Monday, December 06, 2021

The principles of mediation and the role of third parties in peace processes

By EMN Updated: Nov 27, 2013 10:10 pm

(From previous issue)
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he witness in the negotiations helps the parties clarify their proposals so that they do not get mired in a metaconflict, i.e. a problem of meaning. The witness can say whether or not a particular statement was made and can thus clarify the different interpretations of what was said at the negotiating table. This provides a guarantee that the process will move forward with fewer glitches.The witness is not responsible for mediation or facilitation, but is present simply for clarification: his/her goal is to ensure transparent communication between the parties. A formal mediator or facilitator can also play the role of witness, since he/she is present at all meetings.
More than half of ongoing negotiations worldwide have a mediator-facilitator who acts as a witness of everything that takes place. The parties may also decide, however, to have an additional witness and may ask for an outside observer who can attest what is said and agreed. The remaining half of the talks are conducted directly between the parties. When there is no mediation it is possible to negotiate without a witness, which was the case of the first six rounds of talks between the ELN and the Colombian government in Havana between 2005 and 2007.
When witnesses are present, but no mediators are involved, the presence of an external observer is an option, with the participation of countries in the “Group of Friends” or “International Contact Group”. With regard to the former, a professional can be called on, such as Alvaro de Soto in the second meeting between Cristiani’s government from El Salvador and the Farabundo Martí National
Liberation Front in October 1989 in San José, Costa Rica. Subsequently, De Soto became the mediator. This was also the role played in Geneva by the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in talks between the Spanish government and ETA in 2005 and 2006. In the peace process in Colombia, the Caracas (1991) and Tlaxcala talks (1992) between the Simon Bolivar Guerrilla Co-ordination Body (formed by the FARC, ELN and EPL) and the Colombian government had an international witness of what was discussed (Emilio Figueredo).
Another possibility is participation by civil society, such as in the state of Assam in India, where the People’s Consultative Group has acted as facilitator and witness in talks with the guerrilla organisation the United Liberation Front of Assam. In the Caracas and Tlaxcala talks mentioned previously between the Colombian guerrillas and the government of the country, Colombian civil society observers participated in the process.
Often, it is the church who acts as a witness. In recent times, the presence of the Bishop-Ulama Conference has been requested on several occasions to act as a witness, and it acted as adviser on religious subjects in the peace process between the Philippine government and the MILF guerrillas. A professional politician or even a head of state or president can be a witness, such as Bill Clinton at Camp David in July 2000, who acted as a witness in the negotiations between the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, and the president of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat.
In some peace processes a “Group of Friends” is used. The countries making up this group can simply observe the process or participate more actively in the negotiation. For example, in the case of Colombia, both Mexico and Venezuela were witnesses to the peace process and disarmament of the EPL and the indigenous movement Quintín Lame in 1991. Finally, another type of participation is the “International Contact Group”, such as the one in the Philippines in the talks between the government and the MILF guerrillas. This group is made up of several NGOs, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (Switzerland), the Asia Foundation (U.S.), Muhammadiyah (Indonesia) and Conciliation Resources (Britain), which participate in all meetings. This group also includes diplomats from Japan, Britain, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
In short, during the rounds of talks it can be very useful to have a witness who can attest everything that takes place at the negotiating table. Although witnesses do not have the right to speak during the discussions, they are able to express their opinion to the parties, especially when the opposing sides do not agree on what has been said.
When negotiations take place during difficult times, it is a good idea to include in the process an organisation or country that can provide political or economic incentives to unblock the process. The European Union has taken on that role on several occasions, and various countries have offered economic resources in exchange for continuing the negotiations or have promised to provide those resources once a peace agreement has been reached.
For example, in 2012 the Norwegian government offered €60 million of development funds for the Karen people (Burma), which bolstered the negotiations taking place between the Kareni guerrillas and the Burmese government.
Another incentive is to promise to remove an armed group from the list of terrorist organisations if it signs a ceasefire agreement. In 2012 in Burma the incentive used was to allow various ethnic armed groups to open representative offices. A visit by the UN secretary-general to the negotiating parties can also be a good incentive. In India an incentive used to advance the negotiations with the United Liberation Front of Assam armed group in 2011 was the release of its imprisoned leaders.
Idea generation
All negotiations reach difficult moments when the facilitator must decide whether it is appropriate to pause and look for a fresh approach. He/she may consult third parties, usually academics or specialised centres, to ask them to offer new ideas. For example, an academic centre such as the School for a Culture of Peace brought together the negotiator of the Polisario Front, delegates of the king of Morocco, the representative of the UN facilitator, African Union and European diplomatic representatives, together with specialists in the Arab world and formulas of selfgovernment to try to generate new ideas when an impasse was reached in the negotiations on Western Sahara. These ideas were subsequently taken back to the talks by the UN facilitator in this conflict.
Witnesses to peace talks, although they have no right to speak, can make written suggestions that are made available to the various parties. This, for example, is what the International Contact Group has done in the negotiations between the MILF guerrillas and the Philippine government. Representatives of this guerrilla group visited several countries to learn from the experiences of other negotiations. This is very common in peace processes.
The unifier
When armed groups begin preparing for peace talks there are often rifts between supporters of the negotiation and those opposed to it. This may trigger more divisions, such as in Darfur (Sudan), which initially had two armed groups and one year later had at least 13, making negotiations impossible. In this case the figure of the unifier is needed. A unifier is a person who tries to bring groups together, or at least to align their agendas, so that the number of variants is as low as possible and low enough to make a successful negotiation feasible.
The guarantor
Persisting conflict can commonly cause great distrust between the parties. Therefore, all peace processes must be accompanied by a figure, the guarantor, who guarantees to the parties that the terms of the agreement will be fulfilled. Obviously, complying with the agreement is the responsibility of the conflicting parties, but it is good for a third party to accompany them and monitor the agreements. The guarantor must have some power, so it cannot be just anyone. It could be a regional or international organisation. This gives security to the process. Occasionally, such as in the case of the negotiations between the FARC and the Colombian government, the guarantors (Norway and Cuba) also act as observers.
As the negotiation proceeds certain measures are adopted and need to be verified, such as a ceasefire or cessation of hostilities. This requires the participation of civil and military specialists from various countries who certify that the agreements are being upheld. It is a technical task and thus requires some preparation. Sometimes UN staff are responsible for this function. Compliance with the peace agreements must also be verified, and therefore people are also needed to work on verification teams in the areas of politics, economics, the police, the military, etc. Often these teams are mixed, i.e. they are composed of people from the armed group, the government and other countries. Verification teams have to investigate when they receive reports that agreements have been violated and must also offer resolution mechanisms when incidents take place. Therefore, they can be given the power to apply sanctions.
In a peace process all stakeholders must be involved and play the roles that have been mentioned. Normally these roles are different from one another and participating in one of these tasks is incompatible with taking on any other functions. Only in rare cases can one person do two things at once. In the prenegotiation process – the exploratory phase – it is advisable to define which people or institutions will take on these roles, while how they will be designated must also be clarified. The success of the negotiation depends on managing this process correctly and making the right decisions.
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The Author
Vicenç Fisas Armengol is the director of the Escola de Cultura de Pau/School for a Culture of Peace at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and holds the UNESCO Chair on Peace and Human Rights. He is the author of 30 books on peace and disarmament and received the National Human Rights Award in 1988.
The content of this publication is presented as is. The stated points of view are those of the author and do not reflect those of the organization for which he works or NOREF. NOREF does not give any warranties, either expressed or implied, concerning the content.
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By EMN Updated: Nov 27, 2013 10:10:35 pm