International Mediators Community of Practice

The person of the Mediator and its impact on sustainable peace



IMCP Mediation IMPACT Working Group

Topic: The Person of the Mediator and its impact on sustainable peace

(Through the lens of Peacebuilding Mediation at the Track-I and grassroots-level)

Date: Tuesday, May 17th, 2016 - Time: 2:30 - 4:00 pm (EDT)

Location: Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services (FMCS)

Co-leads: IPSI, CIT, MC

Guest Speaker: Dr. Christina Stenner, OSCE, Mediation Support Office

Participants: Al Amana Center, Creative Associates, FMCS, HasNa, IMTD, Karuna Center for Peacebuilding, New Rule, OSCE, Podziba Policy Mediation




QUESTION 1: Are there common characteristics that underlie the ideal profile of a mediator for both tracks or do these require distinct skills and capabilities?

Local peacemakers are people who very often emerge as mediators, as opposed folks who followed a professional path. They developed a reputation for being impartial and have a deep knowledge of the conflict dynamics, as well as the culture within which they are asked to mediate. Starting a dialogue with prayer in Muslim-majority countries, for example, can help set the tone for a more grounded discussion between belligerents. Knowing who will become an ideal peacemaker depends on the characteristics a society prioritizes.

In inter-tribal conflicts, sometimes the leader of a third tribe will be selected in order to mediate the situation. Being non-judgmental, using language of tolerance and being a good listener, but first and foremost deeply caring about the two communities, are all important traits. Legitimacy, defined differently depending on the culture, also plays a big role. In the Middle East, the generosity and wisdom of a mediator are characteristics that elevate the mediator. In Yemen, the age of a mediator adds to his credibility.

For NGOs, finding third-parties who are willing to learn new strategies and display flexibility towards the parties is critical, as important as someone who is willing to take risks for peace given the volatility of armed groups in some conflict environments.

At the Track-I level, a mediator is typically a special representative or envoy, often a high-level diplomat who has been in the business of negotiating for 30 to 40 years. Official mediators are selected for their stature, networks of relationships and influence in the region, sometimes over their moral legitimacy.

To support their work, mediation support teams are created. They are composed of dialogue facilitators, trainers, and/or academics that bring very specific technical expertise to the pool (cease-fire, election, constitutional reform…). This implies that they will use that knowledge to influence the content of the discussions. The composition of a support team will largely depend on the personality of the diplomat and what the mission requires. A recent focus on adding dialogue process design expertise to the team has shown benefits in thinking through what happens at the negotiation table. Most multilaterals also couple this support with mediation rosters also composed of technical experts, but these are rarely used. Most folks are selected because of their relationship to the mission.


Points of divergence and convergence

For both tracks women are vastly underused as mediators.

In many ways, Track-I mediation is very different in its approach, principles, values and strategies than that of community-level mediators, even the goals of mediation differ at times. Time constraints, multiple demands, myriads of internal and external meetings and the pressure to produce results limit the impact of international mediator. Their work tends to turn into nitty-gritty problem-solving negotiations with little opportunity or time to unpack and talk about the issues being brought up.

Despite these differences, the changing nature of armed conflict, from nationalist movements with ideological grievances to fragmented criminal gangs, is pushing these 2 tracks closer together. These changes are challenging the notion of international conflict requiring the skills-set of high-level statesmen, since their leverage is no longer as effective. The trend is moving toward increasing partnerships with NGOs and the creation of hybrid coalitions to manage peace processes.

An understanding is growing among official mediators, that without addressing local complexities you will not achieve sustainable peace. And vice versa, more NGO are noticing that keeping their peace-making activities at arm’s length from the political process is missing the mark for communities yearning for stability.

The challenge for the field will be the integration of these two approaches as well as harnessing the power and diversity of actors involved in a peace-making process.


QUESTION 2: What are the critical training elements that make a skilled mediator?

For grassroots or community mediators, mediation training has become much more experiential, including role-plays, hypothetical scenarios, and practice of various parts of the mediation process. Mentoring has also shown to be critical in the apprenticeship process.

At the Track-I level, for the US for example, there is no official mediation training for Foreign Service Officers. On mediation teams, coaching of the official mediator happens but indirectly. As we give names to things and the field develops, it is helping diplomats realize that a certain mediation-specific expertise exists. It requires sensitivity, almost psychological understanding, to know how to approaching these deeper issues and teach those soft skills to a high-level diplomat. In general, if someone has been doing it one way for a long time and it seems to be working for them, they are unlikely to change their way of doing things even if their strategy does not actually build sustainable peace. To create an environment where learning is possible on a mediation support team, trust is important as is one-on-one time to approach more sensitive issues. Re-framing your training module also helps. Despite, much guidance on effective mediation for multilateral organizations, they remain just that: guidance. Cultural awareness training is widespread but less present is learning on integrating traditional mediation mechanism into formal ones.


Points of divergence and convergence

In general, there lacks a clear professional progression and mid-career opportunities for a young person who gets involved in community mediation and wants to grow in the field to address more complex conflicts. Opportunities for co-learning between both tracks are also few. Creating space for learning that includes local and external mediators may bridge misperceptions on both sides.