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Published on 22 August 2012
Updated on 05 April 2024

Two interesting articles by Prof. Dietrich Kappeler and Mr Aldo Matteucci on the role played by Switzerland including the pivotal role played by Ambassador Long in the successful resolution of the Algerian question 50 years ago. Indeed, these articles with special focus on the important issue of mediation in conflict resolution coincide with what has been happening at the United Nations in the promotion of mediation.

On 23 May 2012, the current President of the UN General Assembly, H.E. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, opened a High Level Meeting on the role of Member States in Mediation. During this day long meeting, a number of Ministers, eminent mediators and experts came together to discuss their experiences and ‘how mediation processes can be more effectively conducted and managed’. President Al-Nasser outlined essential elements for successful mediation, including, that there should be one lead mediator or one lead mediation team for each specific case; to have a fine balance between principles and vision; that a mediator should be impartial and neutral but with a vision for a possible compromise or resolution of the dispute; that a mediator needs to have a deep knowledge and a sound understanding of the parties, the situation, the history of the conflict, as well as the relevant cultural and other values;  and also vital that the sustainability of a peace agreement depends largely on whether or not it is inclusive. President Al-Nasser also highlighted the vital role which could be played by female leaders and women’s organizations in garnering the support of their communities for peace processes and in order to ensure greater inclusiveness, traditional or indigenous mediation mechanisms should be incorporated and combined with official mediation efforts. In this context, the President of the General Assembly noted that ‘the United Nations has a central role to play in mediation’ and that ‘the UN provides legitimacy and expertise to mediation processes’ and therefore the UN’s capability should be further strengthened.

In the same vein, the UN Secretary-General outlined what he believed are the ‘key fundamentals’ for every mediation effort, including consent, impartiality, preparedness and inclusivity, adding that all mediation efforts must respect international laws and norms. 

Perhaps, the kind of mediation offered 50 years ago in the Algerian crisis cannot be replicated in modern times as pointed out by Professor Kappeler when he states ‘It is questionable whether the equivalent of the Evian negotiations would still be feasible today.’ Yet, the fact that ‘mediation’ has been put on the international agenda is in itself a recognition that what has been proved as crucial in the resolution of past conflicts, with some adjustments, could once again become the norm of conflict resolution.  Also as pointed out by Prof. Kappeler ‘social networks and other ITC facilities’ have enabled in a positive way, the high stakes of mediation especially by bringing to the attention of the international community and also to the man in the street, the realities of of our times and the dangers and risks that exist in abandoning attempts to resolve through mediation hotbeds of tensions and conflicts. Moreover, this development should in no way prohibit or block any form of ‘confidential or even secret’ contacts and perhaps even behind the scene negotiations.

Here, I would like to recall some interesting developments in the last two years where the UN has been in the forefront to promote and encourage mediation. In September 2010, the President of the 65th Session of the UN General Assembly Joseph Deiss of Switzerland, launched a debate on the promotion of peace through mediation which was held on the sidelines of the General Debate, and where the idea of a draft resolution on the topic emerged.  In this regard, a Group of Friends of Mediation was convened by Finland and Turkey.  Following discussions and negotiations Resolution 65/283 was adopted on 22 June 2011. The resolution was co-sponsored by 68 Member States (including Malta) and was adopted without a vote. It is to be noted that the resolution builds on the ideas presented in the 2005 World Summit Outcome (resolution 60/1) and the 2009 Report of the UNSG (S/2009/189) on enhancing mediation and its support activities. An important provision of Resolution 65/183 is that found in operative paragraph 17 which requests the UNSG to submit a report and the development of ‘Guidance for Effective Mediation’ which I understand is being submitted during the current 66th Session of the General Assembly.

It is also appropriate to note that a Mediation Support Unit has been set up in the UN Department of Political Affairs.

As can be noted from the above, the mediation role of countries like Switzerland is truly alive and kicking at the United Nations. Likewise, the role of regional and sub-regional organisations in modern-day mediation, which was perhaps not so evident 50 years ago has been gaining ground as could be witnessed by the role of the African Union in conflict striven Africa, as well as in Latin America if not also in Europe (OSCE).

Ambassador Saviour F. Borg is former Permanent Representative of Malta to the United Nations.

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