V. İstanbul Conference on Mediation

The İstanbul Conferences on Mediation are designed to bring together international, governmental and civil society actors engaged in or researching/studying mediation to explore ways to enhance interaction, understanding and cooperation among them with a view to improving the effectiveness of mediation efforts across the world. They also contribute to the objectives of the “Mediation for Peace Initiative”, launched in 2010 by Türkiye and Finland at the United Nations and which has become one of the leading platforms for promoting wider and more effective use of mediation.

Building on the productive discussions in the previous four Conferences, the Fifth İstanbul Conference on Mediation was organized with the understanding that sustaining peace requires the practice of mediation to be enhanced in a holistic manner. In this regard, discussions at the Conference focused on the role of mediation in the context of sustainable peace-sustainable development nexus; inclusion of women and youth in mediation efforts; and the opportunities that digital revolution, including big data and artificial intelligence, bring to prevention and peacemaking. The Conference brought together over a hundred participants from several countries and organizations.

The Fifth İstanbul Mediation Conference started with the video messages of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Türkiye, H.E. Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Secretary-General of the UN, H.E. Antonio Guterres. In his message, H.E. Mr. Çavuşoğlu stated that conflicts are causing immense human suffering, economic and environmental destruction and thus there is urgent need for more effective tools for mediation in pursuit of prevention and peaceful settlement of disputes. He asked participants to identify what the practice of mediation needs in the current conflict landscape. This assessment, Minister Çavuşoğlu said, is crucial to exploring how we could pool resources and make mediation a more effective method.

In turn, H.E. Mr. Guterres thanked Türkiye for hosting the Vth İstanbul Conference on Mediation and co-chairing the UN Group of Friends of Mediation. He noted that the enormous suffering caused by armed conflicts underscores our collective responsibility to find solutions through peaceful means and heighten our efforts for prevention. Mr. Guterres mentioned that his good offices are available wherever and whenever they can have an impact and that the High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation is working to advance preventive diplomacy and early action. He underscored the need to create even greater space for women to participate and invest in youth, who can be catalysts for peace. He concluded his message by stressing that we should remain vigilant even after a peace agreement is reached in order to prevent any relapse into violence.

After the inaugural video messages, Ambassador Burak Akçapar, Director General for Conflict Prevention and Crisis Management, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Türkiye, expressed in his opening speech that the conflict map of the world is getting more complicated and the prevention and peaceful resolution of conflicts remain as important as ever given the unimpressive track record of both prevention and peaceful resolution of conflicts. To that end, straddling a turbulent neighborhood, Ambassador Akçapar stated, Türkiye has been playing her part not only at the UN, but also at the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) and OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) by highlighting the key importance of preventive diplomacy and peaceful resolution of conflicts through wider and more effective use of mediation, the latter being a central feature of the Enterprising and Humanitarian Foreign Policy concept of Türkiye. He underlined that as a hub of peoples and ideas, the city of İstanbul is the perfect venue to convene the Mediation Conferences and talk about sustainable peace and development.

After the opening remarks of Ambassador Akçapar, the Conference convened three senior expert level sessions and a Policy-Lab. In the first session of the Conference, senior experts and practitioners from the UN focused on the place of mediation within the sustainable peace–development nexus and the potential contributions of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to the practice of mediation. In the second session of the Conference, participants discussed the challenges and opportunities to increase gender and youth inclusion in mediation processes. The final session and the Policy-Lab focused on the opportunities and challenges emanating from digital technologies in the field of mediation.

Summary and Findings of the Conference Sessions
First Session: “Sustainable Development-Mediation Connection”

The first session was moderated by Dr. Barnett Rubin, Senior Fellow, Associate Director, Center on International Cooperation, New York University. The panelists were: Mr. Fabrizio Hochschild, UN Assistant Secretary General for Strategic Coordination in the Executive Office of the Secretary General; Mr. Tadamichi Yamamoto, UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan; and Ms. Sezin Sinanoğlu, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The panelists in this session highlighted that the top priorities of the UN Secretary General in his peace and security pillar reform efforts include peacebuilding and the alignment of the peace and security pillar more closely with development. Conflicts cannot be solved without addressing the underlying determinants and root causes. A holistic approach is needed where the core peace dividend can be “sustainable development.” Sustaining peace, from conflict prevention to resolution, requires underlying developmental problems to be addressed in tandem. Mediation could also be applied as a very effective tool for delivering the SDGs. Overall, the question of how the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development could be factored into mediation processes and serve as a guide in peace agreements needs to be elaborated.

The session made an important point by positing that mediation, is political in nature, which requires means to change the assessment of the ones authorized to mediate in any given case. In addition, how the efforts made to bring economic development to conflict-ridden parts of the world could be turned into incentives for preventing conflict in the future is another important question that remains unanswered.

It was argued that many precautionary measures can be taken before a conflict erupts. In essence, this is the least costly way to deal with conflicts. For this method, capacity building is key and the UN can play a crucial role in this regard, including at the local level.

The case of Afghanistan demonstrates that mediation efforts should start with the goal of peace. Local people have real legitimacy and ownership for peace. Development efforts need to be closely connected with peace. Women and youth should be included in all phases of negotiations. The UN’s comparative advantage in peace efforts is its ability to assemble all stakeholders, including Taliban, around the negotiation table in Afghanistan. The UN Field Offices are particularly important in this regard. In terms of peace-development nexus, donor coordination is also important. Once peace is achieved, the wealth should be distributed in a just manner through political participation and ownership. This is a significant challenge for mediators and vital to sustaining peace agreements.

The case of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B-H) illustrates that conflicts may also erupt from the contested distribution of wealth among stakeholders. Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country still subject to the Dayton Peace Agreement, does not yet have a national development plan of its own because of the failure of the parties to agree on one. Even though the war in the Balkans ended some time ago, around 4000 war crime cases have still not been concluded. Unless justice is attained, peace cannot be durable. The UN projects such as “Regional War Crimes” and “Neighborhood Groups” in B-H were initiated towards achieving this goal. Mediation could also be employed from this perspective.

The participants of the session also stressed the fact that once an agreement is reached, the main hurdle is figuring out how peace could be sustained. The experiences of Kenya and Indonesia are instructive cases in point.

Discussions during the session touched upon the situation in Cyprus, which could be defined as “frozen”, not as a “physical” one. The current status quo is unacceptable, at least because the unfair isolation of the Turkish Cypriots continues. A sense of partnership between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots is essential for the settlement of the Cyprus issue. Hydro-carbon resources could be the starting point as an area of partnership. The need for confidence building between the two sides is vital as highlighted in the latest report of UN Secretary General.

As for the Philippine case, the main problem in the peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is the lack of coordination among donors. Therefore, it was assessed that a coordination mechanism should be established as soon as possible.

Discussants also mentioned that peace settlement is not an end in itself and sustainability and stability need to be regarded among the main goals. Likewise, it was highlighted that climate change is a major source of conflict, Sahel being a clear example. Coordination between the UN and other international organizations in this field is essential. The role of the private sector is key for all the efforts to be sustainable.

Second Session: “Inclusivity for Mediation”

The second session panelists were Mr. Emmanuel Habuka Bombande, Member, UN Mediation Support Unit Standby Team of Experts; Ms. Johanna Poutanen, Senior Manager, Women in Peacemaking, Crisis Management Initiative; and Ms. Juanita Millan Hernandez, Navy Lieutenant, Military Forces of Colombia, under the moderation of Prof. Nimet Beriker, PRIO Global Fellow.

In this session, the panelists argued that mediation begins with a political decision and inclusion starts from this decision. Therefore, inclusion is only possible where there is political will. A bottom-up approach, including women and youth, is important for success.

Traditional and religious actors also have roles in mediation processes.

The UN Security Council Resolution no. 1325 on Women, Peace and Security was mentioned as a landmark, yet its potential has not been fully exploited in the last two decades since its adoption. Out of 130 peace agreements signed between 1990 and 2014, only 13 were signed by women. This number should go up to change the current landscape in terms of inclusivity of women in peace processes.

The broad participation of women in mediation processes, as civil society actors, peacemakers, signatories of peace agreements is key for the sustainability of peace deals. The Colombian case of 2016 is a good example of this point.

Regarding youth, as policy-makers and mediators, their participation in mediation processes should be ensured as actors of both conflict and peace. The relationship of capacity and training opportunities with youth inclusion is significant.

It was also expressed during the session that inclusivity does not mean to include everybody, but the key stakeholders in the process; there is no “one size fits all” approach, valid for all cases requiring mediation; and awareness and training in mediation are important.

During the discussions, participants re-confirmed on several occasions that signing a peace agreement is not enough on its own. If the agreement cannot be implemented, no stakeholder would have confidence in the mediation process, which then would end in failure.

Policy Lab: “Big Data for Global Conflict and the Future of Mediation”

Mr. Kalev Hannes Leetaru, Senior Fellow at George Washington University Center for Cyber & Homeland Security made a presentation about the use of big data in conflict prediction and the future of mediation. At the beginning of his presentation, he stressed that it is rather difficult to resolve conflict after it has erupted, therefore foresight is essential.

Following this line of logic, Leetaru argued that we need to use the historical data and benefit from technological tools such as big data and artificial intelligence. The GDELT project, created and operated by his team, would be a good example of harnessing the power of technology for global conflict mapping.

During his presentation, Leetaru stated that physical events should be combined with psychological aspects as well as emotions to make a better analysis of conflict resolution. A fitting example is the current migration crisis and the attitude towards refugees especially in European countries.

Thırd Sessıon: “Dıgıtal Transformatıon and Medıatıon”

Third session was joined by Enrico Formica, Senior Mediation Officer, CyberMediation Initiative, UN Department of Political Affairs and Hamid Akın Ünver, Kadir Has University. The moderator was Jonathan Harlander, Project Officer, Mediation Support and Policy at Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue.

This session essentially scrutinized how the theory and practice of mediation was adapting to the emerging technological landscape and digital transformation involving big data and artificial intelligence.

In answering the question at hand, the panelists highlighted that the UN Secretary General has put digital transformation as a top priority on his agenda and asked the UN system to be fundamentally digitalized. “Cyber Mediation Initiative” of the UN was a good example of these efforts.

The panelists argued that even though the fundamentals of mediation remain the same, technology dramatically alters its implementation, especially due to advanced communication facilities. Mediation environment is changing drastically and mediators cannot escape from these developments.

Another point made during the session was that besides opportunities, the trend towards more digitalization poses many challenges for mediators, first and foremost regarding security and confidentiality of information. Secrecy is becoming more and more difficult to sustain in mediation processes.

The other problem associated with this trend was that there is an excessive, biased and non-reliable amount of data and information online, which makes it extremely difficult for the mediator to be selective.

The panel came to the conclusion that there was scarcity of studies concerning digital media architecture and literature, and applicability of digital technologies in actual mediation exercises.

Concluding Remarks

Ambassador Burak Akçapar, summed up the discussions of the conference. He noted that although mediation relies on the fundamental skills of the lead mediator, the use of sophisticated technology need not be far away. He recalled a personal conversation in which the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke explained how a 3-D animated aerial overflight software was used during the Dayton Peace Talks to help parties agree on the delineation of borders. He wondered what skills would be needed to mediate a peace treaty concluding a cyberwar.

He noted that digital transformation, big data and AI can also benefit the prevention and resolution of conflicts, as much as waging them.

He wrapped up the conference by noting that there are opportunities to be pursued at the UN, OSCE and the OIC and the next UN General Assembly resolution on mediation should take us further on peace-development-mediation nexus, on youth inclusion, and in incorporating digital technology in our efforts to prevent and mediate conflicts.

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