Expected Council Action
In August, the UK is planning to hold an open debate of the Security Council on “mediation and settlement of disputes”, which will be chaired at ministerial-level. Secretary-General António Guterres and a member of his High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation are expected to brief. There may also be a female civil society briefer. While no formal outcome is anticipated, the UK may prepare a chair’s summary capturing the main elements of the debate.
Background and Key Recent Developments
The last time the Council held a formal meeting specifically on mediation and settlement of disputes was the open debate on 21 April 2009 at the initiative of Mexico. Then Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe briefed on the Secretary-General’s recent report on the issue, noting that mediation is a conflict prevention tool that is also used in peacekeeping and peacebuilding contexts. The Department of Political Affairs’ Mediation Support Unit, established in 2006, and its standby team, established in 2008, had had a positive impact in peace processes, Pascoe said. Pascoe also noted that “a regional presence can be an effective way to mediate disputes”, referring to the constructive roles played by the UN Office in West Africa and the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia.
The Council adopted a presidential statement during the meeting in which it expressed its intention to “remain engaged in all stages of the conflict cycle, including in support of mediation”, and its “readiness to explore further ways and means to reinforce the promotion of mediation”. It further underlined “the importance of building national and local capacity for mediation” and welcomed the “continued efforts by the Department of Political Affairs, in particular through the Mediation Support Unit to respond to emerging and existing crises”. The Council also expressed its concern at the “low numbers of women in formal roles in mediation processes” and stressed “the need to ensure that women are appropriately appointed at decision-making levels, as high-level mediators”.
While the 21 April 2009 open debate was the last formal Council meeting on the thematic topic of mediation, there have been several meetings on the related issue of conflict prevention over the years. The Council’s open debate on optimising tools of preventive diplomacy in Africa in July 2010 and its high-level debate on preventive diplomacy in September 2011 were perhaps those most closely linked to mediation.
Secretary-General António Guterres came into office in 2017 calling for “a surge in diplomacy for peace”. He reiterated this message in his first public briefing to the Council in an open debate on conflict prevention and sustaining peace on 10 January 2017, during Sweden’s presidency of the Council. In his briefing, Guterres emphasised that this surge in diplomacy should be carried out “in partnership with regional organizations, while mobilizing the entire range of those with influence, from religious authorities to civil society and the business community”. He further pledged to strengthen the mediation capacity of the UN, asked the Council “to make greater use of the options laid out in Chapter VI of the [UN] Charter”, and said that he was prepared to support the Council through his good offices and personal engagement.
On 13 September 2017, Guterres created the High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation, comprising 18 distinguished individuals (nine men and nine women), many of whom have served in senior positions in their national governments or in the UN. The board has met twice with the Secretary-General: in New York on 27 November 2017 and in Helsinki on 18 June. A read-out of the first meeting noted that in “specific situations, and as appropriate, the Secretary-General may seek the individual and informal engagement of Board members”. In a 21 February Council debate on the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, Guterres said that the board had “undertaken its first initiative” and noted plans for “a number of other missions—with the agreement of the countries concerned—to Member States facing stability challenges”. He did not provide details.
At the request of Guterres, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, a member of High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation, went to Liberia in late December 2017 to support the political process in the country during the run-off presidential election. The run-off, which followed allegations of voter irregularities during the first round and a campaign accompanied by divisive rhetoric, was conducted peacefully. George Weah of the Coalition for Democratic Change won the election, representing the first time in over 70 years—since 1944—that power was transferred peacefully between democratically-elected leaders in Liberia.
On 18 January, the Council adopted a presidential statement on conflict prevention. It recalled that a comprehensive conflict prevention strategy should include early warning, preventive deployment, mediation, peacekeeping, non-proliferation, accountability measures, and post-conflict peacebuilding—recognising that these components are interdependent, complementary and non-sequential. The statement acknowledged efforts to strengthen cooperation and coordination in conflict prevention among the UN, regional organisations and sub-regional organisations. The role of women and youth in conflict prevention and resolution was emphasised in the statement.
Key Issues and Options
One issue is to determine how the Council can most effectively support the mediation efforts of UN, regional, sub-regional, national, and local actors. In this regard, the most likely option is for the UK to produce a chair’s summary with insights on how the Council can best play a mediation role complementing that of other actors, as well as to highlight ideas put forward by the UN membership during the open debate. In the future, the Council could also consider adopting a presidential statement requesting the Secretary-General to submit a report with recommendations about how the Council can best work with other actors and utilise its comparative advantages to support mediation processes.
Council visiting missions have been able to deliver important political messages to interlocutors with influence over developments in the countries or regions under consideration. In support of mediation processes, the Council could consider making use of smaller visiting missions, consisting of a subset of members with influence in specific cases.
Another issue is how the Council can encourage peace operations to facilitate national and local dispute resolution mechanisms, where useful. This is consistent with the notion that mandates should be driven by the need to achieve political solutions, a key theme of the 2015 report of the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations.
Members are supportive of the UK initiative to hold a formal meeting on mediation. The Council continues to support mediation efforts in its mandates for peace operations, including by highlighting the good offices efforts of Special Representatives. It consistently adopts outcomes that provide political backing for the mediation efforts of the Secretary-General or of regional and sub-regional actors in country-specific cases; presidential statements adopted on Burundi, Myanmar, and South Sudan since late 2017 are examples of such support.
Members recognise that the Council is one of many actors involved in mediation and that its role is complementary to other UN organs and to regional, sub-regional, national and local actors. In this regard, it appears that one of the goals of the meeting is to reiterate the Council’s support for Guterres’ efforts to promote a “surge in diplomacy”. Some Council members will also probably emphasise the role of women in mediation processes during the debate.
UN Documents on Mediation and Settlement of Disputes
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|5 April 2018 S/PRST/2018/7||This was a presidential statement condemning all violations and abuses of human rights in Burundi.|
|18 January 2018 S/PRST/2018/1||This was a presidential statement on conflict prevention stating that a comprehensive conflict prevention strategy should include early warning, preventive deployment, mediation, peacekeeping, non-proliferation, accountability measures, and post-conflict peacebuilding, recognising that these components are interdependent, complementary and non-sequential.|
|14 December 2017 S/PRST/2017/25||This was a presidential statement on the situation in South Sudan, focusing on IGAD’s efforts to revitalise the peace process.|
|6 November 2017 S/PRST/2017/22||This was a presidential statement on the situation in the Rakhine.|
|21 April 2009 S/PRST/2009/8||This statement acknowledged the role of mediation in peace processes, requested the Secretary-General to “keep it informed of the action taken by him in promoting and supporting mediation and pacific settlement of disputes …” and stressed the need for more women participation in mediators’ teams.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|21 February 2018 S/PV.8185||This was a ministerial-level briefing on the “purposes and principles of the UN Charter in the maintenance of international peace and security”. Secretary-General António Guterres and former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon briefed the Council.|
|10 January 2017 S/PV.7857||The Council held a ministerial-level open debate on conflict prevention and sustaining peace.|
|22 September 2011 S/PV.6621||This was a high-level meeting on preventive diplomacy.|
|16 July 2010 S/PV.6360||This was the open debate on the topic “Optimising the Use of Preventive Diplomacy Tools: Prospects and Challenges in Africa”.|
|16 July 2010 S/PV.6360 (Resumption 1)||This was the resumption of the open debate on the topic “Optimising the Use of Preventive Diplomacy Tools: Prospects and Challenges in Africa”.|