Creating peace and understanding through bringing people from different backgrounds to work together was the basic idea which began the international voluntary service (IVS) movement after World War I. The original aim, to work towards the concrete construction of peace, is still the IVS main ideal today. In the beginning the IVS projects were organised as a “peace-brigades”, a large group of volunteers coming from different countries carrying out a practical task in order to help a local population in need (food distribution, building shelter etc..). It was (also) meant to eventually replace military service. Over the years the concept of IVS has changed and nowadays besides this “needs-focus” there is also a growing emphasis on personal development and growth. Peace has been a common thread in the history of IVS and still is, although it is not always that explicit in all the projects.
The direct occasion of starting IVS was thus a war. And looking at the world today, wars are still going on, arms-trade is still growing and a violent or weapon-equipped way of solving a conflict seems to be justified in many cases. After World War II, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was made in order to prevent future conflicts and to ensure “protection” of mankind in different levels of life (political, social, economic, and cultural). Although the declaration was adopted by many countries, violations of human rights are still very common even today. For the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a booklet which shows the variety of projects that have been implemented in the area of human rights was published by CCIVS.
The initial scope of IVS has lasted throughout time as IVS projects in (post-) conflict areas are organised even today. There are i.e. IVS organisations in Palestine/Israel, Kosovo, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Congo, Nepal and Sierra Leone which are actively working on peace related issues. Also in the area of human rights specific workcamps are organised in order to address these issues e.g. workcamps with refugees or minority groups etc.
Besides the practical side of IVS projects, many contain study-parts regarding the background of existing violent conflicts, looking at the root causes of war, such as social injustice, economic exploitation, racism, discrimination, climate change and the unequal distribution of natural resources.
More than ever IVS is needed to respond to a modern complex society in order to promote non violent conflict transformation and education for peace. A Culture of Peace can only be ensured through the promotion of human rights, intercultural dialogue, understanding and the guarantee of basic needs through human sustainable development.
Last but not least, IVS-projects are a tool for peace-education in itself. By working together with people from different backgrounds, mutual understanding and friendships are being formed, bringing peace on a micro-scale and contributing towards a global intercultural dialogue.
The 10 year strategic plan for IVS 2011-2021 envisages:
Achieving a Culture of Peace, in a world free of violence and with guarantee of Human Rights for all human beings
A. Clear overview of all existing peace education materials (experiences, good practices, training tools etc.) accessible for all IVS organisations
Different IVS organisations already have substantial experience in Peace Education and working in Conflict or Post-Conflict areas, however there is a need to share information in order to improve and develop our activities which focus on HR and Peace.
Setting up projects in conflict and post-conflict areas is a very complex process for which specialist expertise and knowledge is necessary. Previous experiences and the innovative programmes developed and adapted to the local needs should be closely analysed and used in order to improve the quality and impact of IVS in these areas.
The development of a virtual knowledge and skill database, making use of the existing information and communication technologies, could be a first step in achieving this objective. The implementation of Education for Peace and Human Rights activities including Non Violent and Conflict Transformation methodologies by IVS organisations locally and globally
IVS has an enormous potential when it comes to addressing issues of Non Violence, a Culture of Peace and the promotion of Human Rights in an intercultural and global context. The variety of organisations and volunteers offers a unique framework to really “experience” Education for Peace in a privileged setting. Using non-formal education methodologies, usually with a strong focus on learning by doing, in a multicultural environment makes IVS organisations extremely well placed to address these topics.
The existing networks of IVS organisations offer a lot of possibilities to denouncing the violations of Human Rights worldwide. It is a challenge to map out other organisations specialised in Education for Peace and Human Rights and to establish the necessary links in order to share and exchange experiences. This will eventually lead to more qualitative projects. (within the existing networks of IVS organisations) on a common vision and strategy regarding Education for Peace and Human Rights. This will help to define, develop and improve Peace and Human Rights training material, activities and local and global actions.
B. Extend the number and the geographical scope of IVS projects responding to conflicts and human right violations worldwide
In non-violent conflict transformation processes, apart from the role that actors such as local governments play in order to find a structural solution for ongoing conflicts, the involvement of civil society is of most importance. If IVS organisations, as part of the civil society, actively contribute to this process it is necessary to set up specific projects or to increase the number and geographical scope of the projects in order to respond to conflicts and human rights violations worldwide.
Before implementing more actions in conflict areas such as study visits, trainings, workcamps, peace dialogues, local and global campaigns about the conflict or Human Right violations etc., it is necessary to identify areas for intervention with the local stakeholders (IVS organisations in the area, local governments, other NGO’s or multilateral agencies working in the area). Their perspective and input are crucial for a successful implementation of the project and a long-lasting impact.
C. Be key actors for the implementation of non violent conflict transformation through IVS
IVS is an important tool to work on Peace and Human Rights issues within a community because it uses a people-to-people approach. It is not always easy to measure the impact of IVS projects and show the added value brought by them. Therefore a deeper work on quality improvement and impact measurement of Peace and Human Rights projects is needed; this would help clarify to all stakeholders the role of IVS in conflict or post-conflict situations. In order to inform all stakeholders about the added value of IVS and the possible impact IVS can have, a PR plan increasing the visibility of IVS projects in the field of Human Rights and Peace need to be set up.