Language: English

On September 5-6, 2022, the IFIT Middle Belt Brain Trust (MBBT) held a two-day capacity-building training on community grievance management for all the First Class Chiefs of Nasarawa State. The training, which took place at the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs in Lafia and was organised in collaboration with the Government of Nasarawa State, is part of the MBBT’s wider work to improve grievance management capacities at the community level in the Middle Belt region.

At the training, State Governor Engr Abdullahi Sule stated that the initiative helped promote a culture of peace and harmonious coexistence not only in the Middle Belt, but in the country at large. MBBT Chairman, General Martin Luther-Agwai (rtd.), said that security challenges in the Middle Belt were enormous but with sustained determination and hard work, peace and security would be achieved. He stressed that the failure of existing institutions to manage grievances had become a major conflict driver, as most community-level conflicts that start out as civil disputes escalated to violence and identity conflicts.

The MBBT’s training on alternative dispute resolution mechanisms for traditional leaders (such as ward heads, village heads, and district heads) aims to make grievance management and timely resolution of disputes accessible to disadvantaged, illiterate, rural and dispersed populations, thereby helping to prevent civil disputes from becoming identity conflicts. This effort also aims to increase civic engagement and foster public processes that over time can facilitate broader social and structural change.

Local Media Coverage

On Monday September 5, 2022, IFIT’s Nigeria Middle Belt Brain Trust co-organised with the Government of Nasarawa State the official launch of its latest publication, Ending Violence in Nigeria’s Middle Belt: A Strategic Report of Nasarawa State.

At the event, the Executive Governor of Nasarawa State, Engr. Abdullahi Sule, stated that the report “offers a comprehensive picture of the intricate forces causing conflict in Nasarawa State” and that it would “no doubt add to [their] efforts to tackle insecurity through a sustained special attention to matters that border on security and active engagement of all stakeholders”. He assured that the government “would study the report with a view to adopting its recommendations for the benefit of [its] people”.

Based on two years of extensive research and on-the-ground interviews with community members affected by the state’s most important conflicts, the report presents an in-depth analysis of the drivers of violence in Nasarawa State to understand broader dynamics of conflict across the Middle Belt of Nigeria and the spectrum of realistic solutions.

Philanthropic support or annual sponsorship of IFIT’s short and long-term growth – expanding its local, regional and global impact – is an investment in advancing peace, justice and security for all.

As long as human conflict exists, IFIT will have a substantive role to play. The success of peaceful transitions requires continued presence in volatile regions and countries before, during and after peace and political settlements have run their course.

IFIT helps usher in negotiation and transition processes that are more inclusive, resourceful, evidence-informed and collaborative. Ensuring IFIT’s continued leadership in this field will generate reforms to, and eventually bring about the evolution of, traditional peacebuilding techniques which are often fragmented or fall short of aspirations.

IFIT brings together under one roof the best of theory and practice in relation to successful negotiations and transitions out of conflict or authoritarian rule.

We hope this case for support offers the starting point for a deeper conversation regarding how we can work together to move current practice away from fragmented interventions and towards more integrated solutions to strengthen peace, democracy, and human rights.

To discuss your partnership with IFIT please contact Adriana Brassart, IFIT’s External Relations Manager, at [email protected].

IFIT’s Distinguishing Features

IFIT’s uniqueness lies in the following combination of factors:

Picture: Moises Saman/Magnum Photos

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In societies marked by deep social divisions, powerful individuals and organisations play a key role in building up narratives which promote either peaceful engagement or polarisation that can lead to violence. This paper discusses the wide range of actors who have the power to shape narratives at the national level, elaborating them to advance their goals. It proposes practical strategies on how diverse stakeholders—civil society, policy makers and donors, among others—can work with, as well as around, these influential actors to ensure that the narrative landscape advances peace instead of deepening conflict and polarisation.

The paper challenges the view that imposing a new unifying narrative is an effective way to counter polarisation, instead advocating for work that illuminates narrative biases, changes narratives from within and amplifies smaller stories to encourage social engagement at scale. Based on consultations with IFIT brain trusts in Libya, Colombia and Zimbabwe, IFIT’s Inclusive Narratives Practice Group and other leading experts in narrative and politics, it expands on original ideas and recommendations presented in IFIT’s initial narrative framework publication and follow-on discussion paper on media and narrative.

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This special session on the Peace Treaty Initiative at European University Institute´s State of the Union summit brings together Sarah Nouwen, member of the initiative’s Expert Advisory Group; Mark Freeman, IFIT’s executive director; Barney Afako, IFIT fellow; and Fleur Ravensbergen, co-founder of Dialogue Advisory Group. They will discuss today’s international peace architecture, look into the incentives to make negotiations a more attractive and safer choice for governments when facing conflicts, and assess the value of the Peace Treaty Initiative for the EU.

Date: Friday, May 6th from 3:00 – 4:00pm CET

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Libertatea: We are all looking at the war in Ukraine with concern and at the beginning of every day we all think maybe today is the day. It might be a naive way of looking at things. That’s why I ask you to give us some insights about the peace negotiation to better understand them.

– The leverage that the parties have in the negotiation room is to a very large degree a result or a function of the leverage that they have on the actual battlefield. Leverage means advantage, basically. What happens in the negotiation room is largely going to be a function of or result of the perceived amount of leverage that each side thinks it has against the other. There are some people who believe that – and I include myself within this – not every moment is a ripe moment for a negotiation, at least for a formal negotiation. Because when you’re negotiating with your enemy or adversary in a conflict, that also has political costs and benefits, and so even the choice to formally sit down with your adversary to negotiate could have some significant costs for one or both of the sides. If you don’t have enough leverage to negotiate at least as an equal or with some level of advantage, then you shouldn’t necessarily negotiate. But leverage is not a static thing. The amount of leverage parties have shifts, it fluctuates, it goes up, it goes down.

So for us it might be a good sign that we see now that Ukraine and Russia is at the table talking about peace.

It might be. It’s possible, again, that both parties fear that the other is not there in good faith, and both parties might be right about that. But the fact that there is a negotiation at all is something that I think we could all celebrate at some level because wars are rarely won or lost purely in military terms, but end up being resolved around the negotiation table. So it is important that this diplomatic effort exists.

Primarily, the ability of the parties to reach an agreement is summarised with a very well-known expression called a BATNA, which stands for ‘Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement’. If one of the parties feels that it can secure its interests better by not negotiating, then it won’t negotiate, or at least it won’t negotiate in good faith. You need a situation in which both parties genuinely perceive that the best pathway to achieve their interests is through negotiation, and if even just one of the parties doesn’t genuinely believe that its best option is a negotiated solution, then it’s extremely unlikely that there will be a negotiated agreement.

We’ve seen so far that the two parties met at the Belorussian border, in Turkey, Israel offered as well. How are these meeting places usually chosen?

– There are a set of questions within the broad subject of peace negotiation, that’s called ‘process design’. Process design includes who are the actors involved, what are the rules of procedure, where do the talks take place, a whole range of questions. And location is important in this sense.

There’s been some different locations used up to now, and different governments offering a sort of facilitation. And that is common, but it’s not always the case. Sometimes parties just negotiate with each other directly in a place that they choose without any external facilitation or mediation. But I think in this case it was unlikely that the parties would do so. The fact that, in particular Turkey and Israel, to mention two of the examples, have stepped forward to offer themselves in the hope that they would be seen as a legitimate facilitator by both sides, is more important than the location. It’s mostly a question of their perceived impartiality or legitimacy in the eyes of the conflict parties, but also of their influence.

What is generally the atmosphere at the peace negotiations and how do you have to prepare for them?

You can be sure the atmosphere is very, very tense. It’s probably also very formal. There’s a certain set of rituals that everyone seems to be observing, like shaking hands and having well organized delegations.

There are different approaches to these sorts of things: there are some people who believe that in peace negotiations, the negotiators for each side need to develop a sort of relationship of interpersonal trust. Other people believe that interpersonal trust doesn’t really matter, in fact, it could be better that they don’t, they don’t need to become friends, or even to trust each other fully.

So there are different schools of thought. In the Minsk process there were, I think, over 70 cycles of talks, so there was a lot of contact between Russian diplomats and lawyers, and Ukrainian diplomats and lawyers in multiple spaces.

This current negotiation that’s taking place-it’s not like it’s taking place between parties that aren’t familiar with each other in a negotiation setting. Probably a lot of them know each other directly. I would like to believe that’s a good thing, in the sense that no one is going into it naively, no one is going into it without any prior interaction with the other side.

These many years of past interaction also allow the parties to know better their own limits, their own red lines.

I’ve noticed something, that no woman attended from no site. Is this something common? The wars remain a man’s ground, but the peace negotiations as well?

Yes, that is true. I mean, there have been a lot of efforts over the last 20 years to see women in peace mediation roles. But it still is a very male-dominated sphere of practice. And so I would say that seeing very significant or even just equal participation by women, whether it’s within the delegations themselves, or as part of a peace mediation team or facilitator team, is very uncommon. Women are almost always in the minority, and sometimes indeed they’re not even present at all. So, there’s still a lot of work to do on that.

Do you think that the presence of a woman could change things to better?

I personally think yes. Ultimately, the more opportunity women have to play these really critical roles inside of peace talks, the better evidence we will all have about what difference they can make. But the evidence is very limited because the practice is so infrequent. Again, there are obviously some exceptions, but I would say it’s not a trend, to me at least, where women are playing an increasing role in peace talks.

We’ve seen the declaration of Joe Biden about Vladimir Putin being a war criminal. This remark was considered unacceptable by the Russian President. Can this public verbal attacks change things at the peace talks table?

Yes, it could, although you know the US is not in the peace talks. So, in that sense it becomes another part of the outside realities that then can have an impact on the talks themselves. There has been some extreme language use. President Putin is reportedly very upset about being called a war criminal, but it is also the case that he used terminology about Ukrainians that equated groups of them to Nazis.

It cannot be a fortune teller job, but are there any clues that a conflict is getting closer to an end?

– This particular conflict has only been going on for a few weeks. I do think that with every new day that passes where there is more death, more destruction, and more anger, the possibilities of a resolution in the short- or mid-term become more and more remote.

The existence of a negotiation in parallel with the existence of the war is good because it’s possible that something the parties presumed to be impossible in terms of a consensus, that if they are talking with each other, they might discover that there is a zone of possible agreement.

There are some signs that according to statements by the parties themselves, that they have identified some elements of what’s called a “zone of possible agreement”.

There are some encouraging signs, but a comprehensive solution seems to me unlikely in the short term. What I think personally, and might be more realistic is something we call a framework agreement. Even the Minsk agreements themselves are actually very short documents, just a couple of pages long. Most of the details are left to the bodies and the organs and committees and working groups that will be responsible for defining the details of implementation. That’s the kind of agreement I could imagine here; it may just be a few pages that basically reflects a resolution of the main concerns of the parties. Or perhaps there could be interim agreements. There have been at least some of those on paper, some agreements about things like humanitarian corridors that wouldn’t have happened in the absence of a negotiation.

The negotiation is like another room of the war, it’s where the parties in principle are trying to identify a Zone Of Possible Agreement. It’s possible today that the Ukrainian side of the negotiation feels that it is in a stronger position, or maybe Russia feels that way today and tomorrow that will change. It’s a constantly moving picture.

We often, in our work, emphasize the ‘how’ of peace negotiations rather than the ‘what’ of the agreement itself. If the ‘how’ of the negotiation isn’t well designed, it’s just very, very unlikely that the parties could reach an agreement.

– The end of the war means also the beginning of a transitional process that is not easy at all. So what will happen after the ceasefire?
– I think in the particular context of this particular conflict, what we could maybe use as a benchmark for what to expect is the Minsk process itself. There was a ceasefire agreed, and it’s already been more than seven years since there were a set of commitments made by both parties.

If you look at the Minsk agreements, I think that gives you a sense of what it might look like in terms of structure, and then it’s just going to come down to implementation. I don’t mean that Minsk is a good benchmark. I don’t mean that the scale of what took place in the Donbas in 2014 is in any way comparable to what’s taking place right now. And just in terms of the hostilities, in terms of casualties, in terms of geopolitical significance, this is a whole other level.

But I think at the same time Minsk is relevant, as it’s the most recent experience of negotiation and implementation that these two parties have had with each other.

– You have said it before that we are already in an era of new and growing kind of armed conflicts like climate wars, cyber war, and nowadays the fighting no longer occurs on a clearly marked battlefield. That’s very scary. Can we do anything about it?

– Our institute has actually developed a large global initiative to create a multilateral treaty to incentivize conflict prevention and conflict resolution. International law generally is quite unhelpful in terms of the incentives that it offers to parties to choose the path of negotiation rather than the path of confrontation.

Sometimes what could happen out of a conflict of this magnitude, sometimes there’s a reorganization of the peace architecture or the security architecture in a region, or even at a global level. Most famously, this occurred at the end of the Second World War, with the entire UN system and the Geneva Conventions on the laws of war.

– We all say that peace is something that we begin to value for real when we lose it. What does peace mean to you?

– Peace means to me the absence of violence, or minimally, at least the absence of mass violence. I’m trained as a human rights lawyer, so I partly think of it in terms of rights. Peace means to me a state of society in which the right to life (existence) is the supreme right for humans.

I could quote Johan Galtung, who famously distinguished between negative peace and positive peace. Negative peace is the absence of violent conflict, positive peace is more than the absence of violent conflict- is also the full implementation of human rights, the full self-realization or self-determination of societies, equality, etc. But in a time like this, I would accept negative peace, meaning the absence of violent conflict.

If we don’t have that, then we don’t have very much.

Originally published in Romanian in Libertatea.

In this third and final episode of Justice Info’s series on the Peace Treaty Initiative, the author highlights the many benefits of involving victims of an armed conflict in both negotiations and peace implementation. Provided that this participation is not a mere window dressing, the legitimisation of the process that it brings maximises its chances of success.

In her book “The danger of a single story”, Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in 2018 that the voices of people who have been systematically oppressed should be given precedence over those who have historically narrated the history of any conflict. For the author, having a single narrative of the past deprives people of their dignity and hinders the recognition of others, thus undermining a sense of shared humanity.

Peace talks offer important opportunities to change this dynamic. They can create space for new narratives, especially when they help make the voice of victims visible. This can build a sense of dignity for the victims, ensure any peace deal is informed by the realities of the local context, contribute to the legitimacy of the process, facilitate bridge building between elite and community level concerns – all of which contributes to more sustainable peace.

Victims’ participation in the process of building legal frameworks for peace is no different.

The Peace Treaty Initiative is a new global project that aims to fill this critical gap, by introducing an international legal instrument that would create incentives for state and non-state actors to privilege dialogue over confrontation. But while developing a legal framework to promote and protect peace negotiations is an honourable and necessary undertaking, the way it is established is as relevant as the final content of the legal text itself.

Victims´ participation in Colombia´s peace talks

The Colombian peace process may serve to illustrate the relevance of including victims’ voices, as well as to provide creative ideas on how to achieve meaningful participation without endangering the bigger goal: whether it be to achieve peace, or in this case, to ensure the creation of a new international law of peace negotiation. 

From the early phases of Colombia’s peace talks in Havana, several mechanisms were established to give voice to victims and to citizens more generally. This included visits to Havana, encompassing special delegations of women’s groups and by 60 individual victims of the armed conflict who addressed the parties over the course of five successive visits, each one comprised of 12 victims. The process also included major regional and thematic summits and forums held in Colombia, as well as a procedure through which, physically or electronically, any citizen or group could submit proposals to the negotiating parties. By the end of the talks, about 67,000 proposals (addressing different agenda items) reached the delegations.

At the victim hearings in particular, the parties were able to hear victims’ key concerns, reflections and proposals. This not only allowed for the recognition of these groups and communities – including their history and the ongoing risks they faced as a result of the continued violence – but also directly contributed to shaping the transitional justice framework that was ultimately agreed.

The voice of specific communities

The Colombian process also provides lessons about the participation of specific communities such as women and ethnic groups, which require an approach that is in sync with their customs and traditions. When they were not initially included in the negotiations, indigenous and Afro-Colombian organisations advocated for their own participation, ultimately succeeding in the creation of an influential Ethnic Commission. Jesús Chávez, indigenous leader and senior advisor to one of the most important platforms of indigenous peoples in Colombia, said of the process: “The time when others spoke for us is over; today what we express is that feeling of collective peacebuilding, which allows us to recognise and understand each other in [our] diversity and build a true social fabric”.

Meaningful participation by victims, women, rural workers, ethnic groups, human rights defenders, and young people made the difference. It ultimately helped bring about peace and improve the content of the final agreement, including in the period of its re-negotiation after the deal was narrowly rejected in a plebiscite.

Getting legitimacy at the local level

The value of participation by victims and survivors is not limited to local peacemaking but extends to global lawmaking and policymaking. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines is a good example. Led by Jody Williams jointly with the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF) and the German organisation Medico International (MI), the campaign engineered an international Mine Ban Treaty prohibiting landmines through a bottom-up approach. From the start, leading NGOs took ownership of the process at all levels (sub-national, national, international) and it wasn’t until later that governments started supporting the initiative. Legitimacy at the local level was key for the success of this global goal.

Beyond the sphere of peacebuilding, the UN High Level Panel on Internal Displacement is another good example. In this case, due to Covid-19, the Panel was unable to travel and meet as it had initially foreseen and faced several challenges connecting victims – who still now, more often than not, live in marginal areas with limited access to technology. Working through its partners, the Panel consulted thousands of internally displaced persons in 22 countries and received hundreds of written submissions. The recommendations included in its final report reflect the main comments gathered via the participation process, leading to a very positive reception internationally, nationally and locally within the participating countries. 

No one understands the consequences of war more than its victims

In the words of Francia Márquez, emblematic leader for the Afro-Colombian population: “It is in the courtyard of our houses that the fighting has taken place; it is on our rooves that the bombings have taken place; it is in the sowing of our subsistence cropsthat the landmines have been planted. It is our territories that have been invaded with coca and then poisoned with glyphosate; it is our markets that have been attacked by the armed actors; it is our sons, brothers, cousins and nephews that have been recruited and killed by one side or the other; it is our daughters, nieces, sisters, aunts and cousins who were sexually abused, prostituted, enslaved and murdered; it is our rivers that became cemeteries; it is our families and neighbours who had to flee the territory where they were born; and it is our freedoms that ceased to exist, imposed by others”.

These words, which could have been expressed by victims in just about any armed conflict in the world, underscore how much the world needs more peace. The simple truth is that no one understands the consequences of war more than its victims.

The value of a global consultation process

The global consultation process for the Peace Treaty Initiative presents an important opening to build on the lessons described above as regards the value of incorporating victim voices and participation – something that appears to be embedded in the very design of the process.

Ensuring the meaningful participation of conflict-affected societies and of organisations of victims and survivors represents a win-win opportunity. By making use of different tools and spaces, the global consultation process can build upon valuable precedents of victim participation, ensuring both a better final text for the treaty and a greater baseline of public legitimacy which could then serve as positive leverage for reaching the ultimate goal of widespread state ratification.

For this to happen, it is important to think of participation through the broad lens of inclusivity, ensuring diverse forms of input and voice, both in writing and in person. In addition, especially in the context of the pandemic, building alliances with ground-level or intermediary-level leaders and organisations will prove vital as they can help connect community-level actors with this global initiative – thus ensuring meaningful grassroots participation.

Incorporating follow-up mechanisms that allow constituencies to see the evolution and impact of the consultation process would further help to bolster the legitimacy of the whole initiative.

The potential benefits are countless, and include the symbolic value of the proposed treaty and its real potential to address the needs of conflict-affected societies, build on good practices in the field, give legitimacy to the choice of dialogue, and engage political will at the highest levels to commit to a rights-based order that puts humanity first.

Originally published in Justice Info as part of a series of three articles on IFIT´s Peace Treaty Initiative.

In peace negotiations, amnesties and justice are often presented as mutually exclusive tools. In reality, amnesties are systematically on the table and should be given a ‘presumption of conformity’ with international law, under clear rules, argue the authors of this article.

For many international lawyers, judges, and human rights actors, the ‘peace versus justice’ debate has long been resolved in favour of justice. They can point to a ‘growing tendency in international law to see amnesties as unacceptable’; to the overturning of longstanding amnesties in some countries; and to the institutionalisation of an anti-amnesty policy at the United Nations as indicators of how certain concessions on justice are no longer permissible even when adopted to ensure peace and to prevent new atrocities.

In recent years, the UN Special Rapporteur for Transitional Justice and some international human rights NGOs have sought to consolidate and expand on these claims by arguing that international law now prohibits other forms of leniency for international crimes, such as pardons, early release measures, or alternative sentencing. Several international courts have also argued, since the late 1990s, that an international prohibition on amnesties is crystallising.

Yet, conflict resolution efforts within many societies often paint a different picture, rarely resolving them according to these supposed new standards. Just in the last few months, broad amnesties have been granted as part of peace efforts in Chad and Ethiopia. Elsewhere, existing amnesties are being implemented, and amnesty decisions by the truth commissions in The Gambia and the Seychelles are pending. Even where amnesties are omitted from peace deals, or explicitly exclude serious crimes, de facto impunity is often entrenched because of the huge number of violations and perpetrators that the system needs to face.

Restoring flexibility to negotiators

All told, the continued use of amnesties by states, together with the categorical reluctance of states to codify any international prohibition of amnesties, undermine any notion that an anti-amnesty norm has become settled law. Indeed, as recently as 2019, the International Criminal Court (ICC) stated that ‘international law is still in the developmental stage on the question of acceptability of amnesties’.

The African Union, in turn, has highlighted that ‘in the fragile post-conflict setting, a balance and compromise must be struck between peace and reconciliation on the one hand and responsibility and accountability on the other’. Some legal scholars go further by questioning whether the turn to criminal justice has had negative consequences for the human rights field. Likewise, Third World Approaches to International Law have highlighted the risks of imposing Western approaches to criminal justice.

Peace negotiators, mediators, and supporters of conflict resolution are understandably left uncertain about how much scope they have for flexibility on justice or amnesty provisions in peace agreements. This can result in them often holding differing interpretations of what the law requires or feeling pressured to adopt positions that could be destabilising to peace negotiations and implementation. Just as consequentially, the uncertainty reduces the will and scope for exploring creative solutions that might provide reasonable compromises in processes that by their nature require mutual concessions.

From a conflict resolution and atrocity prevention perspective, this is an unsatisfactory status quo.

Legal parameters for conditional amnesty

The Peace Treaty Initiative, a new global project of the Institute of Integrated Transitions, may offer a way out through the introduction of a concept known as the “presumption of conformity”. The concept is embedded in the indicative text of the proposed new treaty, which seeks to develop an international law to incentivise conflict prevention and resolution.

Specifically, the indicative text creates explicit minimal criteria and a clear process for the possibility of creating a positive presumption in favour of the international legality of the amnesty reached within a peace negotiation.

How does the mechanism work? The answer is found in Article 12 of the indicative text. It provides an automatic presumption of conformity to the entirety of a signed accord on the principal substantive agenda items of any peace negotiation that is handled through the treaty’s unique referral process; but it carves out a limited exception vis-à-vis atrocity crimes in the event that a majority of States Parties declares that any conditional amnesty provisions: “(i) are unnecessary for achieving the objective of this Convention, particularly the prevention or resolution of armed conflict; (ii) lack appropriate accountability conditions or obligations in regard to relevant individuals and entities; and (iii) neglect to incorporate targeted measures addressing the needs of victims, including with respect to missing and disappeared persons”.

It is worth unpacking this.

Favouring peaceful conflict resolution

First, a legal presumption is a not a legal finding, but a device more akin to a rebuttable premise. Its main effect, in this case, would be to place the burden of proof on the challenger rather than the defender of the conditional amnesty. However, nothing about the presumption would oust the authority of the court to make an independent final judgement on the legality of the amnesty.

Second, because the overarching goal of the new treaty is to incentivise the choice of peaceful conflict resolution over confrontation, the presumption has the dual benefit of 1) creating a default signal through international law that favours the legal stability of peace agreements, and 2) avoiding the kind of red lines on amnesty prohibition that produce the negative effects already mentioned.

Third, the presumption of conformity forces an active deliberation by the Conference of States Parties concerning any conditional amnesty, in which it must weigh the cost of precluding the application of the presumption (which could potentially jeopardise the entire peace accord) against the cost of allowing it (which could disincentivise legal challenges to the amnesty). That weighing process is not open-ended, but rather guided by the explicit but flexible criteria set out in the indicative text.

Untying the Gordian knot of peace and justice

The concept of the presumption of conformity is not reflected in any existing international treaty. Yet, it will be a familiar concept to most international lawyers because of its place in domestic law. Courts everywhere from Germany to Poland, South Africa, the United States, Israel, and most Commonwealth countries apply to their domestic laws a presumption of conformity with international law.

The indicative text of the proposed new treaty borrows the concept mainly because of its utility for making the path of dialogue more attractive – including on the Gordian knot of peace and justice. By providing the parties to a conflict with the prospect of a positive legal signal that a signed agreement will presumptively be respected, the principle can help nudge conflict parties towards negotiation.

While some may wonder if it is advisable for the Conference of States Parties to appear as “judge” of the legality of any conditional amnesty included in a peace deal reached within the terms of the new treaty, in fact the only “judgement” within its remit is whether or not to accord the presumption of conformity to the negotiated amnesty. The Conference has no authority to determine legality or illegality as such.

Participating in the treaty´s development

For now, the indicative text offers the chance for a new direction in the unresolved debate on amnesties. And because the text is the subject of an inclusive global consultation process, improvements can be made. For example, a future version of Article 12 could provide greater or lesser detail in the criteria of accountability and attention to victims; increase or decrease the voting threshold of the Conference of States Parties; or contemplate any other number of potential adjustments.

Regardless, the indicative text – including the presumption of conformity it proposes – should take us beyond the stale and unsatisfactory debates that persist as regards amnesty, peace and justice. In doing so, it may also help to increase awareness of the independent needs of negotiation itself – including the fact that it is not a process in which one side can simply impose its will on the other. This logically militates in favour of a future treaty that provides for tailored legal incentives, increased legal flexibility and greater legal clarity on key questions of international law that negotiators systematically encounter. Let the new debate begin.

Originally published in Justice Info as part of a series of three articles on IFIT´s Peace Treaty Initiative.

The reality of war is back in the heart of Europe. This makes it all the more important to talk about peace – which means making the choice of negotiation more attractive, more organised and more flexible. After more than three years of research, the Institute for Integrated Transitions (IFIT) has launched the Peace Treaty Initiative. In a series of three articles, contributors close to the initiative disclose for Justice Info their ideas to revitalize the debate on how to achieve peace and justice.

Today, conflict resolution efforts are facing one of the most challenging climates since the end of World War II. Civil wars and insurgencies have proliferated around the globe and violent extremism continues to rise despite more than twenty years of global efforts to combat terrorism. The past decade especially has witnessed grave violations of international humanitarian law and massive human atrocities, with perpetrators feeling an increased sense of impunity.

At the same time, the world is passing through a period of inconclusive wars. Long-gone is the era of clear victory and defeat. Also, while interstate wars have declined, intrastate armed conflicts have sharply risen. Although disputes between countries persist – and the current conflict regarding Ukraine is a reminder of their global dangers – they are generally less likely to escalate to interstate wars. Meanwhile “grey zone warfare” and cross-border meddling are ascending.

While the last century’s great wars resulted in setting international rules to regulate conduct during conflicts, and significantly advanced international law (especially IHL), international norms around conflict – and the institutions meant to face them, particularly the UN Security Council – have fallen devastatingly short in resolving conflicts. This trend could deepen in the context of the evolving great-power competition.

A reframing effort of such norms is overdue. The world needs a legal instrument to aim at encouraging and supporting peace negotiations for the peaceful settlement of internal armed conflicts.

The Middle East: Nexus of the World´s Challenges

The Middle East has the dubious distinction of hosting some of the world´s most persistent and dire conflicts and crises. It is home to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one of the most enduring struggles. The UN Secretary General declared the situation in Yemen to be the world’s worst humanitarian crisis with 80% of the country’s population in need of humanitarian assistance and protection. Meanwhile, Syria has by far the largest forcibly displaced population worldwide: 6.6 million refugees and more than 6 million internally displaced people, constituting around half the Syrian population. The conflict in Libya is characterised by a weak government, a constellation of militias, and a political class in which many are not only backed by foreign governments but also divided across ideological and tribal lines. Meanwhile, Tunisia, Sudan, Lebanon, Algeria, and Iraq are facing varying degrees of instability and civil strife. The Iranian nuclear file and Iranian policies are also a source of major tension and instability in the region.

Today, not a single conflict in the Middle East is on a solid path towards a political solution. A series of UN peace envoys have come and gone to no avail, while several of the parties involved continue to pay lip service to political settlements but act in a manner more consistent with a military solution. The polarisation witnessed in the region, with different countries supporting opposing parties in conflicts, is making it exceedingly difficult to achieve political settlements.

There are also fears that international and regional fatigue may result in a situation whereby the main players would be satisfied with transforming many of these conflicts into never-ending low intensity conflicts with dire implications for the future of regional stability.

Furthermore, in the wake of the first wave of the Arab revolutions that started in 2010 in Tunisia, followed by Egypt, Syria, and Yemen, there were countries in the region that supported these revolutions and others that considered them a great threat to their own stability. A second wave erupted with similar complications. Despite Lebanon and Iraq witnessing up close the near-total destruction of Syria, the Lebanese and Iraqi people still launched their own wide-scale protests. Similarly, the Sudanese and the Algerians took to the streets, undeterred by the neighbouring chaos in Libya and the challenges facing Egypt. This may not be the end: the outbreak of a third wave of revolutions should not be excluded.

The absence of justice, rule of law and good governance help explain these public uprisings. For the most part, and with few exceptions, the region has been moving in the wrong direction. This is the case in almost every area – from conflict resolution to democracy, human rights, social cohesion, and economic and social development – and there are no signals that this trend is going to be meaningfully reversed in the foreseeable future.

International Rules for Peace Negotiation

One of the initiatives that can partly help the region in dealing with the absence of rule of law in conflict resolution is the Peace Treaty Initiative, the aim of which is to bring about a unique multilateral treaty on peace negotiations. Already there is an indicative text of the treaty, which is now the subject of an inclusive consultation process involving governments, multilateral organisations, academia, faith-based entities, NGOs and think tanks from around the world.

The guiding motivation and premise behind the text is that the international system needs a set of rules and legal instruments to incentivise and support conflicting parties and other relevant actors toward accepting negotiations as a critical means to achieving peace in intrastate conflicts and prevent the prolongation of suffering and atrocities before they become protracted conflicts.

The indicative text does not impose negotiations on states, neither does it reduce the flexibility or confidentiality that negotiating parties require. Indeed, the parties maintain control over all decisions, including the content of any accord.

The participation of non-state armed groups in negotiations may result in some form of recognition. However, the indicative text does not confer any form of legitimacy on them or alter their legal status. Instead, it provides a support mechanism and a system for the validation of the key choices made by the negotiating parties – for example, through conferring a presumption of conformity with international law if a peace agreement meets certain criteria.

The indicative text is only a starting point and even as it undergoes changes it will never constitute a silver bullet for conflict resolution. Visionary leadership and political will, for example, are almost always a necessary ingredient in achieving a peaceful settlement of conflicts. But advancing the Peace Treaty Initiative is a much-needed undertaking.

The global picture of conflict resolution is rather gloomy, especially in the Middle East. Priority should be given to new ideas for terminating endless wars and conflicts and ending the suffering of tens of millions of people. The external shock of Covid-19 should have provided the motivation and heightened the urgency to explore every possible avenue to end conflicts, but unfortunately has not. If leaders do not deliver on the hope for peace, stability, and development, this not only will feed extremism, but will result in the eruption of one violent upheaval after another.

The advancement of international criminal law, despite the challenges faced, has been a positive development. It owes its success to European leadership. There is hope that the Peace Treaty Initiative could lead to a dialogue on how international law can go further and contribute to resolving conflict in a more effective manner. Modest as this may be, the initiative is a constructive first step in the right direction on the long road to advance rule of law in conflict resolution.

Originally published in Justice Info as part of a series of three articles on IFIT´s Peace Treaty Initiative.

Much discussion of late has focused on how the rise of polarization around the globe is affecting politics, democracy, and culture. Very little, however, has been said about its destructive effects on philanthropy — specifically, how increasing polarization threatens to undermine the essential role that philanthropy plays in society.

Polarization, like Covid-19 or systemic racism, has the potential to alter much about how philanthropy is conceived and practiced. The question for societies, as well as for grant makers, is whether we can disrupt polarization before it seriously disrupts us.

Extreme polarization directly threatens philanthropy’s ability to live up to its promise as “society’s passing gear,” as educator and urbanist Paul Ylvisaker described the field. Philanthropy is the spark that ignites transformational change. It is a resource for developing original ideas, supporting visionary leaders, and helping organizations bring groundbreaking programs to scale. Unlike government and the business world, philanthropy isn’t constrained by short-term thinking, which makes it uniquely poised to tackle large, structural problems.

But grant making aimed at tackling enormous challenges such as economic inequality, systemic racism, and climate change can’t flourish if the toxic divisions of our time are allowed to metastasize. These divisions promote rigid thinking. They limit the exchange of ideas. And they inhibit the kind of collaboration and partnership necessary to make and sustain long-term progress.

Fortunately, foundations and nonprofits are starting to recognize these dangers. Philanthropic organizations such as the New Pluralists and the Center for Effective Philanthropy, through its Bridging Divides learning series, are advancing creative grant-making approaches to address polarization. At the international level, a group of foundations is supporting work by the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford to develop a curriculum on leading in polarized societies.

But while plenty of work has focused on the rise in polarization, especially in the United States, the reality is that little is known about what types of approaches are most effective in preventing toxic polarization from settling in — or reversing it once it takes root.

Without turning our attention directly to this complex global problem and the specific strategies needed to address it, philanthropy and the causes it supports may end up in a continuously reactive response mode to those who deliberately and actively foment division and distrust across different societal groups.

Causes and Consequences

To that end, we at the Ford Foundation and the Institute for Integrated Transitions have joined forces to launch the Global Initiative on Polarization. Drawing on our respective strengths, the project aims to deepen understanding of the diverse causes and consequences of severe polarization in both democratic and nondemocratic settings.

The four-year project will start by identifying and analyzing organizations and programs across the globe focused on combating polarization. International and regional gatherings will be held to bring together experts and people affected by our growing divides to exchange lessons and debate ways to prevent toxic polarization from arising or becoming more entrenched. We will also select eight to 10 countries in which to test and deploy strategies for addressing polarization. All of this will feed into the creation of an interactive resource hub and practical grant-making framework for mitigating polarization.

Our particular interest is in the nexus of polarization and violent confrontation — the tipping point at which polarization goes from being merely corrosive to catastrophic.

For organizations dedicated to social justice and accountability, this can be an especially sensitive point because so often their work is unfairly attacked as polarizing by people interested in maintaining the status quo or gaining political power. But anyone who has witnessed a country cross the tipping point into violent confrontation on a significant scale can attest to the value of including marginalized voices before polarization becomes an unstoppable force. Multiple studies have shown that social, political, and economic exclusion, enforced by state repression, poses a grave risk of violent conflict.

New Alliances

Addressing the harms of rising polarization will require not only more evidence and varied strategies, but also new alliances from different fields and across regions — all working together to find solutions. We will need to build bridges — not just between groups, but within them — to reduce the barriers and social costs for those who venture beyond an expected set of narrow allegiances.

As we know from nations such as South Africa and Northern Ireland, lasting peace does not come from everyone holding a common narrative. Instead, it emerges in environments where many diverse narratives are encouraged to thrive together and where plurality and participation replace simplification and polarization.

While we may never defeat polarization, we can create a structured process to identify and respond to its symptoms, and thus work to contain it. Building up this emerging field will ultimately help philanthropy deliver the broad consensus required to effectively support the causes we care about — and avoid the type of extreme divisions that stand in the way of change.

By working together, philanthropic efforts to fight polarization will become deeper and stronger. And all our organizations will be equipped with the strategies, tools, and alliances we need to reduce rampant polarization before it’s too late.

Originally published in the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

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