Mediation Perspectives is a periodic blog entry that’s provided by the CSS’ Mediation Support Team and occasional guest authors. Each entry is designed to highlight the utility of mediation approaches in dealing with violent political conflicts. To keep up to date with the Mediation Support Team, you can sign up to their newsletter here.
The adoption of a new Tunisian constitution at the end of January has been hailed as a major milestone in the country’s democratic transition and a welcome piece of good news amid concerns about the direction of transition processes in other countries in the region.
From a mediation perspective, the national dialogue process that brought Tunisia to this point is noteworthy for at least two reasons. First, the mediators in this case were insiders with a stake in the outcome. Second, changes in context, beyond the control of either party, significantly altered the strategic calculations of the negotiators and opened the window to an agreement.
How can policymakers and conflict mediation practitioners effectively engage with religion? Indeed, how can practitioners mainstream such engagement with religious actors and organizations? And, what do we even mean when we ask these questions? These were just some of the questions posed at Religion, Foreign Policy and Development: Making Better Policy to Make a Bigger Difference a recent conference held at the UK Foreign Office’s Wilton Park that brought together policymakers, academics and practitioners for two days of wide-ranging and intense discussions.
Opportunities to engage with fellow practitioners are undoubtedly important for a number of reasons. Like gender and other cross-cutting themes, religion also runs the risk of being compartmentalized by experts and given little systematic consideration by colleagues in the same institution working on other topics. This is a challenge that those of us working in the field of mediation and conflict transformation also face: how do we make sure that religion’s role is adequately addressed by those who are working to resolve and transform conflicts?
The M23’s recent abandonment of its armed struggle has renewed hopes for peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). However, it also underlines a major problem that has characterized peace negotiations over the past decade – namely their primary focus on the “noisiest” actors whose actions aim to shock the collective international conscience. For peace to be sustainable, greater efforts are needed to localize peace initiatives.
From the battlefield to the negotiation table
On 5th November 2013, the Head of M23, Bertrand Bisimwa declared that the organization would henceforth end its armed revolt in the eastern DRC and pursue its objectives through political dialogue. This change of approach can be explained by four factors. First, the M23 experienced some important losses on the battlefield after the United Nations bolstered its MONUSCO stabilization mission with an intervention brigade that possesses a robust mandate to neutralize armed groups. Ground was also lost to the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) after it was strengthened, restructured and made more capable of going after M23 rebels. In addition, diplomatic pressure and suspension of development aid, mainly by the United States and European Union, prompted Rwanda to decrease its backing of the M23. Finally, the appointment of Mary Robinson as UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region and Russell Feingold as US Special Envoy for the Great Lakes and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and their diplomatic engagement has undoubtedly played a part in moving the warring parties from the battlefield to the negotiation table.
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.
Policymakers and analysts have spent the past two decades applying the same insights and settlement approaches to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with the same limited impact. There is an underpinning perception that everything that could have been said has already been said. This, combined with a set of overused words such as ‘stalemate’, ‘deadlock’, ‘frozen’ and, more recently, ‘simmering conflict’ brings with it a certain level of fatigue and apathy on the part of the conflict parties and external observers.
However, tangible contextual changes within protracted conflicts often open up windows of opportunity for new dynamics in peace processes. In this respect, does Armenia’s stated intention to join the Russian-led Customs Union provide a window of opportunity for renewed mediation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?