On November 14, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), in collaboration with local partner The Hunger Project-Bangladesh, held the “National Convention of the Ambassadors for Peace” in Dhaka for the Ambassadors for Peace (Shanti Dut Gon) who have been trained through IFES’ People Against Violence in Elections (PAVE) program. The 83 Shanti Dut Gon participated in two phases of PAVE training, which were designed to help participants understand the root causes of violence as well as equip them with the skills to mobilize public demand for more peaceful electoral processes. Following these trainings, the Shanti Dut Gon were encouraged to implement peacebuilding activities within their communities based on what they had learned through the PAVE program. This national convention, made possible through funding by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.K. Department for International Development as part of the “Bangladesh Election Support Activities” project, provided an opportunity for the peace ambassadors to share their experience and lessons learned in implementing programs that aim to engender peace and unity in Bangladesh. The convention also enabled peace ambassadors to connect with a foreign Ambassador, elevating participants’ commitment to their peacebuilding work.
Through the PAVE program, “we celebrated and raised our voice to promote no violence, only peace.”
- PAVE Ambassador for Peace
Bangladesh’s elections have consistently been characterized by polarized and often violent competition between and within political parties. Through this program, IFES in partnership with The Hunger Project Bangladesh is fostering a new generation of community-based leaders who are dedicated to promoting inclusive democracy and value open dialogue, constructive exchanges of ideas and non-violent means of political and electoral conflict resolution. By addressing the root causes of conflict and promoting alternatives to violence, the Shanti Dut Gon will create conditions for a more stable and peaceful democracy that is based on a contest of ideas rather than force.
U.S. Ambassador Marcia S. Bernicat provides a keynote address to participants at the National Convention.
The “National Convention of the Ambassadors for Peace” was attended by around 250 participants, including the 83 Shanti Dut Gon as well as policy makers, political party representatives, media and other electoral stakeholders. The Honorable Marcia S. Bernicat, U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh, was in attendance as the Chief Guest and addressed participants, highlighting the connection from “ambassador to ambassador” and noting that “in order to mitigate all sorts of problems, the peace ambassadors are working successfully with all kinds of groups, irrespective of religion, political group and creed.” The Ambassadors for Peace shared their experiences in implementing more than 130 successful peacebuilding activities, including forums such as closed-door roundtables, nationwide non-violence day rallies, and cultural performances and other youth-focused events that promote messages of peace. Through surveys conducted during the convention, 97 percent of PAVE participants indicated that they had participated in such community-level peacebuilding activities. Together, these activities have reached an estimated 10,000 people – including politicians, journalists, academics, elected representatives, business leaders, students and civil society activists – and contributed to local-level investment in more peaceful electoral processes.
Participants wore shirts and scarves with the message “Stop Violence, Build a United Bangladesh,” demonstrating their commitment to collectively strengthening democratic governance.
During participatory sessions, attendees agreed that peacebuilding efforts are critical to strengthening Bangladesh’s democratic culture and to freeing communities from political violence and intimidation. Reflecting on their progress to date, they identified the need for collaborative focus on increasing the number of peace-oriented women leaders in local government, expanding peacebuilding curriculum in universities, and further engaging youth in peacebuilding movements. IFES and The Hunger Project Bangladesh’s institutionalized network of peace ambassadors represents a critical opportunity to sustainably engage community actors in local peacebuilding initiatives and reverse entrenched electoral violence that undermines peaceful democratic processes.