the friend online
12 January 2007

International Edition: Peaceroots
Friends may remember how in 2002 an appeal to 'Give Peace a Bank' evolved into a new organization, Peace Direct. One of the ideas that came out of Peace Direct was to create links between peace groups in this country and peace groups working in areas of conflict abroad. The thinking behind this was that peacebuilding initiatives often require comparatively small amounts of money and for that reason are rarely of
interest to major donors. There was, therefore, a niche for groups who could raise small sums and through personal contact channel them quickly to groups in the field. A group of Friends in Charlbury Preparative Meeting, who had been involved in the Stop the War Coalition, followed up this idea and Peaceroots was born.

Our organization started life as a branch of Peace Direct, but it soon became clear that it would be simpler if we became an independent charity, so we adopted the name Peaceroots and are in the process of registering with the Charity Commission.

Because of local contacts, we decided to focus on northern Uganda. The inhabitants of this area, the Acholi people, are plagued by a rebel group called The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) which has been waging war against the central government for nineteen years. The LRA now has little support amongst the Acholi people and so rely on abducting young people to fight for them, forcing them to carry out appalling atrocities against their own people so that even if they escape they will not be accepted back into their communities. The government has relied largely on military force to deal with the LRA. As part of its strategy, it has forced the majority of people in the area out of their villages and into overcrowded, inadequately protected displaced persons camps in order to give the military a free hand. International observers have described the conditions in the camps as a 'humanitarian disaster'.

In contrast to government policy, elements among the Acholi people have tried to end the conflict by non-violent means. For example, an interfaith group of religious leaders pressured the government to introduce an 'amnesty act' whereby religious leaders from different faiths and denominations formed the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative (ARPLI). As a result of pressure from this group and others, the government agreed to an amnesty programme whereby rebels who are willing to give themselves up are assured of freedom from prosecution and given a 'resettlement package' to enable them to return to civilian life. This programme has had some success, in part due to the local radio which has broadcast assurances that those coming out of the bush would not be subjected to revenge attacks, and in part due to traditional processes of conciliation which have enabled many child soldiers to return to their communities.

Our contact with Uganda came through Responding to Conflict, an organization that runs courses on conflict resolution at Woodbrooke. Through them, we met Rosalba Oywa, the founder of the Ugandan NGO, People's Voice for Peace, and learned of the work they are doing to reintegrate traumatized victims of the conflict into their communities. More recently, we met a young man who had come to do a course at Woodbrooke. Through his work for PVP, he had become aware of the acute tensions in family and community relationships in the camps. His proposal was to develop a programme of structured dialogues to address these problems, to monitor the results and to record examples of good practice that could be transferred to other situations. This was a proposal entirely consonant with our own objectives of supporting conciliation processes and was precisely the kind of work Peace Direct envisaged for 'link groups'. The resources needed were modest: stationery, hire of audio-visual equipment, local travel funds and electronic communication, for example. He had received a small loan through PVP to do some initial research and needed money quickly in order to move on to the next stage. The small amount we had in hand through donations and local fund raising events was enough to help move the project along.

Peace Direct, Responding to Conflict and Peaceroots itself are all organizations initiated by Quakers and largely supported by Quakers; but they also reach out to a wider public in terms of both membership and financial support. Membership in the Society of Friends may be declining, but the Quaker ethos is preserved and disseminated in organizations such as these.

Lorna Watson


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International Edition: Peaceroots
Lorna Watson
International Edition: Making Terrorism History
Anthony Wilson, Staffordshire MM
Country of the Week: Madagascar

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