Inclusive Peace & Transition Initiative

Thursday 31 May 2018 8-10am, Le Restaurant de la Maison de la Paix, Geneva

IPTI organized an executive breakfast to explore International Geneva’s role in implementing and operationalizing the UN Secretary-General’s prevention agenda and the twin Sustaining Peace resolutions. The agenda and resolutions conceptualize a shift towards preventive action: they connect peacebuilding, development, and humanitarian action even more closely; they put forward the need to build effective coalitions between state, civil society, and business actors; and they emphasize the need for inclusive national ownership, giving local actors a consistent voice and encouraging women and youth to play a critical role in preventing and mitigating conflict.

The event brought together a small, Geneva-based group of ambassadors, state representatives, officials from international organizations, and experts. Moderated by IPTI Director Dr. Thania Paffenholz, and starting with a “hard talk” conversation with International Peace Institute Senior Adviser  Dr. Youssef Mahmoud that was followed by a floor discussion, participants examined the novel and potentially transformative aspects of the Prevention and Sustaining Peace Agenda. They traced the kind of holistic approach needed to implement and operationalize the agenda, and explored the added value of International Geneva.  

The More Positive Aspirations of the Prevention and Sustaining Peace Agenda

The notion of sustaining peace seeks to go beyond a binary approach to dealing with conflict in terms of problems and opportunities, and the premise of peacebuilding that suggests that addressing the causes of conflict builds peace. It has more positive aspirations for peace. In addition to addressing the drivers of conflict, peacemaking and peacebuilding efforts must also examine mechanisms and institutions that help to sustain peace, particularly focusing on societies that have experienced stress factors but that have successfully avoided descent into conflict.  

The potentially transformative nature of the Sustaining Peace Agenda lies in its focus on reconceptualizing prevention from a linear, siloed approach to a holistic and cross-cutting endeavor, starting from an end goal of the kind of just, peaceful, and inclusive societies we want to build. The agenda identifies power imbalances, inequality, and economic, social, and especially political exclusion as principal causes of violence and conflict. It stresses the need to go beyond technical and institutional responses and find political solutions to what are fundamentally political problems. It also recognizes peace as a global public good that needs to be nurtured. 

A Holistic Approach

The Prevention and Sustaining Peace Agenda concerns every facet of the international system, and the twin Sustaining Peace resolutions underline the increased chances of building sustainable peace if the three pillars of the UN (peace and security, development, and human rights) are joined up and working together. Using the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals can provide a particularly effective means of adapting to the realities of society, and moving beyond the siloed approach. Grounding the pursuit of sustaining peace in the implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda can help to de-securitize activities.

It is key to find ways to link the different levels of peacebuilding, and the different groups of actors involved: looking beyond track one processes to draw on examples of local contexts, where effective peacebuilding efforts are being undertaken, for example. Building peace cannot primarily be the business of outside actors.

International Geneva: A Conducive Environment for Working Holistically

Collaboration and partnerships between all facets of the UN system, and all key stakeholders, including regional and sub-regional organizations and civil society organizations, are a cornerstone of the Prevention and Sustaining Peace Agenda.

The presence of all three UN pillars, and the absence of more obviously top-down bodies like the UN Security Council, make Geneva a particularly conducive environment to collaboration between pillars, bringing together international and national stakeholders, and connecting policy to the field. It can especially help to develop a view of how efforts to sustain peace work vertically (within countries) and horizontally (between countries), and to share lessons from states that have avoided a descent into conflict.

Effective mobilization of the apparatus in International Geneva will mean the integration of a sustaining peace lens in the work of international organizations and missions, and creative thinking about how all of the different thematic branches in Geneva (human rights, health, trade, humanitarian affairs, disarmament, etc.) can contribute to sustaining peace.

For example, the monitoring of human rights violations can create mistrust, as it can be perceived as an exercise in naming and shaming. But the majority of work related to upholding human rights is also inherent to sustaining peace: human rights instruments and treaty bodies have been highlighted as effective conflict early warning mechanisms, which can be used to help move from a culture of crisis management to a culture of prevention. Human rights can also be used to maintain a space for civil society, for instance by shedding more light on the link between peace and social and cultural rights.

The breakfast participants suggested that the discussion continue by focusing on themes that would help to break down the siloed nature of debate, and focus on sustaining peace in very practical terms. IPTI has committed to following up individually with participants, and then suggesting next steps so that International Geneva can serve as a catalyst to advance the Prevention and Sustaining Peace Agenda’s practical application.

Guest Speaker

  • Dr. Youssef Mahmoud, IPTI Board Member, Senior Adviser at IPI in New York, former UN Special Envoy


  • Dr. Thania Paffenholz, Director of the Inclusive Peace & Transition Initiative at the Graduate Institute Geneva