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  • Paras Sharma

International Mediation in Armed Conflicts


Dushyant Mittal, Student, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University



Mediation is a process by which disputing parties engage the assistance of a neutral third party to act as a mediator. The use of the term “mediation” is well known in International Law. “it is the technical term in International Law which signifies the interposition by a neutral and friendly state between two States at war or on the eve of war with each other, of its good offices to restore or to preserve peace.[1]The origins of the use of mediation have been dated to China around 4000 B.C. Mediation was also practiced in Ancient Greece (which knew the non-martial as a proxentaas), and the Roman civilisation also recognised mediation.[2]

According to a 2006 “Mediation Style and Crisis Outcomes” study published by the Journal of Conflict Resolution,” of the 434 international crises that occurred between 1918 and 2001, 128 experienced some form of mediation. While this is only a 30 percent rate of incidence during the entire period, when we narrow our focus to the post-Cold War era, we find that 46 percent of all crises were mediated.”

The Challenge to International Mediation

The number of major civil wars almost tripled in the decade to 2015. Between 2011 and 2015, there was a sixfold increase in fatalities in conflict, with 2014 being second only to 1994, the year of the Rwandan genocide, as the deadliest year since the cold war.[3] Displacement attributable to armed violence is at the highest level on record, involving more than 65 million people. Moreover, at least 20 million people are experiencing or facing famine in northern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, all countries with protracted conflicts and access constraints.

There has been a substantial rise in the internationalization and regionalization of conflicts, significantly complicating their resolutions. The number of internationalized conflicts increased 10-fold between 1991 and 2016[4] in some instances, Member States are appropriating local and national grievances for their own agendas or fuelling proxy wars, thereby making conflicts bloodier, longer and more intractable.

A set of challenges are generated as a consequence of the nature of the conflicts themselves. State fragility, the blurring of lines among political, criminal and ideological interests, as exemplified by the emergence of complex economies of conflict, and the unclear objectives of increasingly fragmented armed groups create multiple challenges for mediation engagement and the development of the kind of formal process that might conclude with a comprehensive peace agreement. In many settings, the use of terror tactics and the presence of extremist groups whose maximalist goals defy negotiation contribute to a preference for a military and security-centred response which can create complications for a comprehensive political approach.[5]

Historical Examples of Mediation in Armed Conflicts

The Acta de Brasilia was signed in 1998 to resolve a dispute regarding a shared bored between Peru and Ecuador. Third-party help came from Brazil, Chile, Argentina and the United States. The agreement called for the establishment of peace parks, or adjacent zones of ecological protection, on both sides of the border in the Cordillera del Condor.

Quakers Adam Curle, John Volkmar, and Walter Martin, participated in mediation participated in mediation between leaders during the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970). The mediators worked as message carriers to help reduce tensions between the parties. This helped to create a feeling of resolution at the end of the war.

In 2009 the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) developed a neutral analysis of the security threat of climate change in the historically politically tense Levant region (Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Palestinian territory) that involved two research trips and multiple interviews. The research was conducted by a neutral third party and was designed to help avert any conflict that may arise from climate change, such as increasing competition for scarce water resources. Based on the information collected, the researchers suggested strategies to deal with climate change and help avoid any potential conflict that may result due to climate change in historically volatile region, the neutral third party was able to present its findings and recommendations in an unbiased and informed manner.[6]

United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation (New York, 2018) (UNISA)

Also known a the “Singapore Convention on Mediation” adopted in December 2018, applies to international settlements agreements resulting from mediation (“settlement agreement”). It establishes a harmonized legal framework for the right to invoke settlement agreements as well as for their enforcement.

The convention is an instrument for the facilitation of international trade and the promotion of mediation as an alternative and effective method of resolving trade disputes. Being a binding international instrument, it is expected to bring certainty and stability to the international framework on mediation, thereby contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), mainly the SDG 16.

The Convention is open for signature by States and regional economic integration organizations.

India signed UNISA. It was signed by India’s High Commissioner to Singapore, Jawed Ashraf, representing Government of India (GoI). So far 46 countries have signed this International treaty on settlement agreements.

United Nations Activities in Support of Mediation

The United Nations plays a supportive role in processes led by regional organizations, Member States or, occasionally, a non-governmental organization. The nature and extent of this support can vary enormously.

In 2011, the European Union established a mediation support team and was followed shortly thereafter by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Since then, the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) have each established mediation support offices within their secretariat structures.

Effective Operations

Different entities of the United Nations system can support mediation efforts by providing a venue or hosting negotiations. The United Nations Office at Geneva, for instance, plays a key role in operational facilitation of processes, including through hosting both discreet and high visibility meetings and managing the complex arrangements that accompany such talks.

United Nations peace operations and field offices offer smaller, local venues for engagement. For example, the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS) has provided a venue in that country for the dialogue process led by ECOWAS, and has regularly provided national stakeholders with transportation to enable them to hold mediation related meetings outside the country.

Within the context of the Geneva international discussions, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has provided a venue for the joint Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism in Gali town, chaired by my Representative to the Geneva international discussions.

Support to Implementation

The implementation of peace agreements and settlements is highly dependent on external assistance. The United Nations Guidance for Effective Mediation calls for the early involvement in the process of implementation support actors as well as donors to facilitate planning for implementation and help encourage compliance with the sometimes-difficult concessions made during the negotiations.

The period following the signing of an agreement requires sustained political support and good offices to ensure that trust is maintained between the signatories and that disputes arising from the challenges of implementation are resolved. In Guinea-Bissau, for example, UNIOGBIS has been working closely with political actors and civil society groups to provide political support for the implementation of the ECOWAS-brokered six-point road map and the Conakry Agreement. In Mali, my Special Representative has provided good offices to sustain the implementation of a fragile peace agreement.


Mediation is one of the most commonly used methods in solving armed conflicts, mainly due to providing the interested parties with the flexibility to freely decide about participation in mediation, the choice of a mediator, and acceptance or rejection of the conditions of conflict resolved by the parties established during the mediation process.

The purpose of mediation is to change the perception or behavior of the parties without resorting to physical violence or calling on the legal authority, and helping them in communicating and negotiating disputable issues to make them reach a satisfactory two-side agreement. The strong coupling between mediation actors and the motives presented by them affects the result of mediation - its success or failure.


[1] P. Ramanatha Aiyar, Law Lexicon (1997 Edn), citing Encyclopaedia of Laws of England [2] Miranda 2014, pp.9-10; Moore 2012, pp.35-37 [3] Marie Allansson, Erik Melander and Lotta Themner. “Organized violence,1989-2016”. Journal of Peace Research, vol. 54, No.4(2017). Civil war is defined as “an armed conflict with over 1000 battle deaths per year and involving at least one State actor.” [4] Uppsala Conflict Data Program dataset, as analysed in Sebastian von Einsiedel and others, Civil War Trends and the Changing Nature of Armed Conflict, United Nations University Centre for Policy Research Occasional Paper No. 10 (Tokyo, United Nations University, March 2017). [5] How Mediation Works in International Conflicts - Norwich University Online [6] Jacob Bercovitch, ‘International Mediation: A Study of the Incidence, Strategies


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