BICC: New publication | Meaningful political participation – Lessons learnt from UN mediation in Afghanistan and Syria

Neither the UN-convened peace processes for Afghanistan between 1980 and 2004 nor for Syria since 2012 were able to achieve conflict transformation towards peace over the last forty respectively ten years. In a new BICC Policy Brief, Esther Meininghaus and Katja Mielke make an in-depth analysis of these UN peace processes, present lessons learnt and name subsequent policy implications.

The authors argue that in both processes, the ability of peace process participants who come from Afghanistan and Syria to politically participate in their respective process was and is severely limited, thus hindering the prospects of successful conflict transformation. By political participation, the BICC researchers mean that peace process participants not only attend negotiations (“are being included”) but are in a position to (co-) determine who is negotiating the agreement (incl. which representation mechanism is adequate), what the format of peacemaking (incl. methods of consultation) is, and what is negotiated (agenda-setting). The authors argue that ‘meaningful political participation’ thus understood opens new pathways towards more sustainable peace. This would contribute to opening a new pathway towards more sustainable peace processes, also beyond the Syrian and Afghan cases.

Against this background, the authors identify the following policy implications:

Prioritising representativeness over mere inclusion in peace negotiations and rendering selection criteria transparent strengthens their legitimacy. Policymakers should make their criteria transparent for selecting a) who can participate in the broad spectrum of peace processes and b) who gets access to the negotiation table by participating in an official delegation. These choices should prioritise representativeness over mere inclusion to strengthen process legitimacy.

Peace process organisers should take the whole spectrum of societal interests into account. There is an added value to broadening the participation base of peace process participants beyond belligerent groups and institutionalised civil society actors. It should include those of the non-fighting groups inside and outside the country of conflict, those of marginalised groups who do not have institutionalised representation structures, including displaced persons and the victims of the conflict.

Enabling political participation requires that the participants themselves set the format and agenda for negotiations. Peace process agendas should not be externally determined but rather allow peace process participants to decide—or in the case of external mediation co-determine—the content, as well as the format of talks according to their own priorities regarding themes, organisational set-up and the timing deemed necessary to conclude agreements.

Prioritising participation helps avoid common omissions in peace agreements. By taking the potentials of political participation seriously and establishing the relevant mechanisms to accompany mediation, peace process organisers automatically ensure the integration of crucial peacebuilding dimensions in peace agreements and related implementation.

Read BICC Policy Brief 3/2021 here.

More information

Source: Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC), 12 May 2021