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September 24, 2001

Hoffman works between the tracks

Deanna Congileo is director of the Carter Center’s Office of Public Information.


When Ben Hoffman joined the Carter Center last year, he saw an opportunity to chart a new course in the field of conflict resolution.

“The Carter Center is unique in integrating what we call ‘track one’ and ‘track two’ mediation—track one being official state-to-state diplomacy, and track two being long-term peace building at the community level,” said Hoffman, director of the center’s Conflict Resolution Program (CRP). “We can take advantage of President [Jimmy] Carter’s access to political leaders to achieve peace accords, yet implement agreements in a way that achieves sustainable peace.”

“Track 1.5” is the name Hoffman has given to this hybrid approach to conflict resolution being pioneered by The Carter Center. Although most conflict resolution and peace building originates at the grassroots, “track two” level, there is a limit to what such work can achieve, he said.

“A few words in a diplomatic accord can set the framework and political will for permanently improving life for hundreds of thousands of people,” Hoffman said. “But those agreements should contemplate all the elements of sustainable peace with justice: the role of civil society, rule of law, respect for human rights—[all] aspects of long-term peace building dependent on grassroots action and vigilance.”

Throughout his 25-year career, Hoffman’s “preoccupation with the realization of justice” has been more than an intellectual passion.

In Canada, he managed large-scale projects to bring about healing for battered women and their abusers and for clerics who perpetrated long-term patterns of abuse against boys in their care. Later, after leading peace-building projects in Haiti, Lebanon, Lithuania, Crimea and Romania, he became widely recognized for his work on reconciliation and the design of dispute resolution systems to support rule of law.

He says lessons from the trenches have proven useful at the elite level of mediation, noticeably in the CRP’s current effort to restore diplomatic relations between Sudan and Uganda and advance peace in the region.

Since Carter and the CRP brokered an agreement between the two countries in December 1999, center staff have worked continuously to get the accord implemented, with successes including the exchange of 74 prisoners of war and the return to Uganda of more than 200 Ugandan children abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a northern Uganda rebel group based in Sudan.

“Ultimately, we need to look at a range of peace-building activities in the region,” Hoffman said. “The peace accord is only one step.”

For example, long-term peace will require a commitment to reintegrating former combatants into society. A Carter Center field representative has been working to get agencies in Sudan and northern Uganda to cooperate in establishing reception centers, providing trauma recovery programs and training former soldiers to work in society.

“We do not work directly with the traumatized children,” Hoffman said, “but we are mobilizing people and resources to see that necessary groundwork for permanent peace is made.”

This emphasis on long-term peace building is not completely new. After assisting with peace negotiations in the Liberian civil war in the early 1990s, the Carter Center remained engaged in the country for nearly a decade, observing peaceful elections in 1997 and subsequently working to advance human rights and strengthen Liberian nongovernmental organizations. The same is true in Guyana, where the Center has sponsored post-election projects to strengthen human rights and civil society.

As the CRP refines “track 1.5” diplomacy, Hoffman said staff will begin to analyze and document successes and failures to share with the academic, diplomatic and conflict-resolution communities.

With his own extensive academic credentials, Hoffman knows the rigors of making a sound case for a new concept. His training includes a specialization in dispute resolution from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard University and a doctorate from York University in the United Kingdom, where his thesis examined approaches to restructuring power in political conflict.

But along with running the academic gauntlet is a pressing need to share this new mediation approach with the larger diplomatic community, putting theory into practice.

“There is a bona fide set of clinical skills used in the mediation field—and here at the Carter Center—that are available to the larger diplomatic community,” Hoffman said. “And there is a great opportunity to build bridges, operationally and professionally, between diplomats and those working at the grassroots for peace. The Carter Center is uniquely positioned to move this vision forward.”


Back to Emory Report September 24, 2001