Jambville is a typical little French town located 50 kilometers to the north west of Paris. It contains a dozen old houses with stone facades and tiny well maintained gardens. There is no bakery, no grocery shop… and not even a pub! Everything is so quiet there, that one could think time had stopped for the 700 people living in the place. After passing a few corners on the main road, you start driving along a very old but impressive wall. This eventually leads to the entrance of a majestic park. Standing behind the metal gate, you finally glimpse it: Le Chateau de Jambville (Jambville Castle). The castle was built in the seventeenth century and is surrounded by nearly 52 hectares of gardens, half of which is meadow and half which is forest.
(Published Dec. 11, 2014)
This was the basic information given to the 30 students before they stepped out of their comfortable air-conditioned coach. Of course, they did not know that this lovely peaceful place was about to become an extremely violent and dangerous armed conflict area- ruled by unidentified militias. The students are all part of the Geopolitics and International Security masters degree from the Catholic University of Paris. This will be their first week together. Their masters director, Dr. Jean-Jacques Patry, wanted them to have an introduction to the concept of unarmed civilian peacekeeping (UCP) or how unarmed civilians could intervene in conflict zones. As of today, this is a concept almost unknown in France, as is the reality of the work done by some non-governmental organizations (NGO) in this domain. The training is organized by the Comité ICP with the participation of Peace Brigade International (PBI), Mouvement pour une Alternative non-violente (MAN) and Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP).
The program is inspired by the Mission Preparedness Training developed by Nonviolent Peaceforce for its new peacekeepers, such as the one given in South Sudan in May 2014. Sharing the lead for this week, trainers were Robert Rivers (NP Trainer) and Cécile Dubernet (Institut Catholique de Paris – PBI), assisted by Mr. Patry together with NP and MAN staff. Although it only lasts for five days (instead of 15 days for the original NP training) the workshop aims to cover the essential aspects and concepts of unarmed civilian peacekeeping. This combines teachings from academics, trainers and field volunteers. There is a strong focus on non-violent conflict management strategies and fieldwork challenges. The workshop is therefore a complementary mix of reflection and action. Through role-playing, conferences, film viewings, case studies, sharing experiences, as well as a final 24 hours simulation, the participants are able to better grasp the constraints of the field and stretch their limits.
As with most of the workshops, the week started with a welcoming session immediately followed by icebreaking sessions. The aim of this was so people could be mixed together based on: their living and working experience in armed conflict areas, knowledge of non-violent methods and age. It is interesting to see how different levels of previous experience creates a lot of diversity and enriches discussions. After a short break during which the group discovered their rooms, (who hasn’t dreamed of sleeping in a castle with a standing view of the garden?), the second session introduced the participants to unarmed civilian peacekeeping, its key concepts and the key actors. Those who expected a calm evening were quickly grounded in reality when armed actors stormed the room.
The second day started with a session on nonviolence, which was followed by another session aimed to emphasize the concept of non-partisanship. These are some of the key elements of the UCP’s strategy, along with the primacy of local actors. This was followed by an exercise confronting the group of designated peacekeepers with situations they could encounter in the field. The entire afternoon focused on the understanding of conflict and UCP’s role in conflict. In the evening, the darkness wrapped the castle and its garden, creating a calm but quite frightening atmosphere. This was only emphasized by an owl hooting in the background; as a discussion was facilitated between students who shared their own experiences of conflict, from the mafias in Mexico to the on-going wars in Mali, Syria and Afghanistan.
Day 3 started with a session on resolution of conflict in multi-cultural teams. This was followed by a session going over all the basic trainings on field security. By the end, no one piece of clothing was saved from grass stains; as participants had to flatten down on the grass as fast as they could, in reacting to a grenade attack. Security is a major point for anyone working in the field. Not only for our own safety; but so we can also effectively protect our partners and beneficiaries. In the afternoon, teams were formed for the “quick decisions review” session, each based on true situations experienced by NP teams in the field. In the evening, the teams received a briefing package containing several pieces of information for their next day’s mission: it entailed conducting an exploration in Anapo (fictive name) to see if NP could open a new mission there. Teams had the night to prepare themselves for a long and stressful day of meetings, travelling, negotiations, reporting and constant analysis of the situation.
Strangely, Thursday’s breakfast seemed to be quickly finished up. From the discussion, I understand some teams worked late on preparing their mission… And the last briefing slightly increased their level of stress as new events arose. Throughout the day, in addition to developing trust and acceptance from critical actors in the conflict context, each team’s objectives are four-fold:
- Conduct NP’s first on-the-ground analysis of the conflict context in East Sakwa (fictive name)
- Assess the human rights situation in the region
- Analyse the security situation for potential NP operations
- Develop a recommendation for what role NP could play in East Sakwa.
An excellent opportunity to review all the lessons learned from the week, from the concept of nonpartisanship, UCP and non-violence to the security protocol… especially in case of unfortunate meeting with unidentified armed actors controlling the East Sakwa region!
The end of the simulation also marks the end of the day. After four intensive days, everyone is welcoming tonight trapper’s meal gently prepared by the scouts. Tomorrow, everyone will be leaving this place. Leaving “our” castle and the surrounding nature for a university amphitheater in Paris… and hopefully, no more grenade attacks! But sitting around the huge fire, no one really seems to be thinking about that yet.
By Simon Meynsbrughen, Nonviolent Peaceforce Communications Coordinator