Oslo Forum 2018 – Armed groups on mediation

Former negotiators from armed groups were invited to the 2018 Oslo Forum to reflect on their experiences of mediation and the challenges associated with sitting opposite their long-time adversaries at the negotiation table.

The participants in this session highlighted that one of the biggest challenges for those involved in armed conflict was the transition from a military mindset to a civilian one. Months, years, even decades of war and pain have often entrenched the foundations of armed struggle and alienated those involved from the idea of political engagement. The greatest challenge is therefore to convince leaders and their constituencies to lay down their arms and transition from a military position to negotiating their return to civilian life.

Another challenge faced by the leaders and negotiators of armed groups is the need to maintain internal cohesion and unity throughout the ups and downs and give and take negotiations. The participants maintained that these internal negotiations were not only of great importance, but also much tougher than expected.

Armed members of conflict parties and their civilian supporters all need to be included in the peace process, either directly or through internal consultations and debates. Among other options for fostering their inclusion, the participants recalled the broad participation of social movements in the peace process, the deliberate invitation of key personnel to attend negotiations, and regular consultations with important factions or interest groups within the armed organisation.

However, ultimately the way internal cohesion was achieved was unique to each armed group: it varied depending on the group’s constitution, its history, and the wider cultural milieu of which it forms a part.

What then is the role of the mediator? The participants emphasised that a mediator needs to be impartial and able to generate trust among the conflict parties. In addition, a keen awareness of the issues and positions enables mediators to guide the parties out of impasses during negotiations. The mediator must also be flexible, potentially moving from being a facilitator working discreetly behind the scenes, to taking on a more active role to shepherd the parties through a crisis. The distinction between mediator and facilitator consequently depends on the needs of the parties. For specific issues, such as disarmament or decommissioning of weapons, the mediator may even hand over the process to a third party such as an international body who may be in a unique position to act as a broker.

Mediators can positively influence a process by convening experts and former peace process actors to attend negotiations. This gives the parties access to a wide variety of knowledge about past and present peace processes and the lessons that can be learnt from them. Participants recalled how meeting delegations from past peace processes not only inspired them, but also helped them understand their own process better. The discussion consequently concluded that, long after they have abandoned their military struggle, former members of armed groups can contribute to peacemaking by sharing their experiences.

This column is from the Oslo Forum 2018 – “The End of the Big Peace” Report

The Oslo Forum is acknowledged as the leading international network of conflict mediation practitioners. It is co-hosted by the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Oslo Forum regularly convenes conflict mediators, high-level decision-makers and key peace process actors in a series of informal and discreet retreats.


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