Op-Ed: US Congress Takes Step Towards Legislating Peace

Opinion: Madeline Rose is the senior global advocacy adviser for Mercy Corps. She is a Seminar XXI Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a Board Member of the Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellowship, and an organizing and advocacy trainer with Wellstone Action.

The world is experiencing a 25-year peak in violence. In 2016, more countries experienced some form of violent conflict than at any time in the past 30 years. Nearly half of the world’s population – 3.34 billion people – has been exposed to political violence in the last 15 years. This violence is, in turn, driving record levels of human displacement: 68.5 million people are currently on the run, forcibly displaced from their homes.

Ironically, now more than ever, we have the capacity to act on sound evidence to reduce global violence, manage fragility and prevent future wars. New innovations like big data and machine learning give us the tools to better predict trends in violence and inform real-time responses to prevent mass atrocities and war. Improved data collection capacities in war zones allow us to test, iterate and learn what type of programming works, and doesn’t, to reduce participation in organized armed violence. What we lack are policy frameworks and diplomatic alliances committed to putting these tools and capacities into action.

Luckily, U.S. lawmakers are taking steps towards shepherding this desperately needed change. This week the bi-partisan Global Fragility and Violence Reduction Act of 2018 was introduced in the Senate, building on its companion bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in March.

This timely legislation would require the whole of U.S. government – in collaboration with global civil society – to develop a 10-year strategy to bring down current levels of global violence and better address the root causes of violence, violent conflict and fragility that drive recurrent global crises. The legislation would, for the first time in U.S. history, compel the U.S. government to define, in U.S. law, its approach to prevention and peacebuilding, and commit to specific targets and metrics for its efforts to manage risks that are likely to derail progress towards peace.

There is strong evidence that the types of development investments this legislation would propel can indeed reduce violence and build peace and stability. A program implemented by my organization, Mercy Corps, in conflict-affected areas of Somalia that provided young people access to education and civic engagement opportunities reduced their propensity to support political violence by nearly 65 percent. In Nigeria, more than 900 community leaders who gained conflict negotiation skills as part of our peacebuilding program resolved more than 500 disputes, and communities felt safer and had greater trust in other groups compared to communities not participating in our program. In Central African Republic, a community-led program designed to rebuild social cohesion during a wave of violence led to fighters voluntarily disarming in order to join community leaders and peace committees to advocate for an end to the war.

This evidence shows us that global policymakers and violence prevention practitioners can indeed improve the way in which we plan, design and measure efforts to reduce, manage and prevent violence by borrowing from global best practice. The Global Fragility and Violence Reduction Act of 2018 is a step in the right direction toward building a proactive, evidence based approach to reducing and preventing global violence and its disastrous ramifications for humanity worldwide.

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