I. İstanbul Conference on Mediation

The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs organized the first İstanbul Conference on Mediation on 24-25 February 2012 with the theme of “Enhancing Peace through Mediation: New Actors, Fresh Approaches, Bold Initiatives”. The conference was held under the auspices of H.E. Ahmet Davutoğlu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Türkiye.

The conference was designed to bring together international, governmental and civil society actors engaged in conflict prevention and mediation activities to discuss how to enhance interaction, understanding and cooperation among themselves with a view to increasing the effectiveness of the international community’s mediation efforts.

Representatives from the UN, regional organizations, non-governmental organizations, academia and the members of the Friends of Mediation Group, formed within the framework of the Mediation for Peace initiative, attended the conference.

The program of the conference is attached herewith. As would be seen, five main sessions were held on “Increasing Relevance of Non-Governmental Actors in Conflict Resolution”, “The UN’s Evolving Role in Mediation”, “Addressing the Coordination and Capacity Building Challenges”, “Alternatives Approaches to Mediation” and “Ideas for the Future”.

Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Türkiye, Finland and Brazil, as well as the President of the 66th Session of the UN General Assembly addressed the conference at its high-level session. The Permanent Representatives of Türkiye and Finland to the UN also briefed the participants on the activities of the Group of Friends of Mediation.

Below are the main points raised and discussed in the conference.

1. Increasing Relevance of Non-Governmental Actors in Conflict Resolution

Modern diplomacy is no longer confined to traditional diplomacy actors, as contemporary conflicts are more complex and complicated in nature. Thus, the multi-layered character of conflicts requires multi-faceted and at times unconventional approaches to conflict prevention/resolution.

This in turn provides increased opportunities for non-state actors in conflict resolution. This is why today non-governmental actors are progressively present at every stage of conflicts, be it prevention, mediation or post-conflict rehabilitation. In principle, the involvement of non-governmental actors in mediation efforts is a welcome development as it increases the overall mediation capacity of the international community and provides a fresh impetus and energy to the field of mediation.

Non-governmental organizations bring an added value to preventive diplomacy and mediation efforts mainly because of the informal character of their engagement. They can deal with parties to the conflict more easily than states or international/regional organizations. As such, they can also create a forum for informal talks among the conflicting parties even when the time is not ripe for formal negotiations, thus preparing the ground for full-fledged peace processes.

In addition, they are more agile to respond quickly to crises as they have fewer bureaucratic constraints. They also have comparative advantages in maintaining confidentiality, thinking outside the box with creative ideas and keeping an impartial approach thanks to the lack of a strong political motivation. They are also better at employing local experts that help them to better understand the root causes of conflicts.

However, non-governmental organizations have the disadvantage of not having enough “leverage” to be used in the peace processes. They can also be fraught with questions of legitimacy and effectiveness to sustain a mediation process in volatile and sensitive conflict situations. Moreover, project or country specific funding limits the flexibility of NGOs’ work.

In the light of the foregoing considerations, it is apparent that the NGOs’ contributions have increasingly become important in mediation processes, but that their comparative advantages and disadvantages should always be kept in mind while employing their capabilities. Therefore, for an effective mediation, ensuring complementarity and coherence between track I and track II actors is essential.

2. UN’s Evolving Role in Mediation:

The UN is the central body to maintain international peace and security. This is particularly so for preventive diplomacy and mediation efforts since the fundamental task of the UN is to create the necessary conditions for peace to prevail by eliminating the sources of conflict in a timely manner. However the UN has not always been very effective in preventing and/or mediating conflicts. In retrospect, one can find both highly successful examples of conflict resolution/prevention, as well as failed attempts.

As to the reasons of this mixed record or the gap between norms and practice, the very nature of the UN comes first to mind. The set-up of the Security Council for instance and its inability to effectively represent the global community hampers the UN’s efforts to timely deal with brewing or actual conflicts. The power politics among major players is yet another factor weakening the UN’ response.

Besides, there is not sufficient and effective coordination within the UN itself among its various organs and agencies. Divergent positions taken by various UN bodies vis-a-vis conflict prevention and mediation issues inevitably limit the effectiveness of the UN in this field.

That said, the UN’s mediation capacity has increasingly been streamlined and enhanced over the last years. The establishment of the Mediation Support Unit, the Stand-by Team of Mediators and the Mediation Roster, as well as setting up of programs to train the next generation of mediators and helping regional organizations and states to build their own mediation capacities have been significant steps towards the right direction.

However, there is still considerable room for improvement. To this end, the UN should make the best use of its comparative advantages, such as its ability to set norms. In this regard the recent UN General Assembly Resolution on mediation (65/283) and the tasking given to the UN Secretary-General to prepare a guidance for effective mediation is a welcome development. The UN should indeed be able to guide mediation efforts in an increasingly crowded field through coordination and capacity-building as appropriate.

Another challenge that the UN would have to address with regard to its role in mediation is the need to improve coordination within UN agencies as well as between the UN and regional organizations.

The UN would also have to think about how to strengthen the link between different elements of its peace toolbox including a wide range from mediation to peacekeeping and peacebuilding so that there can be a coherence as to when, why and how each one of those are employed.

The selection of the Special Representatives of the UN Secretary General (SRSG) is another challenge, as their failure had consequences for both the UN and people living in conflict zones. Therefore, it is important that the SRSGs have a sufficient understanding of the sensitivities involved in mediation processes, as well as an accurate picture of the conflict in its entirety.

3. Addressing the Coordination and Capacity Building Challenges

With the significant increase in the number of actors engaged in mediation, coordination has become ever more important in ensuring coherence and avoiding forum shopping. Indeed, it is more often than not that we see multiple actors involved in the same conflict situation trying to mediate it through their own means.

The fact that there are many mediators at the same time is not necessarily a bad thing. On the contrary, the more the mediation actors, the wider the outreach to the conflicting and affected parties, and the greater the motivation for the parties to the conflict to explore their political options as opposed to the military ones. Multiparty mediation is also valuable in getting community and civil society behind a peace process and engaging disaffected and alienated groups. The challenge is to ensure that all of them complement each other while rowing in the same direction.

Naturally, it would be ideal to determine the actor, which has the comparative advantage to make a difference in a mediation process, coalesce around it and ensure full coordination with it. However, it is not realistic to expect such full coordination, not least due to the need to preserve the confidentiality of any mediation process. Therefore a loose form of coordination among mediation actors whereby they acknowledge and respect each others’ presence is a more plausible scenario.

That said, the UN’s role in facilitating coordination among various mediation actors should be further explored. It is probably not feasible to use the UN as a strict clearing house mechanism, but it might be possible to enable the UN to see the big picture at all times and make the necessary recommendations to steer the course of mediation processes in the right direction. As there is uneven coverage of conflicts around the world, the UN through its wider grasp of the available mediation capacities might also be of use in channeling them into where they are needed most.

As to capacity building, on the other hand, this is still a requirement not yet sufficiently addressed. The UN has certainly made considerable progress over the last years in increasing its own mediation capacities. Some NGOs have also started conducting extensive training programs and made increasing contributions to the studies on mediation. However, there is still more to be done to develop mediation capacities.

In this regard, given that regional and sub-regional organizations are playing greater roles in conflict management in their own neighborhood, it should be a particular priority to help enhance their mediation capacities. For they still lack the sufficient assets to deal with serious conflicts in their areas of responsibilities on their own.

In fact, there have always been local peacemakers conducting work in their own environments. However, in order to systemize and institutionalize these efforts, regional capacity building is very much needed. Thus, more effort should be deployed to increase capabilities at national and regional levels mainly by the UN, but also by the other relevant and well equipped states and non-governmental actors.

To this end, the proposal by some member states for the establishment of UN centers of mediation in various parts of the world, close to conflict situations, with a view to providing training and building capacity should be further explored.

4. Alternative Approaches to Mediation

In light of the lessons learned from the decades long experiences of mediation efforts, there is now a pressing need to consider alternative approaches to current mediation practices, mainly by making them culturally more sensitive to local contexts.

Stepping back from the currently dominant practices, one sees the need to apply different forms of mediation as necessitated by each specific circumstance. There are of course useful applications of western liberal approaches on mediation. However, there are many different manifestations of value and individualism, which go beyond western understanding of participation or deliberation.

In this sense, mediation has remained slow to engage with social and cultural differences. Nevertheless, there has been progress in the past two decades, and now there is widespread acknowledgement of the need to engage with local approaches to conflict and its management.

Dominant mediation practices tend to focus on the parties to conflicts; them being individuals, states and organizations, rather than on the relationships which constitute these entities. However, a large number of cultures emphasize relationships. Prioritizing entities over relationships compromises understanding of cultures and accompanying conflict dynamics.

Therefore, there is need to recognize cultural differences and bring local approaches and people in mediation efforts. On the other hand, it might not be helpful to look for a distinctly African, Asian or Islamic approach to mediation. Instead, there is need to recognize differences, respect them and engage in dialogue with them to have a better analysis of the situation and thus conduct more effective mediation.

Conflicts cannot be understood from just one angle. Thus, interdisciplinary approach and interdisciplinary intervention teams are needed in mediation processes. For instance mental health practitioners should be brought in the processes to address the complex nature of issues that the people are facing, especially with regard to social trauma and value based conflicts.

Interveners should also be explicit in their commitment with regard to service of justice and peace. There is also a need to incorporate and address religion and its role in public life.Likewise the mediators should make best use of technology to reach out to different/marginalized groups. Equally important is the development of local partnerships.

In this regard the role of “insider mediator” is also extremely important and should be given due consideration. For, insider mediators are “those who are trusted and respected local actors, have a deep knowledge of the dynamics and contexts of the conflict, share normative and cultural closeness with the conflicting parties and demonstrate a nuanced sensitivity in their contributions to find solutions to conflicts that are owned and valued by the parties themselves”.

As such, in many cases it would be better to have insider mediators as main actors of mediation, since in certain regions there are reservations against outsider mediators who are perceived as bringing peace packages unfamiliar with the local reality.

That said, insider mediators need the support of the international community in order to be able to put their comparative advantages into practice effectively, and thus the UN should pay more attention to their needs and roles.

5. Final Session and Ideas for the Future

In the post Cold War era threats to security are changing. Modern threats come about at multiple global, national and local levels. Diverse and new types of violent political conflicts are emerging. Intrastate conflicts and these new kinds of violence have common sources such as under-development, unemployment, corruption, resource competition, arms proliferation and lack of security.

In this regard, (earlier) mediation needs to be relevant not only to classic interstate/intrastate wars, but also to these lower level threats to security. It also needs to be relevant not only in “post-conflict” societies but in vulnerable, fragile or failed states, including “democratizing” regimes. This new security agenda calls for wider coordination and cooperation in mediation efforts among governments, the UN, regional organizations, NGOs, development agencies and local communities.

The United Nations has significantly increased its mediation capacity in the last decade and it continues to be the principle actor in the field of mediation. However, there is less consensus within the Security Council about how to act in dealing with these increasing number of complex cases. There is also normative change especially regarding justice, accountability and responsibility to protect which to a certain extent complicate and limit the possibilities for UN-led mediation and reconciliation efforts. This has opened up space for other actors.

Regional and sub-regional organizations and civil society actors are playing a greater role in conflict management and mediation in their own neighborhoods. Regional actors which are tuned to local sensitivities and cultural traditions are better positioned to support, sustain and reinforce negotiation processes including those where external actors are involved. In other words, they are catalysts and legitimizers for action in their neighborhoods.

However they still don’t have sufficient assets or capabilities to deal with serious conflicts on their own, so they continue to reach out to others including the UN. In this regard, track one and track two have their respective comparative advantages and they should complement each other in their efforts. This would also contribute to the effective use of limited resources.

With the proliferation of actors engaged in mediation, coordination gained more importance and the key word for successful coordination is “respect”. Coordination is essential for ensuring effectiveness and avoiding the various actors being played against one another. Therefore, although it is difficult, it would be ideal to have a lead mediator and encourage all the relevant sides to adhere to the singularity of the process.

It is important to continue the work towards enhancing capacity in the field of mediation. For, there is still not enough capacity particularly at the level of regional actors and the quality of mediation activities have a direct impact on the nature of peace to prevail. In this regard, mediators need to be adept, culturally sensitive, gender attuned, relationship oriented and politically imaginative as opposed to process driven. They need to have a vision, a repertoire of ideas and strongly believe that success is within reach. These qualities should be fostered when training future mediators.

On the other hand, internal factors such as the willingness of the parties are certainly more important for success than outside factors. However, even when the contesting parties are willing to resolve their conflict, the international community has to be active in mediation, facilitation and conflict resolution. In this regard, the mediator’s role and goals should be carefully determined while due significance should be attached to the service of justice along with peace and reconciliation.

It should also be borne in mind that mediation does not end with the signing of peace agreements. What is needed is not just a peace where there is no fighting. Building quality peace which would address the root causes of the conflict and helping implement such agreements should be the ultimate aim to avoid recurrence of violence. Cooperation rather than competition among the various actors engaged in mediation is essential in achieving this ultimate aim.

6. High Level Session of the Conference

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Türkiye H.E. Ahmet Davutoğlu touched upon the drastic changes that occurred in the global environment in the last two decades and stressed that Türkiye was directly or indirectly affected by all these changes due to its geostrategic location. Therefore it felt compelled to undertake more responsibility towards the prevention and peaceful resolution of conflicts in its region and beyond. He stated that the Mediation for Peace Initiative launched by Türkiye and Finland has been a concrete reflection of this understanding. He underlined the importance of maintaining the momentum achieved through this initiative and thanked the the President of the 66th Session of the UN General Assembly for designating mediation as one of the priorities of the 66th Session. Minister Davutoğlu then shared his experiences with regard to mediation and facilitation and elaborated on the psychological, intellectual, ethical and methodological dimensions of mediation.

Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland H.E. Errki Tuomioja commended the conference for bringing together a broad and experienced group of representatives from the civil society, the UN, regional organizations and governments with a view to providing a forum for interactive discussions and helping map out the future work in the field of mediation. Furthermore, he emphasized the role of mediation as a significant tool for prevention and resolution of conflicts and confidence building. He stressed the importance of having early warning information on emerging conflicts and the ability use this for concrete preventive action. He also elaborated on the role of civil society in preventive mediation, and the importance of cooperation and coordination among the different actors involved in mediation. Minister Tuomioja also expressed Finland’s commitment to keep the momentum within the framework of the Mediation for Peace initiative, including by organizing workshops and seminars.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Brazil H.E. Antonio Patriota praised the conference and the Mediation for Peace initiative under which it is held as a very useful tool towards enhancing global commitment to mediation. He explained the role of prevention and mediation in Brazilian foreign policy as well as the responsibilities Brazil undertakes in this field worldwide with a particular focus on Latin America. He underlined the interdependence between peace, security and development and pointed out the need to take a deeper look at the root causes of conflicts and deal with development issues. He also stressed the importance of sustaining the efforts towards disarmament and proliferation, since the most serious threats to peace come from heavily armed societies. Emphasizing that prevention is the best way to deal with tensions and conflicts, Minister Patriota also reiterated Brazil’s strong support to the work of the Group of Friends of Mediation.

President of the 66th Session of the UN General Assembly H.E. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, stressed the importance of mediation in today’s complex world. In this regard, he indicated that as the President of the UN General Assembly he had identified mediation and the peaceful settlement of disputes as one of his four priority areas. He expressed satisfaction with the momentum created by the first-ever General Assembly resolution on mediation, adopted on 22 June 2011. He touched upon the developments in the United Nations since the adoption of this landmark resolution and stated his intentions to build on the momentum and carry it forward. In this regard he informed the participants of the informal high-level meeting of the General Assembly that he would host on 23 May 2012 in New York, with a focus on the role of Member States in mediation. He also expressed his readiness to follow-up the conclusions of the İstanbul Conference on Mediation, particularly in the light of the preparations for the informal high-level meeting of the General Assembly on 23 May.

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