Mediation – Lessons Learned

Mediation is still a work in progress. Some organizations tend to present some activities as best practices, guidelines, blue prints; others are still quite unclear as to the basic epistemology of mediation and a few are very cautious by providing narratives and extracting deontological key insights.

When dealing with international conflicts (which also pertains to intra-state conflicts which have the characteristics of international conflict), the following lessons learned can be applied:
– to maintain impartiality (impartial neutrality)
– to refuse to be used by the parties and not assume any role other than that of mediator – not to become an arbitrator
– to not be involved in the conflict, nor to have any course of action other than accompanying the parties in finding a peace agreement
– to gain the trust of the parties by ensuring confidentiality
– to never make proposals and to report the proposals made by either of the parties without judging them
– to be without power, to handle the in-between position to attempt to bring together the parties that have become distant
– to believe in the good faith of the parties in order to reach an agreement.

I believe that these lessons learned, valid since 1697, represent the competences a mediator, whether on the political or domestic level, need to have in order to intervene in a conflictual situation.


Mediation is not a panacea for peace

It is often written and preached that through the use of mediation, we may be able to satisfy the needs of the parties. Or through its inclusive nature, the peace process may hold and thus become durable and sustainable.
While there is some logic to these hypotheses, it remains to be seen if all inclusive peace processes or a court-annexed mediated process really provide the kind of constructive outcome that parties and the communities in dispute are looking for.
This narrative is often used by those learned peers and scholars with a strong emphasis on the role of the mediator and his/her centrality to the conflict resolution process. Others also take into account the many supporters and negotiators that assist in the mediation process.
In almost all cases, we see a recurrence of violence within a 5 year period since the signing of a peace agreement. Why is that? What happened to the stakeholders? Was it a question of time, resources, political will? Or a lack of understanding of the the root causes of the conflict? Or an international community rushing in to find a solution to violence and unethical behavior of stakeholders.
There are many factors at play that need to be considered. Most likely, and in all cases, we may have to assume that a lack of governance structure, cohesiveness of policies and actions, and resilience of households to new conflicts are some of the deciding factors for recurrence of conflict.

Having analyzed wars between 1648 and 1989, Holsti concluded that in most cases peace treaties only achieve the objective of ending the war and do not envisage any possible future conflicts (Holsti, 1991). Thus, does peace become the father of war?

Hence the role that interventions play in the larger peace canon needs to be looked at with a critical eye and using narrative methods in order to explore which of the unheard and untellable stories are still underneath the radar of the mediators.

More to come …