December 10th is International Human Rights Day. This year of 2008 it is the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)—the most important Human Rights document. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed and adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948. It was the UDHR that first recognized—what nowadays has become universal values—human rights are inherent to all and the concern of the whole of the international community.


The UDHR—which confirms the acceptance of 30 rights—states that everyone are born free and alike, and of the same value. The rights also include freedom from want as well as freedom from fear. Development work and fighting poverty is in a high degree about realizing fundamental Human Rights. Peace and democracy are fundamental prerequisites for sustainable development. Given the central axiom that the avoidance of violence is a human need, a prerequisite for all living things to flourish, I will now state that finding alternatives to war is the core of realizing Human Rights.


Gandhi and the concept of non-violence

Absence of war is a human right. Finding not only solutions but also alternatives to war is the core of peace work. There are many ways to peace, in my article I will mention the importance of Civil Peace Services.


Alternatives to war in our time starts with Mohandas Karamchand “Mahatma” (the great soul) Gandhi, on his experiment in non-violence he started in this century. Gandhi believed in that we need an opposite concept of violence. We have opposite conceptions for most things in the human existence. But what do we really have as an opposite conception for violence? Gandhi found the answer as none. Moreover, as long as we lack a truly concrete definition in our mind, we are not capable of expressing it in daily action. Gandhi actually said that the term “non-violence” is just as insufficient as calling love non-hate.


Ahimsa – the Sanskrit definition for non-violence also stands for universal love, compassion. Despite the many conflicts in India, ahimsa is a far more established definition in the East than non-violence is in the West. The main difference is that we more or less consider it as a technique, a method, or just the absence or freedom from violence, whereas in India ahimsa stands for a whole philosophy of life, a way of living. The origin of ahimsa goes back to 3.000 B.C., to Buddha and the Buddhism, and to Lord Mahavira, the founder of Jainism. Jain means a conqueror, not a conqueror of countries or treasures, but a conqueror of the self. One who has mastered his own desires.


In the 30s, Gandhi developed the ancient Hindu philosophy of ahimsa, into a social and political tool; this was done not only to make India independent but also to uplift the self-confidence of every Indian, in his constructive programme for social, religious, political and economic justice.


“The political power is based on the maxim that the government of the people is possible, only as long as they consciously or unconsciously consent to be governed. The power resides in the people and is for some time trusted to those you choose as your representatives.”


The force of violence is physical, while the force of non-violence is mental and spiritual. Moreover, Gandhi said that the aggressor may develop a violent behaviour that narrows his possibilities of reaction, and may lead to both bad reputation and painful revenge. For the moment he’s naturally not aware of this. Therefore, we must not only try to prevent violence, but to do it in a way that makes him understand that his methods will hurt him just as much as it will hurt us. To do this is the very core, the essence of non-violence. It’s a kind of technique that uses the violent energy of the aggressor to turn upside down on his self-understanding.


Thus, it is the very essence of ahimsa consciousness and awareness.


Recognizing non-violence

I have found that life persists in the midst of destruction, remarked Gandhi when thousands of Sikhs were massacred in Amritsar in India 1919. “And therefore I came to the conclusion that there exists a force that is stronger than violence”.


But history don’t recognize non-violence. If enemies become friends again, this does not become history. But if they hurt each other it will certainly become history. Non-violence upholds the universe. History just becomes a notebook of its interruptions.


To finally recognize non-violent resistance in our political structure, in our societies, is fairly initiated. There are two kinds of peace researching, soft peace research and hard peace research. The latter has to do with military expenditure, defence policy and nuclear disarmament, and get a lot of attention, while soft peace research has to do with mediation, civil relationships and non-violent conflict resolution—less glamorous, less paid, less noted. What we do, both in the East and the West, is to produce money-making machines, not thinking human beings. The world consumes 2 million dollars every minute on military expenditure. This is not only a question of a waste of money but with the human brilliance. All this power could be used for something constructive.


There are many forms of violence and Gandhi saw poverty as the worst form. Ten thousands of children die every day due to malnutrition and lack of social care. What are the main causes? Often the answer will be conflicts. But what is a conflict? Conflict is only a clash of interest and opinions. They are not the real problem. There will always be different thoughts and ideas. The question is not conflict itself, it is how we handle conflict. And there are only two ways – through violence or through non-violence. If conflict is handled properly they can lead to growth in institutions, they can lead to growth in personal relationships. But we have the war system of today, because we have decided, that when there will be a conflict we may use violence to resolve it. The fact is that non-violent resistance has been used by a lot more people besides Gandhi and Martin Luther King. It is not a question whether non-violence works, but that it has not been recognized in the political structure.


Alternatives to war: Non-violent Defense

I mentioned soft peace research; mediation, civil relationships and nonviolent conflict resolution. The definition of “peace building” by a guru on the area non-violent conflict resolution, John Paul Lederach is “a long-term commitment to a process that includes investment, gathering of resources and materials, architecture and planning, coordination of resources and labour, laying solid foundations, construction of walls and roofs, finish work and ongoing maintenance”. Lederach also emphasizes that peace building centrally involves the transformation of relationships. “Sustainable reconciliation” requires both structural and relational transformations (Lederach, 1997, 20, 82-83).


The need for a concrete plan to promote non-violent resistance internationally has been developed. The first seeds of non-violent defence were as mentioned already spread by Gandhi. Moreover, in 1971 Vinoba Bavhe-Mahatma Gandhi’s spiritual successor—formulated a proposal for an “Unarmed Peacekeeping Force”, presented to the UN. The idea resulted in the “Cyprus Resettlement Project” of 1972-1974. Peace Brigades International was established in Canada 1981. They train escorts to threatened human rights activists in different parts of the world. Peace Brigades today have offices in 14 countries.


The mission of civil peace forces

Civil Peace activities are those which are specially directed towards strengthen Human Rights, and a long term culture of peace and nonviolent solutions in conflicts. The core mission of civil peace forces is to support local initiatives, for long term investments, and most of all to achieve trust. You need faith, trust and courage as well as you need food and water (development work). The term does not include developing projects as building of infra structure, health or education though these themselves are peace fostering. Examples on civil peace services can be accompanying, watching HR and activities, training in non-violence, dialogue and conflict management, negotiation on grass root level. Civil peace forces is a well proven way of organizing the exercising of civil peace services.


We have constructed a perfect violent defence system. We have not put so much on systematic training in non-violent defence. This is not only possible, but also necessary. Our aims are to lobby and convince the politicians. In the Norwegian Peace Council we recently held a seminar on the topic civil peace forces. We had a panel with four central actors working with civil peace forces in slightly different ways; the Norwegian Church Aid, FORSETE (Norwegian training program), Peace Brigades International, and the German Forum Ziviler Friedens Dienst. The Forum ZFD is the biggest in Europe, with 300 peace consultants, and were represented by Jochen Schmidt. The three fields of ZFD he outlined are a good example of the intention, structure and process of civil peace forces.


The process: Recruitment, training and deployment

As mentioned thorough education in peace work is needed, to contribute positively in a conflict area and to avoid damage. This is ensured by the recruitment, training and deployment of civil peace forces by highly professional specialized personnel. After recruitment by for example International Alert or Non-violent Peaceforce (NP) NP), Peace Brigades International (PBI), Forum ZFD (Tyskland), International Alert (Storbritannia) are the organizations with the biggest experience in the field, in deployment and training of the forces.


Political status/achievements

To repeat Gandhi and the essence of conflict resolution and peace building: Non-violence begins in the mind. You can’t live on mistrust and discourage. With faith, trust and courage, non-violence becomes reality and not just a longing or a wish.


Civil peace services are built on the idea of trust. In that perspective, there is an urgent need to develop the same self-confidence as Gandhi managed to do in India in the 30s. More than anything else he enlightened his people and made them feel faith, trust and courage. Achievement by civil peace services have proved out to be increased security, securing access, document HR abuses, establish and nurture collaboration,


Arguments for strengthen the status of civil peace services are many. Today, most peace researchers agree that the major military threats are decreasing; also that after the end of the Cold War, what we are witnessing is a large number of civil wars, within countries, not war between countries. Furthermore, they agree on that the so-called civil threats are increasing; environmental disasters, terrorism, xenophobia and racial violence. But defending human rights and the environment requires a completely new kind of defence. People are now working for a standardized recruitment and training program throughout Europe.


Information about the author

Line recently graduated from the University of Sydney with an MSc in Peace and Conflict Studies. She currently works as a project assistant in the Norwegian Peace Council, and writes articles for Human Rights Defence.