Tuesday, July 15

The murky world of back-channels, secret meetings and interlocutors

Maybe I was wrong when I lamented last year that the mediators I see on the six o'clock news, riding in white UN 4 by 4's on the international stage, are not the rock stars of the mediation community as I know it - you know, the mediators who write interesting books and speak at our conferences - our champions.

For this startling conclusion I drew on research by Chris Honeyman of Convenor (Skill Is Not Enough: Seeking Connectedness and Authority in Mediation).

Instead I suggested the hot-spot-hopping mediators are more likely to be an assortment of insiders - who for the most part are in the role of mediator by virtue of their (ex) office not their mediation skills - and have a mix of transferable skills that may or may not include consensus building.

But I stand corrected, I hope.

The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue is today one of the world's most influential conflict mediation organisations and it seems that nimble, private mediators are now in demand.

A recent article in the Economist blew the cover off this global organisation that started life off in the late '90's with 4 mediators in some one's back bedroom and now has offices in four continents and involvement in some of the world's headline peace processes.

'A new kind of international mediator can bring an end to the age-old world of conflict resolution. For as the nature of the world's conflicts has changed in the past decade or so, the demand for a new type of mediator has grown too. Many contemporary conflicts involve insurgents, secessionists or even "resource-warriors. Rival politicians can be brought into open conflict by elections, such as in Kenya, or now Zimbabwe. The new kinds of disputes involve non-traditional parties such as international mining or oil companies pitched against indigenous people, as well as national governments tackling more established terrorist groups. The UN might, at best, offer some bureaucratic and political clout, but it is also big, cumbersome and leaky. In its place, the new mediators operate on a much smaller scale and offer discretion, secrecy and flexibility...

Some mediation work can be instantly glamorous and hugely fulfilling, as in Kenya, but most of it is attritional; often it is pretty boring. Negotiations can drag on for years, but here again the small mediators can add a lot of value... Professional mediators can stick with a conflict for years, thus building up a level of trust and knowledge that cannot easily be replicated. Much of a mediator's work lies in getting the logistics right; trusted third-party interlocutors are needed simply to arrange meetings and book hotel rooms which will not be bugged by the other side.'

Remember the Spanish government and ETA?; remember the Free Aceh Movement and the Indonesian government and how they refused to deal with the UN?; remember Nepal's Maoist insurgents (guess who is Governing Nepal now)? That's right - all with HD Centre involvement.

From back bedroom to back channel inside a decade.

And all this on a day when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad advised the world “I have always said that I am ready to talk with President Bush at any time; we don't need a mediator between us”

Surely, he can't be serious. Someone get between them, and quick.

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