This month, a meeting of the global Mediation Support Network explored the roles mediation and mediation support can play, once a peace agreement has been signed. Felix Colchester outlines some of the challenges and opportunities for mediation in this phase of a peace agreement.
The challenges in realising the ambitious provisions of a peace deal are considerable. As popular expectations of an immediate ‘peace dividend’ quickly arise, unexpected conflict challenges emerge and there is significant public scrutiny on the institutions tasked with implementing the decisions made in the confines of the negotiations. In such contexts, the need for wide-spread and multi-level mediation is likely to be high. This is not only to maintain constructive relationships between parties to the peace negotiations but also to broaden popular support for a settlement.
The Belfast Agreement, signed 20 years ago this year, left deliberately vague how commitments on a range of highly contentious issues such as disarmament, devolution and policing should be implemented in Northern Ireland. Mediation at a range of levels was key in forging progress and finding workable solutions. Substantial international funding, in particular through the EU Special Support Fund for Peace and Reconciliation, enabled a range of initiatives which helped to mediate tensions and build inter-community relations at the grassroots and local government levels. Yet despite these efforts, the recurrent crises of Northern Ireland’s political process demonstrate how difficult it can be to move beyond power-sharing to a genuinely shared future.
The peace agreement signed by the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2016 has been praised as the most comprehensive and inclusive peace agreement to date. However, like the Belfast Agreement, its provisions also present a formidable challenge for implementation amidst considerable political and public scepticism. Despite remarkable progress in several areas, implementation progress to date has been mixed. The continuity of the peace process beyond legislative and presidential elections in March and May 2019 remains an issue of serious concern .
Mediation support can adapt to the realities of fast-changing post-agreement scenarios to drive forward a peace process. Yet it must do so in a way that satisfies short-term, pragmatic political needs without losing sight of the fundamental aim of addressing the structural drivers of conflict and building an inclusive culture of peace and reconciliation