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During April 24-25, 2018 the United Nations convened a high-level meeting in New York on peacebuilding and sustaining peace. The purpose of the meeting was to assess efforts undertaken and opportunities to strengthen the United Nations work on peacebuilding and sustaining peace. The United Nations Headquarters welcomed heads of states to review the organization’s current work in conflict prevention and how to strengthen current operations and institutions related to peace. The High-Level Meeting was an occasion for participants from government, civil society, including women’s groups and representatives of the youth, the private sector, regional and sub-regional organizations and academia to discuss ways to support and promote sustaining peace. This was an historical milestone for advancing the United Nations’ work in the areas of conflict prevention and post-conflict peacebuilding and to set the stage for a wider agenda of renewal and reform.
This meeting attracted the highest levels of attendance seen at the United Nations this year. It brought about a greater understanding of how one views peace. Perhaps Miroslav Lajc ̌a ́k President of the United Nations General Assembly said it best:
“Peace is more than a ceasefire. It is more than a peace deal. And, it is more than the absence of war. This means that once-off operations or activities are not enough to achieve it. Instead, we need to tackle conflict at its roots. We need to look to the horizon, to see the warning signs. We need to build a culture of peace; a culture of prevention.”
The meeting focused on a discussion in four areas.
First, the UN meeting attendees looked at prevention, especially long-term prevention. This put the focus on sustainable development, economic growth, institution building and the respect for human rights.
The second focus area was on coherence at both national and international levels. President Miroslav Lajc ̌a ́k spoke of a few examples such as in The Gambia where sustainable peace is central to the country’s national development plan. In Malawi United Nations development and political actors came together to support the national peace architecture. And in New York the Peacebuilding Commission is building bridges across the United Nations three pillars.
Sustaining peace does not stand a chance unless it is driven by national actors. Examples discussed included the Philippines where national cultures and policies were complemented rather than replaced.
The most prominent lesson was about inclusion. There are greater results with more inclusion. A shining example is how the women in Liberia have come together. They have developed a platform and a strong united voice, and because of their commitment and determination ended a civil war and now have come together to prevent the country from sliding back into war. Another example is the Balkans where young people even years after the fighting stopped continued to work for reconciliation. And in Sri Lanka civil society designed the national reconciliation process.
So how does political forgiveness fit into all of this?
Political forgiveness is a very inclusive and comprehensive approach to peacebuilding and sustaining peace. It is a process which involves the individual, the community and changing structures to support healing and reconciliation. As mentioned earlier, understanding the root causes is very important in peacebuilding and sustaining peace. Underneath the root causes are painful emotions which are driving the conflict and if the emotional currents are not given voice, emotions especially of anger, fear and hate will become a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. Political forgiveness on an individual and community level focuses on healing these emotions so the root causes can be addressed.
In September 2015, the General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to guide the role of public, non-profit, for-profit and voluntary sectors in global development. Goal 16 focuses on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. Focusing on Goal 16 provides a wonderful opportunity for developing political forgiveness within countries. There are many facets to this and where political forgiveness can fit in. The UN can support such programs as “Schools for Forgiveness and Reconciliation” to help with the healing of political and domestic violence on an individual level. The UN can also support indigenous practices which involves community healing such as the Fambul Tok program in Sierra Leone. Lastly, to support goal 16 the UN can help governments look at structures within their countries which can support a culture of peace. This is where the transformational power of political forgiveness lies in not only healing individuals and communities but in also helping to change structures where it has the capacity to heal nations. Giving what the goals are of the United Nations and what it wants to achieve, the process of political forgiveness makes these goals achievable and is a process which fosters prevention and transforms conflict supporting peacebuilding mechanisms and sustaining peace around the world.
Dr. Eileen Borris, a Thunderbird adjunct professor, licensed psychologist and expert on political forgiveness, was invited to attend the UN’s high-level meeting to support discussions on peacebuilding. Dr. Borris is the author of “Finding Forgiveness: A 7 Step Program for Letting Go of Anger and Bitterness” (published by McGraw-Hill) and her work can be found at DrBorris.com. Connect with her at www.linkedin.com/in/dreileenborris or follow her on Twitter @erborris.