When a peace builder decides to enter into a mediation it means that s/he accepts the relationship among the parties and legitimizes their identity and position within the conflict. If to mediate is to legitimize, what do we do when we are asked to mediate a conflict where we completely deny the position of one of the parties involved in this conflict? Do we enter the mediation to work towards a solution or do we take a step back to show our stand within the conflict? If our desire is to see a conflict resolved, how do we choose between our ethics and values against having the possibility to open the channels of communication between the conflicting parties?
This is a short reflection on why I think this dichotomy is more a self-made position of the mediator rather than a real problem in the process of conflict resolution.
The Upeace Decision on the Libyan Youth Mediation
Dr. Amr Abdalla, the vice-rector of the University for Peace, told us that in the beginning of August a Libyan student of his, from a conflict resolution workshop he did in Egypt a few years back, had contacted him to explore the possibility of having Upeace as a mediator between the youth group of the Rebels in the Libyan war and the youth group of the Gaddafi government. The student belonged to the pro-Gaddafi youth.
The Upeace managing committee was now faced with a challenging dilemma: do we facilitate or not the mediation. Now, if Upeace decided to enter the mediation, they might be capable of providing the two parties with tools to work towards reconciliation, but at the same time they would be legitimizing the Gaddafi Government – a thirty year long Government of a tyrant who is known for crimes against his people. On the other hand, if they decided not to be the mediators then they would make their ethical position firm and let the Gaddafi youth be aware of their beliefs, however this would mean not providing the two parties with a platform for interaction where their inputs could have been very valuable.
Upeace decided not to become the mediator. They did not want to legitimize the Government of a tyrant and they wanted to make sure that the pro-Gaddafi regime knew of their beliefs and stand. Prof. Abdalla also mentioned to us that he replied to the email send by the Libyan person mentioning something similar to “We do not want to see tyrants in the world”.
Upeace decided not to mediate and as such not to be player in the Libyan war. Making sure that their stance was known to the pro-Gaddafi youth, according to them, was more important than opening some channels of communication between the conflicting parties.
I understand the position taken by Upeace, however I disagree with it and also with the reasoning behind it, especially if it comes from an institution which believes in finding paths for reconciliation and not paths which imposes one party as right and one as wrong, as Dr. Ambdalla had said “no one wakes up thinking they are wrong”.
Channels of Communication
“Communication should never be broken between two conflicting parties” and “if we are to work towards a solution we need dialogue” were the concepts that Dr. Victoria Fontan, professor at the University for Peace, explicated during her classes at the university around the 28th of August.
I agree with Dr. Forlan. Dialogue and communication are essential towards reconciliation, especially when we have learned through history that there has been no conflict in the world which has completely erased the opponent from the face of this earth. Somehow, someone always remains and it is this someone that then creates the dynamics for conflict to re-escalate.
In deciding to not enter the conflict, Upeace not only decided to deny the opening of some channels of communication, but also affirmed that the mandate of the Gaddafi government is so ethically wrong that any person involved in a pro-Gaddafi ideology should not be helped. Somehow, I felt, this would implicitly mean that the pro-Gaddafis are a priori “just wrong” and as such we must ensure their defeat and their non-involvement in post-conflict rebuilding. To deny communication, according to me, is not only to deny to the “wrong party” the legitimacy to be part of post-conflict Libya (which assumes that all pro-Gaddafi are useless and should not exist) but also to deny the very mandate of the University, which is the creation of dynamics for sustainable peace, for how can sustainability come without communication?
Does the Mediator Legitimize?
One of the important reasons for Upeace not to accept the mediation was to not legitimize the pro-Gaddafi party. It is true that the mediator legitimizes the parties, however, the question that comes to my mind is: “who is the mediator to really legitimize the parties when it is the parties which have decided to confront each other?” According to me the parties legitimize each other’s position, for they are the ones who have decided to work upon the position of the other. In a sense Upeace would give international recognition, but then how can “you” suddenly take away the recognition of a government which has existed for more than thirty years and who the rebels even recognize, even if they are going against it. And what if it was the rebels who had asked them to mediate?
The decision of Upeace not to mediate, I think, also was in line with the concept of ‘liberal peace’ that they do not advocate. In not mediating they conveyed the massage that “this is not the way we think peace should be achieved, even though it is the way you think it should be achieved”.
If the parties want to open the channels of communication, who are we as mediators to decide not to mediate? On whose mind do the dichotomies that we started this essay with really exist?