Chile, an upper middle-income democracy that has long been among Latin America’s fastest growing economies, does not come immediately to mind as a country in danger of devolving into violent conflict. So, what were senior staff from 14 UN agencies doing last November at a conflict-prevention workshop in Santiago?
Part of the answer is that conflict also occurs in middle-income countries. A recent UN-World Bank study on Pathways for Peace underscores that income and wealth are not a guarantee of peaceful societies. Furthermore, the threats against peace and security have evolved and today include environmental challenges, such as climate change. Anticipating, preventing and managing conflicts, no matter the scale, are part of the responsibilities of UN Member States as they work to sustain peace.
And although Chile, a key UN partner, is a strong and stable democracy, with a Human Development Index of 0.847, the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean, it faces, like other middle-income countries, the challenge of bridging a series of inequalities. Income disparity, though reduced in recent decades, is still high, and the rate of participation of women in the labour market, while growing, remains lower than the regional average. Moreover, the gap in terms of economic income, political participation and other human development dimensions, is wider among indigenous peoples and other social groups.
According to the Chilean National Institute for Human Rights (INDH), in 2017 the country experienced 116 socio-environmental disputes of different types and forms. Regarding indigenous peoples, the Government has implemented the right to consultation and has recently launched a plan to address unmet demands of indigenous groups in the region of Araucanía, which have at times provoked tensions and led to incidents of violence.
It is in this context, the Department of Political Affairs (DPA, now the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs) partnered with the UN Country Team (UNCT) and organized the 5-9 November workshop, which focused on environmental and inter-cultural conflicts and aimed at strengthening in-house capacities to analyze, design and help facilitate dialogues between the authorities and other stakeholders. DPA deployed a former member of its Standby Team of mediators to facilitate the workshop together with its desk officer for Chile and a UN Development Programme (UNDP) specialist based in Santiago.
The idea for the workshop first emerged after the UNCT played the role of guarantor and observer in a national consultation process between the Government and indigenous peoples in October 2017 on their recognition in the Constitution. Prior to this last phase, the UNCT had accompanied the Government’s consultation processes conducted across the country for over a year. Currently, UN agencies in Chile have been invited as observers in consultation processes with indigenous peoples in the area of education. This is an unprecedented role that may serve as a model in in other countries.
For DPA, the workshop was an opportunity to promote the Secretary-General’s prevention focus within the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and emphasize the participation and contribution of women.
“Based on the participants’ evaluations, the workshop proved instrumental to strengthen the preventive angle in programming and project design,” Carolina Vizcaíno, Political Affairs Officer and desk officer for Chile, said. “UNCT colleagues also appreciated learning about practical and concrete in their day to day work with multiple actors”.
Title picture: UNDP Chile/Pedro Bell