On Sept. 27, 2012, the United Nations released guidance to assist mediators in resolving disputes and conflicts peacefully. Drawing on the experience of the international community, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs), religious leaders, and the academic community, the UN Guidance for Effective Mediation lays out eight key principles and practical advice for navigating complicated mediation processes effectively.  It also identifies civil society actors, especially women’s groups, as important allies playing “a critical role in increasing the legitimacy of a peace process.” The Guidance, which received praise from prominent conflict mediation groups, had been initially released as an annex of a UN report on strengthening the role of conflict mediation in ending violent disputes.

“An effective mediation process responds to the specificity of the conflict. It takes into account the causes and dynamics of the conflict, the positions, interests and coherence of the parties, the needs of the broader society, as well as the regional and international environments,” the Guidance says.

Among the key “mediation fundamentals” it mentions are:

  • Impartiality: if a mediation process is perceived to be biased, this can undermine meaningful progress to resolve the conflict.

  • Inclusivity: An inclusive process is more likely to identify and address the root causes of conflict and ensure that the needs of the affected sectors of the population are addressed. Inclusivity also increases the legitimacy and national ownership of the peace agreement, improving the chances of successful implementation.

  • International law and Normative Frameworks: Mediators conduct their work within the framework constituted by the rules of international law. Consistency with international law and norms contributes to reinforcing the legitimacy of a process and the durability of a peace agreement.

Conciliation Resources (CR), a London-based organization working to improve peacebuilding policy, welcomed the Guidance’s willingness to utilize “forward thinking and innovative approaches to mediation.”

In a short report released alongside the Guidance, CR calls for reevaluating the limitations placed on mediators by the United States and the UN by prohibiting talking to formally listed terrorist groups. “The act of putting an armed group on a list of designated terrorist organizations,” CR warns, “can have the unintended consequence of inhibiting engagement in mediation and peace processes.”  It goes on to say, “The UN system has started to acknowledge this, evidenced, for example, by the recent splitting of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda lists in an attempt to create more space for dialogue in Afghanistan. However, the situations in Somalia, the Middle East and elsewhere illustrate how formal and informal limitations restrict the space for the UN and other actors to engage with proscribed groups.”  In order to build on the recommendations in the Guidance, CR recommends mediation efforts should seek to “ensure there is both flexibility and coherence when engaging with armed groups.”