When and will then examine civil society’s

When citizens feel they are being affected head on,
by armed conflict, often a common interest is developed in order to contribute to
the conflict’s resolution. This encourages the emergence of civil society
organisations (McKeon 2005). Most basically, “civil society” can be described
as non-profit, non-governmental, voluntary organisations and networks such as
various sectoral or interest groups that function not only at a national level,
but at a local level as well (Santos n.d.). This paper seeks to understand what
exactly the role of civil society is, in peace processes during times of
conflict. This essay will begin by outlining the meaning of civil society and
what it is, and will then examine civil society’s contributions and effects to peace
processes.

 

According to
Kaldor (2003), civil society can be referred to as the realm where the private
issues and matters of people are brought forward and made into public issues. Graham
(2016), describes four discussions of civil society. The first, viewing civil
society as associational life, or in other words, social capital. Her second
discussion is of civil society as the public sphere. This enables civic society
organisations and citizens to engage in democratic debate and discourse
regarding various issues. Third, civil society as activism, where these
voluntary groups and civil society organisations are considered to be social
movements that partake in social and political activism. Her last discussion is
of civil society as the “good society”, in other words, a society that
demonstrates idealistic attributes. She notes that these four discourses of
civil society are overlapping functions played out by civil society.  Broadly, it is believed that if not the
solution to war and conflict, civil society can influence the reduction,
transformation and management of conflict. A report on civil society by the
World Bank in 2007 states that in volatile states, civil society may provide
support by delivering emergency relief, public services, and humanitarian aid.

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However, it has also been noticed that in societies with deep divisions,
different civil society organisations (that stand for different beliefs) may
turn against each other, further polarising society. Thus, although at times
civil society may reinforce contemporaneous hostilities, it has also proven
effective in minimising conflict and encouraging resolution (Graham 2016).

 

In his book, Brewer
(2010), mentions that an active civil society, not only helps manage conflict
but is also an essential part of a healthy democracy as it enables public
discourse, and creates feelings of shared interest amongst citizens. The
effects of civil society have been positive in a number of cases, causing civil
society to become global. ‘Global civil society’ contains the same voluntary
organisations, NGO’s and social movements, networks of exchange, except on a transnational
scale, raising exponentially the platform of discussion. Global civil society helps
in facilitating peace making. It has also had a major impact on the expansion
of humanitarian law and interventions which assist in regulating violence. This
very interconnectedness throughout the globe, allows people even far away, to
relate to each other and often heightens mutual concern forming cultural links
between people, and ultimately motivating peacekeeping.  In the way that violence disrupts and worsens environmental,
gender, social and economic issues, peace helps to stabilise and solve them,
this is achieved by global civil society, through a process termed as ‘Glocalisation’.

A phrase coined by Roland Robertson, to describe global thoughts being acted
out locally and simultaneously, local issues being brought forward onto a
global scale. ‘Glocalisation’ makes civil society highly effective as it deals
with grassroots-state issues as well as transnational issues, giving local
committees an opportunity to publicise their issues and make themselves heard
on a far wider scale.

 

Another virtue
of civil society when it comes to peace processes is that it functions as a
centre, from which various involvements, engagements, dialogue and negotiations
emanates towards the state. By doing this, it transfers information such as
private issues or local troubles into more powerful, public and effective areas
of deliberation.

Civil society
has four roles or ‘spaces’ in peace processes. The first is an intellectual space
which refers to the visualising of new and alternative ideas about peace where
individual, private issues are reflected upon in order to resolve conflict. The
second is institutional spaces where these envisaged ideas are acted on and
practiced amongst various civil society groups. Making these groups drivers of
peace transformation. The third space is a sociological space in which resources
such as social, cultural and material are drawn from civil society and networks
in order to mobilise the alternative ideas. The last space is a political one,
which includes the communication between civil society groups and political
groups in order to make negotiations about the peace process (Brewer 2010).  Recently, civil society has played a larger role in
peace processes, this rise has been due to international organisations and supportive
NGOs and their financial aid, such as The World Bank, Atlantic Philanthropies
etc. who are inclined towards world peace and democracy.

Civil
society as a method of conflict resolution has been given a lot of credit
because first, it provides an unconventional method to manage and direct
conflict amongst groups. Second, civil society is seen as not just an advocate
for human rights but also as a mediator between the common man and the state.

Third, civil society could potentially bridge the gap between conflicting
parties by encouraging communication and reconciliation (Leeuwen and Verkoren
2012 in Graham 2016). Although civil society have proven to be effective in
conflict resolution and peace processes, it is only one contributing factor of
many (Graham 2016).

 

In conclusion, civil
society has been successful not only in creating dialogue between opposing
groups, but even bringing that dialogue to a recognised, public space, in some
cases, making it transnational. Civil society has also helped to represent the
issues and troubles of small groups of people, who otherwise may not have had
the opportunity to express their concerns. In the case of Northern Ireland,
civil society has not had a major role to play, rather, the effects of civil
society have been gradual. Civil society may not necessarily resolve every
conflict and many a time may actually cause a deeper rift between groups,
however all in all it usually has a positive effect in peace processes and has
mostly helped in situations of conflict.