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Conflict Diplomacy CSS Blog

Mediation Perspectives: Where Do Norms Come In?

Two people negotiating. Image: Georgie Pauwels/Flickr

After months of seemingly endless negotiations in a country that has seen years of conflict, the moment has finally come to sign a peace agreement. Exhausted, the mediator is preparing herself for the ceremony, which will take place in a few hours. But before she gets ready to leave, a representative of an international organization enters the mediation office, with a glum expression on his face. “Your text is not nearly as gender-sensitive as we would have liked; you omitted several of our clauses. We counted on you and you failed to put them into the agreement. You have to change it, or we will not endorse the agreement!”

Although fictional, the above example reflects how common it has become in mediation to push aggressively for the inclusion of norms. Mediators are faced with ever-higher expectations when it comes to including normative demands into peace agreements – not just from advocacy groups lobbying for their interests but increasingly from mandating authorities like the United Nations, the European Union or state governments. This raises many questions about how to treat these demands.  If they represent diverging interests, some of them may have to be tempered or sequenced. But it also raises another, perhaps more fundamental, question: to what extent is it a mediator’s role to promote norms in a mediation process?

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Elections Conflict CSS Blog

Mediation Perspectives: The Local Elections in Kosovo

Kosovo flag
Flag of Kosovo. Source: Cradel/Wikimedia Commons.

The local elections that took place in Kosovo towards the end of 2013 were celebrated by the international community as a historic event and a turning point in the conflict over the status of the former Yugoslav province. They were also hailed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as a milestone for the normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo and a clear sign that the Serb-dominated north of the disputed territory was finally prepared to become part of the Kosovar political system. Alongside the encouragement of ethnic Serbs to participate in the elections, Belgrade also committed to abolish its parallel political institutions. In return, Serb majority municipalities were granted the right to create a community with autonomy in areas such as economic development, health, education, urban and rural planning. Such initiatives helped to allay fears that the Serb minority would be dominated by an overwhelming Albanian majority.

Less than perfect conditions

However, the elections were far from being smooth, especially in the northern part of Kosovo. Voter turnout in Serb dominated municipalities was low and hovered between 15% and 20% of the electorate. The first round of elections had to be repeated in three polling stations after they were stormed by masked men. In the second round, ballots were transported to Kosovo Polje for no obvious reason instead of being counted at the polling station. In all rounds, employees of Serbian state-run enterprises were practically “ordered” to the polls. Whereas these circumstances would have warranted a critical assessment elsewhere, there seemed to be no appetite to engage in a prolonged discussion about the legitimacy of the elections – as long as they produced a result that everybody could live with.