Within both formal and informal institutions – such as government, civil society, media, laws, policies, culture, traditions – lies the potential for dampening the incidence and impact of armed violence. However, these same institutions can also encourage or even accelerate the dynamics of armed violence. AOAV works internationally, regionally, nationally, and locally to bolster existing institutions’ ability to reduce armed violence and support its victims, and looks to create enabling institutions where none exist.
Formal institutions are critical components to any effort to reduce armed violence and mitigate its impact. Government bodies, notably those from the security and justice sectors but also health, social services and municipal authorities (among others), have a leading role to play in addressing armed violence. The legal framework, regulations, policies, practices, and informal norms that guide government action typically need to be changed in order to better mitigate armed violence and support those it victimises. Often underestimated is the need to coordinate action across implementers, programmes, and often international donors and NGOs; quite often relevant coordination bodies are weak or non-existent.
In addition to government institutions, other sectors should be mobilized to address the problem of armed violence. Local NGOs, community based organizations, businesses, and the media, as well as traditional and religious leaders, have proven in numerous contexts to be as or more critical to solving serious social problems. The Nobel-prize winning efforts by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) network, of which AOAV was an active member, as well as dozens of inspirational leaders – such as Diana Princess of Wales, Jody Williams, Queen Noor of Jordan, and survivors such as Tun Channareth, Song Kosal, Margaret Arech Orech – to pass the Land Mine Ban is a notable example of the power of non-governmental actors to affect change. The joint effort between civil society organisations and the Catholic Church to negotiate a gang truce in El Salvador, which overnight reduced the number of murders by half, is another example of the extraordinary impact of non-governmental actors.
In addition to formal bodies, informal institutions must be mobilized to reduce armed violence over the long term. Authorities struggle to implement laws and programmes in any country when the underlying society and culture is unsupportive; changing social and political norms, informal traditions, and long-standing cultural and religious practices is often crucial to tackling a problem as multi-faceted as armed violence. Public sensitization campaigns, efforts to prevent election-related violence, and encouraging traditional and religious leaders to speak out against weapons and suicide bombing are just some examples of what can be done to influence informal institutions.
Counting the Cost
Counting the cost of armed violence for people means quantifying its impact on civilians. Recording the numbers of civilians killed and injured is one of the best ways to do this.
To this end, AOAV aims to ensure that every country sees recording casualties as an obligation and a clear sign of accountability towards its citizens. Being properly recorded and identified is a basic right of every victim of armed violence and can help fulfilling other rights, such as access to healthcare.
Casualty recording can also be an effective way to prevent and reduce armed violence by providing hard evidence of the true impact of armed violence.
The evidence gathered by AOAV and partners informs targeted advocacy efforts towards an international obligation to record casualties.
AOAV also aims to increase the number of countries producing national reports on security and armed violence. These reports inform and direct governmental responses to the problem of armed violence. They reflect a commitment from countries to acknowledge and address the problem of armed violence, and they lead the way to effective programmes that support the most vulnerable populations.
In line with its programmatic approach, AOAV believes best practise requires both government and non-governmental institutions to engage with these reports. Such collaboration ensures that the reports maintain commitment beyond the political life of the government, generate a wider dialogue about the national response to armed violence, and help coordinate real-life responses to the problem.
WORKING WITH COMMUNITIES
While armed violence is problem that people can understand and debate at the global, regional, and even national levels, the impact of armed violence is felt most strongly by those at the local level. Streets, neighbourhoods, communities, and cities are most often the locus of efforts to practically reduce armed violence that are impacting peoples’ daily lives. AOAV is committed to supporting community-based solutions to the problem of armed violence through its research, policy work, and on the ground programmes.
The problem of armed violence is tends to be most serious in locations with high levels of income inequality, significant ownership of arms, high unemployment, limited or weak government services (especially in the provision of security and justice), and a history of social tension and violent conflict. Another critical factor is the size of the youth population and the availability and quality of education and employment opportunities available; where these are in short supply, instability and armed violence tend to follow.
According to the World Bank, approximately 1.3 billion youth live in developing countries, where many youth lack basic education, marketable skills, sufficient employment, and opportunities to engage in the social and political life of their communities. In Afghanistan (68% of the population under 25 years old), the Palestinian Territories (67%), and across West Africa (40%), large populations of underemployed and vulnerable youth portend problems if nothing is done to support these vulnerable groups.
Academic research and practical experience has shown that communities with large populations of unemployed young men are at the greatest risk of a wide host of social problems: from delinquency and alcohol abuse to petty theft, gang membership and armed violence. Around the world, in communities where armed violence is rampant it is often young men committing the violence or having it done to them. In 2010, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that the homicide rate for young men in the U.S. was 22.6 deaths per 100,000 (the overall global rate is 7.9, including countries in conflict); for women of the same age the rate was 3.4.
Therefore, AOAV has prioritized engaging vulnerable young men in all its livelihood, conflict transformation, and community strengthening programmes. Providing this population with technical (and life) skills, guidance, counselling, and employment opportunities can reverberate throughout their communities, encouraging economic development and stability.
Geographically, AOAV has tends to focus its community-based efforts on “hot spots”: locations with a history of conflict and violence, including urban areas and border zones. In Liberia, AOAV has provided life and employment skills, counselling, and job placement assistance to thousands of at-risk youth and former combatants from vulnerable communities over the past 6 years, consisting of three to six month programmes held in four training centres across the country.
AOAV works in disadvantaged and violence-affected urban areas in neighbourhoods around Monrovia, deploying Conflict Transformation Teams (CTTs), opening community youth centres, and improving police-community relations through enhanced dialogue and problem-solving sessions. AOAV is also building the capacity of community watch groups in underserved communities along the Liberia-Sierra Leone border, assisting them in violence monitoring and prevention and helping them build stronger links to regional security hubs and border police.
In Burundi, AOAV and its local partners provide psychosocial counselling to those impacted by armed violence and conflict in order to help victims recover psychologically, rebuild their lives, and integrate into their communities.
Looking forward, AOAV has begun to conduct research and explore programming specifically in the problem of urban violence, including the problem of gang violence, organized crime, and drug trafficking. AOAV is analysing the problem of urban violence in Latin America and engaging local partners in discussions on best practices in reducing it in an effort to share ideas across the region and to new contexts, such as in Africa and Asia.
AOAV is also promoting the principles and practices of community-based policing, which involves building collaborative relationships between communities, police, the justice sector, municipal authorities, and civil society organizations in a joint effort to solve problems instead of solely focusing on detentions, arrests, and convictions.
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