What’s the role of civil society in sustaining peace and preventing conflict? Hague Talks at Colombo

At Hague Talks in Colombo, local and international speakers from Sri Lanka, Colombia and The Philippines shared how personal experiences inspired them to become peacebuilders and what led them to take action. Their stories underlined importance of civil society participation in preventing conflict and building peace, as they contribute to peaceful societies and communities. One of the main threads that came out of their stories was the need to talk – to have a conversation going between communities, the government, and others –  and making all voices heard, as very important. This is because shaping stories, narratives, and including people in the conversation, are perhaps one of the most important tools of peacebuilders. Darynell Rodriguez Torres, executive director of GPPAC Foundation, from Colombia, noted that we are faced with stories of fear, and it is our responsibility to counter that and show we can build another reality, working with the power of words. To imagine a different reality towards a peaceful future is key to working towards that aim.

Another thread was about empowering people to be agents of the conversation, including youth and women – not just talking about them, not just having them at the table, but allowing them to shape and define the conversation equally to others. Emphasizing this point, Aaranya Rajasingham, women's rights and peace activist in Sri Lanka, spoke of how young people are needed at the table, and are the revolutionary force, speaking the language of change. Gus Miclat, executive director and co-founder of the Initiatives for International Dialogue from The Philippines, asked: "Why is it that when war is waged, it is done in the name of the people, but people are those who suffer the most?", and spoke of his experience in countering negative rhetoric through dialogue. While the contexts of Colombia and The Philippines are very different from Sri Lanka, the stories and experiences from these contexts found a common connection and brought additional perspectives to the common questions. Dayapala Thiranagama, a Sri Lankan activist, noted that the situation in the north of Sri Lanka is much worse than before and expressed concerns about democracy in his country.

The Dutch ambassador in Sri Lanka, Ms Joanne Doornewaard opened the meeting. The chair of the GPPAC Board, Fijian peace activist and 2014 NGO CSW Forum Women of Distinction awardee, Ms Sharon Bhagwan Rolls moderated the event. The Hague Talks Colombo was a collaboration of the Embassy of the Kingdom of The Netherlands in Sri Lanka with the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC).

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