University of Notre Dame
Kroc Institutde for International Peace Studies

Sarah Smiles Persinger

Regional Intergovernmental Organizations (RIGOs) — such as the European Union, Arab League, Organization of American States, and similar organizations — are playing a growing role in peace and security affairs. The complexity of global security threats and the rise of intra-state conflicts that frequently spill across borders have prompted a regional approach to security management.

The United Nations Security Council has supported the devolution of some security responsibilities to regional organizations. States are expected to submit disputes to regional organizations as well as to international institutions. These trends have prompted both governmental bodies and civil society organizations to adopt regional approaches to conflict prevention and peacebuilding.

The number of civil society organizations working on preventative diplomacy and peacebuilding more broadly has grown exponentially in recent decades. As norms around conflict prevention have widened to include human security and gender perspectives, these organizations have assumed a more prominent role in peace and security. Many civil society efforts have adopted a regional approach, and some are attempting to work in partnership with regional organizations.

The Global Partnership on the Prevention of Armed Conflict, a network of civil society organizations in conflict prevention and peacebuilding, has played an important role in strengthening collaboration among civil society organizations and regional organizations for peacebuilding. Working with many local partner groups around the world, the Global Partnership has helped identify opportunities and obstacles in forging collaboration.

Institutions to advance peace and security exist in most regions, but their ability to engage in regional peacebuilding may not be sufficient to meet conflict-related challenges. In some regions, regional organizations do not provide space for public participation or the involvement of independent civil society organizations, which limits their credibility and effectiveness. In settings with limited intergovernmental capacity for regional peacebuilding, private actors and civil society groups often have stepped into the breach.

Because they have nuanced local knowledge and networks, nongovernmental actors and civil society groups can provide more accurate assessments of conflict dynamics in a particular region. They also may engage with a wider range of potential peacebuilding partners.

Civil society organizations working on broader aspects of peacebuilding have the “people-centered, bottom-up” perspectives that can be missing from state-centric security analyses. Because they have grassroots knowledge, they can play an important role in early warning of crises. When civil society groups work together in coordinated action they can be instrumental in building and sustaining peace.

While the United Nations has encouraged cooperation between regional organizations and civil society organizations, the gap in implementation remains wide, with few institutional or formal linkages. Regional organizations often are unaware of the work of civil society organizations and vice versa. The Global Partnership on the Prevention of Armed Conflict is helping to overcome these gaps and facilitate more inclusive and collaborative peacebuilding efforts.

The following are examples of the small but growing number of successful partnerships:

  • The West Africa Network for Peacebuilding signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to assist with early warning and response to potential conflict. The network provides this service by drawing on the knowledge and analysis from its local pool of civil society contacts. It also has helped ECOWAS in mediation efforts in Guinea and Cote D’Ivoire.
  • An ad hoc coalition of Arab human rights organizations has worked to encourage the Arab League to reform its human rights protection system and give civil society a greater voice in policy processes. The organizations have shared information with the Arab Human Rights Committee and have lobbied the League to take a tougher stance on human rights abuses in Syria and various other issues.
  • FemLINKpacific, which empowers women in Fiji, has engaged in dialogue with the Pacific Island Forum to advocate for more robust regional efforts to implement UN Security Council Resolutions that call for increasing the role of women in international peace and security efforts. Building on relationships established over time, members of FemLINKpacific have convinced the Pacific Island Forum to endorse a regional action plan on women, peace and security.

Peacebuilding partnerships between civil society organizations and regional organizations are in their infancy, but they are likely to mature and become increasingly important as a means of transforming and preventing regionally based armed conflict.

Sarah Smiles Persinger is a policy studies research consultant.