Tag Archives: Peace

Peace on Earth

24 Dec


On this Christmas Eve, as I reflect back over the past year, a whirlwind of images and feelings come up.  It has been an intense year of travel to countries dealing with violent conflict or war, political instability, and economic disparity. Then in my own country, we witnessed a divisive election year, a politically polarized society, ugly rhetoric against people of different races or religious beliefs, and a series of mass shootings including at an elementary school, movie theater, shopping mall and place of worship.

We are a world at conflict on the individual, community and nation state levels.  We see actors on the world stage who use fear to control people and foster hate and division, pitting one against another.  Religion, ethnicity, race, gender, country of origin, are all inflammatory fodder for stirring up emotions of fear and in turn — hate.  It’s been far too common to find individuals and leaders using violence for their own agenda and pushing the fear-mongering and hate-mongering buttons to manipulate and coax people into doing their bidding.

A survey of the headlines over the past year is enough to make even the most optimistic, despair.  We barely have time to acknowledge one tragedy, when another one is on its heels, followed by another after that.

But if you look beyond the headlines and politics, struggles for power and control, you still can find those who relentlessly hold tight to the vision of peace and justice and work tirelessly for a better world.  It is through their sheer determination and effort that there is ample reason for hope.


Don’t complicate the transition (in arabic). Graffiti I came across while driving around in Misurata, Libya. May 2012

During my travels in Libya, I met people in Benghazi, Misurata, Tripoli and Zawia who took my colleagues and me into their lives and homes.  They shared their hopes and dreams for a new, peaceful Libya, free of dictatorship, violence and extremism. I received numerous messages of sincere regret and sorrow immediately after US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his colleagues were killed in a terrorist attack in Benghazi. They wanted America to know that these horrible acts were not representative of the vast majority of Libyans. They took to the streets by the tens of thousands to demonstrate as much.


Choosing our fish to take to a restaurant for grilling in Taiz, Yemen, June 2012

While in Yemen, I traveled to Sana’a and Taiz, meeting amazing young women and men who, despite guns being trained on them as they marched, took to the streets to demand a positive government responsive to the people.  “The youth are Yemen’s hope and future as we have just created a mess,” was a sentiment I heard twice, once from a retired army general and then again from a retired political leader — both frustrated with the slow pace of change and battles for power raging across Yemen and fueling violence and instability.

While in Burma/Myanmar and reiterated during subsequent visits to the US by representatives from Burma/Myanmar, I was surprised by the openness of those I met in the government, who, despite having been isolated for many years under the former repressive military regime, were anxious to get caught up on developments related to good governance, rule of law and conflict resolution.  Each meeting turned into an invigorating and open discussion of ideas, as we discussed what other countries in transition experience and the challenges they face.

Aung San Suu Kyi with me and Suzanne Di Maggio at USIP event,  Washington, DC, September 2012 (Photo Credit:    )

Aung San Suu Kyi with me and Suzanne Di Maggio at USIP event, Washington, DC, September 2012 (Photo Credit: Asia Society/Joshua Roberts )

In Iraq, I had the honor to meet with dedicated civil society representatives who were earnestly organizing dialogues with police to find ways to solve justice and security challenges facing their communities.  In the absence of effective central governance, the citizens and police decided to keep things local and seek common ground and work together.

Buddhist monk in Boudhanath.  Kathmandu, Nepal. October 2012.

Buddhist monk in Boudhanath. Kathmandu, Nepal. October 2012.

While in Nepal, I surveyed the past six years from when I first arrived at the tail end of popular protests that resulted in the King stepping down and re-instating the political process.  Despite a very rough period of political instability and violence after the King’s ouster, and the all too familiar charade of political actors stirring violence for their own ends, Nepal managed to end its ten-year civil war, quell ethnic, religious and communal violence and move tentatively forward.

Then in my own country, despite the politics of division, the elections resulted in the re-election of the president.  The issue of economic inequality has come to the mainstream and is being openly discussed.  The horrific epidemic of gun violence has stirred up a movement demanding action to address its root causes.

So as this year draws to an a close, I want to focus on the people and their determined actions that have resulted in cultivating peace against seemingly insurmountable forces and odds, rather than giving way to the divisions and violence so many attempt to sew.

If there is one universal lesson my travels have revealed, it’s that when each of us owns our own power and makes a determined stand on principles of fairness, equality and justice, then even the most powerful who employ the formidable levers of division, intimidation, violence and coercion — become powerless. Further, while fomenting divisions can sow violence, building unity and understanding can be powerful steps toward creating a lasting and resilient peace. 



Trust: An Essential Ingredient in Building Peace, Justice and Security

5 Nov

Outside the Martyrs Museum in Misurata, Libya

“Peace is more than just the absence of conflict. Peace is the presence of mutually respectful relationships among individuals and groups. Those relationships enable disputes to be handled with tact, understanding, and a recognition that everyone shares some common interests. At the heart of those relationships is trust.”

I am cross-posting below a piece on my trip to Libya that was posted today on the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) website:  http://www.usip.org/in-the-field/trust-essential-ingredient-in-building-peace-justice-and-security

Trust: An Essential Ingredient in Building Peace, Justice and Security

November 5, 2012, In the Field by Colette Rausch

“Why are you here? What interest does the United States Institute of Peace have with Libya?”

Full of uncertainty, suspicion, and even a little fear, the questioner spoke for some of the Libyan participants at a workshop in the battle-scarred city of Misurata. It was June 2012, and my colleagues and I had come there from USIP’s headquarters in the heart of Washington, DC, to facilitate a workshop on justice and security. We had just introduced our Libyan hosts to the packed two-day agenda that we had planned for them, and we were all taking a short coffee break before getting down to business.

But then, as the presenters and participants congregated in small groups—little islands of familiar faces nervously scanning the unfamiliar faces on other islands—one man caught my eye, walked quickly over to me, and asked with transparent concern, “Why are you here?”

We had an agenda, participants, and even refreshments—but, evidently, we did not have trust.

Peace and Trust
Peace is more than just the absence of conflict. Peace is the presence of mutually respectful relationships among individuals and groups. Those relationships enable disputes to be handled with tact, understanding, and a recognition that everyone shares some common interests. At the heart of those relationships is trust.

Trust cannot be coerced, delivered, or manufactured. It develops through a process of collective engagement and through a commitment to a common purpose. Where that process is brand new and where that purpose is vague or open to question, trust does not come easily. Which brings us back to Misurata.

A Proud City 
In the battle between Colonel Gaddafi’s regime and the revolutionary fighters determined to topple it, Misurata was strategically invaluable. Gaddafi knew that if his forces held the city known as Libya’s “business capital” and home to a thriving deep-sea port, he would deny the rebels access both to other parts of the country and to resources from the outside world. Most of the population of Misurata, however, supported the rebels. Gaddafi’s troops bombarded neighborhoods in Misurata, slaughtered hundreds of innocent civilians, and cut off the water supply. But after a four-month-long fight, the rebels, with NATO support, finally ejected the regime’s troops from most of the city in May 2011.

Misurata, Libya

Bloodied but proud of their role in defeating Gaddafi’s war machine, the people of Misurata have since demonstrated an unswerving commitment to rebuilding their city and to playing a leading role in renewing Libya as a free country that provides security, justice and the rule of law to all its people.

In February 2012, I visited Misurata with my colleague Vivienne O’Connor to scout out the potential needs and challenges facing Libya in its post-Gaddafi transition. After Vivienne and I returned to the United States, we began working with our local partners to organize a workshop on the difficulties of transitioning from an authoritarian society to one based on the rule of law. The participants would include lawyers, judges, local council representatives, business people, civil society representatives and Thuwar (revolution fighters) who were now running the city’s prisons.

In June, a small group of us traveled to Misurata to facilitate the workshop, which was entitled “Rule of law, Justice and Security for a New Libya.” We were eager to share our experiences in transitional societies, but we had no thought of insisting that our hosts slavishly follow our recommendations on fostering the rule of law—indeed, we weren’t going to make any recommendations.

One of the things that sets USIP’s Rule of Law Center apart from similar organizations is that, when we enter a post-conflict society, we ask, “How can we help you? What is it you would like from us?” We do not declare, “This is what you need to do.” We learned long ago that local people must make their own decisions about how to develop security and justice in their own country. If there are areas where our experience and expertise can be of use, we are happy to share them but we never force them upon others. After all, our experience and expertise come from listening to just such people. When we go to a transitional society, we talk about case studies and comparative practices; the locals tell us the problems they face and the lessons they have learned. It is a collaborative process that pivots around shared trust. Any solutions that materialize as a result of our collaboration will be homegrown and tailored specifically to the needs of the local population.

Tripoli Street, Misurata, Libya

Unfortunately, while we knew we had no thought of dictating solutions, not all of our Libyan hosts did not. And their skepticism and suspicion were articulated by that one question, “Why are you here?”

Tough Questions
Superficially, the question might have seemed to an outsider to be no more than a polite inquiry. Just below the surface, however, lay uncertainty and mistrust. Those sentiments can roil every workshop, especially if they are not identified and brought to the surface. In Misurata, we were fortunate that they surfaced at the outset. They weren’t shared by everyone in the room, but more than a few felt this way, and we couldn’t afford to ignore those feelings. We had to tackle them there and then if the workshop was not to become a meaningless voyage through bullet points and procedures, an empty academic exercise. If we could answer that question “Why are you here?” (and the numerous other questions underlying it), we might connect on a much deeper level, one built on trust, mutual respect, and personal accountability.

With that in mind, we set our scheduled discussion aside. Once the coffee break ended, we reconvened the workshop, but we spent the next few hours inviting and answering questions. We stressed that we would answer anything; nothing was off the table, nothing was too sensitive to answer. Had we set some conditions, we would have invited further skepticism from participants.

Their queries came in quick secession, some in direct, even blunt language, while others were more nuanced. Libyan tradition insists on extreme politeness to guests, and no one was rude, but everyone wanted honest answers to their honest questions.

Those questions covered a lot of ground, and revealed a lot about unhappy past experiences, fears for the future, and uncertainty about the present.

Some questioners were wary of our connection to the U.S. government. “How can USIP be truly independent if it also takes money from the U.S. government?” asked one person. “How can you talk about justice,” asked another, “when the United States still runs the Guantanamo camp?”

Some questions indicated a lack of exposure to organizations such as USIP. Confusion or bemusement about what we do and why we do it sparked suspicion: “Why do you come to Libya and spend money organizing this workshop for us?” “What do you get out of this?”

Meanwhile, other questions betrayed far too much exposure to international organizations! We heard many stories about foreigners coming to Libya to ask about people’s most desperate needs and dearest dreams, and then leaving Libya, never to be heard from again. We heard several other stories about how various international nongovernmental organizations and others had descended on Libya, scratched the surface, appointed themselves as experts on the country, and published articles that bore little resemblance to reality on the ground for the average Libyan.

The participants recalled how they had opened their doors to the media and candidly explained the challenges Libyans face, only to have some members of the press use that information to paint a distorted portrait of post-revolution Libya, one full of real problems but devoid of the equally real optimism that is so much in evidence in Misurata. The Libyans had felt betrayed—not so much because the reports were critical but because they were inaccurate or one-sided. One official said that he had given a foreign journalist “access to everything” because the official and his colleagues were eager for help and to learn and abide by international standards. But when the journalist’s report came out, the official felt like he had been “hit in the stomach,” because the article presented things in a very negative light without explaining the challenges facing Libya in its transition.

The most pointed questions came from a man who had fought on the front lines against Gaddafi’s forces. He arrived at the workshop wearing camouflage and a facial expression that made me shudder to think about what he had witnessed on the battlefield. It turned out that he had been a businessman and had never imagined that he would pick up a weapon. He had decided, however, that he had no other choice when confronted by the brutality of Gaddafi’s attack and the imminent threat to the lives of his family, friends and community.

Photos of some of the people of Misurata who were killed during the flghting

Graffiti along the road outside Misurata heading back to Tripoli

Participants relayed their frustrations with the outside world, which seemed to expect perfection from the very beginning of the new Libya. They admitted, too, that after 42 years of dictatorship, Libyans were feeling their way through the transition to democracy and would inevitably stumble from time to time. Gaddafi’s own summary execution at the hands of a lone vigilante showed just how difficult it is to apply the rule of law when tensions are so high, emotions are still raw, and everything is still in flux.

At the same time, the participants wanted Libya to be seen as a country that is moving beyond the Gaddafi era and toward a democratic future. Several questioners asked how the West and the international community as a whole view Libya.

Honest Answers
We took each question, and did our best to provide answers that were not only honest but also full. We offered contextual background, explained how USIP operates, related personal experiences, and acknowledged geopolitical realities.

After two hours or more of this sometimes difficult and delicate but always enlightening and sincere exchange, one could feel the tension in the workshop begin to subside, the air begin to clear. When every question had been answered, we moved naturally into the rest of the workshop. The workshop was on ‘Rule of law, Justice and Security for a New Libya.” It brought together 20 representatives from the legal community (prosecutors, judges and lawyers) and civil society. The workshop involved capacity development and facilitated dialogue. Presentation topics included “Justice and Security and the Rule of Law,” “Justice and Security Challenges in States in Transition,” and “Building Justice, Security & the Rule of Law: Examples of Successful Initiatives from Other Countries” (with a specific emphasis on how civil society can actively engage in promoting the rule of law in tandem with government efforts). For the facilitated dialogue component, the participants were asked a series of questions on the challenges and solutions to justice and security issues in Libya. They then broke into groups to discuss these and presented their findings in a plenary session.

Misurata, Libya

Over the rest of that day and throughout the next one, many potentially useful ideas and opinions were exchanged. Participants shared their thoughts freely, with little or none of the caution and apprehension they had displayed at the outset of the workshop.

In Misurata, we went some way toward bridging the gulf that had divided us. We did not bridge it completely or permanently; we could hardly expect to establish an enduringly close rapport in just two days. Trust takes longer to flourish, and it needs to be nurtured. But we laid a foundation that was able to support two days of discussions and learning and to nourish hopes of further sharing in the future.

In the end, none of that progress would have been possible had one participant not asked the question that brought into stark relief the importance of building the one thing that is often the hardest to come by following violent conflict: trust.

Explore Further

Foreign Police Assistance: Lessons from the Field

10 Jul

Nepal Police (Photo Credit: Shobhakar Budhathoki)

My institute held an event on Friday:  Foreign Police Assistance:  Lessons from the Field.   Having worked on justice and police reform efforts in post-conflict countries over the past 13 years, I am passionate about this topic. To me, rule of law reform is not just a technical exercise, but a path to peace. At its foundation, rule of law is about people, their relationships and the values that the society holds and upholds.  It is about fairness, justice and accountability for everyone, no matter what your station in life.  Without that, we will continue to be stuck in a cycle of violence.  There will be no peace.

I was a panelist at the event and spoke about the need to find ways to be smarter about what we do before we invest money and other resources into justice and security reform efforts overseas.

I specifically discussed the critical need to engage in an operational analysis beforehand.  In addition, I addressed the need  to find ways to work at the local level, from the “bottom up,” while at the same time, working from the institutional level or “top down.”

To that end, to address instability and crime in a post-conflict environment, even before engaging in any form of justice and security sector reform, we need to take time to listen and engage through mechanisms such as justice and security dialogue (JSD) (see previous post that discusses “JSD” in detail) and a well-crafted access to justice survey.

I concluded my remarks emphasizing that a platform is needed for people to voice their grievances, provide meaningful input and participate in the formulation of policy recommendations.  This is particularly important in the present day context of what we are seeing in the middle east and north Africa.  There is a demand for justice, security, and accountability— defining features of the rule of law.  There is a call in the streets for having a voice in the process of reform and change.  We would do well to heed that call and ensure that police assistance programs reflect these voices.

C-SPAN covered the event so it is on video.  Here is the link:  http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/PoliceAs

Foreign Police Assistance: Lessons from the Field

Seven U.S. federal agencies collectively spend billions of dollars annually on training and equipping police in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Mexico, Colombia, and elsewhere abroad.  Indeed, effective, accountable local police are a vital stopgap against terrorism, narcotics-trafficking and crime.  Yet, U.S. approaches toward civilian law enforcement assistance vary considerably from country to country, mission to mission, and agency to agency.

On July 8, the U.S. Institute of Peace will bring together field experts from USAID, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Defense to examine various approaches to U.S. law enforcement assistance.  The session will introduce USAID’s newly released Field Guide for USAID Democracy and Governance Officers: Assistance to Civilian Law Enforcement in Developing Countries and USIP will present lessons learned from police participation in its justice and security dialogues in Nepal and other countries.  We hope you can join us.


  • David YangIntroduction
    Director of the Office of Democracy, Human Rights and Governance, Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, USAID
  • John BuchananPanelist
    Author, Field Guide for USAID Democracy and Governance Officers: Assistance to Civilian Law Enforcement in Developing Countries
    Deputy Director, International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program, U.S. Department of Justice
  • Lieutenant General James DubikPanelist
    Senior Fellow, Institute for the Study of War
    Former Commander, Multi National Security Transition Command-Iraq
  • Michele GreensteinPanelist
    Deputy Director, Office of Criminal Justice Assistance and Partnership, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, U.S. Department of State
  • Colette RauschPanelist
    Director, Rule of Law Center, U.S. Institute of Peace
  • Robert PeritoModerator
    Director, Security Sector Governance Center, U.S. Institute of Peace

Building Community

31 May

Wisdom comes at unexpected times. I stopped by my community garden plot today to give the plants a drink of water in advance of the heat advisory level temperatures pushing into the 90’s. My plot borders the community garden front fence.  A sidewalk lines the other side of the fence and whenever I am working in my plot, I see and greet people who periodically pass by. Sometimes I am asked what is going on in the area and how someone else could get a similar plot. Sometimes I am engaged in conversation and offered gardening advice, as I was two weeks back when a kind gentleman warned me that my plants were inaccessible and I needed more walkway space in between my rows of plants. (Ever since then, as I work from the walkway spaces to weed and pull suckers from my tomatoes, I smile and mentally thank him, as he was right.)  So today a gentleman stopped and asked me the routine questions about what is going on and how does one get a plot.  Then he asked if he could come in. I let him in and, as he surveyed my plot and the other plots, I could tell he did not approve.

He told me that he was from Sierra Leone.  (Sierra Leone is a country that continues to rebuild after being ravaged by war. A few years ago, I landed by plane in Sierra Leone on my way to Liberia but we only stopped to let off passengers and then went on our way.) He told me that he had horticulture experience and that what we needed to do was to get together as a community and agree upon a certain crop that we would all grow.  Then we should rotate our crops each year and plant something else.  He described how rotating crops helps to prevent infestation and disease.  Otherwise, he said, we would be encouraging bacteria and bugs to get cozy in our garden year after year and eat our crops.

You know, he said, the problem with people here, is that they do their own thing, focus on their own ideas.  They separate out and stay to themselves. They don’t know their neighbors and don’t work together as a community. Translating this to the garden, he said that by doing their own thing in a community garden, people fail to successfully yield the level of crops they want. Worse, they end up destroying the land and the future crops.  But if they collaborated and worked together toward a common purpose, they would all succeed together and harvest much more.

I was struck by the simplicity of his words.  Moreover, I was struck by the wisdom of what he was saying in that I thought about how we promote “rule of law” abroad yet each organization or country comes in with their own ideas on how it should be done.  Each works independently and separately from the other organizations and countries. Then we wonder why progress is not made.  Or worse, why things in some cases deteriorate on the justice and security front.

As I was working through these parallels in my mind, he went on.  You know, he said, I used to go out to the countryside of my country to help the people grow more crops and share with them ideas on how they could do that. He explained how he was from the city and educated and how he knew that due to the conditions in villages, if he ate the food, he would get ill.  But he said that he could not go into a village and refuse the food because that would be an insult and he would not succeed in building the trust needed to help increase their ability to grow more food. So he said he used diplomacy.  If the food had salt, he would say that his doctor  would not let him eat salt for his health. Then he would have a good reason not to eat the food and all would be well.  He said it is important to use diplomacy to make a difference and not cause barriers to getting development work done.

We exchanged a few more words and then he left.

I stood there for a few minutes and smiled and mused about how lucky I am to have the community garden that is not only growing vegetables, but is also growing community. It has been so rewarding to share tips, ideas and time with my fellow plotters. I’m thankful that it has created the doorway to such unexpected encounters with passersby, not only enriching  my gardening but my work in peacebuilding as well.

New Beginnings and a Tragic End

29 May

 It was so hot today that after about an hour and a half at the community garden plot, we needed to take a break and get out of the sun. Calvin helped out in the beginning and then went with Patrick to the park next door to the community garden and they played a Harry Potter board game so I could finish my gardening duties. There were only a few other plotters in the community garden while I was there. One plotter was with her parents and this was the first time she had gardened so we talked about tomato supports and ideas. I so love when other plotters are in the garden and we can chat about soil, spacing, water and planting.  I love gardening because it allows me to plant seeds of life, witness continual growth and renewal. This helps me when my work often involves the reality of violence and death.

Setting Up

Using our New Knee Pads

My time in the garden today allowed me to process the news that I received last night from my colleague from Afghanistan. He reported that General Daud Daud (Chief of Police for all of Northern Afghanistan), two Afghan police and two German soldiers were killed by a suicide bomber in an area that was believed to be relatively safe. It was so tragic and hit me very hard last night as I could sense my colleague’s loss, both personally and for his country. It is times like this that renews my resolve for building peace and fostering “soft power” to help put an end to such senseless loss of human life. This coming on Memorial Day weekend which also happens to coincide with the US House of Representatives taking aim again at the peace institute. This time voting a few days back to repeal its charter. I found this so ironic that at the time when we are honoring those who died for our country, we would also be putting such low value on peace and the peacemakers who, working side by side with our troops, risk their own lives to prevent war and save human life.

Planting Seeds of Unity

21 May

Last night in our backyard, we welcomed colleagues and friends for a dinner gathering. Some had traveled from Nepal. Others had traveled from Egypt. The remainder live here. We came together to relax, enjoy the evening and share conversation. We also discussed the peace building experiences of Nepal and its relevance for what is happening in Egypt now.  We talked about the importance of bringing together civil society, the community and police to bridge the understanding and trust gap, while at the same time coming up with joint solutions on how to build justice and security following a revolution. Planting seeds of peace.

When they left, I thought about how in my tiny little backyard, we had Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews and Christians all together talking about finding ways to unite rather than divide.  About how peace is dependent upon this.

Peace is Nothing More than a Dust Speck

31 Mar

Eggplant and peppers are particular.   Nearly every tomato seed planted resulted in a seedling. Not the case with eggplant and peppers. Hopefully will end up with enough to plant when all is said and done.  I went out and picked up more lettuce seedlings from the nursery. They will go in the cold frame.  I am still recovering from the four casualties from the last squirrel attack.  The new seedlings will help expedite my recovery process.  Was able to harvest some leaves for taco dinners yesterday and today from the lettuce seedlings Iplanted a few weeks back.   Totally love that harvesting thing.  Talking about attacks, fortunately, the peace institute is holding its own despite the recent move by the House to defund it.

Going on over a month of the peace institute budget battle and not yet resolved.  Someone sent to me a graphical representation of the fiscal year 2011 government budget.   Each agency or program was represented by a circle of varying size depending upon the expenditure.  I searched and searched for the peace institute’s budget.  I could not find it amongst the circles that were clearly noticeable. I saw a grouping of nearly microscopic “dots” or more accurately described as nothing more than dust specks.  No, the peace institute could not be amongst such tiny neighbors, could it?   I decided that my glasses were not strong enough because I simply could not find the peace institute.   Then I saw it.  I rubbed my eyes.  No, say it isn’t so.  Alas, it is so. The peace institute was the second smallest dust speck. What was the smallest? The office of governmental ethics.  (Of course that was before the recent zeroing out of the peace institute’s budget, now the peace institute is dead last.)  Hmmm, what is the relevance of that?  Peace and Ethics rivaling for last place? Hmmm.

%d bloggers like this: