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 2014 - Briefing Paper - UN crisis diplomacy and peacekeeping: an emergency health check
The United Nations (UN) is currently in poor health but the severity of its condition is not yet clear. Over the last six months, the organisation has repeatedly shown signs of operational feebleness and political paralysis. Symptoms have ranged from the failure of the UN mission in South Sudan to foresee the country’s implosion last December to the prolonged agony (and predictable futility) of bringing the Syrian government and opposition together in Geneva in January. The organisation’s initial response to the Ukrainian crisis was equally messy, as the Secretary-General’s envoy Robert Serry was expelled from Crimea by pro-Russian forces and the Security Council was unable to react because of Moscow’s veto. From Darfur and Somalia to the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali, UN peace operations and political missions have had to contend with poor resources, personnel and security. 
But while these symptoms are worrying, their significance is uncertain. Are these merely the spasms and chills that inevitably affect any organisation involved in crisis management? Or could they be evidence of a chronic disability with the potential to cripple the organisation’s long-term contribution to peace and security?
There are reasons for optimism. UN missions and officials have demonstrated resilience in the face of recent setbacks. Although caught off-guard in South Sudan, the peacekeepers there sheltered over 80,000 civilians in their camps despite incurring fatalities. The multilateral effort to dismantle the Syrian chemical arsenal has made remarkable progress. The battered UN operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has regained leverage by employing force against militias in the east of the country. Even the Cypriot peace process has stuttered back to life.
The UN’s current woes do not approximate to the series of cataclysmic failures – Somalia, Rwanda and Srebrenica – that overwhelmed the organisation in the early and mid-1990s. And although tensions among the permanent five (P5) members of the Security Council have escalated over Syria and Ukraine, other organs of the UN system appear to be functioning better than expected. The Human Rights Council, typically bogged down in East–West and North–South disputes until a few years ago, has passed a series of strong and detailed resolutions addressing Syria. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and her team have taken a concomitantly larger role in recent crises. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, often accused of paying insufficient attention to crisis management early in his tenure, has spoken out forcefully on conflicts like that in CAR that could otherwise be forgotten.
Yet, while the UN’s successes may balance its failures on paper, something remains profoundly amiss. Faced with a mass of crises and conflicts, it is hard to discern underlying political or strategic patterns. A diagnostic framework is required to assess the UN’s health and sift decisive developments from more transient factors. In 2008, in an article on peacekeeping in the mid-2000s, this author laid out one possible framework for distinguishing between “immediate, systemic and paradigmatic” crises facing the UN.This paper returns to this tripartite scheme, and argues that the UN’s operational system and political paradigm for crisis management are surely in crisis – and vulnerable to further failures in the near future.
The paper then goes on to argue that UN mediators cannot cure the organisation’s deep flaws but do have a range of options to mitigate its weaknesses. These options include: (i) using diplomatic means to rescue blue-helmet operations that lack the military means to fulfil their mandates; (ii) acting as a buffer between Russia (and possibly China) and the West in a context of increasing international tension; (iii) undertaking “niche diplomacy” and de-escalatory activities in cases where the big powers wish to avoid clashes; and (iv) building relations with increasingly ambitious regional powers and regional organisations that may be able to drive peacemaking efforts even at times when the P5 are divided, distracted or powerless. 
Richard Gowan,
9 Jul 2014
Oslo Forum 2013 - Briefing Paper - Getting to the Point of Inclusion: Seven Myths Standing in the Way of Women Waging Peace

In our experience, the vast majority of mediators support the inclusion of women and the protection of their rights. They recognise that talks are less democratic if half of the population is not represented. Importantly, many have seen firsthand the influential contributions to peacebuilding that women like Jane Anyango make when they change the dynamic within a community – or a country.

But mediators don’t want to be in the lonely, and generally ineffective, position of being the sole voice calling for expanded participation, particularly when it seems the culturally ‘inappropriate’ thing to do. Above all, they want the violence to stop and will do whatever they can to end fighting.   It may be tempting, then, to put aside the framing of inclusive negotiations for fear the process may thus become too complicated and fraught with risk. “If I’m seen as favouring some women over others, won’t that jeopardise my impartiality? I’m lucky to get the parties to the talks; how can I push them even further? How do I know which women to contact? Will I be seen as perpetuating a Western notion in a context where it is not culturally appropriate?”   As the nature of conflict changes, the job of the mediator has become more complex. Violence is diversifying, with a growing number of state and non-state actors, and decreasing clarity about which constituencies each represents. Lines between civil and armed groups are sometimes blurred, and long-standing local disputes have been awakened during national revolutions. Transnational crime networks operate with stunning sophistication and insurgents can get instructions and materials to build bombs from the internet. Our global culture of instant information is also dramatically changing the dynamics of mediation. Billions of people now have access to the leveling power of social media. Lead negotiators have Twitter accounts while university students mobilise hundreds of thousands through Facebook.   In an ever-crowded space, mediators need access to representative voices with authentic constituencies. They need to engage with those who have a stake in lasting peace and the corresponding courage to build it. Ultimately, they need more women in more peace processes.   Our goal in writing this paper is to equip mediators with examples and to expose several myths that, if left unchallenged, can prevent peacemakers from doing their best work. At best, mediation is messy and complicated. But meaningfully involving women at all stages is by no means impossible, and by all means worth it.

Alice Nderitu and Jacqueline O’Neill,
18 Jun 2013
Oslo Forum 2013 - Briefing Paper - Local Conflict and State Fragility: Supporting Local Mediation in the Philippines, Kenya and Libya
In the broad field of conflict management, international attention tends to focus on conflicts between states, or larger overtly political intra-state conflicts that threaten the stability/viability of the state itself (for example, coups, civil wars, revolutions, separatist conflicts and insurgencies). A ‘capital city’ viewpoint suggests conflicts far from the centre of power are less important, and indeed beyond the scope of international mediation support. But these conflicts, especially if they persist over decades, can also be markers of (and contributors to) state fragility. At these local levels, particularly, the capacity of the state to respond is often limited and force is very unlikely to produce durable solutions. Indeed, state attempts at military/police conquest often only make things worse; just as at the national level, durable local solutions require viable and broadly-accepted local systems for the non-violent management of grievances and competing claims. To strengthen all levels of governance, local systems must connect appropriately with the overall state structures. External support for local mediation processes is thus always only part of much bigger statebuilding objectives. But that part can be important in reducing the risks of conflict and, hence, state fragility.
This paper outlines three examples where the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (‘HD’) has worked to assist local actors in the mediation of local conflicts. These examples, in chronological order of involvement, are from the Philippines, Kenya and Libya. The paper analyses the nature of the local conflicts, including preexisting conflict management mechanisms, and outlines HD’s role in supporting these efforts. The paper concludes with observations regarding the role of international actors in responding to local conflicts.
Michael Frank Alar and Vandrazel Birowa on Sulu; Andrew Ladley on Kenya; and Christopher Thornton on Libya,
18 Jun 2013
Oslo Forum 2013 - Briefing Paper - Jammu and Kashmir: State of the Peace Process
The past decade has seen extreme highs and lows for the Jammu and Kashmir peace process. The promising India-Pakistan initiatives of 2004-6 were put on the back-burner in 2007 and were not revived after the new coalition headed by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) came to power in 2008. This was partly due to the rupture created by the Mumbai terrorist attacks in November 2008. A brief attempt to restart an India-Pakistan dialogue was made in 2011 but had petered out by the beginning of 2012. As of now there is no India-Pakistan peace process for Jammu and Kashmir and most analysts expect that little will happen on that score in 2013 given the elections in Pakistan.
The negative impact of this breakdown of the peace process was not felt immediately in the state. A newcoalition government came to power in Indian Jammu and Kashmir in early 2009, headed by a young and outward looking Chief Minister. Public sentiment appeared to indicate that Jammu and Kashmir was ready to move into post-conflict peace building. The Government of India began security reforms, with civilian security duties transferred from the army to the Central Reserve Police Forces, and then to the Jammu and Kashmir police. In early 2009, a critically important ‘Quiet Dialogue’ began between the Indian Home Minister and the dissident All Parties Hurriyat Conference (Mirwaiz), which those involved considered remarkably promising. Had it not been interrupted, it could have made key breakthroughs for a sustained peace process resulting in resolution of the Kashmir conflict.
The ‘Quiet Dialogue’ was leaked in the media, and abruptly halted by an assassination attempt on the chief Hurriyat interlocutor, Fazl Haq Qureshi, in December 2009, which left him paralysed for nearly two years. The security reforms proved to have an ironically tragic flaw, showing that the right action can have the wrong results if it fails to take all details into account. Agitation among the youth, which began with stonepelting following an alleged rape and murder in the district of Shopian in late 2009, snowballed in 2010. This led to clashes between young people and police in which 120 young people were killed, many of them bystanders, and nearly 2,000 police were injured. The police were woefully ill-trained, and even more woefully ill-equipped, to deal with stone-pelting crowd control in a non-lethal way.
I was one of a three-member Group of Interlocutors, appointed by the Government of India in October 2010, with the mandate of identifying ways to emerge from the terrible situation created by this summer of violence in Jammu and Kashmir, through a wide-ranging dialogue ‘with all shades of opinion’ in the state. Ours was a very different mission from that of the ‘Quiet Dialogue’; we were to visit the state every month and seek the opinions of all its communities and groups. Our appointment was also rather unusual: while the Indian Government had appointed two previous interlocutors, Mr K.C. Pant in 2001 and Mr N.N. Vohra in 2003, both had been retired government officials and their fortnightly reports to the Government were confidential. In contrast, two of us in the Group of Interlocutors were drawn from outside government: the Chair of our group was a media man and I come from a think tank. For this reason, many observers categorised us as a civil society group, though we were a government-appointed team. Moreover, unlike the work of previous interlocutors, about which relatively little is known, ours was a very public mission.
This paper will focus on the work and outputs of the interlocutors between October 2010 and October 2011.
Dr Radha Kumar,
18 Jun 2013
Africa Mediators' Retreat 2013 - Briefing Paper - The ICC: a straw man in the peace-versus-justice debate?

This paper aims to stimulate discussion within the mediation community about the role of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in peace processes. In a brief overview of the peace-versus-justice debate to date, it lays out the main arguments for and against the Court. The arguments ‘in favour’ are that prosecution individualises guilt and marginalises abusive leaders, and that the ICC strengthens the rule of law and has a deterrent effect. The main arguments ‘against’ are that the Court is politically biased, impedes peace processes and discriminates against Africans. Each argument is countered with a rebuttal.

The paper then argues that the ICC has become a ‘straw man’ in the peace and justice debate, being misrepresented sometimes. It is one actor among many in the complex fields of justice and peacemaking in which there are many international and regional human rights frameworks as well as other normative standards. The ICC is intended as a court of last resort, bringing to account the most responsible for the most serious human rights violations. In effect, the ICC only directly affects formal, Track I peace mediation. Besides the formal talks, there may be many different types of peacemaking, over which the ICC will have much less influence, if any. The ICC represents one strand of international criminal justice, but justice can be pursued through a whole range of judicial and non-judicial processes (transitional justice). Equating the ICC with justice oversimplifies the complexity of justice in (post-) conflict situations.

Against this background, the paper suggests that success for the ICC must be understood in relation to its role and limitations, rather than the expectations pinned to it. Elements of success in relation to peacemaking would include fairness, balance, independence and complementarity.

The paper closes with suggestions for greater synergies between peace and justice, including the Court. It suggests that mediators and the Court maintain an appropriate distance between them. Mediators have to integrate an increasing number of different normative standards into their approaches. The paper recommends considering justice beyond the narrow scope of international criminal justice, and highlights that the effects of institutional arrangements in peace deals on human rights, justice and even future violence are not sufficiently analysed, particularly by justice advocates. There are many options on the spectrum between ICC indictments and amnesty that are yet to be explored, and which could advance a pro-justice and pro-peace agenda.
Dr Laura Davis,
15 Jan 2014



Understanding fragmentation in conflict and its impact on prospects for peace
Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham highlights a number of key findings about fragmentation and conflict, and the role of mediation in fragmented conflicts. Drawing on a range of contemporary and historical examples from global conflicts, the author examines the consequences of fragmentation for...