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Sustaining peace through community engagement in peacekeeping operations

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1. The importance of community engagement

The primacy of political solutions for international peace and security questions has been continually reiterated: from the 2015 HIPPO report to the 2018 Declaration of Shared Commitments under the Action for Peacekeeping initiative, both national and sub-national political solutions are at the core of any UN strategy to bring peace to countries affected by conflict.

Moreover, there is widespread recognition that the sustainability of such political solutions is dependent on their inclusivity as this is required to generate a shared societal agreement about what peace means and what it entails. In the words of Security Council Resolution 2282 (2016): “’sustaining peace’ […] should be broadly understood as a goal and a process to build a common vision of a society, ensuring that the needs of all segments of the population are taken into account”.

This cannot be simply achieved through top-down approaches, such as through formalizing elite bargains and brokering power-sharing agreements, as these have been proven to be short-lived in the absence of broader buy-in. Therefore, community engagement – understood not as the mere first step of outreach, but as an actual process of inclusion in decision-making - lies very much at the heart of the concept of sustaining peace. Therefore, it is not surprising that the HIPPO also determined it to be such an important theme in its review of the effectiveness of UN peace operations, insisting on more people-centred and field-focused UN peace operations.

Indeed, peacekeeping missions conduct community engagement activities as a means of achieving their mandates and promoting sustainable peace. This paper will review some of the ways in which peacekeepers have been contributing to sustaining peace by engaging with local stakeholders to support inclusivity, resilience, accountability and local ownership.