International Mediators Community of Practice

Vertical coordination between Mediation Support Units and Grassroots Mediators during the course of a Peace Process


The work of Track-I mediation teams are crucial in reaching cease fire and peace agreements between a government and the leaders of its armed opposition. Likewise, while high-level negotiations are underway, grassroots mediators provide much needed support across the national territory towards mitigating the violence perpetrated by armed men on civilian populations. Converging these two tracks can provide critical reinforcement in helping to advance sustainable peace in complex conflict contexts. During an IMCP [1] mediation IMPACT working group meeting, Julian Davis, Standby Team Coordinator with the UN Mediation Support Unit (MSU), Canan Gunduz, Mediation Advisor with the European External Action Service (EEAS) and Kristian Herbolzheimer, Philippines/Colombia Program Director with Conciliation Resources shared their experiences with multi-track approaches during the course of a peace process.

The UN’s Mediation Support Unit (MSU) is tasked to support UN envoys but also the field, the senior mediators of regional organizations such as the AU and the League of Arab States (LAS) and even mediators belonging to member States. Divided into three components of 8 full-time staff, a Stand-by Team of experts (constitution writing, power-sharing agreements, security, gender, natural resources…) and a roster of over 300 consultants, MSU is also a depository of knowledge, research and guidance around best practices for implementing peace processes. To this day, MSU is supporting every peace process in one form or another.

The role of the experts MSU deploys varies a great deal from advising to providing briefing papers, however it is always highly confidential and provided with the highest regard for quality for whatever may be needed, to inspire trust and confidence in the expertise and the support mechanism. Vertical communication with local communities is done primarily through NGO proxies such as the Mediation Support Network which includes NGOs such as HD, CMI, Swisspeace and others who provide analysis to the UN or help build civil society platforms that contribute information to the peace-making process.

Modeled after the UN mediation support mechanism, the European External Action Service (EEAS) provides member States with diplomatic support focused on peace and security as well as access to mediation experts. The EU Commission, one of the largest funders of mediation efforts, is explicitly Track-I, however EU guidance suggests peace processes should be approached via multiple tracks, i.e. when the EU engages politically, the EU should work from the ground-up as opposed to the other way around. That said, there are as of yet no institutionalized mechanisms for vertical coordination.

When opportunities do present themselves and gaps in the multi-track approach are identified, the EU tries to fill it by supporting initiatives that promote those types of linkages. Many times, one person on the official mediation team will be in charge of outreaching to local organizations, as a result, providing the EU Special Representative access to information, networks and increased legitimacy.

While the preferred strategy for collaboration with civil society remains ad hoc and on a case-by-case basis, an example of an official hybrid mediation support structure is the International Contact Group (ICG) for the Mindanao peace process. Established by the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2009 it is composed of 4 states and 4 NGOs. The ICG developed organically over the course of the conflict and as a result of prolonged negotiations using different mechanisms.

While much progress is still needed, there is a growing realization among official mediators that partnering with key allies at the grassroots level is becoming indispensable in order to achieve more robust agreements. The changing nature of armed groups, increasingly more fragmented with looser command and control structures, is one reason why traditional Track-I mediation tools need to be adapted to include collaboration with local peace-makers. In many cases, peace processes can no longer remain an elite-driven game, but require broad community approval to succeed. Participation increases the legitimacy of the peace process which can in turn create leverage for the mediator. On the other hand, broad participation complicates power-sharing agreements and decision-making, it requires resolving issues of selection and capacity as well as managing asymmetric expectations.

Although both UN and EU guidance on mediation recommend collaboration with local peacemakers during the course of a peace process there still remains a lot of resistance. Vertical communication still remains very dependent on whether the Track-I mediator understands the value of it, despite that fact that the advantages of ‘why’ encourage inclusion have overwhelmingly been demonstrated. The question now is ‘how’ to make this happen. That process is still very context-specific for many multi-lateral organizations and organic consultations are often preferred over pre-structured institutionalized forums which after 2 or 3 meetings become stale. Some have shown creativity in their dialogue design providing space for direct civil society participation as observers or as part of the decision-making process during negotiations or indirectly as official or non-official consultants or integrated in the post-agreement implementation mechanism, as a high-level CSO platform or via the media or participating in surveys or opinion polls. In practice, this has permitted more NGOs to gain access to the official mediator, on the other side few local mediators ever receive that same privilege. The trend towards a multi-track approach of converging peace-making processes can help create parallel spaces for deliberation and decision-making and lessen the burden of squeezing more people into the official negotiation table.

Over the past 5-10 years things have evolved towards greater acceptance and understanding, although advocacy and education efforts still remain necessary to convince Special Envoys or Representatives that vertical collaboration is important and to debunk perceptions by Track-I actors that some conflicts are just too complex to allow civil society to participate. Similarly, work needs to be done to overcome the mistrust of Civil Society Organizations towards face-to-face engagements with their government and of international interference.

To increase these opportunities for collaboration local mediators must be able to demonstrate the added value they provide to a peace process, which is the ability to access certain communities that official mediators cannot reach. Therefore, the most effective NGOs in the mediation space are the ones who have a strong local presence and a network of real local contacts that reach many levels of society.



United Nations "Guidance for Effective Mediation" (September 2012)

The Council of the European Union "Concepts on Strengthening EU Mediation and Dialogue Capacity" (November 2009)

Conciliation Resources "Innovation in mediation support: The International Contact Group in Mindanao"

Mercy Corps "Track I and grassroots level cooperation: Dynamics of public participation in peace agreements" (September 2016)




[1] The mediation IMPACT working group is co-led by CIT, MC and IPSI.