How the 116th Congress Can Build Peace

AfP developed a first-ever Briefing Book on peacebuilding and violence reduction issues as a resource for the 116th Congress.

The full Book is available for download here.

AfP has a Top Ten list of ways the 116th Congress can build peace.

Download the Top 10 List.
Download the Top 10 List and background information.


Learn more about our priorities:

The war in Yemen has caused a humanitarian disaster, with over 22 million people requiring some form of humanitarian aid. More than 3 million people have been displaced, and over 7,000 civilians have been killed in the fighting, with tens of thousands more dying of starvation and disease.

The conflict in Yemen has captured the attention of the international community and the U.S. Congress, generating positive momentum toward addressing the crisis and restarting peace negotiations. AfP supports all legislative vehicles that support the UN-led peace process, address the growing humanitarian crisis, end violations of international humanitarian law, and facilitate a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

The bipartisan Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act, introduced in 2018 as S. 3652, is one such resolution that takes a comprehensive approach to do just that – ending U.S. military involvement, ensuring accountability, addressing the humanitarian crisis, and encouraging an end to the conflict. We believe this bill, and others like it, are important legislative vehicles to enforce and extract positive outcomes in Yemen. Additionally, AfP calls on the United States and other international donors to increase funding for the “peacebuilding and conflict resolution” sub-sector in the 2019 UN Humanitarian Appeal for Yemen.

High levels of violence in Central America, including the Northern Triangle of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, have driven vulnerable civilians from those countries to seek safety in the United States. The Trump Administration has proposed cutting foreign aid to Central American countries as part of its immigration policy. Cutting foreign aid to countries where asylum seekers come from, in order to curb migration, would have the opposite effect. To address these sources of violence, Congress should increase foreign assistance to Central American countries focused on addressing the root causes of violence and forced displacement. 

Central American governments are not “sending” their citizens to the United States, but rather people are being forced to flee due to increasing levels of insecurity, poverty, and violent conflict. Cuts to foreign aid will increase the number of asylum seekers arriving at our borders.

Congress should reintroduce and pass the Palestinian Partnership Fund Act. Introduced in 2018 as H.R. 7060 & S. 3549, the Palestinian Partnership Fund Act aims at building the on-the-ground conditions necessary to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians from the bottom-up. This bipartisan legislation builds on the earmarking of $50 million for such a fund in the Fiscal Year 2019 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill.

The Fund recognizes building peace requires a unified effort to change both economic conditions and people’s attitudes toward one other. The Fund focuses not just on economic growth for Palestinians alone, but also on their sustainable economic integration with Israelis. It aims not only to build businesses, but also to tackle the incitement and dehumanization that have afflicted youth in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Fund would be compliant with all current congressional legislation, including the Taylor Force Act.

Congress should reintroduce and pass an improved Global Fragility & Violence Reduction Act (GFVRA), with authorized funding appropriated for implementation.

Introduced in 2018 as H.R. 5273 & S. 3368, the GFVRA would require the U.S. Department of State, in partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Department of Defense, and other federal agencies, to develop a new strategy to reduce and prevent violent conflict. The GFVRA would give the U.S. government the tools needed for a long-term, coordinated approach to identify and mitigate the drivers of violence.

Currently, U.S. policy and spending in fragile states are governed by a patchwork of authorities and appropriations accounts spanning several agencies with different mandates, equities, interests, tools, and capabilities on violent conflict. Neither U.S. Ambassadors nor USAID Mission Directors have the policy tools they need to effectively drive U.S. assistance toward a long-term, overarching strategy with the end goal of reduced violence or improved stability.

The United States invests heavily in diplomatic, development, and defense resources to respond to and contain violence, but not there is not enough focus on efforts to prevent and address the drivers of global fragility and conflict or to measure results. The GFVRA aims to solve this strategic imbalance by strengthening U.S. government capacity to identify the root causes of fragility and violent conflict and then developing effective policy and programmatic interventions.

If passed, the legislation would:

  • Require the administration to launch a “Global Initiative to Reduce Fragility and Violence,” guiding U.S. government efforts to bring down current levels of violence and improve its efforts to prevent future violent conflicts;
  • Require the Secretary of State and the Administrator of USAID, in coordination with the Secretary of Defense, to select countries or regions where the United States will pursue new investments and programming to achieve the Global Initiative;
  • Improve the administration’s ability to measure, evaluate, and assess efforts to reduce violence and prevent violent conflict; and
  • Provide funding for the Initiative.

A version of the bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 376-16 in November 2018. A new version is expected to be re-introduced in early 2019. A broad coalition of over 50 leading international humanitarian, peacebuilding, development, and faith-based organizations endorse the GFVRA.

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Congress can remove legal barriers to peacebuilding by reforming material support laws. This change would provide badly needed legal clarity to nonprofit organizations working to prevent terrorism and build peace. U.S. law prohibits providing “material support” to foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs).  The definition of material support of terrorism was last updated in 2004 with the passage of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act. Clarity is needed because this definition has not kept pace with evolving methodologies and counterterrorism strategies. Relevant programs include those designed to turn people away from terrorism; demobilization, disarmament and reintegration (DDR) of fighters; as well as programs that support democracy building and nonviolent conflict resolution skills.

Innovative programs are often constrained by concerns about the material support definition, making them less effective than they could be. For example, the FARC in Colombia remains on the Foreign Terrorist Organization list, although it is demobilizing pursuant to a peace agreement. This effectively bars U.S. peacebuilding organizations from lending their considerable expertise to the process. Additionally, in arguments before the Supreme Court in the 2010 Humanitarian Law Project case, then-Solicitor General Elena Kagan made it clear that not all engagement with FTOs is prohibited, giving examples of permissible activities. Congress can unleash the potential of peacebuilding and DDR programs by clarifying what is covered and what is not.

Transformation at USAID is an ongoing initiative that will restructure the agency, partly through the proposed creation of a Bureau for Conflict Prevention and Stabilization (CPS). USAID intends for CPS to, “strengthen USAID’s capacity to prevent conflict, address fragility, respond to global crises in a more strategic, integrated way, and act as a stabilizing force in times of transition.” USAID submitted Congressional Notifications on each of the major areas of change in Fall 2018. Congress should approve the plans, authorize the new CPS Bureau, and appropriately fund its efforts.

The proposed new Bureau for Conflict Prevention and Stabilization will focus on prevention, which is a welcome shift toward addressing violent conflict further upstream. The Bureau will also provide opportunities to improve U.S. efforts to monitor and measure conflict prevention. Other elements of the transformation will elevate conflict prevention by clarifying USAID’s role in national security and reforming procurement to work more nimbly in non-permissive environments.

Congress should maintain full funding for the State Department and USAID, especially key peacebuilding accounts. In recent years, foreign assistance funding has been a target for proposed cuts and even rescissions. Congress has rightly rejected most cuts to foreign assistance, including peacebuilding funds. Our members are most grateful to Congress for their support and urge continued leadership in the 116th Congress.

Within the federal budget, five accounts support critical U.S. government peacebuilding and conflict resolution activities and should be fully funded in Fiscal Year 2020:

Complex Crises Fund (CCF): CCF is used by the State Department and USAID to prevent and respond to emerging or unforeseen crises. CCF is a tool for civilians within the U.S. Government to focus on countries or regions that demonstrate a high or escalating risk of conflict, instability, or unanticipated opportunity for progress in fragile democracies. CCF provides global, flexible funding.

Conflict and Stabilization Operations: The Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) is the only Department of State bureau dedicated to conflict prevention. CSO is home to analysis, planning, specialized diplomatic expertise and frontline surge capacity that is unique within the Department and the interagency. CSO works closely with longstanding partners including the Department of Defense and USAID.

Reconciliation Programs: The Reconciliation Programs Fund supports “people-to-people” conflict mitigation and reconciliation programs. These programs bring together individuals of different ethnic, religious, class, or political backgrounds from areas of civil conflict and war and have them interact meaningfully. USAID’s Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation (CMM) manages the funds.

Transition Initiatives: This fund supports USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI). The Office addresses opportunities and challenges in countries in crisis and assists in their transition to promote stability, peace, good governance, and democracy.

United States Institute of Peace: The U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) is an independent, nonpartisan institution charged with increasing the nation’s capacity to prevent, mitigate, and help resolve international conflict without violence.

Account FY16 Enacted FY17 Enacted FY18 Enacted FY19 House FY19 Senate FY20 Request
CCF $30 m $30 m $30 m $30 m $30 m
CSO $27 m $27 m $16.1 m $16.1 m
Reconciliation $26 m $26 m $30 m $30 m $30 m $30 m
TI $67 m $72.6 m $92 m $96.1 m $92 m $92 m
USIP $35.3 m $37.9 m $37.9 m $37.9 m $37.9 m $37.9 m

We recommend Congress specifically include recognition of, and financial support for, Unarmed Civilian Protection (UCP) in the FY2020 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs appropriations bill.

Unarmed civilian protection is a strategy for the protection of civilians, localized violence reduction, and supporting local peace infrastructures, in which unarmed, trained civilians live and work with local civil society in areas of violent conflict. The need for UCP is rising. In the 20th century, most fatalities in war were soldiers; in the 21st century, the majority of fatalities have been civilians. The global scale of violence and migration will only exacerbate this trend. UCP is nonviolent, nonpartisan, and contingent on local actors.

The High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations recommended that unarmed approaches must be at the forefront of United Nations efforts to protect civilians, including children.

To implement the forthcoming Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Strategy mandated in the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017, civil society encourages Congress to consider new appropriations for WPS activities. We recommend no less than $21,000,000 be made available over three years to support the WPS strategy. This funding will expand and improve coordination of U.S. Government efforts to empower women as equal partners in conflict prevention, peacebuilding, transitional processes, relief and reconstruction efforts in countries affected by violent conflict or in political transition. It will ensure the equitable provision of relief and recovery assistance to women and girls. This should consist of:

$3,000,000 a year for 3 years For 12 gender advisors to bolster WPS efforts full time in the six geographic combatant commands, Special Operations Command, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Joint Staff, Defense Security Cooperation Agency, Cyber Command, Transportation Command, and Strategic Command.
$3,000,000 a year for 3 years To support building partner capacity (BPC) training on WPS at the six geographic combatant commands.
$500,000 over 3 years To conduct operational gender advisor training courses each year in at least three combatant commands.
$500,000 over 3 years To support research and education on the impact of WPS principles on the effectiveness of security-related policies and programs.
$500,000 a year for 3 years To conduct training courses on issues and strategies to ensure meaningful participation by women in conflict prevention and resolution, protecting civilians from violence, and awareness building on international human rights law for Department of State and USAID personnel responsible for or deploying to conflict-affected areas.
$500,000 over 3 years To support research and establish guidelines for consultation with stakeholders, including local women, youth, ethnic, and religious minorities, regarding U.S. efforts to prevent, mitigate, or resolve violent conflict.
$21,000,000 to support the Women, Peace, and Security Strategy

Early in the 116th Congress, AfP anticipates reintroduction of an updated version of the Public Health Violence Prevention Act. We urge Congress to support this landmark legislation that would establish a National Center for Violence Prevention in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that would develop and drive forward a comprehensive, preventive program to reduce and prevent violence across the United States.

On a typical day in the United States, 39 Americans are murdered. 180 are shot and wounded. 1,900 children are abused. 27,400 women and men are physically abused by an intimate partner. 117 individuals commit suicide. Violence in the United States has become a public health crisis. Just like lead poisoning, seasonal influenza, or Zika, violence can be reduced and prevented using a combined public health and peacebuilding approach.

Based on evaluations of local and national level initiatives, it is estimated that a minimum of 30% of violent incidents of all forms can be prevented with sustained reductions should communities include a multi-sector health approach. With an estimated annual expense of $450 billion related to violence, this $1 billion investment will yield a savings of approximately $135 billion and 18,000 lives.

Health and Human Services has led multiple violence prevention efforts through the Office of Minority Health, the Centers for Disease Control, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency, and others. However, the funding has not been commensurate with the need to respond and prevent all forms of violence. The funding has also been significantly less than the expenditures related to the impact of violence (hospitalizations, trauma, loss of productivity, prisons, etc.). Evidence-informed systems change has proven effective in reducing violence of all forms nation-wide in small sections of communities.

The Public Health Violence Prevention Act established a Public Health Violence Prevention Program (PHVP) that will develop and oversee a comprehensive set of grants focused on reducing and preventing violence where it is needed most in the United States. Grant awards shall also give preference to projects in the top 50  – the U.S. cities and counties, including rural and frontier areas, with the highest rates of violence per capita as well as those with the highest spikes in all forms of violence over a period of time.

This bill would allow the implementation of a comprehensive multi-sector health approach to violence to be brought to scale. Nonprofits (including nonprofit hospitals) universities, and government entities (with specific emphasis on health departments) are well-positioned to lead this effort to establish protocols, policies, and programs while ensuring quality results that are both life and cost saving.


AFP’s members are constantly engaging with Congress on new crises, policy priorities, and ideas. This top 10 list is not exhaustive, but reflects our primary priorities

Explore and download other sections on:

State of Global Violence   Conflict-Affected & Fragile States

About Peacebuilding     Public Support for Peacebuilding 

Evidence of What Works     AfP Members


Download individual annexes: 

US Government and Peacebuilding  Definitions and Key Terms

Violent Conflict & Terrorism     Violent Conflict & Development

Violent Conflict & Gender  Violent Conflict & Refugees

Violent Conflict & Humanitarian Assistance 


For more information, please contact Liz Hume, Vice President,