After the end of the Cold War armed conflict steadily declined; however, since 2007 that trend has reversed. New conflicts in countries with previous episodes of war, and new conflict onsets, have re-focused attention on the urgency of developing strategies for conflict prevention and peacebuilding. Review at the United Nations (UN) this year of the international peacebuilding architecture is recognition of systemic stress and the need for innovative approaches to peacebuilding and to more sustainable solutions.

Countries emerging from civil war or widespread political violence often see rapidly changing societal dynamics that present powerful dilemmas for international and Global South peacebuilders seeking to advance a rights-based approach. Reform-oriented external donors and progressive forces internally (usually supported by development donors) typically pursue human rights-based, group-oriented empowerment approaches to redress marginalization and disadvantage in efforts to address root causes of conflict and lay the foundation for a more stable peace. Such rights-based or empowerment approaches, however, may exacerbate tensions at national and local levels in conflict-affected countries as newly mobilized groups confront deep-seated and often “illiberal” political, social, and economic orders that resist change.

The “International Norms, Local Dynamics” research, dialogue, and policy project investigates anew rights-based approaches in conflict-affected countries. The project explores ways to innovatively address the rights-oriented empowerment dilemmas faced by international and Global South peacebuilders alike. Practically, the project team will investigate how international norms are adapted by local actors in conflict-affected countries to advance a rights-based, post-war social order at the local (sub-national) level, how local dynamics shape peacebuilding, and what actual or potential innovation exists for improving peacebuilding practice by mostly Western donors and Global South organizations. How do international norms, national dynamics, and local-level conditions interact to shape peacebuilding interventions at the local level in conflict-affected countries, and with what effects?

The project features partnership of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver, the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI) in Bergen, Norway, the Nepal Peacebuilding Initiative (NPI), and the Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR), South Africa. The methodology includes new empirical research on two commonly cited “example” case studies (Nepal and South Africa), together with country-specific workshops on these cases and regional research-and-dialogue workshops designed to generate cross-national findings.

Project products are principally a) two country-specific, three regional, and two thematic research reports, b) an integrated findings and recommendations report, c) a policy brief and d) related scholarly products. Findings and recommendations will be interactively disseminated to policy makers and civil society actors at the UN, in the US and Norway, and in the Global South through close engagement with peacebuilders working regionally in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.