Far too many conflicts are crippling the world, yet too few people like Mel Duncan have dedicated their lives to do something about the strife. Fewer still get recognized for their efforts. But this week, a respected interfaith group awarded Duncan a peace prize for his efforts.
The New York-based U.S. Fellowship for Reconciliation, or FOR, which promotes world peace through nonviolent means, announced today that Duncan, the executive director of Nonviolent Peaceforce, is the winner of this year’s international Pfeffer Peace Prize.
“This award is a validation of the work of so many people who came together and, in some cases, put their lives on the line to protect other humans,” said Duncan. “I’m accepting it on behalf of all those who are serving in conflict zones.”
At 57, Duncan has spent most of his adult life organizing for peace, justice and the environment. As a coalition of some 80 organizations around the world, Duncan’s Minneapolis-based group has mobilized hundreds of volunteers scattered in three countries. Volunteers are working on peace projects in Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Guatemala.
They function as “an unarmed bodyguard,” said Duncan, who insists that they never enter a country without proper permission. They also avoid being partisan, he said.
In a conflict zone like Sri Lanka, volunteers from Duncan’s organization helped protect a village, some of whose residents had been attacked and massacred. In effect, volunteers, who are typically foreigners, serve as a human shield.
That’s because “a lot of combatants are susceptible to international pressure. Our mere presence deters [combatants] from violating human rights,” Duncan says.
Duncan’s organization also works with local human rights groups and helps “elevate their work,” he said. “Our team has the moral support they need to do their job.”
Getting the word out about local conflicts is a major part of what Duncan calls the “effective and methodical strategy” of the Nonviolent Peaceforce.
The organization, which has another main office in Brussels, hopes to expand to Uganda and Colombia.
“We created something people can say `Yes’ to when they say `No to war,'” Duncan said.
Duncan will receive the award on Sept. 16 during the Fellowship for Reconciliation’s annual Festival of Peace in New York.
On the net at www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org