III. İstanbul Conference on Mediation

The İstanbul Conferences on Mediation are designed to bring together international, governmental and civil society actors engaged in conflict prevention and mediation to discuss the ways to enhance interaction, understanding and cooperation among them with a view to improve the effectiveness of mediation efforts across the world. The Conference is gradually establishing itself as a traditional platform in the field of mediation and peaceful resolution of conflicts.

The First İstanbul Conference on Mediation, held on 24 and 25 February 2012, focused on the theoretical and conceptual aspects of mediation, including the role of the United Nations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and regional organizations as well as coordination and capacity-building issues. The First Conference was instrumental in analyzing issues that were later addressed in the United Nations Guidance for Effective Mediation, which is contained in the annex of the report of the Secretary-General entitled “Strengthening the role of mediation in the peaceful settlement of disputes, conflict prevention and resolution” (A/66/811). It also contributed to the objectives of the “Mediation for Peace Initiative”, which was launched in 2010 by Turkey and Finland and has become one of the main platforms for promoting mediation and raising awareness in this respect.

In the light of the discussions at the First Conference, the Second İstanbul Conference on Mediation was held on 11 and 12 April 2013 with the theme “Keys to Successful Mediation: Perspectives from Within”. It focused on the practical lessons learned with regard to specific conflicts that have been prominent on the international agenda. The second Conference sought to examine issues in the field and practice of mediation by talking to practitioners from different sectors such as governments, non-governmental and regional organizations, the United Nations (UN) and academia.

Building on the productive discussions in the first two İstanbul Conferences, the Third İstanbul Conference on mediation sought to answer outstanding questions of how to achieve better complementarity and coherence of purpose among regional organizations. The Conference also explored means of reinforcing regional mediation capacities and harnessing local and regional expertise and addressed the role that non-governmental actors can play in supplementing regional organizations in this process.

Representatives from the UN, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the European Union (EU), the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the League of Arab States (LAS), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) as well as members of academia, non-governmental organizations working in the field of mediation and diplomatic representatives from the Group of Friends of Mediation formed within the framework of the Mediation for Peace initiative attended the Conference.

During the Third Conference, four main panels were held on the themes “Local Solutions to Global Problems - Conflict Resolution in the Age of Regionalism”, “Are Regional Organisations Up to the Task? - Building Capacity for Mediation”, “The Role of the United Nations in the Search for Coherence and Coordination - How to Streamline Efforts?” and “Mediation and Non-Governmental Actors at the Regional Level”. In addition, a special session was held on the Mindanao Peace Process in the Philippines with the participation of representatives from the conflicting parties as well as actors which played facilitator role in the process.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey and the former President of the Republic of Finland addressed the Conference in the high-level session. The conference programme is attached herewith. And, summary of the conference discussions are provided below.

Summary of the panel discussions 1. Local Solutions to Global Problems – Conflict Resolution in the Age of Regionalism

At this session, the panelists discussed the extent to which regional organizations can become instrumental in responding to conflicts. They also expressed their views on the ways in which their capacity and effectiveness can be enhanced and properly implemented in terms of supporting mediation activities.

The primary point raised was the value added which can be brought by regional organizations in mediation and peaceful resolution of conflicts, particularly in an era characterized by a growing impact of regionalism. It was pointed out that regional organizations have certain comparative advantages in the process of managing and resolving an ever-increasing number of conflicts with their geographic proximity to conflict zones, familiarity with the cultural and historical background of the conflicts, relative flexibility in having access to the actors involved and their ability to gather information in the field. These advantages enable them to act in a more informed manner. That said, effective mediation require these regional organizations to have institutional capacity, particularly within the context of the ongoing process of international transformation where the definitions of security and the very nature of the States are undergoing profound changes.

Despite the increase in the institutional arrangements implemented by international organizations with a view to reinforcing their effectiveness in mediation and facilitation, it should be kept in mind that, depending on the situation, some organizations might be relatively more prominent. Some organizations might enjoy comparative advantages when it comes to particular issues and regions.

In this session, it was also stated that resources allocated to mediation are insufficient, particularly in comparison to military spending which has been tripled since the end of the Cold War.

Competition among regional organizations is also raised as one of the important issues. It may happen due to the overlapping interests of the regional organizations and that of their member states. It was suggested that having greater number of regional organizations interested in mediation is not necessarily detrimental. Furthermore, by achieving complementarity among these organizations and avoiding possible duplications, it may be more likely for mediation efforts to yield positive outcomes. In this respect, panelists emphasized the importance of complementarity and coherence. They suggested that potential competition can be transformed into something constructive.

The conflict in Ukraine and the role played by the OSCE was highlighted during the session. Some of the remarks suggested that the role of the OSCE in the European security architecture was rather neglected until the recent crisis. In analyzing its role, participants drew attention to the aspect of inclusivity since all the States concerned by the conflict are members of this organization. This is also the case with respect to other conflicts that the OSCE is concerned with. Although the need to achieve consensus among member States may sometimes affect the organization’s capacity to take decisions, when there is sufficient political will, the inclusivity of the OSCE reinforces its position as the unique acceptable platform for all the stakeholders.

2. Are Regional Organizations Up to the Task? Building Capacity for Mediation

In this session, panelists discussed the capacity of regional organizations to encounter multiplicity of conflicts and other challenges. It is estimated that there are approximately 100 ongoing armed conflicts across the world that are in need of immediate mediation. Frozen conflicts pose a certain risk to peace and stability and the emerging disagreements have the potential of escalating into armed conflicts. As the contributions of regional organizations are indispensable, discussants shared their assessments with regard to the competence of some of the prominent regional organizations vis-à-vis the security challenges in their respective geographies.

It was underlined that ECOWAS, playing an active role in mediation efforts in West Africa, has the normative framework required to mediate among members when necessary. Thus, the organization does not need permission to engage in mediation. With regard to cooperation with civil society, it was asserted that ECOWAS goes beyond supporting civil society and builds regional networks that contribute to the dynamism of mediation activities.

The case of the OIC was examined with a particular emphasis on its wide range of initiatives across the region. It was confirmed that conflict prevention, confidence building, peacekeeping, conflict resolution and post-conflict rehabilitation are high on the organization’s agenda and that it exerts its efforts through enhanced cooperation with international and regional organizations. The OIC engages in various conflicts on the basis of the understanding that regional organizations are better placed to assess the root causes of the conflicts and devise special measures to tackle them accordingly.

As regards the mediation activities of the LAS, it was suggested that the UN and the international community should better complement the initiatives launched by regional organizations. Past mediation processes such as Lebanon and Sudan were evoked in this context and it was asserted that misplaced interventions sometimes undermined or at least delayed reconciliation and settlement. The discussants pointed out that regional organizations enjoy more flexibility and are able to talk to parties that the UN may not be able to talk to. On the other hand, regional organizations may need technical assistance from the UN or others in building capacity.

The EU has been building its capacity for supporting mediation efforts and recently maintaining a mediation support team. In terms of track one mediation, the EU does not often get a mandate but rather complements the UN’s efforts. The organization also cooperates with civil society organizations engaged in mediation as well as with think-tanks. It was stated that the EU is committed to helping other regional organizations build capacity often by providing financial support.

The European Institute of Peace (EIP) as a recently founded intergovernmental forum for European States was one of the topics of the session. Designed as an independent and flexible organization, the EIP aims rather to complement the efforts of others.

Special Session: An Example of a Successful Mediation: The Mindanao Peace Process in the Philippines

Held with the participation of negotiators from the Government of Philippines and Moro Islamic Liberation Front as well as the Malaysian Facilitator and the Special Envoy of the Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), this session examined the Mindanao Peace Process in the Philippines as a success story.

As one of the most comprehensive peace agreements to be signed recently and with the leading role of women in the process, experiences on “Bangsamoro Framework Agreement” were met with considerable interest. An important portion of the discussions dealt with the role played by the third parties in the process. In this context, Turkey’s role as one of the three countries taking part in the “International Decommissioning Body” was also highlighted.

3. The Role of the United Nations in the Search for Coherence and Coordination – How to Streamline Efforts?

This session focused on the need for coherence and coordination between the UN and regional organizations in search for effectiveness of mediation efforts. It was pointed out that the UN Charter makes reference to “resorting to regional actors” and coordination is an indispensable element since one actor cannot deal with today’s challenges alone. Hybrid negotiation arrangements in this respect are more prevalent. For instance, the UN and the EU work together not only in terms of peace talks but also in terms of peacekeeping forces. It is asserted that the UN has made remarkable progress so far in strengthening its cooperation with regional organizations.

However, it is important to have government intentions shaped by goodwill. International organizations can cooperate as much as their member states allows them to, regardless of the will demonstrated by the organization.

In the case of Ukraine, the OSCE established a “Special Monitoring Mission” granted by all 57 participating States with the aim of monitoring the situation as well as facilitating dialogue on the ground in order to reduce tensions. The Department of Political Affairs (DPA) of the UN established an office in Kyiv in order to assist, coordinate strategies and transmit expertise.

4. Mediation and Non-Governmental Actors at the Regional Level

This session started with assessments with regard to inclusion of non-governmental actors in mediation. Then the discussants focused on concrete examples of coordination between civil society actors and regional and international organizations. They exchanged views on how to make use of the experiences from these processes in the context of other mediation processes to be conducted in the future.

According to the panelists, coordination may take place on various levels like track one, track one and a half and track two actors or between regional organizations, the UN and the NGOs. Although the need for coordination is widely accepted, the fact that the actors usually do not desire to be coordinated poses an inherent contradiction. Another problem in this respect is that despite the normative discussions in favor of including civil society, it remains a challenge. The discussants pointed out that the assumption that civil society and NGOs are always supportive is not accurate. The hardliners and the spoilers must always be taken into account. The challenge is striking a balance between generating broad support to processes and keeping the initiatives effective.

Part of this session was dedicated to Asia. The panelists stated that the peace and security architecture on the level of regional organizations is considerably weak. There is a need for having such structures in East and South Asia in particular. The prospective role of ASEAN in was discussed. The presence of a relatively strong civil society was also highlighted and it was argued that they can play an active role. It was also pointed out that the term facilitator is sometimes more welcome than the term mediator.

High-Level Session

The Conference ended with the respective addresses of H.E. Martti Ahtisaari, the former President of the Republic of Finland, and H.E. Ahmet Davutoğlu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey.

The former President of the Republic of Finland praised the cooperation of Finland and Turkey on peaceful resolution of conflicts. He reminded that mediation has become all the more important in the light of the recent increase in the number of conflicts. He stated that comprehensive mediation endeavors should be launched at the earliest possible stage of conflicts and they should be supported by regional entities. He stressed in this context the significance of the forthcoming UN General Assembly mediation on the the role and importance of regional organizations. Mr. Ahtisaari also pointed out the cooperation between “Crisis Management Initiative” (CMI) founded by himself and the regional organizations.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey expressed the change in the nature of conflicts. He argued that the Cold War period was characterized by the disagreements between different blocs, but today’s world is faced with inter-State and inter-communal conflicts. He stated in this context that the concept of mediation has changed and that Turkey aims at providing productive contributions to all of the crises that hit its surrounding region.

The Minister stated that peaceful resolution of conflicts require three levels of engagement, namely local, regional and global levels. He also argued that crises have three stages: pre-crisis, crisis moments and post-crisis periods. He claimed that intervening on a smaller scale and at an early stage increases the chances for success.

The Minister reminded Turkey’s efforts aimed at the resolution of the crises in Iraq and Syria. He stated that Turkey urged the Syrian regime to meet the legitimate demands of Syrian people first. Later, following the violent and armed repression of these demands by the regime, Turkey has taken the issue at a regional level and acted in concert with the League of Arab States. Later, the “Friends of Syria” group was established in order to bring up the issue to the attention of entire international community and that of the United Nations. The Minister stressed that the inability of the United Nations Security Council to take action as well as the failure to make use of the necessary tools led to the current humanitarian tragedy.

The Minister pointed out that, issues related to Syria and Iraq are intertwined. He underlined that Turkey has repeatedly warned against the dangers emanating from the exclusion of the Sunni leaders in Iraq and that the current crisis is negatively affecting Turkey as a neighboring country. As regards Ukraine, the Minister argued that no one anticipated that forcing Ukraine to choose between the West and the Russian Federation would lead to today’s impasse. He added that effective mediation remains a necessity for peaceful resolution of many conflicts worldwide.