Mediating the implementation of peace agreements: is there a difference?

This post was written by Canan Gündüz

“Disputes arising over implementation terms may not just arise between the parties, but also between parties and implementers, and between implementers and other implementers. As a result, and perhaps paradoxically, more mediation may in fact be required at this time, and between more actors, rather than less.”

Most would agree these days that mediation doesn’t stop with the signing of a peace agreement – or, as Elizabeth Cousens put it, that ‘it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.’

As a result, international guidance now pays much more attention to the ‘post-agreement’ phase than previously: a recent OECD study for example calls for the international community to ‘support the implementation of an agreement as a process of continued political dialogue.’

Less is said about how these contexts may be different from the pre-agreement phase, and what this means for mediation: do peace mediators, mediation teams and mediation supporters need to approach their work differently when supporting agreement implementation, compared to peace talks? What, if any, are the context factors that may make for a different operating environment? And what does this mean for peace mediation practice in these situations? For example, are different skill-sets and profiles required for mediators?

Perhaps it is a case of ‘plus ça change…’. Yet several factors may mean that the post-agreement scenario will look significantly different from what went before: 

1. A multiplicity of new actors and resources ‘on the scene’: the new flurry of international support and activities often accompanying implementation of an agreement will inevitably have an impact on the ongoing conflict dynamics, and conflict parties’ extended network of relationships (to new actors that were previously not present; to each other; and to previous and new allies).

The same is true for their shifting interests: new resources and how they are used will affect what parties care about and what they prioritise. For example: if the holding of elections was a joint priority during negotiations, in the implementing phase this will emerge as a new point of contention, since winning them —or reducing the other side’s chances of winning them— will become the new focus. Outside actors’ support to elections may become a tactical resource to manipulate for that purpose, or reducing international oversight a joint priority.

As a result, the conflict (i.e., the underlying incompatibilities between the parties that still require resolving, beyond the immediate cessation of violence) may become in fact more complex.

2. Moving from ‘talking’ to ‘doing’: while during negotiations, the mediator and parties may have been able to concentrate their attention on thinking through solution options and crafting an agreement, the implementation phase can see a real step-change, as previously only ‘imagined’ solutions are now beginning to take shape in reality. Conflict parties may experience this as a time of more risk to them, their constituencies and interests, and of increased stakes.

Mediation may now also need to broaden from a narrow focus on the conflict parties, to supporting much wider, and more public, social change processes, requiring different approaches. This can include trouble-shooting on specific provisions; design of entire dispute settlement systems to accompany their implementation; and facilitation and accompaniment of public consultations and participatory processes with different interest groups in society.

3. Heightened public expectations: the promise of peace, and a widely publicised peace agreement, will likely generate increased public expectations, and heightened scrutiny: of the parties, and of implementation. This creates new pressures on the parties themselves, as well as the mediator and implementers. Where parties may previously have been better able to treat the process and exchanges confidentially, they may in fact revert to public posturing and exchange of positions to ‘play to the gallery’, even if their private communication during previous talks was more constructive.

So paradoxically, while the peace process advances, the communication between the parties, as well as with their respective constituencies and the wider public, may be regressing in ways that make mediation more difficult. For example, following a fairly secretive process of talks between the main parties in Nepal that led to the signing of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2006, the parties have since been regularly exchanging mutual accusations, critiques and threats through the media and at public gatherings, progressively undermining whatever mutual trust was built up during the negotiations. These exchanges of blows have arguably also served to weaken public confidence in the peace process, and leaving significant aspects of the CPA unimplemented.

4. Building on a previous history of mediation: whether the same mediator stays on, or a new set of mediators is brought in for the implementation phase, their work may be made easier by the fact that, by then, parties will be accustomed to the idea and the process of mediation, and to the mediator him or herself. This is important groundwork that mediation during the implementation phase can build on, including familiar working methods, communication styles, and the ‘social capital’ the previous process may have shored up between the parties. In an account of the implementation of the 1992 Mozambique peace agreement for example, Aldo Ajello comments positively on the way the two parties had ‘learned to work together’ during the previous two years of negotiations facilitated by the Community of Saint’Egidio in Rome and the Italian government.

Conversely, if parties were not happy with mediation efforts made during the negotiations, for whatever reason, damage done then will need to be rectified, and mediators may in fact need to change in order to shed ‘old baggage.’ Either way, the previous mediation history will have a bearing on subsequent efforts, for better or worse, and mediators will need to factor this into their work.

5. New, and different, types of conflicts: as mentioned before, various new types of conflicts are likely to arise during the implementation of an agreement. These are not just ‘more of the same’, as parties continue to fight over vital concerns, but different conflict constellations, actors and issues emerge that will require the mediator to re-assess the conflict on an ongoing basis. Mediators and original parties may need to handle new emerging conflict parties, deciding whether they should be included in the same process, or dealt with separately.

Disputes arising over implementation terms may in fact not just arise between the parties, but also between parties and implementers, and between implementers and other implementers. As a result, and perhaps paradoxically, more mediation may in fact be required at this time, and between more actors, rather than less.

6. A context of institution- and process-building: most peace agreements provide for a number of new bodies and working mechanisms to take a national lead on overseeing and monitoring implementation, some with an overall steer on the peace process, some directing specific aspects of the agreement – Commissions on National Reconciliation; Peace Secretariats; Electoral Commissions; Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration Commissions, Implementation Councils, Technical Committees, Roundtables, Working Groups, to name just a few. Some agreements envisage a whole series of new institutions dealing with implementation, temporary or permanent, without going into much detail on the design, set-up and functioning of these bodies. The Liberian peace agreement of 2003 for example refers to seven different types of bodies and commission to be set up to oversee different parts of the agreement.

Consequently the phase of agreement implementation is also one of intense institution-, process- and organisation-building. And, the design and set up of these mechanisms need to facilitate constructive engagement, communication and joint working between the members, often drawn from all parties to the conflict, as well as implementing agencies. Here, mediators may be well-placed to help with negotiating institutional set up and facilitating working procedures. This may need to go beyond the skill-set required for peace mediators during the negotiation phase, to include understanding of organisational development, institutional governance and design of conflict management systems.

7. Changing profiles, influence, and roles: on a few occasions, especially in UN facilitated peace processes, previous mediators stayed on to formally oversee the implementation of the agreement they had helped negotiate. This can come with a much increased profile, and institutional backing. As Lakhdar Brahimi and Salman Ahmed put it: ‘the SRSG’s exercise of the political role while sitting atop a mission comprised of tens of thousands of personnel should not necessarily rely on exactly the same approaches and techniques employed by mediators operating with a small team prior to the mission’s deployment.’

While this may increase leverage and opportunities to influence the parties and the peace process, it also brings a fundamental shift in the mediator-parties dynamic: if previously, the mediator managed to remain purely an ‘intermediary’, she may now become a much more visible actor in the political context. This may affect her ability to continue mediating, both positively and negatively.

If she can no longer play the same lead mediation role as previously, it may therefore be necessary to bring in a new set of mediators tasked specifically with helping to resolve implementation-related conflicts, while the previous mediator continues to accompany the political process. If a close working relationship can be forged between the two, this could benefit the former lead in ‘freeing her up’ for her new task; and give new mediators continuity with the old process and access to information and knowledge they may not otherwise enjoy.

Given such factors, the international community needs several additional ingredients to effectively support the implementation of a peace agreement it has helped broker, including through mediation:

  • An adapted and dynamic conflict analysis that remains sensitive to the structural conflict causes, as well as changing mediation needs
  • A nuanced understanding of the different skill-sets and profiles that may be needed for mediation in the post-agreement phase
  • Supporting institution-building through mediation and conflict management
  • Strengthening links between mediators, and implementers, of peace agreements
  • Continuing to provide mediation support to conflict parties at different levels, to help them deal with the crises and disputes that are likely to arise when they set out on the difficult process to turn words on paper into reality.
Print this post

Author mediatEUr

More posts by mediatEUr