International Alert was one of the first international NGOs devoted to building peace. Since its inception, the organisation has focused on addressing internal conflicts, creating systems for early warning of violent conflict and establishing field programmes to support local efforts for peace.
International Alert was created nearly 30 years ago in a very different era. The 1980s were characterised by a struggle for world power between the USA and USSR. War and peace were largely depicted in relation to that global rivalry and determined by who took what side, with what forces. While conflicts between nations were decreasing towards the end of the Cold War, internal conflicts were dangerously increasing.
In this environment, International Alert was born of the urgency to focus attention on problems of group conflict which violate human rights, inhibit development and result in mass killings and genocide. The first organisation of its kind to be concerned specifically with violent internal conflict, Alert was established to encourage the creation of procedures and structures for resolving and preventing violent conflict.
It was launched in April 1985 as The Standing International Forum on Ethnic Conflict, Development, and Human Rights (SIFEC). The organisation not only believed meaningful action should be based on solid research, it also understood it was not enough to tackle symptoms without coming to grips with root causes. Thus, it aimed to analyse the causes and effects of internal violent conflict, draw attention to their dangers, propose solutions, and provide opportunities for discussion and mediation.
Alert began as a small kitchen table operation, focusing primarily on human rights violations in Sri Lanka. But this peacebuilding work was only the beginning for this new, dynamic organisation, and Alert quickly diversified its programmes into new areas of Asia, as well as Africa. Alert is now active in more than 20 countries in: Southeast Asia, the Caucasus and Central Asia, West Africa, the Great Lakes region of Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.
Alert has also broadened its reach thematically. It created programmes that examine a variety of generic thematic issues common to many conflicts – including racism, self determination, gender, economy, security and climate change. Its programmes have focused on: preventative diplomacy and early warning, conflict resolution training, the role of business in conflict and the issue of small arms, just to name a few.
Tools and Approaches
Recognising that a peaceful society is only possible by working at both a high level as well as the ground level – and linking the two together – Alert has continually pushed the boundaries of peacebuilding work. To this end, we have contributed to research, the development of tools, skills transfer, and advocacy and lobbying work. We launched a resource pack to provide operational guidelines for conflict-sensitive approaches to humanitarian assistance and development. We have also designed and implemented our own conflict resolution training programmes and a ground-breaking code of conduct.
For Alert and its work, the external environment has kept changing, marked by a growing preoccupation with terrorism, international attention to climate change, and a shifting world order, with the emergence of such countries as China, India and Brazil as economic powers. Against this backdrop, Alert has continued to evolve and adapt, re-affirming its commitments to build the foundations for sustainable peace. These efforts have become essential in ensuring that the 21st century is less violent than the 20th.
Today Alert has grown to be one of the world’s leading peacebuilding NGOs and remains a pioneer in the field. The organisation has grown organically in response to the increasingly complex interplay of factors with violent conflict. The growth of Alert has been a learning process which continues to unfold. We take pride in our consistent efforts to reflect on our methodology and learn from our experiences.
Alert is proud of our history and of what we have learned and achieved over three decades of peacebuilding, and we look forward to the next 30 years. We believe that with patience, dedication and understanding, sustainable peace is possible.