Press Clip Source: Kirkko Kaupunki
Written By: Jouni Viitala
Date: November 18, 2013
Read Original Article: Here
Alex Virtanen, 27, works as an unarmed peacekeeper in Mindanao, the Philippines. Typhoon Haiyan passed north of Mindanao, and did not cause major damage there. While on holiday in Helsinki, Alex has been disheartened by the news, but does not believe that the catastrophe will have a direct effect on his work.
- We work with man-made destruction, not natural calamities. Unfortunately, the violence in Mindanao will not end because of the typhoon, Virtanen commented before returning to the Philippines.
His father Rauli is known for decades of work as a war correspondent. After high school, Alex worked as his cameraman in Asia. Witnessing the misery caused by conflicts sparked his interest in peace work.
- I felt like I want to work with these issues in the field, instead of just taking part in documenting them, Alex Virtanen recalls.
Virtanen obtained a Master’s degree in Conflict Resolution at the University of Amsterdam and worked with the Mission of Finland to the UN for a year. The opportunity for fieldwork came as a human rights observer in the West Bank in 2012.
- I met extremely friendly people living in difficult circumstances. They tried to live as normal a life as possible and to maintain their self-respect despite of the human rights violations.
In January 2013, Virtanen began working as an unarmed civilian peacekeeper with Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) in the Philippines. The country has experienced a civil war for the past 40 years. A Framework Agreement for Peace was created last year, but the peace process is fragile and the violence has not ended.
Virtanen works on the war-torn island of Mindanao. Although firefights have taken place a few blocks away from Alex's apartment, he feels relatively safe in the Philippines. The greatest threats to peacekeepers are stray bullets and armed criminal organizations.
- The cornerstone of our security is the approval by the parties to the conflict. Without it, we would not be able to do much on the ground, Virtanen says.
NP's activities include assisting in the peace process, human rights monitoring and reporting, as well as the protection of civilians. NP seeks to create confidential relations with parties to the conflict, other local actors and civilians. Networking helps in difficult situations.
- This summer, a village captain called us about an ongoing firefight with more than thirty families trapped in the crossfire. We contacted the different actors, who managed to reach a ceasefire to get the families to safety.
In Virtanen’s view being unarmed does not hinder peacekeeping work in the Philippines - on the contrary.
- Armed actors have created so much insecurity there, that it could be difficult to gain the trust of locals if we were armed.
Virtanen hopes that unarmed civilian peacekeeping would be considered a worthy alternative to armed peacekeeping.
- Sending us rather than armed peacekeepers to crisis areas is a lot cheaper. That is one clear advantage.