June 22, 2015

The High-Level Seminar on Peacebuilding, National Reconciliation and Democratization in Asia was held in Tokyo, Japan on 20 June 2015. The seminar was proposed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the East Asia Summit in November 2014, who emphasized Japan's continued commitment to peace and democracy in Asia as part of his policy of "Proactive Contribution to Peace." The seminar was chaired by Mr. Yasushi Akashi, Representative of the Government of Japan on Peace-Building, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of Sri Lanka and attended by a number of prominent figures who have deep knowledge and rich experience in this field.

The seminar was kicked off by Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who delivered a keynote speech titled ''A Peace-Loving Nation Walking with Asia.'' He laid out Japan's philosophy on and approach to peacebuilding and described the efforts that it has made in many parts of Asia as a peace-loving nation for seventy years. Minister Kishida stated that as a politician from Hiroshima, the concept of peace and war resonated especially strongly with him, saying, ''I will make the contribution to peacebuilding, national reconciliation, and democratization in Asia a new pillar of my 'Kishida-Diplomacy.''' The participants warmly welcomed Foreign Minister Kishida's remarks and expressed their expectation for Japan's further contributions to this end.

The seminar then moved onto a speech session, where eminent figures with diverse backgrounds and expertise generously shared their experiences, insights, lessons learned and best practices with the audience, covering peace and democratization processes in Timor-Leste, Sri Lanka, Mindanao, and Myanmar as well as activities of the High-level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations. In the following interactive session, panelists elaborated their observations and freely exchanged views with each other as well as with the audience in relation to peacebuilding, national reconciliation and democratization.

The afternoon session consisted of simultaneously-organized three panel discussions which focused on more specific aspects of peacebuilding and democratization, namely "consolidation of peace and socio-economic development," "harmonization in diversity and moderation" and "peacebuilding and women and children."

Throughout the sessions, the participants emphasized and appreciated the fact that despite all the difficulties, both domestic and international, many post-conflict nations in Asia achieved a synergic advancement of peace, economic development, national reconciliation and democratization over the past decades. They also pointed out that with the help of the international community and civil society, many of these nascent democracies, if not all, have succeeded in maintaining their pluralistic political system with a number of stakeholders participating in political debate. They also shared the view that given the rise of extremism as well as other new challenges, the international community needs to continue to support efforts of building peace, facilitating national reconciliation and achieving democratic institutions, including in Asia.

It is in this context that the participants identified the following key observations.

  • Post-conflict peacebuilding is a multi-dimensional task that requires efforts in a number of sectors. Separate undertakings for peacebuilding, national reconciliation, economic recovery and eventual democratization need to be promoted in a comprehensive and mutually enhancing manner.
  • Each process of peacebuilding, national reconciliation and democratization is unique as the nature and context of individual conflicts are sui generis. Such uniqueness needs to be taken into consideration, and that is particularly the case in Asia, as it accommodates a variety of languages, cultures and religions. Tolerance to diversity is an indispensable factor to peace, national reconciliation and democracy.
  • No peacebuilding efforts can be successful without winning the hearts and minds of the people. Reducing the level of violence through efforts for disarmament, demobilization and re-integration of ex-combatants, including child soldiers and female combatants, must therefore be conducted so as to minimize the fears of local ordinary citizens, women and children.
  • Efforts must be made to keep all the relevant parties on board. Inclusiveness is key in promoting national reconciliation.
  • Empowering moderate groups in post-conflict communities proves to be effective as they can serve as the primary bearers of democratic institutions.
  • Although there is no linear correlation between economic development and democratization, promoting community-based and inclusive economic development, providing basic infrastructure and nurturing the middle class has been a key prerequisite in creating and consolidating democratic institutions in many Asian countries. Economic rehabilitation and eventual development supported by infrastructure development is conducive to peace as well, because it provides tangible peace dividends to local populations and thereby help consolidate the peace that has just been won.
  • The protection and promotion of basic human rights is an essential element to achieve successful democratization in a war-torn country.
  • Those in the state apparatus, namely civil servants, police and military personnel need to be politically neutral.
  • Investigating past abuses is important in terms of bringing to an end the tradition of impunity and for the protection and promotion of human rights. In practice, however, promoting national reconciliation is highly complicated and requires time, patience and political maturity.
  • Training and education is critical. By investing in human resource development, people can empower themselves to be more resilient to challenges and be capable of charting their own destiny, and thus achieving the essential goals of "human security" policies.
  • Of critical importance is the pursuit of gender equality and the inclusion and empowerment of women in the whole process of post-conflict peacebuilding, national reconciliation and democratization. Children and youth should also be included in the peacebuilding processes and provided with the support they need in terms of social, economic, as well as physical and psychological recovery.
  • Aid workers and peacebuilders also need to be well trained and well-versed in the issue of peace and democracy.
  • The United Nations and regional organizations such as ASEAN have played, and will continue to play, crucial roles in a number of steps toward peace, national reconciliation and democracy.

The participants expressed their wish that the outcomes of this seminar be shared widely including with the leaders of the East Asia Summit.

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