Peace Building in Bougainville
In 2001, the Bougainville Peace Agreement (BPA) - signed between the national Government of Papua New Guinea (GoPNG) and leaders representing the people of Bougainville - ended a 10-year civil conflict during which thousands of men and women lost their lives. The UN Political Office in Bougainville (UNPOB) and the subsequent Observer Mission for Bougainville (UNOMB) facilitated and monitored the peace agreement. As such, the UN was crucial to ensuring the first free and transparent elections of the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) in 2005.
UNDP took over from UNOMB and established offices in the north, central and south, making the UN the only international organization that has continuous presence across the island. In close collaboration with AusAID, UNDP has focused on peace-building and consolidation as well as post-conflict socio-economic recovery - including reintegration, rehabilitation and trauma counseling for ex-combatants and others affected by the conflict.
In 2011, UNDP convened, brokered, advocated and developed the capacity for the most transformative events of the peace-building process since the BPA. Its efforts culminated in a ceasefire agreement between factions in the southern Konnou district. Since 2006, this area had suffered from a conflict between armed groups that had not participated in the BPA. The conflict claimed over 100 lives, displaced hundreds of Bougainvilleans, denied the population access to basic services, including health and education, and represented a major stumbling block for weapons disposal.
UNDP used multiple initiatives and different groups and levels of stakeholders to create the willingness to put down arms. In December 2010, based on its concept of peace fairs, UNDP supported the 3rd Bougainville Games in southern Buin. The event rebuilt bridges across factional lines, with sports teams, supporters, chiefs and faction leaders from all districts participating with enthusiasm. For the first time, over 200 women from the conflict-affected areas defied the orders of their male counterparts and mobilized themselves to accompany their teams to Buin. The women’s initial objective was to cook for the teams, but the presence of their persuasive power turned out to be an essential and powerful measure of appeasement as they met with many of their relatives for the first time after the conflict. These reunifications culminated into a massive public push to break the long silence between the factions. Factional leaders gave into this wave of social harmony and started a dialogue with ABG.
In the absence of a clear ABG stand on peace and weapons disposal, UNDP started utilizing the local institutions, including churches, to broker a ceasefire between the factions in Konnou, and to start negotiations towards reconciliation and weapons containment. In parallel, UNDP worked with women and youth as the population groups with an essential impulse for reconciliation and peace. Building on its long-standing work on women’s empowerment, UNDP accelerated capacity development for and successfully encouraged women to become active lobbying agents for a ceasefire agreement in the South. Participants used their acquired skills to influence their husbands, fathers and sons to continue their engagement in the peace dialogue.
At the same time, UNDP - in collaboration with the UN’s Department for Political Affairs (DPA) - facilitated a stock-taking dialogue on the progress on the BPA agreement. This exchange was followed by the first ever ‘Bougainville Walk for Peace’, uniting more than 200 members of AGB, civil society and faith-based organizations, youths and school children to commemorate ten years of peace on the island. The five kilometer walk was also the starting leg for a UN team of close to 50 walkers who embarked on a solidarity trek themed ‘Empowering youth: village by village’. Youths from all over Bougainville – some of them previously engaged in UNDP-supported socio-economic recovery activities - organized the walk, accompanied the trekkers and subsequently actively contributed to a UNDP-facilitated Youth Forum on Peace on the 10th anniversary of the BPA itself.
Simultaneously, UNDP established systems for direct negotiations with the fighters and a process for inclusive factional dialogue. The various factions established a platform for negotiating ceasefire, dialogue and weapons collection, agreeing on using customary truce mechanisms as the best way to solve the conflict. UNDP forged strong networks with a variety of church groups – an additional channel for advocacy and negotiation.
Finally, on 29 November, over 10,000 people from the South, ABG leadership and UN representatives, watched as the main factions came together and signed an official cease-fire agreement, opening the path for accelerated peace consolidation, post-conflict recovery and long-term human development.
UNDP, with its neutrality and convening power, was indispensable for ABG to call for and broker, civil society and local population to push for, and factions to agree to the Konnou ceasefire agreement. Through its innovative efforts across stakeholders and sectors, UNDP strengthened local capacities to lead the peace process at almost no monetary cost.