The Oslo Forum process strives to critically examine the current practice of conflict mediation. The themes raised at each event are intended to provoke discussions, suggest interesting questions and propose new or unconventional approaches. 

Background papers and interviews are prepared prior to the retreats to set the tone for discussions and to sensitise participants to current debates and innovative ideas.

Background papers and interviews do not represent the positions of the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD).

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Oslo Forum 2009 - Briefing Paper - Mediators and economics: Should they care?

Peace agreements have both forward- and backward-looking functions: they are about both ending the violence and preparing for a lasting peace. Beyond brokering a ceasefire and securing an end of hostilities, mediators also attempt to help resolve a conflict by addressing its underlying causes. But when these causes go beyond politics to include economic issues, do mediators do enough to deal with them – and, in such cases, do mediators do this well enough?

Céline Yvon,
4 May 2015
Oslo Forum Papers - Effectively supporting mediation: Developments, challenges and requirements
Since the 1990s, mediation has addressed or ended a broad range of conflicts. The 2012 Peace Process Yearbook suggests that about 80 per cent of armed conflicts in the past 20 years came to an end through a peace agreement. In 2011, the United Nations General Assembly Resolution on mediation recognised the use of mediation ‘as a promising and cost-effective tool in the peaceful settlement of disputes and conflict prevention and resolution’. Most policy makers, scholars and practitioners concur that mediation can help prevent disputes from escalating, help conflict parties reach a sustainable settlement, encourage long-term reform, and help structure post-conflict peacebuilding.
While recognition of the benefits and potential of mediation has grown, so have the challenges. They include a rapid proliferation of mediators, growing involvement of regional organisations in peace processes, the increasing involvement of individual states, and increasingly more complex and demanding mediation processes. Consequently, the United Nations (UN) and other practitioners have found that peace processes require substantial professional support to be effective:
‘Mediators and negotiators need adequate support. Although the demand for United Nations mediation has skyrocketed in the past 10 years, resources devoted to this function have remained minimal.’
This realisation has led to the establishment of mediation support units within the UN and the European Union (EU). The African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are in the process of building similar units, while non-governmental organisations (NGOs) like the HD Centre have already established them.
These units provide support including expertise on issues central to negotiations, training and building the capacity of institutions, and direct support to mediators and their teams.
This paper examines what mediation support entails and how it can be improved. It seeks to raise awareness of the benefits of mediation support and how to integrate this support with operational processes. The overall aim is to contribute to the development of mediation support, and ultimately to more effective mediation processes.
Thus, this paper argues in favour of strengthened international capacities to support mediation and provides analysis on how mediation is effectively supported. It acknowledges that mediation is a complicated and difficult endeavour whose outcomes are dependent on a wide number of variables. While mediation can benefit from appropriate support structures, no support on its own can guarantee a sustainable outcome.
Effectively supporting mediation is the third paper in the Oslo Forum Papers series. The Oslo Forum Papers seek to advance thinking and debate on key, yet sensitive, issues linked to armed conflict mediation and international peacemaking.


Stine Lehmann-Larsen,
19 Jun 2014
Oslo Forum 2014 - Briefing Paper - Managing military intervention in democratic transitions
The military plays a decisive role in the national politics of several countries undergoing political transitions. Most notably, this has occurred in Thailand and Egypt, where in recent years far from retreating from politics, the military has intervened. In Egypt the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) has effectively governed the country since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. In a marriage of convenience, the military worked with the elected civilian President Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood until a new constitution was approved in late 2012. However, the honeymoon was short-lived. In July 2013, supported by mass protests, the military essentially overthrew President Morsi, further jeopardising the country’s stability by prompting open confrontation between the Brotherhood, its supporters and the armed forces in an increasingly volatile regional environment. The future path of the political transition in Egypt is closely linked to the willingness and capacity of all relevant actors to achieve a minimum level of consensus on basic rules of the game.
The situation in Egypt can be usefully compared with contemporary conditions in Thailand and in Myanmar. In both of these countries, the military retains considerable political power and the trajectory of political transition will depend very much on the willingness of the military to abandon or moderate its role in politics. The army’s declaration of martial law in Thailand on 20th May came as rival political factions in a political crisis (that has paralysed the country for six months) failed to reach a working compromise, and it seemed likely that violence would increase. Meanwhile, Indonesia is an excellent example of a country where the military has stepped back from power and allowed civilian political forces to forge ahead with a transition to democracy. Even so, the military remains an important factor in Indonesian politics, as many former military officials are involved in politics, and as many as four former armed forces commanders are either running for president or lead small political parties in the run-up to the July presidential elections. In the latest polls, the popular civilian Governor of Jakarta, Joko Widodo, has a narrowing lead against his closest rival, a former army special forces commander, Prabowo Subianto.
What can we learn from the persistent political role of the military in all these contexts? What are the determining factors of the military’s withdrawal from power as an institution? How can the military be engaged to ensure that democratic transition prospers? And is there a role for third-party mediation? To answer these questions, it is important to understand the deep roots of military involvement in politics. 
Romain Grandjean, Dr Michael Vatikiotis,
21 Jul 2014
Oslo Forum 2014 - Briefing Paper - Identity, rentierism, secession and conflict: Analysis and implications of the civil war in South Sudan
This paper analyses the conflict in South Sudan using two frameworks, namely ethnically-framed political grievances, and the political economy of pervasive rent-seeking. It argues that both the secession of South Sudan and the current civil war in the country are best explained by the interaction between the two.
Identity-based explanations for both secession and civil war dominate in national and international narratives. However, an equally persuasive argument can be made that secession was a rent-seeking strategy for the leaders of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), and that the current civil war is a fallout from the monetised patronage strategy used by the SPLM/A to accomplish the twin goals of achieving independence and dominating South Sudan’s political-economy.
Over the last ten years, national and international approaches to conflict resolution in Sudan and South Sudan, have operated at the intersection of ethnic narrative and sharing of power and wealth. Peacemaking has consolidated a zero-sum logic of political competition. This can be seen in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and its successors.
Comparisons with other secessionist and post-secession conflicts indicate varying forms of intersection between identity and political economy and confirm the need to understand both dynamics and their interaction.
The paper concludes with some ideas for rethinking approaches to transforming conflict in South Sudan. 
Dr Alex de Waal,
21 Jul 2014
Oslo Forum 2014 - Briefing Paper - The rocky path from elections to a new constitution in Tunisia: Mechanisms for consensus-building and inclusive decision-making

In a landmark moment in the Tunisian democratic transition process, the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) adopted the new Tunisian constitution on 26 January 2014. The Constitution’s adoption by 200 votes against 12 (with 4 abstentions) was not a triumph for one particular party or bloc, but the outcome of a long and difficult search for political consensus and compromise. The Constitution’s adoption paved the way for a successful vote of confidence on 28 January 2014 for the new technocratic government of Mehdi Jomaâ, itself the result of a national dialogue process between political parties. This caretaker government is destined to lead Tunisia until its next democratic elections by the end of 2014.

Like in many other countries undergoing democratic transitions, political polarisation in Tunisia has periodically translated into violent and crippling protests, which have had serious political repercussions. At several points, notably following the assassinations in 2013 of opposition politicians Chokri Belaïd and Mohammed Brahmi, it looked possible that the democratic transition would be derailed. Both assassinations catalysed widespread protests and both resulted in the resignation of the prime minister and reforming of the government. At some points during the last two-and-a-half years, it looked likely that the elected NCA would be dissolved before completing its primary task of drafting the new Tunisian constitution. To many, a “hard” or “soft” coup overthrowing the government was the most likely end to the democratic experiment in Tunisia.

Many in the secular opposition were categorically opposed to any cooperation or compromise with the Islamic political party Ennahda. Many within Ennahda, confident in their popular support, believed that it would be better to match opposition protests in the street or call a popular referendum to renew their democratic mandate, rather than make too many concessions to the secular opposition and risk alienating their conservative Muslim base. Nevertheless, although not accepted by all, the search for consensus and compromise has characterised Tunisian post-revolutionary politics.

This paper outlines some of the innovative mechanisms for consensus-building and inclusive decisionmaking deployed in Tunisia since the 2011 elections. Much interest has been generated by the Yemeni national dialogue, with countries from Libya to Myanmar looking to develop similar processes. Tunisia also used national dialogue to seek consensus and compromise during its transition process. However, the national dialogue processes in Tunisia took a radically different form from that in Yemen or most other countries. Moreover, national dialogue was only one mechanism used to broaden consensus and find compromises during the transition process. As we will see, other mechanisms, including different types of coalition governments and mechanisms rooted in existing legislative institutions, were also used.

This paper touches upon the role of the international community, the somewhat ambiguous role of Tunisian civil society organisations in the transition process, and briefly considers the role of popular protests in pushing for greater inclusiveness in political decision-making: points which deserve further consideration and more detailed treatment. Finally, it considers whether these mechanisms can be deployed in other contexts, instead of more traditional power-sharing mechanisms.

Christopher Thornton,
11 Jul 2014



2nd Oslo Forum Peacewriter Prize

The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) is launching the second edition of the Oslo Forum Peacewriter Prize, an essay competition seeking bold and innovative responses to today’s peacemaking challenges.