In both Kosovo and Liberia, CSOs took an active role in protecting individuals and defending human rights, especially during the armed conflicts. In Kosovo, for example, prominent institutions such as the non-governmental Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms worked extensively in highlighting instances where citizens were targeted and abused by the Serbian regime and collaborated with key international institutions such as the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in collecting evidence on human rights abuses and crimes against humanity (Kosovar Civil Society Foundation ). In addition, CSOs played an important role in documenting massacres in Drenica, which saw the mass executions of Albanians by Serbian Special Forces, and brought these atrocities to the attention of like-minded organizations in other countries to generate mobilization and solidarity and calls for change.
In Liberia, the Liberian Women Initiative (LWI) played an active role in highlighting the difficulties faced particularly by women and children, the abuse of women and the use of children as child soldiers during the war. Other Liberian organizations focusing on human rights issues, such as the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (CJPC) and the Centre for Law and Human Rights Education (CLHRE), carried out extensive work in identifying and chronicling the massive abuses meted out to citizens by the belligerents.
Following Taylor’s election as Liberia’s president in 1997, most groups working on human rights made attempts to take advantage of the democratic space that seemed to have opened up with the overthrow of the autocratic Doe regime, but soon found themselves at loggerheads with the government . Despite growing restrictions under Taylor’s reign, civil society groups working on human rights were instrumental in educating citizens about human rights and providing much needed assistance to those who suffered from abuse during the conflict
During the period, however, a majority of the NGOs in Kosovo were established along ethnic lines and in most cases limited services to the spheres in which they operated. In general civil society created a parallel system of service provision, with many civil society activities biased towards ethnic Albanian sections of the population.
Civil Society in Liberia
In Liberia, prior to the armed conflict, participation in civic activities in communities was exceptionally low. However, civic participation blossomed during the conflict with the creation of the NGO Special Emergency Life Food Programme (SELF), which developed activities that encouraged citizens to participate in electing leaders for their communities. SELF was instrumental in channeling much needed aid to those affected by the conflict. As a result of the breakdown in social and economic infrastructures for the most part and the absence of a viable government during the conflict, civil society took on the normal role of the state in providing services to communities. According to the CSI Analytical Country Report for Liberia (AGENDA 2010: 30), during the conflict ‘local CSOs were managing entire displaced populations of over 100,000 people and were responsible for distributing food and providing schooling and other vital functions’, putting in place structures to achieve these objectives which are still in place in the post-conflict period.
Civil Society in peace building
Where the two cases differ significantly in terms of the roles played by civil society is in the involvement of civil society in the resolution of conflict. In Kosovo, once the non-violent civil society efforts to prevent armed conflict were overtaken by violent factions, CSOs do not seem to have played any significant role in moving toward peace – except to the extent that they sought to defend human rights. Furthermore, it does not appear that Kosovo’s civil society was allowed a place at the table or consulted by the belligerent parties or the NATO/UN peacekeeping and administrative bodies.
In Liberia, by contrast, civil society was a leading force in promoting the peace process. Indeed, one could say that the outbreak of conflict in a way opened up new spaces for civil society to evolve. For example, at the outset of efforts aimed at finding a lasting solution to the conflict, the Interfaith Mediation Committee (IFMC), a combination of the Liberian Council of Churches (LCC) and the National Muslim Council of Liberia (NMCL), led attempts to bring the various warring factions together, took the lead in discussions by local, national and regional actors aimed at finding lasting solutions to end the conflict, and provided the guiding framework for some of the peace negotiations. The religious community, under the tutelage of the LCC and the NMCL, had to realign their responsibilities to encompass the provision of assistance and ensure that citizens in their respective areas were safe . The IFMC played a central role in serving as the contact point between the different parties involved in the conflict. Even though the first peace talks faltered because of disagreements between the different factions and the crisis persisted, the key proposals put forward by the IFMC were used as a blueprint by ECOWAS in its subsequent peace negotiations.
The proposals put on the negotiating table by CSOs were preceded and supported by a series of community-led demonstrations held in rural areas with demonstrators calling on factions to end the war, start the process of disarming fighters and hold elections. These demonstrations later coalesced into a movement known as the Civic Disarmament Campaign which persistently called for an end to the fighting and disarming of combatants and for citizens to be involved in governance processes in the country (AGENDA 2010: 15). The IFMC also contributed to conflict resolution by pushing for the disarmament of tens of thousands of combatants and organizing boycotts to protest against what it considered shortcomings with some peace agreements, especially those with provisions which allowed for members of some rebel factions to join the government .
Other organizations contributed to the peace process in diverse ways at different points in the Liberian conflict. For example, the above-mentioned Liberian Women Initiative (LWI) ensured that female representatives participated at the Accra Clarification Conference, a key peace negotiating forum held in 1994, in spite of initial resistance to the presence of women by warring factions who assumed that women were not directly involved in the conflict. By insisting that women were represented at the conference, the LWI encouraged a degree of consciousness among the belligerents that the aspirations of all parties should be considered and not just those of the warring factions .
The NATO intervention that ended the armed conflict in 1999 was considered to be a turning point for the development of civil society in Kosovo (KCSF 2011: 20). The immediate priority in the post-conflict era in Kosovo was the resettlement and provision of services to approximately 880,000 returning refugees and the rebuilding of economic and social infrastructure destroyed by the war. The post-conflict situation also brought structural challenges because, in addition to the returning Albanian refugees who needed assistance, Serbs who stayed in the province became victims of revenge attacks from sections of the Albanian population. The huge humanitarian and infrastructural needs and the necessity for reconciliation saw a rise in the number of both local and international NGOs to meet these needs.
Civil Society and reconstruction of Kosovo
In any case MTS continued to provide services to communities, and the Centre for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedom assisted those in need and provided counselling to some suffering from the effects of war (AGENDA 2010). Furthermore, the international NGOs especially made use of the Kosovo Enforcement Force (KFOR) to deliver aid in communities that needed assistance the most.
The CSI Analytical Country Report for Kosovo tells us that although Kosovo’s civil society is experiencing many positive developments, huge challenges remain (KCSF 2011). Many parts of civil society continue to depend on international funding for their existence. As new sources of funds emerge, especially from the European Union, the divide grows between large CSOs that have the capacity to handle large grants and smaller CSOs. Connections with local constituencies remain weak, contributing to a continuing low level of public understanding of civil society. Nevertheless, especially with Kosovo’s 97newly declared independence, CSOs are moving into new areas, e.g. concerning the rule of law and ‘watchdog’ activities, that portend a promising future.
Civil Society and work for democracy in Liberia
The period following the end of the conflict in Liberia has been called the ‘golden era’ in the history of its civil society development (AGENDA 2010: 15). Its beginning was marked by the inclusion of representatives of civil society in the transitional government, as called for in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) – a major outcome of the Accra peace process – which prepared the country for elections held in 2005. The inclusion of representatives from civil society in the transitional government meant that civil society representatives (though fewer in number than those from the government and political parties) played a role in the formulation and implementation of policy. This meant that civil society was recognized as a viable player, which enhanced the space for civil society to tussle for positions with political formations.