Amid warfare worldwide, unarmed civilians attempt protests or negotiations with combatants to protect their communities from violence. These citizens defy the culture of fear that armed groups enforce, and risk retribution. New research highlights how communities use cohesion and social structures to non-violently influence armed groups—a capacity that governments and institutions often fail to recognize. On October 2, USIP convened a discussion on such community self-protection, and how policymaking might better support it in conflict zones such as in Syria or Afghanistan.

Research by USIP fellow Oliver Kaplan is documented in a new book, Resisting War. It explores how unarmed civilians pressure government troops, or paramilitary or insurgent fighters to limit violence. Former combatants who faced dissent from local citizens told Kaplan that when deciding whether to use repression they weighed, in part, the solidarity of a community and the moral and reputational risks of committing a massacre.

In this event, panelists discussed the implications of the new research for preventing violence and protecting communities during conflict—and for countering violent extremism and stemming refugee crises. They specifically examined the success of some communities in protecting themselves during Colombia’s half-century of civil war. The discussion considered what the findings mean for U.S. foreign policy as the United States confronts continued war in Afghanistan and the need to promote peace and security in Syria.

Continue the conversation on Twitter with #peoplepower4peace.

Speakers

Carla Koppell, Moderator
Vice President, Applied Conflict Transformation, U.S. Institute of Peace

Oliver Kaplan
Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow, U.S. Institute of Peace
Assistant Professor, Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver

Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli
Senior Associate for the Andes, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)

Steve Pomper
Senior Policy Scholar, U.S. Institute of Peace
Former Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for African Affairs, Multilateral Affairs, and Human Rights, National Security Council

Mauricio García Durán, S.J.
Executive Director of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), Colombia
Former Executive Director, Center for Research and Popular Education (CINEP)

Related Publications

Colombia’s National Strike: Inequality and Legitimacy Crises Drive Unrest

Colombia’s National Strike: Inequality and Legitimacy Crises Drive Unrest

Thursday, May 27, 2021

By: Steve Hege

After Colombia’s government proposed new tax hikes, social organizations and movements called for a national strike on April 28 across the country. Protesters believed the new fiscal policy — which the government said was aimed at mitigating the pandemic’s economic impact — would disproportionately hurt poor and vulnerable sectors of society. Although the marches and mass gatherings were initially widespread and peaceful, security forces cracked down on demonstrators accused of taking part in vandalism, killing at least 43 and injuring hundreds more. Meanwhile, pre-existing and resulting anger among some groups of protesters led to attacks on security forces and police stations, setting off a cycle of violence.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance

Four Lessons I Learned from the Dalai Lama

Four Lessons I Learned from the Dalai Lama

Monday, April 5, 2021

By: Lorena Gómez Ramírez

In October 2019, I visited Dharamsala, a small town in northwestern India where the Dalai Lama and other Tibetans have made their home. I consider myself blessed not only to have eaten momos, grilled vegetables, bananas and bread with the Dalai Lama, but also for having shared those moments with 22 other youth leaders who came from countries like Syria, Iraq, Myanmar, Afghanistan and Somalia, among others. I met the Dalai Lama and other youth peacebuilders as part of the U.S. Institute of Peace’s Generation Change Fellows Program. Everything I heard from them and the Dalai Lama touched me in a profound way.

Type: Blog

Youth

View All Publications