Preventing social conflicts is a commitment to sustainable development | Gastón Aín

19 May 2016

 Dealing constructively with social conflicts, preventing and resolving them peacefully are essential elements for a new generation of policies, in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Photo: UNDP El Salvador

The new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development incorporates under goal 16 the massive challenge of promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, facilitating  access to justice and creating responsive institutions at all levels.

Goal 16  is definitely inspired by the infrastructures for peace (I4P) concept firstly introduced by former General Secretary Kofi Annan in 2006: “Essentially,  the  aim  should  be  the  creation  of  a  sustainable   national   infrastructure   for   peace   that   allows   societies   and   their   governments  to  resolve  conflicts  internally  and  with  their  own  skills,  institutions  and resources. The elements of such an infrastructure are sketched out below”.

Infrastructures for peace have been defined as dynamic interdependent nets consisting of structures, mechanism, resources, values and skills which, through dialogue and consultation, contribute to preventing conflicts and peacebuilding in a society. One example of these infrastructures are the early warning and response systems (EWRS). The EWRS are mechanisms for preventing and addressing conflicts that focus on the systematic collection, processing and analysis of information (quantitative or qualitative) about conflict situations for the purpose of warning decision-makers so that they can take measures or implement actions that will avoid the emergence or escalation of conflict.

In Latin America and the Caribbean region, demands behind social conflicts combine claims for the exercise of indigenous people’s rights to self-government and territory, protests to guarantee access to basic services, demonstrations for higher salaries and resistance to exploitation of natural resources. The fragmentation and heterogeneity of social movements and organizations in the LAC region has deepened over the past decade and the current conflictivity landscape showcases conflicts where unions, informal workers, indigenous peoples, farmers, ethnic groups, women, youth, environmental groups, precarious workers and non-governmental organizations pursue their respective agendas and defend their sectorial interests as well their visions on how to tackle development challenges.

It is in this context that UNDP and the Organization of American States (OEA) have produced a Practical Guide for Early Warning and Response Systems Design for Social Conflicts – which has been launched in Washington DC (link only in Spanish) by Jessica Faieta, UNDP Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, and Luis Almagro, OEA General Secretary.

The Guide provides a logical and detailed sequence on the essential steps to put into function o early warning systems at national, regional or local level. The Guide stresses at all times that each system must be designed and implemented taking into consideration the needs and realities of each context. This Guide does not provide exact formulas or closed models but rather highlights important aspects to be considered in the design and development of these type of systems.

The Guide is based on the premise that early warning systems can be useful to anticipate the emergence of disputes or conflicts, and their corresponding treatment based on a peaceful, constructive and sustainable approach. It attempts to collect, in a conceptual manner, many of the experiences that have taken place during these years   in terms of conflict prevention and early warning. The cases of Peru, Costa Rica, Guatemala or Honduras, to mention just a few, have provided valuable lessons to study and learn from.

The decision to elaborate this instrument and others of its kind, such as the Practical Guide on Democratic Dialogue, aims at responding to the needs and requests  of governments,  social and academic organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean, based on the common understanding that it is necessary to continue producing, disseminating and, especially, utilizing practical, useful and easy tools for the prevention, management and resolution of potential social conflicts. This will simultaneously contribute to strengthening democratic governance, respect for human rights and the rule of law.

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