’s consciences are often engaged by encounters that arouse compassion. The work of being present in conflict situations and bearing witness is rights-based. Much of CFSC’s Quaker Aboriginal Affairs and Quakers Fostering Justice programs are rights-based work. The 2010 “Justice is Possible” minute of the Canadian Yearly Meeting draws additional connections between justice and compassion.

Interest-Based Work

Interest-based work is where concrete agreements are mediated or negotiated. These agreements organize the community’s daily life and apply the principles promoted by the rights-based work. Diplomatic work that culminates in peace talks is mostly interest-based. To be peacebuilding, interest-based work has to bring the opposing sides to recognize common interests. Sometimes nonviolent coercion or applications of a justice system are required in order to bring recalcitrant parties to negotiate. Mediation is interest-based work. To be peacebuilding, the negotiated or mediated result has to be sincerely “win-win” and often needs a compassion-based step to reach final closure.

Compassion-Based Work

Compassion-based work is what changes hearts. When we are in conflict, even if the conflict hasn’t become deadly, our hearts are changed. They have to change again for new peaceful, respectful relations to be born and grow. Sometimes a change in heart can motivate people to negotiate in good faith or to recognize rights or abide by just laws, reducing the need for power-based work. Nonviolent direct actions, even those which seek to force a stop to something, are often designed to appeal to human compassion, in order to open up a new opportunity for dialogue. Along with encounter and dialogue programs, trauma healing and healing of memories are compassion-based work.


Education may be a driver of conflict, but it also can play a significant role in supporting peacebuilding. Education is not a marginal player in peacebuilding, but a core component of building sustainable peace. (UNICEF, “The Role of Education in Peacebuilding”, December 2011) While the relationship between education and conflict is recognized, education’s role in peacebuilding is not fully realized. Education as a peace dividend is accepted. However, education can contribute to other dimensions of peacebuilding, such as conflict prevention, social transformation, civic engagement, and economic progress (Smith, A. (2011), UNESCO: Paris). For example, education can contribute to improved governance by addressing underlying inequities that fuel conflict, providing education and employment opportunities to disenfranchised youth, empowering adolescent girls and women as actors in the peace-building process, imparting civic and political education, and modeling democratic participation and decision-making. Creating an enabling environment for education to contribute to peace requires a long-term view that includes education sector system building and strengthening. Practices of good governance, conflict-sensitive education policy (that which is delivered in a way that does not exacerbate social cleavages or cause conflict), transparent collection and use of information, and equitable distribution of education resources and materials are important signals of strengthened institutional capacity and are crucial to the peacebuilding process.


Carne, Ross. Independent Diplomat: Dispatches from an Unaccountable Elite. London: Hurst & Company, 2007.

Curle, Adam. ‘Challenges for Citizen Peacemaking’. Medicine and War. Volume10. 1994. pp.96-105.

Francis, Diana. People, Peace, and Power: Conflict Transformation in Action. Pluto Press, 2002.

Kumar, Krishna. Rebuilding Societies After Civil War: Critical roles for international Assistance’. Lynne Rienner. 1997.

United Nations High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change. “A more secure world: our shared responsibility” (the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ document). New York: United Nations General Assembly, 2 December 2004.

United Nations Security Council. “Final report of the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” New York: UN Security Council, 13 February 2008. S/2008/43.

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