Closing the accountability gap: the case for a complaints mechanism for EU support to security actors


By Margot Jones

In recent years, the European Union has increased its support for security actors in partner countries. After approving an amendment to the Instrument Contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP) enabling the EU to provide support for “Capacity building of military actors in support of development and security for development” (CBSD), the Council is now considering a proposal for the creation of a new inter-governmental instrument with an expanded scope called the “European Peace Facility” (EPF) to finance external activities with military and defence implications.

These developments represent a clear and uncharted shift in the EU’s ability to equip third-country armed forces, thereby also heightening the risks that EU funds could support increased violence against civilians, human rights violations, impunity, and corruption. While the EU cannot be held solely responsible for every harmful action taken by partner security actors, it should consider its responsibility for the ongoing support the EU is providing, which could enable human rights violations, and strengthen its accountability architecture accordingly.

One such accountability innovation could be the creation of a civilian complaints mechanism, which would be applicable to the proposed European Peace Facility and designed to collect and address potential grievances by affected populations.

Why should the EU establish a complaints mechanism?

A complaints mechanism could:

  • Strengthen the EU’s ability to detect and investigate potential issues in partnerships with security actors such as corruption, diversion of resources and human rights abuses. These issues are notoriously evasive and difficult to track, especially in remote regions where EU delegations and other institutional actors have limited access and visibility.
  • Promote trust between the security actors and the communities they serve, which is a crucial component for the success of any meaningful security sector assistance effort.
  • Materialise the core Union value of respect for human dignity in the EU’s external policy. While civilian casualties and human rights violations should be avoided at all costs, it is crucial to recognise when harm has been done and address the pain and grief of communities trapped in the cross-fire of conflict.
  • Tackle the accountability gap which pervades the EU’s external policies: those directly affected by decisions taken in the EU context on issues of support to third-country security actors are not part of its constituency and therefore have little or no recourse for raising potential issues to the EU directly. In addition, the European Parliament is sidelined in inter-governmental matters like the European Peace Facility (EPF), and the European Ombudsman cannot receive complaints from non-EU citizens.
  • Work towards protecting the EU’s credibility and reputation as a positive actor for peace. As the EU builds its support to third-country armed forces, it should address and protect itself against the risks of anti-European perceptions by the communities its policies affect. This is especially important when considering the coherence of the EU’s various external instruments: the EU’s development aid, mediation and disarmament efforts may become less effective over time if the EU’s support to security actors in the same region is perceived negatively by beneficiary communities and allies.

What other EU complaints mechanisms already exist?

The most well-known EU complaints mechanism is the European Ombudsman (EO), which has the power to investigate complaints related to maladministration in any European agency or body. The EO’s powers in the area of Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), however, are limited for two main reasons: (1) the intergovernmental nature of CFSP means that activities (such as CSDP missions) do not qualify as EU bodies due to ambiguity in their legal personality, and (2) given that complainants must be either EU citizens or residents, the Ombudsman’s services are not available to complainants from third countries affected by the EU’s external policies.

To overcome these limitations, two EU agencies with an external dimension, the European Investment Bank and Frontex, have each established their own complaints mechanisms.

The European Investment Bank’s complaint mechanism was launched in 2008 to strengthen development outcomes by building channels of accountability and promoting relationships of trust with beneficiary communities. As a member of the IFIs Independent Accountability Mechanisms (IAMs) network, the EIB complaints mechanism follows a set of broadly-recognised key standards such as accessibility and transparency (cases are published on the mechanism’s website). The EIB has also signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a two-tiered format with the European Ombudsman which enhances the mechanism’s independence and ensures that third-state citizens have access to the same standards of accountability as EU citizens and residents.

The Frontex complaints mechanism was created in 2016 after an own-initiative inquiry by the European Ombudsman acknowledged the sensitivity of border-management decisions and actions from a human rights perspective. The Frontex mechanism, however, fails to meet many of the key standards for accountability mechanisms: its independence is questionable given that it solely reports to the agency’s Executive Director, its proceedings are not publicly available, undermining its transparency, and it has limited investigatory powers beyond the determination of admissibility (if complaints are found to be admissible, they are handled or dismissed by the relevant Member States).

Key features of an ideal complaints mechanism

Disparities between the EIB and Frontex complaints mechanisms underscore the importance of clearly setting out the core features for an effective complaints mechanism. A new complaints mechanism for the EU’s support to security actors, which would cover the proposed European Peace Facility (EPF), should aim to implement these best practices and avoid documented pitfalls.

To this end, there exists extensive literature detailing the various features that an effective complaints mechanism should possess:

  • The mechanism should be accessible: simple and available at the community level. Information about the complaints mechanism should be widely disseminated, and there should be several methods to report complaints, with clear consideration for the risks taken by complainants in repressive environments and the potentially gendered and class-related barriers to complaints reporting.
  • The mechanism’s independence should be ensured by the institutional set-up and promote an impartial and objective approach in all investigations and decisions. Ideally, a complaints mechanism investigating allegations against the institution it is also part of should be backed up by an external investigatory body such as the European Ombudsman.
  • The mechanism’s proceedings should be transparent and publicly available to ensure clarity for the complainant and promote impartiality. The complaints mechanism should also establish clear policies and procedures to handle cases with due consideration for their sensitivity and protect the complainant against potential retaliation measures, for example by systematically obscuring names and other identifying information in published reports. This would be especially crucial for protecting human rights defenders (HRD’s), who work in fragile and potentially repressive environments, and are often targets for reprisal by their own governments.
  • The mechanism should be endowed with the sufficient resources and mandate to investigate complaints in a timely and thorough manner.
  • It should be clear which institution or body will ensure that complaints are addressed and redress is applied wherever possible. This may require a larger debate regarding the liability of the various activities under the EU’s CFSP, in particular in relation to the EU’s support to security actors, and tying the complaints mechanism to larger funding structures which have a clear legal personality.
  • The complaints mechanism should not replace – or be seen to replace – national accountability mechanisms (e.g. national ombudsman, parliamentary oversight, internal whistle-blowing mechanism, civilian casualty tracking cells and other internal procedures documenting incidents of civilian harm, etc.). The mechanism should rather complement and help strengthen such nationally-owned processes.
  • The mechanism should also be complemented by strict internal EU reporting and evaluation procedures for the implementation of EPF assistance measures, as the EU should not rely on external complaints alone to identify issues, especially in very fragile contexts.


If the European Union continues to invest towards an increasingly militarised approach to managing conflicts, crises and insecurity – a trend which many peacebuilding actors have expressed deep concern about – it should enhance and innovate in its democratic oversight and accountability structures. In addition to continuing the development of internal reporting and accountability mechanisms both in partner armed forces and within the EU system, the EU should create and operate a complaints mechanism to address individual external grievances related to the EPF – if established – and which could also be considered for other forms of EU engagement with security actors.

Climate and conflicts: What do EPLO member organisations say about it?


By Manon Levrey

On Saturday 21 September, people all over the world marked the 2019 International Day of Peace, one day after thousands also took part in marches to demand action on climate change.

The theme of this year’s Peace Day was ‘Climate Action for Peace’. In the statement which she made to mark the occasion, EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, acknowledged that “climate change multiplies threats to peace and security as it adds pressure to already fragile livelihoods and destabilises local communities and their environments”.

Similarly, twelve of EPLO’s member organisations (Conciliation Resources, the Catholic Organization for Relief and Development Aid (Cordaid), the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflicts, International Alert, Interpeace, Nonviolent Peaceforce, Pax Christi International, Peace Direct, the Quaker Council for European Affairs, Saferworld, Search for Common Ground, and Swisspeace) signed a joint statement entitled ‘People, Planet.. and Peace’ in which they called for global climate action and increased efforts towards peace.

Here is an overview of some of the other things which our members have published about climate and conflict in recent years:

The Berghof Foundation’s online glossary reminds us that it was during the 1970s and 1980s that climate change was first considered – together with resource scarcity and under-development, as a non-military global risk which could trigger armed conflicts.

During the Stockholm World Water week in 2017, Cordaid presented the ‘Climate and Conflict Nexus’ using the case of farmers in South Sudan. Cordaid also participated in the 2016 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 22) where it advocated for climate-resilient agriculture.

In this essay from July 2019, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD Centre) looked at ways in which mediators can work with climate change.

Since 2007, Christian Aid has led a climate change campaign in which it tries to remind banks that they can also help to fight climate change and urge the UK’s biggest banks and the World Bank, to direct their investments away from fossil fuels and into clean, renewable sources of energy.

In this March 2019 paper, Conciliation Resources identified three potential climate change-related conflict issues in the Solomon Islands.

During its annual conference in 2019, Concordis International and its partners discussed how peacebuilders and humanitarian actors can make better use of climate science to prevent crises rather than merely reacting to them.

In this ‘Peace Talks’ podcast, which was recorded in June 2019, Crisis Management Initiative Project Officer Maria Ristimäki, reminded listeners about the lack of a broad consensus on how climate change influences the onset or dynamics of armed conflicts whilst at the same time highlighting how those countries which are currently experiencing the most severe effects of climate change are often extremely fragile and more subject to armed conflicts. In this 2018 article, Communications Manager, Antti Ämmälä, suggested that future wars could be fought over water. And most recently, five days before Peace Day 2019, the Crisis Management Initiative shared the following three things which people should know about climate change and conflict.

This paper from June 2015, written by Chatham House Associate Fellow, Energy, Environment and Resources Oli Brown and European Institute of Peace Executive Director Michael Keating, looks into the role of the international community in national and sub-national resource disputes resolution, highlighting the importance to build local capacities and support countries’ ability to resolve their own conflicts.

Writing on the Council Community blog in 2018, ESSEC IRENÉ Director, Professor Dr Aurélien Colson, examined climate change as a challenge to be tackled in business schools whose students (i.e. future managers) should learn authentic, responsible and sustainable business practices.

In February 2019, the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict published a UN Update about the nexus between climate change and international peace and security.

The Guerrand-Hermès Foundation for Peace has helped the UK organisation OneWorld to set up a platform which showcases innovative spaces and useful tools to enable individuals to communicate their experiences, insights, questions and answers about climate change.

In an interview, which was recorded in 2018, International Alert’s former Adviser on Natural Resource Management and Climate Change, Shreya Mitra, stressed that conflicts over natural resources in Mali affect the whole Sahel region.

Speaking at the opening of the Bucerius Summer School on Global Governance in 2008, former International Crisis Group President and CEO, Gareth Evans, reflected on what he believed could and could not be said about the relationship between climate change and conflict.

Interpeace highlighted the links between natural resources and conflict in this 2015 article. It also used the example of Somaliland in a 2008 article to illustrate the role which dialogue and mediation can play in diffusing tensions around natural resources.

During the Civil Society Forum Belgrade of the Western Balkans Summit in 2016, the Kosovar Centre for Security Studies defended the role of a united civil society in tackling the environmental and climate change agenda.

In 2015, the Life & Peace Institute devoted an issue of its ‘New Routes’ journal to the topic of water as a source of both development and conflict.

The co-founder of Nonviolent Peaceforce, Mel Duncan, wrote a blogpost in May 2019 in which he stated that “climate disruption is mainly hitting the poorest people in the world – those who consume the least.”

Similarly, in this July 2019 report, Oxfam International illustrated how smallholder farmers and women (60% of the world’s chronically hungry people in 2009) were disproportionately affected by the 2007-08 food price crisis.

In 2015, Pax Christi International signed a declaration on climate change in which they and other NGOs emphasised the need for a treaty to protect the planet.

In this article, which was published on the occasion of Earth Day 2017, Peace Direct shed light on three organisations which foster partnerships between the climate and the peacebuilding communities.

Similarly, in its 2011 briefing paper, the Quaker Council for European Affairs initiated a discussion on the need for cross-sectoral collaboration and policy coherence between climate change, energy, external action (including conflict prevention), trade, economic policy and international development.

In 2009, Saferworld published a report in which it illustrated the role which climate change played in affecting the distribution and prevalence of natural resources in Kenya.

In this 2017 paper, Search for Common Ground used the example of Nepal to highlight the major challenges involved in translating existing policy instruments into functional programmes for addressing climate issues.

In its 2018 report about the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation’s (SDC) efforts to address the Climate-Conflict Nexus’, Swisspeace stated that if water could contribute to conflict, it could also be a source of reconciliation, and that concerted water management could make a positive contribution to peacebuilding.

And finally, in a 2009 publication which may well touch upon the very heart of the subject, World Vision International’s Chief Economist, Dr Brett Parris, highlighted the (hopefully no longer existent) lack of political will to tackle climate issues.

Manon Levrey is Programme Assistant at EPLO, working on the CSDN project and supporting the organisation’s Communications Strategy.


Approaching the humanitarian-development-peace nexus: A peacebuilding perspective


By Lorenzo Angelini

In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the interlinkages between humanitarian, development and peace actions. It is estimated that more than eighty percent of humanitarian needs are driven by violent conflict, and that more than 500 million people living in extreme poverty inhabit fragile and conflict-affected contexts. [1] Actions which are aimed at addressing the root causes of conflict and/or contributing to the resilience of societies can therefore make a significant difference in alleviating humanitarian needs and in fostering development. Peace contributes directly to the sustainability of humanitarian and development efforts.

The European Union (EU) has made clear that it understands the importance of preventing violent conflict and of building sustainable peace in reducing humanitarian needs and in improving development outcomes. In 2016, the Global Strategy for the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy called for the synergies between EU development, humanitarian and peace actions to be developed further and, in May 2017, the Council of the EU expressly underlined in its Conclusions ‘the linkages between sustainable development, humanitarian action and conflict prevention and peacebuilding.’ [2]

In the framework of the Civil Society Dialogue Network (CSDN), EPLO recently brought together a number of civil society experts working in the areas of humanitarian aid, development co-operation and peacebuilding in order to share perspectives and explore ideas on the humanitarian-development-peace nexus (hereinafter ‘the Nexus’). The discussions yielded a diverse range of insights on how the EU (and other international actors) should approach and operationalise the Nexus, in particular with regard to its peace component. [3]

  1. The key message which emerged from the discussions was that it is paramount for actions across the Nexus to be driven by local needs and initiatives rather than by European political priorities. This means adopting a people-centred approach, listening to, working with, and supporting those people who are affected by conflict. In order to achieve this, it is essential that international actors partner with diverse civil society in fragile and conflict-affected contexts, and in particular with local civil society organisations (CSOs).
  1. Integrating the peace component of the Nexus also involves ensuring that actions across it are conflict-sensitive (and therefore gender-sensitive). This means that the EU should undertake and act upon rigorous conflict analysis (which fully integrates gender analysis) for the contexts where it engages or considers engaging. As each context is different, this is also necessary to understand whether or not adopting a ‘Nexus approach’ is helpful. In addition, carrying out joint conflict analysis across the relevant EU institutions can contribute to improving coordination and the integration of actions where appropriate.
  1. Conversely, integrating the peace component of the Nexus should not involve adopting ‘hard security’, militarised approaches to conflict issues. Indeed, such approaches tend to make it more difficult to carry out integrated work across the Nexus. In addition, they can have a counter-productive impact on local peace and conflict dynamics and they can pose risks to implementers across the Nexus (in particular humanitarian actors), who may be perceived to be associated with the military engagements in the eyes of local populations.
  1. It is essential for actions across the Nexus to contribute to resilience and peace, or to help to create the conditions for peace, whenever possible. Peacebuilders have specific expertise and carry out specific work to contribute to peace; humanitarian and development actions cannot and should not substitute their work, and not everyone should become a peacebuilder. However, humanitarian and development actors can still also contribute to peace (or to creating the conditions for peace) through their work – for example, by coordinating with peacebuilders, by contributing to community resilience through local partners and by helping to address the root causes of conflict when possible. Information sharing and learning mechanisms can also help actors learn from each other and be more effective in helping the people they are trying to reach. In particular, working with peacebuilders can help humanitarian and development actors in building their capacities and expertise for conflict sensitivity and conflict prevention.
  1. EU funding should provide incentives for CSOs to work together across the Nexus. In particular, it should (i) be flexible and adapted to local contexts and needs (e.g. multi-year funding is key to ensure the sustainability of efforts in protracted crises, including for humanitarian actors), (ii) adequately address the need for CSOs to be conflict-sensitive and to invest in robust (joint) conflict analysis, (iii) provide CSOs with more flexibility to use funds relating to one component of the Nexus to cover actions relating to the others (including in reaction to a changing context), and (iv) support the establishment of comprehensive information sharing and learning mechanisms for CSOs across the Nexus.

Overall, it is essential for efforts across the Nexus to be based on the self-defined interests of the people living in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. Fully integrating peace into the Nexus is necessary in order to (i) better understand and address their multiple needs, (ii) ensure that people do not fall into ‘support gaps’ (i.e. where one source of assistance stops before another source can take over and/or before the conditions are in place to ensure that violence will not erupt again soon), (iii) ensure that international actors do no harm, (iv) better support local people and communities and their initiatives to build peace, and (iv) ultimately have a more comprehensive, positive and sustainable impact.

As the international community looks for more efficient means of addressing the diverse needs of people in fragile and conflict-affected contexts, the EU has a unique opportunity to emerge as the global leader on the operationalisation of the Nexus through a people-centred approach focused on human security. This notably involves ensuring that the EU’s humanitarian, development and peacebuilding engagements are systematically sensitive to local peace and conflict dynamics, that they are designed and carried out in partnership with (local) civil society, and that they actively contribute to sustainable peace whenever and wherever possible.

[1] See for example: OECD, States of Fragility 2018 and United Nations, One humanity: shared responsibility — Report of the Secretary-General for the World Humanitarian Summit, 2016.

[2] The EU’s Integrated Approach to Conflict and Crises similarly emphasises the need to use the EU’s various policies and instruments in a more coherent, holistic and conflict-sensitive manner. See also the EU’s Strategic Approach to Resilience, the European Consensus on Development, the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid, and the EU’s commitment to implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

[3] The meeting report is available here.

Lorenzo Angelini is the Policy Officer responsible for EPLO’s work in pursuit of its Policy Objective 3 (To integrate peacebuilding into EU development policy, programmes and approaches).


EU support to Women Mediators: Moving beyond Stereotypes


By Dr Laura Davis


EPLO recently brought together 15 women mediators from very different contexts to discuss how the EU could move beyond the stereotypes and better support women in mediation. The day-long expert meeting was organised as part of the Civil Society Dialogue Network (CSDN) project and culminated with the mediators presenting their conclusions to EU High Representative Federica Mogherini.

The mediators had a broad range of experience, from the highest diplomatic circles to long-term grassroots engagements, from the Middle East, Africa, Europe and Asia. Despite the differences in their experiences, it soon emerged that most of them had got involved in mediation because it was necessary: it was the right and the only thing to do to try and stop the violence. It was only later, after they had been mediating for some time that people told them that this was ‘mediation’ (although others would stick to outdated definitions of mediation and insist that their work was not mediation at all).

While many of them had been praised privately for their courageous work, very few received the public recognition their mediation justified. As soon as talks became more formal, they became ‘men’s business’ and the women were pushed out.

They also found that their perceived weakness as women could be a source of strength as mediators. Men would lose face, be thought cowards or traitors if they tried to communicate with the other side; women were not so constrained. Some of the mediators shared their experiences of working in traditional societies, which may offer different, or even more opportunities for women mediators than more ‘modern’ societies.

The abuse that women mediators receive as a result of their work is often much worse than that experienced by their male counterparts. They can be threatened and intimidated by the parties, or people with a stake in the conflict.  Often these threats are very gender-specific: they may include rape threats against the women. Others aim to bring dishonour on the woman, her family and community and so increase the pressure on the mediator to step away. The psychological effect of mediation on mediators is not always recognised yet.

The mediators reflected on their experience to make the following recommendations to the EU:

  1. Modelling inclusion. To be credible, the EU must ensure that all EU mediation and support teams, and other mediation teams supported by the EU, include a significant proportion of women – at least 30% women;
  2. Insist that the UN quota of 30% women participants in talks is met by all parties in all processes the EU supports; and
  3. Ensure that gender analysis is a key component of all conflict/context analysis so that mediation outcomes are based on understanding how power works in the society and so are likely to have better results.

Strengthening mediation practice is a long-term undertaking, and the EU should prioritise supporting the following activities:

  1. Training and networking of women and men mediators, to professionalise mediation practice in general and to connect women to opportunities;
  2. Recovery retreats for mediators in burnout, similar to those offered to human rights activists; and
  3. Projects that portray different roles that women play in conflict and in peace to help change stereotypes that portray women as only victims in conflict and not agents.

The full report of the CSDN meeting is available here.


Dr Laura Davis is the Senior Associate responsible for EPLO’s work in pursuit of its Policy Objective 4 (To strengthen the implementation of a gender-sensitive approach in EU policy and practice which enables the EU to be more inclusive and effective in promoting peace).

Peacebuilding and conflict prevention in the NDICI: An assessment of the European Parliament’s position


By Ben Moore and Colin Cogitore

On 27 March 2019, the European Parliament (EP) adopted a legislative resolution on the European Commission’s (EC) proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation (NDICI).

In this blog post, we try to assess what it might mean for the future of the EU’s support to peacebuilding and conflict prevention in its external relations and reflect on the extent to which it follows EPLO’s overarching recommendations on the next EU Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF).

An increase in the overall amount for the NDICI and support for the continuation of ‘crisis response’ actions but no increase in funding for the crucial thematic programme

We welcome the EP’s intention to increase slightly (+4%) the NDICI’s overall financial allocation above the level proposed by the EC and we hope that this can be translated into increased support for civilian peacebuilding activities. Similarly, we welcome the EP’s proposal to allocate € 2 billion from the NDICI’s rapid response actions pillar for ‘stability and conflict prevention’ as this should ensure the continuation of the ‘crisis response’ actions which are currently funded under the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP). Regarding the NDICI’s thematic pillar, we welcome the EP’s proposal to increase the financial allocation for ‘Human Rights and Democracy’ (+33%) but we are disappointed that it did not propose an equivalent increase for ‘Stability and Peace’ (i.e. the NDICI’s equivalent of the IcSP’s long-term actions).

Inclusion of a specific objective on conflict prevention

Since the EC published its proposal for the NDICI in June 2018, we have been concerned that it did not foresee the inclusion of the IcSP’s specific objective to build peace and prevent conflict. We therefore welcome the EP’s intention to include a specific objective on conflict prevention alongside the other objectives and hope that this will ensure that support for long-term civilian peacebuilding is not subjugated to other objectives such as migration management.

Reintroduction of specific peacebuilding actions across the instrument

Another cause for concern in the EC’s proposal for the NDICI was the lack of detail provided about the types of peacebuilding actions which might be supported under the geographic programmes, the ‘Stability and Peace’ thematic programme or the rapid response actions. In this context, we welcome the EP’s intention to re-introduce most of the specific actions which are currently set out in the IcSP (e.g. mediation, transitional justice, the women, peace and security (WPS) agenda, the youth, peace and security (YPS) agenda etc.) in the various pillars of the NDICI.

More focus on conflict- and gender sensitivity, and a greater role for civil society 

We welcome the EP’s proposal to include definitions of conflict sensitivity and gender sensitivity in the NDICI as well as its intention to ensure that conflict prevention, peacebuilding and the empowerment of women are all mainstreamed in NDICI programmes and actions. Similarly, we welcome the EP’s proposal for conflict- and gender analysis to be undertaken before the adoption of NDICI action plans and measures, and its intention to increase the conflict sensitivity of capacity building of military actors in support of development and security for development (CBSD). Finally, we welcome the EP’s various proposals to increase the involvement of civil society actors in the design and implementation of NDICI programmes and actions, which should help to increase their effectiveness.

Next steps?

The legislative resolution marks the end of the EP’s first reading of the NDICI proposal. EU Member States now have to adopt their position before inter-institutional negotiations (trilogue) can begin (possibly in early autumn). In the meantime, EPLO will continue to engage with the co-legislators to ensure that the EU maximises its support for peacebuilding and conflict prevention after 2020.


Ben Moore coordinates EPLO’s Funding for Peace Working Group.

Colin Cogitore is providing support to EPLO’s Funding for Peace Working Group.

Time to engage, empower, protect and support women and girls in peacebuilding


By Dr Laura Davis

On 10 December 2018, the Council of the EU adopted conclusions on women, peace and security (WPS). This includes a new policy, the EU Strategic Approach to WPS.

The process for drafting the new Strategic Approach, led by the EU’s Principal Adviser on Gender and on the implementation of United Nationals Security Council Resolution 1325 on WPS, was consultative and EPLO has been closely involved in it both through our Working Group on Gender, Peace and Security (GPS WG) and through a Civil Society Dialogue Network (CSDN) expert working meeting in September that brought together civil society experts and the penholder.

The Strategic Approach is a much stronger policy than the 2008 EU Comprehensive Approach to WPS, which it replaces. In particular, it underlines the importance of preventing violent conflict. It stresses that all EU external action must be based on robust gender and conflict analysis that identify and address gendered root causes of violence. This is important as key priority areas for the EU – such as preventing/countering violent extremism (P/CVE), counter-terrorism (CT) and responding to migration – have been largely gender-blind to date, and therefore likely to do harm and unlikely to be effective in their own terms.

The Strategy recognises the importance of international, national and local civil society in transforming gender norms and building peace – as well as the particular strategies of repression that opponents use to target women peace activists and human rights defenders face as civic space shrinks. The Strategy commits the EU to engage with inclusive civil society and women leaders throughout the policy and programming cycle – and to engage women from diverse backgrounds on the whole range of issues facing their societies, not just ‘women’s issues’. However, it does not go far enough in guaranteeing adequate and predictable financing for civil society organisations (CSOs), even though it acknowledges the importance of this funding particularly in places at risk of violent conflict.

The Strategy prioritises women’s leadership and agency over victimhood – which is welcome. Women, men, boys and girls must be protected from atrocities, including sexual violence, and impunity for the perpetrators of these crimes must end. Recognising women’s and girl’s leadership and agency throughout society and at all stages of peacebuilding, mediation and public life, and working with men and boys to change gender norms are important steps in addressing gendered root causes of violence and inequality. It is regrettable, however, that the Strategy does not explicitly mention sexual and gender minorities, who are too often at extreme risk during conflict and marginalised in peacebuilding, or indeed the EU’s own 2013 guidelines to promote and protect the enjoyment of all human rights by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons.  It is also a missed opportunity for underscoring women’s sexual and reproductive rights as well as information and healthcare.

Overall, the policy is strong, but the main challenge will be in implementation and in particular ensuring that the commitments the Council has made to ensuring gender and conflict analysis informs all EU external action, for example, is followed through. The Strategy needs to be complemented as soon as possible with an action plan that assigns responsibility for tasks to the various EU actors involved, and that these are held accountable for progress. At the same time, the Council needs to ensure that in the upcoming Multiannual Financial Framework there is adequate, ring-fenced financing for conflict prevention and for inclusive CSOs building peace and working towards gender equality worldwide.

Dr Laura Davis is the Senior Associate responsible for EPLO’s work in pursuit of its Policy Objective 4 (To strengthen the implementation of a gender-sensitive approach in EU policy and practice which enables the EU to be more inclusive and effective in promoting peace).

‘Against School Aggression Partnership’: A community-based school programme to reduce school violence and conflicts


EPLO Member Organisation Blog Post No. 10

By Dr Daniela Kolarova

The values of freedom, tolerance, respect for diversity and non-discrimination are fundamental for European societies. There are alarming proportions of bullying and violence in European schools which is a worrying signal for educators, civil society and communities. Bullying has serious and long-term effects for both victims and perpetrators. It affects mental and physical health as well as the academic performance of students.

From a policy point of view, if not addressed, bullying corrupts the school environment, poisons the climate and, in the long-term, can create a generation of apathetic citizens, bystanders of political processes and non-believers in the significance of actions for change.  The lack of will to combat bullying at school maintains the impunity of perpetrators, rewards those irresponsible for their actions and sows the seeds of cynicism, antisocial attitudes and disrespect for law and order and for the school institution as a whole. It also undermines the values of equality, dignity and liberty.

In 2015, three organisations – Partners Hungary Foundation, Partners Bulgaria Foundation and SOS Malta – joined forces to launch a pilot project aimed at developing and testing a community-based school programme for effective prevention and treatment of aggression and bullying, based on alternative conflict resolution methods. The long-term goal of the project was to achieve cultural change in schools through the dissemination of nonviolent communication, the introduction of alternative conflict resolution practices, the prevention of bullying and school conflicts, and a decrease in aggressive and other risk-related behaviour.

The research results in the pilot schools demonstrated that one of the programme’s important effects was an increase in respondents’ awareness. Bullying and aggression have been recognised as a problem and many of its aspects (i.e. types, scope, frequency etc.) have been addressed. The programme contributed to a better understanding of these phenomena and the schools’ sensitivity towards them increased. This can be seen in various suggestions for improving the school climate, measures and policies. Students’ proposals showed that they wanted a safer and child-friendly environment at school:

  • “We have to talk normally and understand each other
  • Some students must stop making themselves interesting by spoiling the atmosphere
  • “Teachers have to try to understand us better”.

Some students insisted on stronger disciplinary measures, including suspension and/or exclusion for those who engaged in bullying. A notable finding was the extent to which students insisted on the implementation of rules of co-existence at school and of their active reinforcement by adults. As a result, the suggested interventions reinforced school rules and encouraged students to think about ways to manage their relationships and disputes in a nonviolent way. A number of recommendations were prepared in order to engage educational authorities in conflict prevention and anti-bullying policies. The project showed that co-operative efforts to promote a child-friendly environment at school can be effective in stimulating learning and ensuring the well-being of all involved in the school system. The school educational process should accommodate measures and activities focused on maintaining co-operative and friendly relationships. In short, students need to learn how to co-exist with others in a peaceful way and to embrace their diversities. As the results demonstrated, dislike of others who are different, was shown to be one of the most common reasons for bullying and aggression. There is a strong argument for academic curricula to be taught in a culture of human rights, solidarity, co-operation and civility.

The programme contributed to the reduction of school aggression and bullying by establishing and strengthening co-operation between different institutions. It provided accessible and easy to adopt tools to reduce school violence and bullying. These tools were tested and further developed in three secondary schools in Bulgaria, Hungary and Malta. The programme also promoted alternative conflict resolution, anti-bullying procedures and restorative methods to be used in schools. These practices could help to prevent conflicts and minimise the occurrence of aggression, bullying and other behaviour, as risk factors for potential future criminality. They could also provide support for teachers and other educators when they need to tackle such cases.

Dr Daniela Kolarova is the Executive Director of EPLO member organisation the Partners Bulgaria Foundation.

For more information about the ‘Against School Aggression Partnership’, please visit the project website.

The project was funded by the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union.