Lessons in Peace Building

Saturday, 20. July 2002

Alan Weeks, Australia, has since 1990 worked with the parties in the process to reach peace in the civil war on the Papua New Guinea island province of Bougainville.

Alan Weeks

Alan Weeks, Australia, has since 1990 worked with the parties in the process to reach peace in the civil war on the Papua New Guinea island province of Bougainville. Out of a population of some 120,000 up to 20,000 lost their lives in the war. 30th August 2001 a comprehensive peace agreement was signed.

He explains how he was drawn into the peace building process by making a phone call out of concern for one of his closest Papua New Guinean friends, Bernard Narokobi, then Minister of Justice. ‘He invited three of us from MRA – Initiatives of Change to be his ‘spiritual advisors’ during the first round of peace talks in 1990 on board the New Zealand navy ship, Endeavour.’ Here follows some extracts from the contribution of Alan Weeks to a plenary meeting at the IofC Centre in Caux, Switzerland, with the theme ‘Lessons Learnt in Peace Building’:

“Peace building is a calling. Once called, even if there is no visible end point, there can be no turning back.

“At a specific point I knew that I had such a calling and to follow it I had to decide to listen daily to my inner voice – that still, small voice inside each of us that can give direction, correction and inspiration day by day. I had not only to listen, but to obey the thoughts that came – however unreasonable or irrational they seemed to be.

“The bottom line is that anyone can give openhearted friendship and anyone can choose to become a listener to that inner voice and be used as a peace builder.

“A peace builder needs dogged determination or ‘stickability’.

“The road to peace has its ups and downs. The signing of the Endeavour Accord was a miraculous breakthrough. However, many see it as a failure since it was never applied. As I anguished over this in my times of quiet reflection I realised the failure lay in part, at my own door. I had not used my neutrality to help non-participants in the talks understand how the agreement had been reached so that they, too, could embrace it.

“When you are working amongst entrenched positions and hurting, angry people on both sides, there is no room for peace builders to allow themselves self-pity or personal pride.

“On one occasion I tried to be helpful but my intervention was misconstrued and, consequently misunderstood. As a result I found myself on the receiving end of a furious public outburst from one of the protagonists. He accused me of deliberately trying to wreck the peace process. His accusations were totally misplaced, and I was deeply disturbed and hurt. I could have simply walked away and left him to it. But I realised that what he felt was genuine to him even if it was inaccurate and that I had something to put right with him. So I apologised. A few hours later he asked me to convey a highly confidential message to the rebels – a message, which if disclosed, could have cost him his life.

“All stake holders in the conflict need to be included in the peace process.

“Whenever key personalities or groups were not included in negotiations, obstacles were placed in the way of further progress.

“Agreements need to be built up from small beginnings and not from non-negotiable positions. The bridge of trust must be strong enough to bear the burden of truth being placed upon it.

“As these negotiations proceeded from 1990 to 2001 the individuals involved in the talks came to know each other as people and the level of trust between them developed. Towards the conclusion of negotiations trust had been established to the point that even the non-negotiable issue of independence was addressed to the satisfaction of both sides.”

For a fuller account by Alan Weeks of his experiences in Papua New Guinea, see his article in For A Change magazine.