The principles of mediation and the role of third parties in peace processes
(From previous issue)
Creating the right environment
[dropcap]S[/dropcap]tarting a negotiation when public opinion is against it or indifferent to it is more difficult than if there is a favourable environment, i.e. when the public supports a negotiation or peace process. This favourable attitude will help the government to initiate a rapprochement with an armed group or help the armed group make the gestures needed for the government to agree to negotiate. This environment does not emerge on its own, but must be created using both patience and strategy. The people or organizations that are in favour of negotiation should create favourable public opinion through editorials in newspapers, demonstrations and public events.These civil society interventions, apart from creating the proper environment, help shape the agenda and negotiation periods, making it easier for certain topics to be considered. Using the media, public opinion leaders will initially be in charge of creating a receptive environment that is favourable to rapprochement and will counter the voices of those sectors opposed to any negotiations, which always exist and are sometimes very influential. The idea is to generate an opinion that “yes, it is possible”, “yes, it is the right time”, and “yes, it is necessary and we must try”. This will require the participation of many actors, including artists. For example, peace concerts have been organized on numerous occasions to encourage not only the general public to support a peace process, but also to encourage the government and armed groups to begin talks.
Negotiations can begin directly when the parties take the decision to do so because they believe that the time is right. But often a third party is needed, the explorer. This person quietly checks and weighs the willingness of each party to participate in a prenegotiation process. Explorers play a vital role in this process because they can approach one or all of the parties involved and determine if the time is right to start the process. It is a confidential and thankless job, because explorers are not usually mentioned in the official history of the peace process.
The people who perform this task must be able to contact some of the parties – and, if possible, all of them – because they can act as messengers, i.e. they can tell one of the parties that the other party is willing and ready to start a negotiation or prenegotiation process. Therefore, they must know how to contact the parties – either the leaders directly or people who have access to the leaders.
In addition, people acting as explorers may in some cases be able to influence the opinions and decision-making of the actors they speak with. In the process of sounding out the different sides a more favourable position to begin talks can be fostered, or one of the sides can be convinced that the other is ready and willing to enter talks. This requires having good information, which can only be gained through direct contact.
Explorers can also act as liaison agents. They can carry messages from one party to another, but must always maintain complete confidentiality. In this case the explorers do not act on their own, but at the request of one of the parties.
Members of armed groups have usually spent many years living in the mountains, in the fields or in the jungle, isolated from real life. They are proficient in the use of weapons, but lack vital skills that people who lead normal lives have. When it comes to negotiations, armed groups often lack the skills needed to hold a proper discussion of agenda items. To remedy this the country in question often authorizes members of the armed group to travel abroad for training in a number of subjects (economics, parliamentary procedures, armed forces, democratic institutions, public sector management, municipal government, etc.).
The Salvadoran guerrillas travelled to Spain to take a course organised by the Spanish government in the early 1990s. Mozambican guerrillas did the same in Italy shortly before the Mozambique peace agreement was signed in 1992. In both cases this was done discreetly. Receiving more publicity, members of the Colombian FARC guerrilla group travelled around Europe in the early 1990s to learn about the democratic institutions in several countries. In 2012 delegates from the Philippine MILF guerrillas visited Catalonia to learn about the autonomous experience of this region. This led to new ideas for the negotiation, such as including a demand for an ombudsman. The so-called “Group of Friends” are those countries that are sometime in charge of this training.
When the parties are convinced that they want to negotiate, in some cases a convener is needed to make a formal public request to begin talks. It can be a prestigious person or organisation (the church, a regional or international body, etc.). The convener can also offer a physical space where the talks can take place, although this is not a prerequisite. Convening a dialogue always gives the negotiation an air of formality. Often the conflicting actors meet with the convener, who sometimes performs another essential function, that of facilitator.
What we commonly call a mediator is actually a facilitator. This is the key figure in the mediation process, since this person will be present at all stages of the mediation, will attend all meetings and will help the parties find a solution. He/she can be an individual of international standing. In this case a team of technical experts and professionals usually accompany the facilitator to help in the mediation task. The facilitator will only chair the meetings, but the support team will do the real work. The facilitator has the most visible role in the process. He/she will be the most visible public figure and, if the process is successful, will receive the most credit. It is this person who poses for the official photo. But as stated previously, his/her work would not be possible without the support and participation of all of the actors that are part of the mediation process.
Many peace processes go through periods of crisis because the right facilitator was not chosen or because some of the parties fall out with him/her. Crises also take place due to the failure of the facilitation model or because of technical aspects of the process. Finding the right person and procedures to follow are, therefore, important.
A facilitator must satisfy a series of conditions: he/she must have an understanding of the problem; must be willing to persevere; and must be neutral, impartial, patient, empathetic and imaginative. The facilitator must be able to keep the participants seated at the table, even in the most difficult moments, and must be able to suggest proposals that can break an impasse. He/she never imposes solutions, but merely helps the parties find them. It is a question of seeing the glass half full, i.e. that progress has been made despite the difficulties, and the parties must be made to see this. When necessary, pauses in the negotiations must be suggested so that the two sides can refresh their ideas or use the time to avoid a dead end. It is important for the facilitator to have a precise knowledge of the conflict he/she is mediating. Mohamed Sahnoun, an Algerian diplomat who in the early 1990s accepted the post of special envoy of the UN secretarygeneral for Somalia, brought together the world’s top experts on Somalia to teach him about the culture, economy and politics of Somali society. He was thus able to design an action plan based on the unique characteristics of the Somali people and their culture.
Many negotiation processes are interrupted or a crisis breaks out because of disagreements between the parties during the process. This happens frequently, and in the worst cases the negotiations can be broken off. Sometimes a topic is interpreted differently by the parties, which gives rise to misunderstandings. To resolve this problem an objective external observer should be present at the talks. The observer acts as a witness of the process and can clarify for the parties the meaning of the points they do not agree on. In 2002, for example, the government of Indonesia and the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka guerrillas reached an impasse because of different interpretations of the ceasefire agreement they had signed.
(To be continued)