Inclusivity and Peace Negotiations
Engaging Armed Groups and Civil Society with Suzanne Ghais
Suzanne Ghais, PhD, an accomplished facilitator, mediator, trainer, and writer who specializes in conflict management, problem solving and consensus building, gave a talk hosted by the Conflict Resolution Institute on her recently completed dissertation. She presented three case studies–Liberia, Chad, and the Philippines to show how important it was for peace negotiations to be inclusive of all parties, including all armed groups and civil society groups.
She found that it was only important to include armed groups at the negotiating table if they had a considerable following and/or sympathy from the wider community. If they were a relatively small armed group with little resources and no sympathy from the community, it was not necessarily important for them to be included in the negotiations. This was particularly clear in the case with the Philippines. When one of the larger armed groups was ignored and the government only negotiated with another one, it ended up not creating a lasting peace. There was a much smaller armed group that did not have much support, however, and they were easily snuffed out by the government without them needing to negotiate.
With civil society organizations, Ghais found that it was always helpful to not only include them in the peace processes, but to also recruit their aid with implementing the action plan from the negotiations. They were able to convince the community to take ownership of the implementation, which always created better and longer lasting results. The research found that they were also better at focusing the peace efforts on addressing the underlying causes of the conflict. One particularly interesting aspect that Ghais noticed recurring in her research was the predominance of women's groups when civil society was included in the negotiations and the implementation of the action plans.
After Ghais concluded her presentation, she was followed up by the discussant, Timothy Sisk. Dr. Sisk, a professor of International and Comparative Politics at Josef Korbel's School for International Studies, focuses his research on the nexus between democracy and governance and the management of conflict in deeply divided societies, especially those emerging from civil war. Dr. Sisk was also on the panel for Ghais' dissertation and as such was ideally situated to be the discussant for this presentation. After speaking about some of the research that he had done on peace processes in a number of other countries, such as in the Balkans and Ireland, he asked some rather poignant questions of Ghais' work.
The first point that he brought up was in regards to whether or not elite pacts were a necessity. Elite pacts focus first on the elites of both sides, to attempt to get them to come to some sort of agreement, which can sometimes ignore the needs of the populations. The point here is that finding a way to get the elites to agree, which can take the use of a coercive mediator, is able to put a halt to the violence. To actually get everyone on board sometimes takes a full shift of attitude by the population, which can take much longer to achieve. Ghais' response to this is that focusing on an elite pact can take away from a robust peace plan, the end result is sometimes a fragile negative peace with no movement towards positive peace. They then tried to think of an example of sequencing, where it began with an elite pact and then attempted to bring civil society in, however neither of them could think of a pure example of that. Her point to that was that civil society does not need to have equal status in the negotiations, but it is important that they have a place at the table.
Sisk also raised importance of international parties and coalitions being included as well in the process. Ghais did not necessarily see this as an issue of inclusiveness, although if they are unified in their goals and support of the process then it can have a positive effect.
The types of civil society that should be involved in the process were also discussed, such as religious institutions, women's groups, etc. Ghais responded that although there hasn't been research done on which types of civil society groups have been involved in the most effective peace processes, when civil society is involved, it is more often than not religious actors, women's groups, and in a distant third, human rights groups.
~Rowan Mundhenk, '18