Speech at Seminar Preventive, Responsive and Effective? –The Role of Mediation in Implementing the Responsibility to Protect, 20.3.2013, Helsinki

It is my pleasure to welcome you all to this seminar and open the discussion on this very interesting subject.

Before going into further details on today’s topic, I would first like to briefly touch upon the background of this seminar. As many of you are probably aware, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs is revising its UN Strategy in accordance with the Government Programme. To support the strategy revision, we are organizing a series of seminars on contemporary UN issues. Our seminar today, organized together with the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, is the first of these thematic seminars.  The widespread interest in the UN in the Finnish society is definitely a valuable asset. Through these seminars, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs has a unique opportunity of profiting from this interest and from the important insights you have.

Mediation is one of the priorities of the Finnish foreign policy. During the last couple of years, Finland has made a substantial contribution to strengthening the normative basis of mediation in the United Nations, for instance by initiating together with Turkey two UN resolutions on the topic. The first-ever resolution on mediation adopted in June 2011 clearly positioned the United Nations as a standard setter for mediation. Finland and Turkey have also established the Group of Friends of Mediation, which now consists of 35 member states and 8 intergovernmental organizations, among them the United Nations and several regional organizations.

The Responsibility to Protect – or R2P – is an emergent norm in international politics which Finland supports. We are committed to the consolidation of the concept, based on the 2005 World Summit Outcome document, and we consider it important to further broaden the basis of its international support.

The link between mediation and Responsibility to Protect merits further attention. Actually, it is quite a natural one, as one of the immediate objectives of mediation is to prevent potential conflict situations from escalating into violence and further into R2P crimes.  Many fundamentals under these two concepts are interlinked.

In 2011, the UN Security Council adopted resolutions 1970 and 1973, relating to the crisis in Libya, and resolution 1975, relating to Cote d’Ivoire. These can be seen as landmark resolutions with their references to the Responsibility to Protect. Some of the actions taken pursuant to these resolutions, however, have somewhat complicated the subsequent R2P discussion.  The discussion has focused on coercive means. It has also given cause to launch the Brazilian Responsibility while protecting initiative, which also addresses important issues. While coercive means may sometimes be necessary, it is of crucial importance to keep also the other elements of R2P on the agenda.  More emphasis needs to be put on preventive measures. Here mediation has an important role to play.

As the Uppsala Conflict Data Program shows, in 2011 there was only one inter-state conflict and 27 intra-state conflicts out of which 9 had a direct international dimension. The change from pure inter-state to intra-state conflicts has created new kind of challenges for the international community, since many states stress state sovereignty and the principle of non-interference. This is a reality we are witnessing for instance in today’s Syria where the state has manifestly failed to protect its citizens but the international community has not been able to find a solution in spite of its many efforts.

Last autumn, the UN Secretary-General submitted Guidance for Effective Mediation, also based on the Finnish-Turkish mediation initiative. The Guidance is designed to make mediation efforts on international, national and local levels professional and credible. Let me focus on a few principles that are necessary in any mediation attempt. These are consent of the parties, national ownership of the process and wide inclusivity. These principles are clearly relevant when assessing the potential of mediation as an R2P tool.

The first fundament that I want to highlight is the consent of the parties. Conceptually, mediation aims to end the conflict with a resolution that is acceptable to both parties. Without consent it is not likely that the parties will be committed to the mediation process or negotiate in earnest. Mediation initiatives should be designed in such a way that they are not seen as a threat to sovereignty or outside interference.  This often requires the craftmanship of a professional mediator.

Another critical aspect in mediation is national ownership of the process. This refers to the fact that conflict parties and the whole society commit themselves to the mediation process, agreements and their implementation. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions and therefore, support must be shaped to the specific situation in question in order to make sure national ownership is realized. Taking into account local cultures and norms is crucial, while mediators must also respect international law.

This brings us close to the third central aspect of mediation fundamentals: inclusivity. Inclusivity means that all the groups and parties affected by the conflict must get their voices heard genuinely.  Inclusivity increases the legitimacy and national ownership of the process.

There is one central group too many times excluded from the negotiations and peace processes. Even though passing the Security Council resolution 1325 was an important achievement and progress has been made, the reality is that the number of women participating in all levels of peace processes remains unacceptable low. As the study by UN Women from 2010 reveals, out of 24 major peace processes between 1992-2010, only 2,5 per cent of the signatories, 3,2 per cent of mediators and 7,6 per cent negotiators have been women. This is a clear indication that half of the human potential in a society is put to the side. However, as seen in the context of Arab Spring and beyond, women are rightfully demanding a greater voice in political transitions and mediation processes. We must support this progress.

The role of regional and sub-regional organizations in mediation is of crucial importance. Regional organizations work closer to the conflict and their knowledge about the context, the parties involved and the roots of the conflict is invaluable. Consequently, they can have an important role in advancing R2P as well.

One particular example, which hopefully will not become topical again, was the aftermath of the previous presidential elections in Kenya five years ago. The disputed election of December 2007 led to a wave of violence which, however, did not escalate to its full potential, due to a timely and effective response by the international community and the African Union. As other examples, where regional organizations have played an important part in preventing further escalation of violence, I could mention the successful ECOWAS and AU initiated mediation efforts after the outbreak of political violence in Guinea in 2009, and the signing of the peace agreement in Yemen in 2011 brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council.

These three examples highlight the importance of regional organizations in addressing conflicts. But what else do they have in common? They can firstly be seen as successful mediation cases. Secondly, they have been widely applauded as success stories of the application of the R2P principle. This shows exactly how mediation and R2P intertwine.

We can understand the interlinkages, by looking at mediation and R2P from the perspective of the African Union doctrine of non-indifference and the AU position on unconstitutional changes of government. During the past decade, the AU, preceded by the Organization for African Unity (OAU), has undergone a paradigm shift, from non-intervention to non-indifference. While the OAU was based on a principle of non-intervention in member states, highlighting territorial sovereignty, the transformation of the OAU to the AU in 2002 marked a fundamental change in the continent’s security culture. The Constitutive Act of the AU affirms the right of the Union to intervene in a Member State in respect of grave circumstances, namely genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The idea behind this is that states can no longer turn a blind eye on such ”grave circumstances”, but rather they must react when such atrocities are taking place. Also, it can be seen as setting a certain standard for governance as a prerequisite for state sovereignty.

Another issue that highlights the AU understanding of some sort of a collective responsibility is the development of a doctrine prohibiting unconstitutional changes of government, enshrined in the Lomé declaration of 2000. The development of such an anti-coup norm is also based on the idea of sovereignty requiring certain standards of governance, or else the international community has a responsibility to react to the situation. 

It is easy to see the resemblance between the AU security culture and the principles of R2P. In both cases, sovereignty entails certain responsibilities to a state. This, in turn, has paved the way for strong support for R2P in African countries. It has also provided an understanding and a solid backing for the AU to take an increasingly proactive role in tackling political crises in the continent, such as election-related violence and constitutional instability after coups d’état, especially through mediation.

The success of a particular mediation process depends on many issues. One issue is the level of legitimacy the parties to a conflict see in, and the level of backing they give to the efforts of a mediator. This is not only a question about the consent of the parties, but rather a question of understanding of the parties, as to what is the rationale behind a third party being involved.  Strong and widespread support for R2P increases the understanding of why the international community reacts to situations that could otherwise be regarded as internal question. Consequently, in a mediation attempt this understanding helps the parties to a conflict to better commit themselves to the principles of consent, ownership and inclusivity. This in turn gives mediation efforts, undertaken in a situation where we face a risk of mass atrocities occurring, a better chance to end up in positive and lasting results.

In conclusion, I would like to reiterate Finland’s strong support for mediation at different stages of a conflict cycle, in the context of the UN and regional organizations. Finland is also an active supporter of R2P. As an indication of this support, I have recently appointed a national R2P Focal Point in the Focal Point initiative launched by Denmark and Costa Rica in 2010. We will continue to seek ways to further strengthen the normative basis of R2P, especially highlighting its preventive aspects and measures, such as mediation. I am very much looking forward to hearing your views on how these important concepts can complement one another and how Finland could further support them.

I wish you a fruitful seminar.