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Internal and partial mediation

Gorka Espiau
Senior member of the ICIP and the ICRC of Columbia University
Gorka Espiau

Gorka Espiau

Peaceful conflict transformation theory has traditionally defined the processes of mediation and mediators as impartial agents1, ain a position that is equidistant between the parties in dispute. This article presents another type of mediation - one which is politically incorrect, increasingly common and above all, very effective.

John Paul Lederach and Paul Wehr2 were the first to conceptualise what has become known as internal and partial mediation. Their work is based on an analysis of the work done by the "Contadora" group led by Oscar Arias in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala. Most considerations set out in this work are still valid today, as they were useful in demythologising the way in which mediators worked, but perhaps there are some aspects that could be reviewed. These authors felt that the social and political culture of this part of the world required a type of mediator that was different to that in the western model, and so they applied this type of mediation specific to a specific geographical area.

The type of intervention described by Lederach and Wehr requires people with the ability to inspire trust among the most implacable sectors, based on highly personal experience and very close links. Unlike traditional mediators, these people belong to the community in which they work, and remain in the theatre of operations when the international delegations have completed their work.

This limits their ability to influencing one of the sides in the conflict. They are people with a perfect understanding of the motivations, aspirations and strategies of each sector because they have experienced, suffered for and often worked towards these positions. Their relationships with the central figures in the conflict are personal, have been built up over decades and they are normally considered to be authorities in their community.

This self-limitation of their area of action does not necessarily mean that their view of the conflict is a partial one. Among the most deep-rooted motivations of partial mediators is the desire to influence the change in internal positions. They share the political objectives of those around them, but disagree with their strategies. In short, they are able to reveal the truth about the other.

They are very conscious of the limitations of this type of internal intervention, and in most cases these people create links with other mediators who can undertake a similar task with the other side in the conflict. What is paradoxical about this network of relations, which is built up through partial mediators, is that it can become more impartial that the traditional work of the external agent. Another advantage of this type of mediation compared to the traditional method is that internal mediators are much more aware of the nuances of each situation, and it is much more difficult to hide unspoken aspirations from them.

The motivation for achieving the objective of peace is also different. Some are seeking the common good, and risking their professional reputation, while others are placing their own future and that of their families at risk. It is obvious that both objectives are equally legitimate, but the costs of failure are very different. Some can afford to fail, while others cannot.

But to return to the conceptualisation of this type of intervention for peace, the limitation of the internal and partial mediator to this geographical area does not appear to have much scientific basis. A study by the Berghof Institute3 published in 2009 documents this type of mediation in countries as far-flung as Nepal, Uganda, Mali, the Philippines, Burundi, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Algeria, Burundi, Congo, Macedonia, Mexico, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Switzerland.

Closer to home, this type of mediation had an influence in Northern Ireland that was just as important as that of Senator George Mitchell. The priests Alec Reid, on the Catholic side, and Harold Good among the Protestants, managed to convince their respective communities that there was no way to overcome the conflict other than a unilateral commitment to exclusively political and democratic methods. Not only that - they succeeded in creating a system of communication and influence between both mediation initiatives, that led them to be named by the British and Irish governments as witnesses to the decommissioning of the paramilitary groups' weapons after the peace agreements has been signed.

Their success in this area meant that these same men were asked to pass on how they work to the peace movements in the Basque Country4. There is a division of opinions5 on the impact of this intervention, but they undoubtedly made their mark. Today, the only international initiative aimed at rebuilding a peace process in the Basque Country is being undertaken using the same methodology. The South African Brian Currin has been working specifically with representatives of the banned political party Batasuna for several years, with the objective of them following the same path as the republicans in Northern Ireland. His work has been disparaged by the Spanish Government and the main Spanish political parties, but that has not stopped him from continuing. Recently, the newspaper El País6 said that Brian Currin has been chosen by the Basque nationalist movement to write the conclusions of their internal debate on a hypothetical end to violence.

As a conclusion to this article, it can be said that if internal and partial mediation works and is being used all over the world, we are witnessing a revolution in the way in which processes for the construction of peace can be undertaken. The model of external and impartial mediation, which has been somewhat idealised, is making way for mediation on a more human scale with all the greatness and limitations that this entails.

1. Zartman, I. William and Saadia Touval. "International Mediation in the Post-Cold War Era." In Turbulent Peace: The Challenges of Managing International Conflict. Edited by Crocker, Chester A., Fen Osler Hampson and Pamela Aall, eds. Washington, DC : United States Institute of Peace Press, September 1996.
"Mediation is best thought of as a mode of negotiation in which a third party helps the parties find a solution which they cannot find by themselves." [p. 446]. (Tornar)
2. John Paul.Lederach, Of Nets, Nails, and Problems: The Folk Language of Conflict Resolution in a Central American Setting. Conflict Resolution: Cross-Cultural Perspectives. Ed. Kevin Avruch, Peter W. Black and Joseph A. Scimecca. Greenwood Press: New York, Westport, Connecticut, London, 1991. Pp. 165-186. (Tornar)
3. "Insider Mediators. Exploring Their Key Role in Informal Peace Processes." (Tornar)
4. "The Basque conflict. New ideas and prospects for peace". SR 161. United States Institute of Peace. Abril 2006. Washington DC. (Tornar)
5. "Alec Reid and the Basques" Rogelio Alonso. Fortnight, No. 439 (Dec., 2005), pp. 6-7 . Fortnight Publications Ltd (Tornar)
6. El País Newspaper. 3/01/10 (Tornar)