Dr. Ann Frisch Travels the World Helping Others Reduce Conflict

Dr Anne Frisch in White Bear Lake Magazine

For many, retirement means slowing down the pace of life, but for Dr. Ann Frisch, it meant starting a new career as an international peacekeeper, serving as an unarmed neutral in some of the most conflict-ridden areas of the world.

Frisch’s journey as a peacekeeper started when she joined Rotary International, a worldwide service organization committed to creating lasting change in the world, when she was a professor teaching human services and global education at University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

After Frisch retired in 2006, she moved to White Bear Lake to be close to family. Nowhere ready to stop working, Frisch contacted the Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP), a global nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to protect civilians against violence through using unarmed strategies.

Frisch was working for NP as a fundraiser when an emergency Protectors of Human Rights team was needed in Guatemala because of escalating violence due to elections there. Frisch spoke Spanish, so she decided to join the team as a protector. “There were many human rights violations taking place there that were never prosecuted,” says Frisch. She worked there for a year and returned to the U.S. Then the need arose again and Frisch went there a second time.

“It was a wonderful and terrible experience,” says Frisch. “We were always under the threat of what could happen to the person we were defending. People were under pressure to kill whoever got in the way.”

Frisch explains the army tried to wipe out the indigenous people under the pretense of saying they were “planning trouble.”

Frisch says, “Peacekeepers are told not to be heroes—don’t get in the way of gunfire.”

“Peacekeepers are unarmed,” says Frisch, “but the fact that we were in uniform put people on guard. We were there so that the people doing the human rights work could do their work...."

“Peacekeepers are able to be effective because we don’t take sides,” says Frisch. “We treat people with respect, as human beings, no matter what they’ve done. We take issue with behavior. And we only go when we’re invited.”

Explaining the philosophy of NP, Frisch says, “If you can reduce small conflicts, you can reduce all-over conflicts.”

People experiencing conflict call upon peacekeepers when they want help, Frisch says. They go out in teams of two and talk to both parties. “For example, if there’s a suspected thief and the owner [of the stolen property], we ask, ‘Are you willing to talk it over?’ And we tell them no weapons allowed. The two get to agree on the safest place to meet, and they resolve things,” says Frisch, who emphasizes the parties get to resolve things according to their own culture.

Frisch has also worked in the Philippines, South Sudan and Bangladesh, among other countries. She explains that NP’s connection with Rotary International is important to their success, because having connections with local businesspeople in the countries where they are working helps their credibility.

Training local people in peacekeeping is a priority for NP. “In South Sudan, we trained 1,900 women as peacekeepers,” she says.

“People have to see that it works where armed protection didn’t. It does work. We keep track of incidents of violence, and they decrease when peacekeepers are there. People trust us because we’re not allies, we’re neutral,” she says.

Are the peacekeepers afraid of being in the midst of violence? “There are no guarantees if you don’t have any weapons,” says Frisch. “But there was are also no guarantees if you do have weapons.”

In 2017, Frisch was chosen by Rotary International as a People of Action: Champion of Peace in recognition of her extraordinary accomplishments. Frisch is one of only six Rotarians throughout the world to be given this honor. She attended an awards ceremony at the U. N. European Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

"We’re trying to teach people to use their own power,” says Frisch. “The power of nonviolence is tremendous.”