My new mediation study is out!

This paper provides a study of mediation experiences from different periodic and country contexts. It investigates elements that are key to mediation effectiveness. For the expert reader, it provides insights into the complexities of political mediation through four decidedly intricate cases. For the newcomer to the field of mediation, it provides an analytic and narrative account of mediation as an instrument of peacemaking.
The study is framed by an introduction, which defines the essence of political mediation as a means of conflict regulation; a description of the variables that distinguish conflict regulation from other means of conflict resolution; and lessons learned from four qualitative case studies. From the insights into the four cases, we can deduce that mediation is a skillful adaptation to clear ambiguity and flexible arrangements.
Here is the link to the download:

GSUM hosts colloquium on legitimacy and resilience in national dialogue processes

On August 6th, 2015, the Global South Unit for Mediation (GSUM) was glad to welcome its Fellow, Dr. José Pascal da Rocha (Columbia University) and Dr. Renata Giannini (Instituto Igarapé) for the colloquium “Legitimacy and resilience in national dialogue processes”. Researchers and practitioners of the field, as well as graduate and undergraduate students participated in the event, which took place at BRICS Policy Center, Rio de Janeiro.

Dr. da Rocha’s presentation was guided by the question of why so many national dialogue processes have proven to be ineffective in post-conflict settings. Understanding national dialogue as processes, such as roundtables and conferences, to foster integration, inclusion and sustainable peace, through wider political participation and active citizenry, Dr. da Rocha approached this question by looking at three key variables: legitimacy, resilience, and effectiveness. The underlying hypotheses for this perspective are that legitimacy of political actors enables effective national dialogue processes, and that resilience to external shocks leads to sustainability within this dialogue.

The intuition for investigating national dialogue through the lenses of legitimacy derives from the finding that many peace processes lack broad popular support, making them often an unstable and insecure enterprise. In Dr. da Rocha’s understanding, legitimacy is conferred not only through a set of pre-defined legal norms, but through the popular acceptance of authority, governance, and accountability, manifesting itself through diverse stated and unstated commitments.

Turning to resilience, Dr. da Rocha defines as the capacity to absorb negative events, to be able to make rapid adjustments to shocks, as well as the ability to create new structures in order to make the system sustainable. For effectiveness, Dr. da Rocha defines the ways that parties experience the outcome of a peace process as in accordance with procedural justice, as well as human rights, social outcomes and other standards of rule of law conduct, fostering security and preventing harm and being able to make a positive change to the wider social, political, or economic conflict dynamics in the local context.

On the examples of Mali, Yemen, and Nepal, Dr. da Rocha showed the shortcomings of these national dialogue processes in terms of effectiveness, legitimacy, and resilience. In the peace process of Mali, for instance, the criteria for effectiveness were not met, since the ceasefire agreement was written by external mediators and nor rights-based outcomes, such as the implementation of basic services, jobs or justice were achieved. Also in terms of legitimacy and resilience, the agreement is flawed, since parties from the periphery of the country were not adequately represented in the peace process, prioritizing the restoration of order, but ignoring the needs for change of many populations. Also in Nepal and Yemen, similar problems prevail: particular parties remain excluded from the negotiation table, and poverty and gender-based exclusion make the countries vulnerable to future conflicts.

In his conclusion, Dr. da Rocha argued that the creation of an enabling environment is directly linked to the creation of an enabling peacebuilding environment. Therefore, peacebuilding initiatives should target the countries’ institutional capacities, in order to stimulate the development of local human capacities and collective social institutions, so that societies are better able to manage social change.

Colombia’s path to peace – part 1

When negotiations between the Colombian government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC guerilla (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) began on Oct. 8th, 2012, both parties to the negotiations and the general public displayed a healthy amount of distrust and skepticism. Government representatives weren’t quite sure if the revolutionaries were sincere in their wish and will to conduct an honest dialogue and not to use the talks as an insincere tactical motive to rally once more against the government. On the other side of the table, the revolutionaries couldn’t possibly count on the government willingness to provide sustainable solutions and to work toward compromise. And there is a rich history of failures: FARC used the negotiations with the government of Patranas (1998-2002) to reorganize its combat units (Frentes). During the days of the Gaviria government (1990-1991), both sides used to overextend their demands to the point where any suggestion or demand was deemed unacceptable by the other side. The dialogue between the rebels and the Betancur government (1984-1986) failed as the military didn’t cease hostilities.
The killing of thousands of members of the Union Patriotica party, whereby many FARc rebels organized themselves into one party during the negotiations with the Betancur government is not forgotten by the FARC. And this lack of trust and confidence in the motives of the other side is mirrored in the attitudes and negotiation behaviors of the current Havanna Talks: no official cease fire has been brokered or announced and the agreement on negotiated items is only valid when and if there is a complete and comprehensive agreement – called single undertaking in peace agreement terms.

However, the negotiations are quite time consuming and lengthy. Hence, the most icky points have not been talked about yet and President Juan Manuel Santos has invested its entire political capital into the dialogue process, yet he is becoming increasingly impatient and unnerved by the slow progress of the talks. Though both sides had announced a truce which didn’t hold, and the upcoming municipal elections are perceived as a braking pad since FARC isn’t confident that the safety and livelihoods of its disarmed and demobilized fighters can be secured. In many of the rural areas, the government and military lacks presence and therefore it cannot make guarantees as to the security of demobilized fighters since local and regional elites do not feel tied by any of the ceasefire provisions between the government and the FARC. And rightly so: the perception and general question is that this is a peace process for the sake of the government yet the general population in both urban and rural areas and in the region at large needs to support the peace process. Beyond the population, important stakeholders such as the military, economic and political elites need to be tackled as well so as to not become spoilers to the national dialogue process.

Beyond the actors mentioned above, the question still remains as to the role of a smaller rebel group, the ELN (Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional), and its current exclusion from the talks. It can be argued that it would be a stretch to assume that it would automatically and without preconditions accept any agreement brokered between the two major parties in the Havanna Talks.

in the next post, I will give an appreciation of the current negotiation results

Creative strategies in negotiations, pt. 1

Dear reader.

Good to have you back. This post is about creative strategies and approaches for resolving and settling conflicts. Based on my previous experiences during the Kampala Talks in 2013 and ceasefire negotiations with the Darfur Armed Movements, I have made use of a few approaches that fit to the context for widening the range of options perceived by closed-minded people before they walk out of a negotiation session or even turn to subsequent violence due to the frustrations perceived in a narrowly defined negotiation strategy.

And I am not alone in this understanding of creativity in negotiations. Kelman (1962, in: ‘Internationalizing military force’, in Q. Wright, W.M. Evan and M. Deutsch (ends) Preventing World War III. New York: Simon and Schuster: 106-122) pointed out that the significance of creative conflict resolution procedures is greater than may appear. When traditional negotiation breaks down, the number of ways still left to deal with the conflict remains almost inexhaustible, though not always achievable.

Six dimensions help categorizing the repertoire: (1) the parties (who); (2) the basis of the conflict (what); (3) the location (where); (4) the timing (when); (5) the nature of the involvement (how); (6) the causes (why). All approaches work in a range of contexts, from the international relations dimension to the interpersonal and inter organizational level of conflict.

Strategy 1: Change and vary who is involved

a) Unilaterally take an initiative, hoping to influence the adversary

(1) e.g. through one-sided de-escalation by a small amount and inviting the opponent(s) to follow suit. If the other side does so, further de-escalation can proceed. Especially useful when face-saving problems or the like prevent contenders from negotiating an agreement. Being competent in communication techniques and speech act are useful skills (also known as the GRIT approach: graduated reciprocation in tension-reduction).

(2) acceptable fait accompli, i.e. when the issue can be settled unilaterally in a way that accounts for everyone’s interests so no one opposes the settlement.

(3) tacit agreements: When negotiation is impossible, the parties to a dispute resolve it separately according to their perception of fairness;

(4) influencing an opponent’s choice of a negotiator by one’s own choice. when one party chooses a negotiator from the field and level of responsibility that can most readily resolve the dispute, other parties are likely to follow suit.

b) Call in a third party to help settle a dispute

(1) sophisticated mediation or good offices: a mediator serves as a communication link between contenders, improves their perceptions of each other, suggests solutions to the problem in dispute, and puts pressure on the contenders to agree. the chief mediator bears considerable responsibility for these agreements and he/she uses the entire gammut of mediation strategies to get the parties to agree (at times under pressure, at times under concessions). the mediator needs to be skilled and competent and able to play many roles at different stages of the process

(2) settlement plus arbitration: the parties to a dispute settle some issues, agree to arbitrate to others, and perhaps leave still some other issues wholly unresolved.

(3) final-offer arbitration. in making its binding decision in a dispute, an arbitration panel can announce that it will avoid compromising and instead will choose one party’s bid as is. this announcement inclines each party to try to come closer to a position outsiders would regards as fair than would appear to the other party(ies).

(4) control by a disinterested third party, i.e. temporary or permanent authority over part or all of a difficult issue can be given to a third party, with or without the power of removal by the original parties.

(5) a financier-imposed solution, e.g. by choosing who will receive loans and for what purposes, bankers can impose creative and peaceful solutions to the conflicts. this approach usually leads to imposed solutions with often exploitative and violent outcomes.

c) Change the parties involved

(1) ignoring an uncooperative contender, ie a group of negotiators can ignore a disruptive contender and proceed on their own, expecting the disrupter to settle down in order to avoid being left behind.

(2) accommodation due to the arrival of a common adversary, e.g animosity may be reduced and sharing increased if a common adversary is introduced (could the case of ISIS bring the US and the Assad regime in Syria to an aligned solution for the region?).

(3) out-of-character positioning; it is possible to bring to power a person (or a political party) holding so firm a position against the opponent that this partisan will not concede too much and that, therefore, domestic opinion will permit concessions.

(4) changing to higher echelons, i.e. the assumption can be made that the source of a conflict between parties comes from lower echelon officers on the other side. Upper echelon officers can take charge, scapegoat the lower officers, and then come to an agreement with the adversary.

(5) pinpointing cooperative officials. rather than expecting an entire adversary group to cooperate when one’s relations with it are bad, one can determine who within that group can do what is wanted and make an offer to that person or persons.

(6) coalition-building by scattered, peaceful forces, i.e. a coalition of scattered, peaceful, minor forces can be formed that will outweigh the power of organized, major, exploitative forces.

Strategy 2: Vary what is involved

a) Seek common interests in which to build

(1) superordinate goals: these are goals contenders can choose to pursue that include the original goals of both sides, that cannot be achieved without cooperation among contenders and that offer goal-satisfaction for all sides. in most cases, pursuing superordinate goals reduced hostilities when social contact had not.

(2) synergy, ie relationships can be exploited in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

(3) upgrading of common interests. sometimes, competitive interaction can have cooperative elements. pre-condition is that parties’ needs are satisfied and the space for fighting over scarce resources is clearly delineated and narrow enough.

(4) fractionation of conflict. the breaking up of disputes into elements that can be settled separately. one purpose of this approach is to settle agreeable parts of a dispute first in order to build trust for settling more difficult parts later. an alternative purpose is to identify those elements upon which agreement can be reached in order to salvage as much as possible from a diplomatic endeavor and conference (such as a ceasefire negotiation) that otherwise might break down with no results.

(5) potential agreement discussions. the parties discuss what could be agreed as a preface to attempting at an actual decision.

(6) functional analysis of disputes, i.e. third-party members help the contenders deal with the fundamental needs underlying a dispute rather than concentrating exclusively on the immediate, symptomatic manifestations of it. any dispute can be reduced to a conflict over material welfare, deserved status, power, and so on. frequently, alternate, more acceptable means can be found to serve these functions than the particular means the contenders were quarreling about in the first place. sometimes these alternate means are ones on which the disputants can cooperate.

(7) maintenance of high aspirations and a problem-solving stance, i.e. the highest joint utility comes from each side’s setting high aspirations, sticking to them fairly well, and working together to solve the problems at hand. this approach contrasts with low or loose aspirations which can result in excessive readiness to accept a compromise with lower joint utility. the approach also contrasts with the distributive approach, which seeks to gain more at the opponent’s expense.

(8) functionalism. common loyalties can be built through functional organization. functional organizations can rule on disputes that were formally dealt with politically or militarily.

b) Bring in subjects unrelated to the object of the dispute

(1) package deals in such a way that one sides gets the advantage in the current dispute, the other side gets the advantage in the outstanding agreement (but need to have guarantees for this approach).

(2) prelude goals. lesser, more easily attainable goals unrelated to the dispute can be pursued to form closer relations that will make it possible to achieve the larger goal later.

End of part 1.

Handbook: African Union Mediation Support

Dear reader.

It has been 4 months now, since the African Union Mediation Support Handbook has been disseminated and shared with AU Special Envoys, mediators and mediation teams. The handbook was designed, written and developed with an amazing team at the African Center for Constructive Dispute Resolution in Durban, South Africa, and co-developed and reviewed by senior African Union officials within the Conflict and Management Division.

The main substance and content on how to prepare, engage, run, and follow-up on a mediated process has been developed based on my own experiences, expertise and using up-to-date mediation knowledge.

Here is the link to the Ebook for download and I appreciate any comments, feedback, critical reflections and further guidance:



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.


Entry points in international mediation – Ripeness in Syria?

The professional mediation community tries to make sensitive assessments about when and how and even if to intervene in a conflict situation. Albeit some argue that any intervention should be done with a mandate and keeping the Do No Harm principles in mind, others argue that interventions need to take place for the sake to uphold human rights in conflict environments.

In Syria, we have seen a range of attempts to intervene in a deadly civil war. Two UN Special Envoys later (Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi) who were struggling to find the right entry point, the situation seems to be shifting in favor of a window of opportunity for an intervention in Syria. Many refer to this moment as the moment of ripeness, after after some key conditions have been met, both the parties and the situation is amenable to resolution. The notion of ripeness may have its criticism (tautology being its main impediment), yet practitioners in the field of political mediation are still using the terminology and so it may make sense to take a new look at the shifting balance of forces and power in the geopolitical context of Syria. This article on Al Jazeera’s website captures the shifting and moving forces quite eloquently.

What Saudi-Iranian rapprochement means for Assad – Al Jazeera English.