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Building Peace

Arundhati Ghose

Edited by V.R. Raghavan
Centre for Security Analysis, Chennai, 2008, pp. 157, Rs. 300.00

Edited by Radha Kumar
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2009, pp. 389, Rs. 695.00

VOLUME XXXIII NUMBER 8-9 August/September 2009

The concept of civil society has, for decades now, played an active role in conflict situations, and the issue has not always been controversial The most significant, sustained and effective participation was, of course, that of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which today is not only the custodian of the Geneva Conventions but the source of much of international humanitarian law and some arms control conventions and protocols as well. Since that time, advocacy of international civil society has spread its presence in conflict situations, beyond purely humanitarian work, beyond national and regional boundaries, and has ventured into more complex areas of conflict resolution and peace building. Civil society organizations today operate in conflict situations, at the international, regional and national levels. While most of these organizations tend to originate from public impulses in the western democracies, some significant work is increasingly being done at local and national levels. At all levels, the issue of human rights has assumed greater salience than the strictly neutral humanitarian activities, though the lines are often blurred. As a result, a degree of politicization and controversy has tended to follow these activities.   The controversies originated, perhaps, with many western countries seeking to use the issue of human rights as a foreign policy tool, through the mechanism of ‘naming and shaming’ countries, mainly from the so-called Global South. This not only led to unproductive and unseemly exchanges in the UN Human Rights Commission, which had to be ‘reformed’ subsequently, but to the unfortunate consequence of various states questioning any role of human rights and organizations or persons promoting human rights in governance and to an adversarial relationship developing between the state and its agents and human rights campaigners.   There has been some significant work done on attempting to understand the role of civil society in governance as a whole; the question of this role being expanded to cover conflict situations, local, regional or international, remains one without general consensus. The new proposal, promoted by Canada, of the right of the international community to ‘protect’ populations threatened by the actions of their own governments, through campaigns, Security Council resolutions and even bilateral or multilateral intervention, has not found favour with the Global South.   Nonetheless, there is a need, particularly in democratic India, not only for civil society organizations to act in conflict situations, but for the concept to be understood by the state and ...

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