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Mediation Perspectives: Commentary on the UN Guidance for Effective Mediation

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Carter, Tutu, Bahsir
Former US President Jimmy Carter and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu meet Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir during their visit to Sudan, 2007. Photo: Andrew Heavens/flickr.

The July 2011 UN General Assembly resolution on strengthening mediation in the peaceful settlement of disputes was an important demonstration of support for mediation by the international community. The Guidance for Effective Mediation, called for in the resolution and subsequently developed by the UN, is a useful reference document for mediation prac­titioners and the broader policy community. Translating Mediation Guidance into Practice, developed by the NGO members of the Mediation Support Network (MSN), expands on the guidance. It provides examples of effective and ineffective mediation practice in conflicts around the world.

The commentary highlights a number of the most challenging issues in the field of media­tion today. One of these is the question of coordination among mediators. In recent years, there has been an increase in would-be governmental and nongovernmental mediators in­volved in conflicts worldwide. My experience has demonstrated the importance of coordina­tion and a clear division of labor between mediators, working under the umbrella of a lead mediator. In my work with The Carter Center we have played both roles, leading on some conflicts and working under the umbrella of other mediators, often UN-backed, in other contexts. When this type of coordination is at its most effective, the problem of overlapping mandates can be reduced. In addition, different types of mediators, including local and in­ternational NGOs, states, and multilateral organizations, can be deployed to bring a variety of conflict stakeholders into mediation processes, building constituent buy-in and creating quality peace agreements.

The need for effective coordination and inclusive mediation efforts also points to the im­portance of bringing all major conflict actors into mediation processes, wherever possible. The trend of proscribing terrorist groups, sometimes including large organizations that are significant conflict actors, has made mediation more difficult. Placing such organizations be­yond the pale of diplomacy complicates the search for political solutions to armed conflicts. Often these marginalized groups can end up with the desire to undermine any agreements reached. While it may be necessary and appropriate for states and multilateral organizations to sanction certain organizations, it also is important to maintain channels for dialogue.

This commentary is an important tool for fostering further discussion of these issues within the international community, while providing useful recommendations for better mediation practice.
This text was first published as a foreword to the Mediation Support Network’s Commentary on the UN Guidance for Effective Mediation.

Jimmy Carter is former US President and, together with his wife Rosalynn Carter, founder of The Carter Center. President Carter and The Carter Center have engaged in conflict mediation in Ethiopia and Eritrea (1989), North Korea (1994), Liberia (1994), Haiti (1994), Bosnia (1994), Sudan (1995), the Great Lakes region of Africa (1995-96), Sudan and Uganda (1999), Venezuela (2002-2003), Nepal (2004-2008), and Ecuador and Colombia (2008).

“Mediation Perspectives” is a periodic blog entry provided by the CSS’ Mediation Support Team. Each entry is designed to highlight the utility of mediation approaches in dealing with violent political conflicts. 

For additional reading on this topic please see:

An Uncertain Road to Peace: Domestic and Regional Challenges in the Turkish-Kurdish Process

Enhancing Global and Regional Mechanisms for Conflict Management and Resolution

Abkhazia: The Long Road to Reconciliation

For more information on issues and events that shape our world please visit the ISN’s featured Weekly Dossiers and Security Watch.

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