Period 5 of coursepack MCM-601 focuses on the mediation process in conflict resolution. In this session, the document titled “UN Guidance for Effective Mediation” prepared by the Mediation Support Unit (MSU) of the Political Affairs Division of the UN, underscores the fact that mediation plays an important role in fulfilling the UN’s critical function of maintaining peace and security in the world. I identifies mediation as a significant method of resolving conflicts peacefully, as the guidance was prepared specifically to inform the design and management of mediation process; it is basically meant to help mediation actors, and the interested states in handling conflicts. In essence, this document is a compilation of various experiences of mediators, inputs of members, the UN experiences, international and regional organizations, non-state actors, to name but a few. Additionally, the video titled, “Peace-making Under the UN Flag: Reflections on Quarter Century of Mediation” encapsulates the experiences of a Swedish diplomat on mediation, having served in a number of positions as a lead mediator.
United Nations Guidance for Effective Mediation
The Mediation Support Unit (MSU) issued guidance on mediation to support the peaceful resettlement of conflicts in various parts of the world. The mediation division of the department of political affairs worked on a document titled the United Nations Guidance for effective Mediation with the sole purpose of facilitating mediation initiatives of the United Nations. The department underscores the fact that mediation plays an important role in fulfilling the UN’s critical function of maintaining peace and security globally. The UN Secretary General at the time, Ban Ki-moon, acknowledged that Mediation is one of the most effective methods of preventing, managing and resolving conflicts (UN 2013, 1). He went on to argue that mediation is never successful by merely appointing a prominent person or a panel of eminent persons, but instead the conflicting parties need to be informed of the critical importance of mediation process. Additionally, the process needs a technical and political support from the major actors. In a number of scenarios, the best mediation efforts have failed because of poor coordination and insufficient financial support (UN 2013, 6). The agency’s guidelines on effective mediation was designed to support the various professionals working in the field by giving the experiences of mediators, who worked to resolve national, regional, and global conflicts. Similarly, the document compiles the views of the beneficiaries. The secretary general appreciated the fact that conflicts differ, depending on the actors, the region, and source, but good practices need to inform the approaches of those involved in the mediation process.
The guideline cites the UN’s charter, which identifies mediation as a significant method of resolving conflicts peacefully. Mediation has been effective in a number of ways in addressing both intra-state and inter-state conflicts. The United Nations has continued to engage in research to identify some of the best approaches as regards mediation. In 1992, a handbook on mediation was developed to give guidelines on the peaceful settlement of disputes between states. In 2009, the Secretary General gave a report on the enhancement of mediation. The report gave some of the challenges the agency has been facing in resettling conflicts, as well as the ways of strengthening the process. The changing nature of conflict has forced actors and partners to adjust their approaches and improve their capacities to be able to deliver the ultimate result (UN 2013, 5). The guidance was prepared specifically to inform the design and management of mediation process following the intervention by the General Assembly. The guideline is meant to help the mediators, actors, and the interested states in handling conflicts using mediation, though it is relevant to parties in conflict, the civil society, and many other stakeholders involved in the conflicts. The guideline emphasizes on the need for proper understanding of the mediation process, as well as appreciating its limits and the potential as a conflict resolution method.
Regarding the guidance, it compiles a various experiences of mediators, inputs of members, the United Nations experiences, international and regional organizations, non-state actors, and interest groups, such as women groups, faith-based groups, intellectuals, and specialists in the mediation process. The guidance does not reflect on mediation exhaustively, but rather it seeks to address some of the major issues, such as the involvement of professionals in the process, the need for proper coordination, coherence, and inclusivity. To achieve the desired goal, the guidance identifies a number of aspects, which include: level of preparedness, consent from different parties, impartiality or fairness, inclusivity, ownership at the national level, observance of international law and norms, coherence and coordination, and peaceful agreements.
Regarding the logic of mediation, the guidance suggests that the method is only successful if it is adequately facilitated by providing well-equipped offices (UN 2013, 12). It is a process where a third party intervenes to help those in conflict to settle their conflicts peacefully by first seeking their consent. The mediator seeks to develop a mutually acceptable agreement without favoring any of the sides. The logic behind mediation is that the conflicting parties are likely to improve their relationship if an appropriate environment is provided. Instead of dealing with many issues, mediation needs to identify a specific problem and move in to contain or manage it before proceeding to handle a range of issues. In the entire process, the consent of the parties is critical to realize a viable solution. The relationship of the mediator to the conflicting parties determines the outcome of the process. The mediator is charged with the task of making a number of proposals and managing the process. The process starts when the mediator engages any of the parties and may extend even after signing an agreement. Effective mediation process is characterized by its specificity in responding to the conflict. This means that the mediator needs to understand the causes of the conflict, as well as its dynamics, the interests, and the environment before attempting to intervene. Mediation is better seen as a specialized activity whereby the professionals involved offer a buffer for conflicting parties, as well as instilling confidence in the process. The mediator has to make the parties believe that peaceful resolution of conflict is possible, irrespective of the current situation.
The first fundamental, preparedness, suggests that responsible and credible process of mediation needs adequate preparation. It entails a combination of the individual traits and the skills of the mediator, and the cohesiveness of the panel of experts, together with the technical support. The mediation process would be an exercise futility without the support of other partners in terms of finances. Mediation takes place in phases and the mediator needs to identify each of the phases, which may include pre-negotiation phase, negotiation, and implementation. This would only be possible after undertaking a comprehensive conflict analysis and stakeholder mapping. The mediator is required to examine the past mediation initiatives before determining the next course of action. Since the mediation process is never linear, the mediator would be required to be flexible given the fact he or she may not be able to control all the actors involved in the conflict. Through adequate preparation, guiding and monitoring of the process is possible. The mediator is able to strengthen the negotiating capacity where necessary if he or she prepares adequately for any eventuality. In a number of scenarios, mediators have been forced to go for quick-fix solutions because of inappropriate preparation. The guidance suggests that mediators need to be supported and prepared adequately to be able to maintain a sense of urgency while at the same time managing expectations and responding to any opportunities and challenges swiftly.
The guidance insists that the role of preparing parties to the mediation table falls solely on the states or interested organizations, such as the United Nations, which are seeking to end the conflict. Preparation entails committing resources to the process for the negotiator to respond rapidly to the conflict. It may include deployment of human resources with adequate experience on conflict resolution. Selection of competent mediators is part of preparation. The person nominated to bring conflicting parties together should have adequate experience, skills, and knowledge. Again, the selection process needs to take into consideration the culture of the conflicting parties. The mediator needs to be objective throughout the process, impartial, and even authoritative. The issue of integrity needs to be checked since some mediators could have involved themselves in things that make them less acceptable. The organization, state, or individual initiating the mediation process should not attempt to force the mediator on the parties. Additionally, the mediator should be provided with a team of experts, particularly those with technical knowledge on mediation processes, as part of preparation. Similarly, analysis should be undertaken even before the mediation process starts. This would allow some adjustments to the process before it starts. Finally, the deployment needs to consider induction, training, and equipping of staff with knowledge of the conflict before the process starts. The mediation process needs to be sensitive on the issue of gender whereby both men and women should be involved in the process.
Consent is another important aspect of the mediation process. It is considered that mediation is a voluntary process that requires each of the parties involved in the conflict to give approval (UN, 2013, 14). The mediator, together with the sponsoring authorities, should not attempt to initiate negotiations without considering the views and aspirations of each party. Therefore, a range of issues should be looked at before initiating mediation to ensure each of the parties consent. First, the integrity of the mediator is paramount importance because one of the parties may refuse to participate in the process if it suspects that one of the panelists or negotiators is associated with something negative. The process should be kept confidential and the mediator or the sponsor should be reputable entity. Some parties have been skeptical of mediation because they view it as a direct threat to their sovereignty, especially when states are involved. In some instances, actors only give partial consent while others may choose to withdraw after realizing that the negotiation is not favoring them. For this reason, the guidance suggests that mediators are required to create a common understanding with the parties in conflict as regards the role of the mediator, as well as the rules guiding the process. First, the mediator needs to know the most important party in the conflict and find ways of convincing him or her to negotiate. In some cases, the mediator could be forced to apply either informal or formal tactics to ensure parties commit to the mediation process, especially when the stakes are high. Engaging local and community-based groups, such as women and youth groups, is critical because they have contacts with the parties in conflict. The mediator should build confidence at various stages of the conflict to be able to win the trust of parties. He or she needs to be consistent, transparent, and even-handed in handling the entire process. From time to time, the mediator is required to assess whether he or she has sufficient consent.
As mediation goes on, impartiality is critical because parties are likely to pull out once they realize that the process is biased. All parties need to be treated fairly and the mediator should not be seen to be favoring any of the sides. The mediator, therefore, needs to come up with an effective communication strategy that would inform parties of his or her neutrality. The laws that guide the environment should be observed at all times without favoring any of the sides to be able to build trust and inspire confidence among parties in conflict. In many situations, external actors have been accused of contributing in the failure of the mediation process. For this reason, the mediator is required to resist external forces that are known to influence the outcome of the process through resources. When an external force puts some punitive measures against the parties in conflict, the mediator should not associate with such an actor or measure because it would jeopardize the entire process. When the process is complex to handle, the mediator is allowed to hand it over to another entity or mediator.
The guidance cited inclusivity as another important fundamental in the mediation process. It pertains to the extent at which the views and needs of the parties in conflict are incorporated and represented in the process. An inclusive process is the one that identifies the root cause of the conflict and moves in to address the needs of the affected actors. Through inclusivity, the people of a certain nation are likely to participate in the mediation process. The mediator needs to know the people to include in the mediation process before it starts. Any party considered necessary in the mediation needs to be informed in time, including informing them of the other parties in the negotiating table. The parties who have been accused of fuelling the conflict, including the ones who have been involved in violation of international laws, should not be invited to take part in the process. The parties involved in the conflict should avoid giving conditions and instead concentrate on negotiating for a better deal. The involvement of women groups should be mandatory because they are often the most affected any time a conflict is witnessed.
On national ownership, the guidance requires that mediation the local actors commit themselves to the mediation process instead of the international or regional actors taking center stage. The local communities know the source of conflict and they feel the heat when parties are in armed conflict. When mediation takes place, these communities need to be involved in the process as mediators and technical persons offering the required support. The communities need to own the process. For this reason, the mediator should consult the locals on the design of the process since each community has unique ways of handling conflicts. The local civil societies should be part of the process. They need to know when negotiations are taking place.
About international law and normative frameworks, the guidance suggests that any mediation should take place within a certain normal and legal framework. The appointing authority gives the mediators certain mandates in the mediation process. For the case of United Nations, all mediators are required to be guided by the UN charter and the applicable Security Council and General Assembly resolutions. The mediator, therefore, needs to clarify certain issues and convey his or mandate, including the legal parameters under which the process would take place. The parties need to understand the existing laws governing mediation, including their role.
The other fundamental principle is that of coherence, coordination, complementarily, and mediation effort. Due to the high number of individuals and entities involved in the mediation process, it is important for the mediator to be consistent in communication. The process should have a recognized lead mediator from a single entity. If two entities are involved, such as the United Nations and the African Union, each of the entities should be given a clear mandate to avoid confusion. The leadership of the mediation process should be negotiated in advance to avoid internal conflicts, which would derail the mediation process (Roberts 2013, 34). Division of labor should only be considered after evaluating available resources.
The final principle is the quality of peace agreements. The guidance suggests that achieving the desired goal is not easy since attention needs to be paid throughout the negotiation stages, as well as implementation. The aim of the agreement, for it to be considered of high quality, should be to resolve the major issue that caused the conflict. This agreement could either address the root cause directly or perhaps establish a mechanism or an institution to deal with it over time.
Video Response: Peace-Making Under the United Nations Flag: Reflections on a Quarter Century of Mediation
In the video, the diplomat from Sweden gives his experiences on mediation, having served in a number of positions as a lead mediator. He has served as the minister in the Swedish government, as well as an international civil servant, with assignments in Darfur and Somalia. Currently, he is a professor in one of the European universities, though he serves as an expert in mediation teams when called upon. He served in Lebanon in the early 1990s and participated in a risky mission of meeting one of the parties to the conflict in 1993. Humanitarian diplomacy, according to the speaker, is an area that has received a lot of attention following the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, Sudan. He participated actively in bringing the conflicting parties on the negotiating table. John Garang and El-Bashir, were in conflict, but none was willing to negotiate. He had been given a special mandate to end the conflict by ensuring the people had access to the basic needs, such as water and food. The situation was the same when he was tasked to deal with the situation in Somalia. When serving as the president of the UN General Assembly, he was tasked with the role of facilitating multi-lateral agreements.
In the Darfur case, he tries to answer the question on who mediates. At the time, the United Nations was involved more in the negotiations, but the African Union was also involved in the process. The African Union involvement, according to some, was biased, but the diplomat defends it because it played a role in bringing the parties together. The involvement of the United States and China made it extremely difficult to bring the two parties on the table. The Security Council was divided, making it impossible to arrive at comprehensive conclusions. Similarly, the neighbors were taking sides. The conflicting parties were not given a chance to negotiate independently. The stakes were very high, making it impossible for the parties to negotiate independently. The rebel movements made it difficult to achieve peace in Sudan. From his analysis, it is evident that achieving peace and security through mediation is so complex because of a number of reasons, which include global, regional, and national factors (Mason, and Siegfried 2010, p.17). The mediators are categorized into three. The first is muscular, which is mainly the United States. This actor uses force to achieve peace and security. The second mediator is the United Nations, including all the nations that take humanitarian issues seriously, such as Norway and Sweden. The third category is the Jimmy Carter or perhaps the private individuals who wield enormous powers, with many resources who are likely to benefit from the conflict or the mediation process (The Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs 2012).
The speaker is trying to pass an important message that mediation would only work depending on the mediator. The muscular mediator wants the situation to be fixed immediately, but does not consider the local situation. In Darfur, just as in other places, such as Iran and Iraq, mediation has failed to make an impact because of the external interference. The mediators feel that they are not involved effectively in the process. The views of the speaker echo the United Nations guidance on mediation because the fundamental principles must be upheld for there to be effective mediation. There have been mixed results with mediation because the parties are not involved actively in the process, neither are they allowed to own the process.
Mason, Simon, and Matthias Siegfried. Debriefing Mediators to Learn from Their Experiences. Washington, D.C: United States Institute of Peace, 2010.
Roberts, Marian. A-z of Mediation. Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
The Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs. Peace-making Under the United Nations Flag “Peace-making Under the United Nations Flag: Reflections on a Quarter Century of Mediation”…Video/Youtube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GiQXte28e0A
UN. United Nations Guidance for Effective Mediation. New York: United Nations, 2012.
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