Peacebuilding Innovations: International Norms and Local Dynamics in Conflict-Affected Countries

Past experiences in peacebuilding for countries emerging out of conflict have been typically characterized by reform-oriented external donors and progressive forces internally (usually supported by development donors) pursuing human rights-based empowerment approaches to redress marginalization and disadvantage in efforts to address causes of conflict and lay the foundation for a more stable peace. Such rights-based or empowerment approaches, however, may exacerbate tensions at national and local levels in conflict-affected countries as newly mobilized groups confront deep-seated and often "illiberal" political, social, and economic orders that resist change.

The 'Innovations in Peacebuilding' research, dialogue, and policy projects represented a partnership between the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver, the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI) in Bergen, Norway, the Nepal Peacebuilding Initiative (NPI), and the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) in South Africa. Funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Norway Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the three-year project aimed to explore innovative approaches to the rights-oriented empowerment dilemmas faced by international and local peacebuilders alike. The project evaluated the complex interactions between global human rights frameworks and the patterns and effects of social mobilization at national and sub-national levels. Specifically, it aimed to investigate how international norms are adapted by local actors in conflict-affected countries to advance a rights-based, post-war social order at the local (sub-national) level, how local dynamics shape peacebuilding, and what actual or potential innovation exists for improving peacebuilding by international (and mostly Western) donors and local organizations. The project sought to contribute to the policy debates by highlighting the nuances present in the nexus between international norms, national dynamics, and local-level conditions, and how these further effect and interact to shape peacebuilding interventions at the local level in conflict-affected countries.

The South African case study gave specific attention to dynamics in local governance, socioeconomic rights, transitional justice, and gender. It mapped these local peacebuilding initiatives and varied approaches among institutions working in the local context, explored their respective effectiveness, and identified innovations to peacebuilding. In the South African context, the project provided an in-depth gendered analysis of the extent and nature of structural inequalities, socioeconomic patterns, and their relationship to conflict and violence.

The broader 'Innovations in Peacebuilding' research methodology included new empirical research on Nepal and South Africa – two commonly cited case studies – along with six secondary case studies located in South and South East Asia, East and Southern Africa, and the Americas. Together with this primary and secondary research, country-specific workshops on these cases and regional research-and- dialogue workshops were designed to generate cross-national findings to contribute to international debates on norm diffusion and how these have been adopted, adapted, and internalized at the global, national, and local levels.

The project was completed in 2017.

Knowledge Outputs

  • Masana Ndinga-Kanga, "Act on Peacebuilding Using International Human Rights Norms," Cape Times, 23 May 2017.
  • Aurélien Pradier, Maxine Rubin, and Hugo van der Merwe, "Between Transitional Justice and Politics: Reparations in South Africa," South African Journal of International Affairs, 2018,
  • Podcast on "Peacebuilding Innovations: International Norms and Local Dynamics in Conflict-Affected Countries."

Project Staff

  • Hugo van der Merwe
  • Masana Ndinga-Kanga
  • Nonhlanhla Sibanda
  • Maxine Rubin
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