Mediation – A Powerful Tool in Peacemaking

By Paulina Harirbafan

Mediation is seen as one of the most effective methods in the process of conflict resolution by the United Nations and is listed in Article 33 in the Charter of the United Nations as one of the means to a peaceful conflict resolution.[1] Both inter- and intra-state conflicts have been successfully prevented, managed, and resolved using mediation processes and the value of mediation is widely recognized in the UN. The Mediation Support Unit (MSU), in the Policy and Mediation Division of the Department of Political Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) assists the mediation and facilitation initiatives of the UN, Member States, and other relevant partners. In pursuing this goal, the MSU has published “The United Nations Guidance for Effective Mediation”.[2] This document offers basic guidelines on how to run professional, inclusive and well-coordinated mediations with the goal of bringing lasting peace; during these globally tumultuous times, it is worthwhile exploring this expert advice.  

First and foremost, mediating states and organizations must be well prepared. This not only means that they possess the requisite mediation skills, experience and expert knowledge of the situation coupled with cultural sensitivity, but that they have financial and other resources allocated to the support of the mediation team. Because the mediation process is never straightforward and the outcomes can be unpredictable, the mediators need to prepare flexible strategies based on a comprehensive conflict analysis that can be easily adjusted throughout the process. The purpose of preparing a strategy is not only to guide the mediation but also to monitor the process so that mediators can dynamically respond to any challenges or opportunities as they arise throughout the process.

If a mediation is to bring durable peace, all parties that are part of the conflict must come to it voluntarily and in good faith. To agree to this process, the parties must first see it as a solution that is trustworthy and will help them further their interests. Thus, the mediating entities must ensure that conflicting parties accept them and understand the mediation process as secure and confidential as well as capable of furthering their political goals.  To do this they must build confidence in the mediation process as well as trust between the mediator and the parties as well as the conflicting parties themselves.  At the same time, mediators must be wary that even once parties consent to mediation the consent is not always lasting, parties may withdraw their consent during the process, or they may consent, but may still not be fully committed to the process. It is important for mediators to continuously evaluate whether all parties are fully committed to the mediation process and work on keeping this consent.

An essential factor in securing trust in a relationship is ensuring that the mediators are perceived as impartial, with no interest in the outcome of the conflict. The mediation process must be balanced and treat all parties fairly. This does not mean that the mediator is a neutral party, as they may hold certain principles and values. However, in the interest of building trust, those need to be disclosed to the conflict parties.

Another way to increase the legitimacy of mediation and securing a lasting peace is for the mediating entity to ensure that the needs of all the parties affected by the conflict are addressed.  This does not mean that all stakeholders must be directly represented in the formal mediation, but all who are affected by the conflict must be identified and consulted. This is especially true for women leaders and women’s groups.

There are many challenges to ensuring broad stakeholder participation.  Not all parties may want to participate in the mediation process, or their participation may be hindered by sanctions, International Criminal Court warrants and international counter-terrorism policies or exclusion by the main parties to the conflict. They may also be difficult to engage due to lack of clear leadership of certain groups. It is part of the mediator’s role to not only identify the different stakeholders but to develop strategies to engage them and understand their different perspectives, interests and points of contention that may need to be addressed during the mediation.

This engagement ensures that not just the conflict parties, but also the broader society commit to the mediation process, its agreements, and their implementation. This commitment is imperative to ensure that not just those in positions of power take ownership of the peace process, but the wider community. To achieve this, the mediation process must be adapted to the local culture and norms and garner the support of local peacemakers. They must balance that with adherence to the applicable international law and normative frameworks of their appointing entity. The mediators must convey that whatever agreements the parties agree to, they cannot contravene international laws.

Aside from those affected by the conflict, there may be a multitude of actors impacting the mediation process, including the United Nations, regional, subregional and other international organizations, States, NGOs, national and local actors. For the mediation process to be successful those actors must be coordinated so that they are not competing. A possible solution is co-led mediation between regional and international organizations; however, those do not have a successful track record. The best results have been achieved when one entity coordinates the process with the other actors based on a coherent mandate and a common mediation strategy.

A mediation process can include various agreements at different stages of the process and can range from ceasefires to comprehensive peace agreements. A quality peace agreement will end violence and achieve sustainable peace, justice, security, and reconciliation. To achieve this, it will need to deal with past wrongs and create a vision for a common future and ways to resolve future conflicts, while respecting international humanitarian, human rights, and refugee laws.  

International mediation is a complex endeavour that needs to account for many different actors and their multiplicity of interests. Ultimately its success in keeping the peace is dependant on the parties’ acceptance of it and their commitment to upholding the agreement. If it is executed with the above guidelines in mind, it can be a powerful method of preventing the escalation of conflicts or de-escalating them in a manner that is empowering and empathetic to all those affected by it.

[1] The Charter of the United Nations, 26 June 1945, Can TS 1945 No 7.

[2] UN, “United Nations Guidance for Effective Mediation” (2012) online (pdf): < https://peacemaker.un.org/sites/peacemaker.un.org/files/GuidanceEffectiveMediation_UNDPA2012%28english%29_0.pdf>.