The independent resource on global security

Non-violent movements could be key to better people-centred peacebuilding

Protestors march in Algeria. Credit: Amine M'siouri/Pexels.
Protestors march in Algeria. Credit: Amine Msiouri/Pexels.

Throughout this year’s Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development, we heard about a multiplicity of crises afflicting the world. While the war in Ukraine—and its globally destabilizing effects—were front and centre, today’s peace and security is also threatened by our inability to take reasonable steps to mitigate climate change and a global rise in populist nationalism and pushback against human rights and gender equality that is accompanied by 17 years of democratic decline. Furthermore, the unregulated development of technology threatens to sow distrust in information and institutions, threaten dignified and meaningful employment for millions, and potentially lower the barriers for violent conflict.  

These deeply inter-related and complex threats to peace and security have led some policymakers, donors, members of civil society, and activists to question the effectiveness of the liberal peacebuilding approach. Some advocates call for alternatives that prioritize military responses to maintain stability, rather than continued investment in solutions that build social capital and strengthen institutions in order to manage and resolve conflict peacefully. When security is prioritized at the expense of efforts to claim and expand human rights and institutional reform, it can catalyse dangerous and self-defeating propositions for peace. This is especially true in times of conflict, when governments seek to accumulate unchecked powers under the guise of security

Humanity United’s approach to peacebuilding is centred on supporting processes that strengthen relationships and trust among proximate and diverse stakeholders so that they can leverage their power to address the drivers of conflict, while simultaneously reforming institutions to be more inclusive and responsive. Throughout the past four years, we have found that supporting non-violent movements to engage in collective action has catalysed greater coordination among actors across sectors and borders, and has leveraged a broad range of knowledge, critical skills and networks to tackle these crises from multiple fronts. For Humanity United, this experience has reaffirmed our belief that for any peacebuilding strategy to ultimately achieve inclusive, responsive, just and sustainable peace, we have to ensure people-centred approaches remain core to peacebuilding and security policy and solutions.  

We further explored the different roles that non-violent movements could play to build peace and security in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics during the Stockholm Forum. In partnership with the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, Humanity United hosted a session entitled ‘Advancing Peace During War: Lessons and Reflections from the Region’s People Powered Movements’. The panellists, representing 2022 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Centre for Civil Liberties and Viasna, as well as the International Center for Non-Violent Conflict, highlighted three reasons why support for non-violent movements must play a central role in efforts to build people-centred, sustainable peace:

  1. Non-violent movements are effective at securing democratic outcomes that enhance sustainable peace. Research indicates that non-violent resistance movements are twice as effective as armed struggles in advancing their political goals. During the twentieth century, 57 per cent of political transitions driven by non-violent civil resistance led to democratic outcomes, compared to only 6 per cent of those driven by armed insurgencies; these outcomes enhance effective governance and resilience to illiberal forces that exacerbate conflict drivers. 
  2. Non-violent movements incentivize non-violent strategies to attain peace. Non-violent civil resistance movements can reduce the risk of atrocities. In fact, research shows that armed uprisings are subject to mass killings nearly three times as often as non-violent campaigns. Moreover, non-violent movements created spaces for negotiations over the social contract.  As we have seen in Iran and Sudan, women and youth are emerging as new leaders, shaping new norms and values around inclusivity, equality and representation.  
  3. Non-violent movements leverage popular pressure for more equitable outcomes during negotiations that set forth frameworks for future peace. As a precondition for negotiations, movements can use non-violent tactics to increase their acceptability as a legitimate party in the conflict, as well as to broaden their range of bargaining options. Non-violent movements force powerholders to seek resolutions to conflict, helping excluded communities to have a stronger voice in effective negotiation processes.


If policymakers and donors are serious about tacking threats to peace and security, then they need to expand their thinking—and, frankly, be ready to operate outside their comfort zones. They need to move beyond exclusively supporting traditionally organized civil society towards also supporting non-violent movements comprised of human rights defenders, democrats, peacebuilders, professionals and others who want to build peaceful and prosperous societies.      


SIPRI is pleased to share a series of guest blog posts from partners of the 2023 Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development.


Dr Bryan Sims leads Humanity United’s strategies on non-violent collective action and inclusive peace processes.