In 2003, the Oslo Forum began as a modest gathering of mediators sitting around a wooden dining table. Now the premier peacemaking retreat, the Forum convened its 20th anniversary event with more than 100 participants from around the world at a time when the tools of mediation have arguably never been more necessary.
As Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre put it in his livestreamed opening remarks: “If the language of war is the only one spoken, where is that going to take us?”
The theme of this year’s retreat – “Power, politics and peacemaking” – captured the risks and uncertainties of growing geopolitical rifts, renewed nuclear escalation and violent confrontation on various continents for the array of mediators, diplomats, experts and conflict parties at the two-day event.
“The trend lines are going in the wrong direction,” one speaker noted in the opening plenary.
While “the environment is brittle and positions are entrenched”, speakers consistently underlined the importance of continuing to talk, no matter how challenging the political context.
During sessions on a range of topics, participants had the opportunity to compare notes, question decision-makers and brainstorm solutions on issues of longer-term instability – such as the conflict in Yemen and a return to war in Sudan – and on new frontiers like artificial intelligence.
In the shadow of the biggest war in Europe in 75 years, a session on the tradecraft of the Black Sea Initiative highlighted the potential for third parties to shape innovative deals.
As one participant put it, the agreement to unlock the export of grain and fertiliser – and help to stave off a global food security crisis – represents “a bright spot in a very grim picture”.
Among the discussions over the two full days, participants also heard about the Colombian approach to “Total Peace” in a session on negotiating with criminal actors, considered the efficacy of Africa’s peace and security architecture, and explored how climate action can be advanced in areas controlled by armed groups.
Karim A.A. Khan KC, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, spoke about the intersection of peace and justice.
Other high-level speakers and panelists included the Foreign Ministers of Indonesia, Colombia and Norway, the State Minister of Bangladesh and senior UN officials such as Martin Griffiths from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Co-hosted by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and HD under the Chatham House Rule of non-attribution, the Oslo Forum remains a safe space for constructive disagreement and the discussion of contentious issues.
But there were many areas of consensus too, such as the need to include a diversity of voices to understand conflict contexts in their full complexity and the importance of persevering with dialogue however hopeless the situation might seem.
A full report from Oslo Forum 2023 will be published by HD in the coming months, along with the new season of The Mediator’s Studio podcast with prominent peacemakers recorded during the retreat.
Click here to read and download the full Oslo Forum 2022 report.
Click here for Seasons 1-4 of The Mediator’s Studio.
Photos: Ilja C. Hendel / Oslo Forum