This Christmas is filled with songs and hymns about peace on Earth. Regardless of your individual belief system, is it is a time to recognize people you care about, give money to charities that you believe in and help out strangers. That is the spirit of the season. There are, however, people we don't see and places we do not go where conflict, hunger and suffering are commonplace. We can easily put this pain out of mind as we compartmentalize our lives. It may be the only way to enjoy the holidays with our loved ones.
I was in Southern Sudan less than eight weeks ago and saw the daily pain and suffering of former slaves and people who eat only every other day. It is hard to block people out of your mind when you have interacted with them. Southern Sudan, as I have written before, had a 22-year civil war with Northern Sudan. Southern Sudan is primarily Christian, and Northern Sudan is Arab Muslim. The tragedy is that due to oil reserves and a vote on independence scheduled to take place in 2011, Southern Sudan is again on the brink of war.
Fortunately, there are thoughtful people with real ideas about achieving peace in far-flung places like Southern Sudan. I encountered one of these great thinkers this week. Dr. David Hamburg is the recipient of the presidential Medal of Freedom and the author of "Preventing Genocide: Practical Steps Toward Early Detection and Effective Action."
Advertisement - story continues below
Dr. Hamburg has laid out what he calls the "Pillars of Prevention." He calls for the following:
- Proactive help for troubled countries with early recognition of inter-group tensions. He points out how the potential for mass civil war was avoided in Kenya last year by negotiating early in the process. Hamburg also points out that there are often clear warning signs such as "media excitement" and hate speech on radio, television, pamphlets, etc. "This," he says, "takes place over years, not days and weeks or even months." Bad governments always cite sovereignty as an excuse, and that excuse allows governments to get away with violating human rights. It is important intervene as soon as possible and not wait until a government is overwhelmed by civil unrest.
- Fostering indigenous democracy. This means also preparing the people for democracy and not expecting that it will be welcomed with open arms. Hamburg gave Gaza as an example of a place where the population was not ready for democracy and had no idea how to handle it.
Advertisement - story continues below
- Fostering equitable social and economic development where wealth is not concentrated in the upper 1 percent of the population. Hamburg also underlined the importance of using modern science (new techniques for irrigation, energy development, and clean water) to make development available for all.
- Education for human survival. This means not just math, science and technology but also education for conflict resolution and mutual accommodation. In societies that have seen war, are mainly tribal, and where there are scarce resources basic ways of communication and problem solving must be taught as much as hard academics. We have had more than 200 years of democracy. It is difficult to learn communication skills overnight.
- Having the international community involved in justice to preserve and protect human rights. Without various sanctions and interference by important development and trade partners, there is little incentive for bad governments to protect and abide by basic human rights standards. Having a strong policy by those that have influence with a particular country can bring a human rights violator to justice.
- Training and supporting people around the world in preventive diplomacy. Just like nutrition was not taught in medical schools until recently, preventive diplomacy has not been top of the curricula in schools focusing on training foreign service officers. This is changing, and the change has the potential to make more people capable of working with governments on a local as well as national level. International Centers for the Prevention of Mass Violence and Atrocities have also been established. These need to be supported by not only the United Nations but also by individual democracies as well.
It is great to wish for peace this Christmas in places like Southern Sudan, but we should keep in mind that peace does not come as a result of a wish and a prayer. Peace comes from hard work and effort. Just like in interpersonal and family relationships, peace between countries takes time, vigilance and skill.