As political turmoil intensifies, over 500 Burundian women are working as community peace mediators, actively helping to avert over 5,000 conflicts.
Between 1993 and 2005, the civil war in Burundi cost approximately 300,000 lives and left hundreds of thousands displaced. In 2015, strife erupted once again.
The conflict stirs up painful memories for 59-year-old Rose Nyandwi. In 1972, she dropped out of school after her father was killed. Decades later, in 1993, she lost her husband during the Civil War. But she did not let loss consume her.
The widowed mother of eight children managed to restore balance, a sense of purpose and a feeling of belonging to her community through her work with women’s organizations. Today, Ms. Nyandwi is a mediator in the southern province of Makamba with the Women Network for Peace and Dialogue. Since January 2015, with funding from the UN Peacebuilding Fund, the UN Women-supported network has worked hand-in-hand with national authorities and civil society organizations and communities to prevent violence and conflict.
“Victims of conflict trust us to solve their problems in an effective and respectful manner,” said Ms. Nyandwi. “Our strategy is to build partnerships … to avoid the community thinking we are acting on our own.”
The network consists of 534 mediators working across all municipalities in Burundi (129 in total). By their count, women mediators addressed over 5,000 conflicts at the local level in 2015. They also initiated dialogues in 17 provinces with political actors, security forces and civil society.
This network was developed in light of the ongoing need for reconciliation, post-civil war. Recently, in the lead-up to the 2015 elections, the incumbent President’s run for a third term—a move contested as unconstitutional by the opposition—sparked a new political and security crisis. Since late April 2015, tensions between the Government and opposition have led to sporadic violence between security forces and protesters in the capital, Bujumbura. This has made the work of women mediators all the more crucial.
(Text by UN Women. Photo credit: UN Women/Bruno Gumyubumwe)
Quick interventions by the UN Peacebuilding Fund support police and gendarmerie as the Central African Republic moves toward peace
The UN Peacebuilding Fund is sometimes called a rapid-response mechanism, a fund ready to quickly support programs that aim at restoring the basic provision of security at a time of instability as fighting forces withdraw, development aid isn’t yet ready and uncertainty over the future looms.
Far away from a potential crisis, in UN Headquarters in New York, the PBF maintains an agile framework that allows it to approve funding within a matter of days or even quicker.
Take the need for human rights observers in the Central African Republic. In December 2013, the UN Special Political Mission there needed more observers to prevent an escalation in human rights abuses. It turned to the PBF for urgent funding. In New York, the Fund approved the request within 24 hours. The Fund transferred $900,000, extra observers were brought in and a deepening of the crisis was averted.
In this vein, the PBF stepped in repeatedly during the last years to help sustain a fragile peace in the Central African Republic. Decisions were made fast. Funding was channelled to have maximum impact.
When the General Assembly and the Security Council created the Fund, it was exactly to help fill that volatile vacuum between the end of violent conflict and the onset of a stable peaceful society.
With police and gendarmerie stations destroyed and looted during the 2013 crisis, the provision of security became extremely difficult for the transitional government. The Fund decided within 10 days to provide $2.5 million to urgently rehabilitate and equip eight police and three gendarmerie stations, as well as pay for vehicles.
A larger crisis loomed later. Public servants, including police officers, had not been paid for a long time and resources to pay their salaries were limited. This risked fuelling an already fragile situation and the transitional government could lose its legitimacy vis-à-vis the population.
The PBF again acted fast and within three days from the request, decided to allocate $4.6 million to CAR to pay for the salaries of 3,417 police and gendarmerie officers for five months. Due to the sensitive nature of police and gendarmerie services, the UN and World Bank agreed a division of labour with the Peacebuilding Fund taking responsibility for their funding and the World Bank paying civil service salaries for the same period of time.
A PBF-funded project registers 350,000 children in Côte d’Ivoire, where lack of a national identity has sparked violent conflicts in the past.
The new father had to travel six hours from his work as a gas station attendant back to the capital Abidjan to register Marie-Lyse, his new-born daughter. The trip and the wait at the district town hall will be worth it, because Marie-Lyse will later be able to take state exams, finish her schooling, get a job and become a regular voting citizen of Côte d’Ivoire. She will be a fully accepted Ivorian.
That’s important for peace, too. In a country where many lack a clear national identity, the absence of social cohesion contributed to more than a decade of on-and-off violent conflict. Tackling the very first act that establishes one’s national identity, registering one’s birth, is critical to preventing renewed violence over the long term.
Distances and lack of awareness traditionally hampered the birth registration rate. As civil war forced people to flee their home towns, the rate fell even further. Some didn’t get a chance to register their children. Others lost their birth certificates. In 2000, 72% of children were reported to the registry office, while in 2012 only 65% of children were reported. The situation is worse in remote districts. An estimated 2.8 million children weren’t registered.
Left unaddressed, they would be bound to live in legal limbo, with no access to advanced schooling, good jobs, health care or social services. On that scale, it also undermines state authority, the absence of which can contribute to the likelihood of violent conflict.
That’s why the UN Peacebuilding Fund provided $2 million to UNICEF, UNFPA and UNHCR to address the problem. Working with the Ivorian government, they are using the funding to raise awareness among the population and urge them to register their new-born children. They are also helping those who failed to register earlier. While registering a child is relatively easy during the first three months after birth, it is much harder later, when it involves the courts.
They have provided 120 motorbikes, 50 computer setups and 10,000 sets of records to support 120 civil registration centers. So far, they have reached more than 30,000 people in 201 villages. The project is nearing its goal of registering 350,000 children by the end of the current phase.
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