A Selkirk College instructor says the idea of unarmed civilian peacekeeping is coming into its own and has worked successfully in several parts of the world. And Randy Janzen says the college is the first post-secondary institution in the world to offer a course in it.
“It is a strategic process where professionals are deployed in areas of violence, and their job is to reduce violence,” he says. “They use specific skills and tactics, and by doing so, not only are there immediate benefits of reducing violence but long-term benefits of changing the game.
“There has been a lot of research to show that it has impacted local communities. They have said, ‘We have learned new conflict resolution skills that don’t involve violence.’ So it is building culture of peace, small-scale and in the long term.”
Janzen, who heads the college’s Mir Centre for Peace, was speaking at a dinner held Thursday evening in Nelson as the wrap-up to the course, which was offered both in person and online, and had both local and international students.
“We hope this is the beginning of a process,” he says, “where in 20 years we have millions of people training in this, like nurses and doctors. This program is a collaboration with Nonviolent Peace Force, and they have paid positions, not just people who have the privilege to volunteer. So maybe our graduates will someday work in a paid positions as peacekeepers.”
One class in the course included members of the Nelson Police Department who acted as police officers in a simulation of a confrontation.
The unarmed civilian peacekeeping class (minus their overseas online classmates) at the dinner on Thursday. They were joined by local MPs Richard Cannings and Wayne Stetski, back row centre. Photo by Bill Metcalfe
Peacekeeping by unarmed civilians is a surprising idea and tends to evoke skepticism. Janzen says people tend to ask two questions. First, is it really effective?
“The peacekeepers are not the ones who make change. They are not the ones who topple dictators,” Janzen says. “They are the ones who create space and protection for local activists to do their work, because it is often very dangerous for them. The evidence is convincing that for political change to happen, non-violence works over twice as well. It is strategic, evidence based, and safer than we think.”
The other question is: isn’t it dangerous?
“We at the Mir Centre have done some primary research on unarmed peacekeeping and it can be demonstrated from the data that military peacekeepers are 12 times more likely to die in their role,” Janzen responds. “Because when you come as an unarmed peacekeeper there is something about that, I don’t want to call it magical, it is actually strategic. People are less likely to harm you. It changes the atmosphere when you come and try to work without arms. And the reverberations go far beyond the immediate situation.”
Janzen said he hopes to offer the course again next year.