Representatives of the focal points of the Group of Friends of Mediation gathered at the House of the Estates in Helsinki for a two-day meeting on 17 and 18 January. In all, 32 of the Group of Friends’ member countries and organisations arrived in Helsinki to share their experiences and discuss the Group’s future challenges.
The Group of Friends of Mediation was established in 2010 at the initiative of the foreign ministers of Finland and Turkey. During its existence of just over two years, the Group of Friends has succeeded in strengthening the role of mediation in the UN. The Resolutions achieved at the Group’s initiative have strengthened the normative base of mediation.
In addition, the Group of Friends played an important role in drawing up the UN Secretary-General’s Guidance for Effective Mediation. Another indication of the Group’s success is the growing interest shown in it. At present the membership of the Group of Friends includes 34 countries, the United Nations and regional organisations – the AU, the Arab League, ASEAN, the EU, the OSCE, the OAS and the OIC. In addition, several countries have expressed interest in joining the Group. The Group of Friends operates mainly in New York, and now its network of focal points is also becoming active.
The meeting held in Helsinki was the second meeting of the network of focal points. Themes that were raised many times included strengthening of the role of women in peace processes, the importance of education and the relationship between peace and justice. Normative work was called for in, for instance, the role of religious and traditional leaders and the position of the so-called traditional administration of justice. In order to strengthen the role of women in practice, it is necessary that Member States put forward female candidates, for instance for the tasks of the Secretary-General’s special representative.
There was also much discussion on the role of mediation in conflict prevention. Mediation is more than bringing the parties to a conflict to the negotiating table; in the best of cases it can also prevent the outbreak of violence. It emerged clearly during the discussions that alongside the mutual exchange of information, the Group of Friends of Mediation would have the potential to deepen our knowledge of mediation further and to disseminate information outside the Group as well.
In his opening address, Foreign Minister Tuomioja highlighted the importance of the Group of Friends’ focal points. The role of the representatives of the Group of Friends’ focal points in developing mediation work at the national and regional level was stressed throughout the meeting. In particular, the Group’s newest members felt that they received ideas to be implemented in their own foreign ministries. For instance, the compilation of a national action plan for mediation along the lines of the Finnish example received support.
The chairs of the meeting, Head of Unit Katri Viinikka of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Deputy Director General Levent Gümrükcü of the Foreign Ministry of Turkey underlined the importance of the activities of each member state and member organisation in alongside the Group’s joint efforts.
The role of regional organisations in conflict resolution and peace processes was one of the most important themes of the meeting. Regional organisations are closer to the conflict and have good knowledge of the parties to the conflict and its context. It is therefore often easier for them to support the peace process and to act as a mediator between the parties. The representatives of various regional organisation present at the meeting gave presentations on their recent mediation activities and reported on their work more broadly.
The regional organisations also thanked the UN Mediation Support Unit (MSU) for its support. It was considered necessary for the Group of Friends to take an active approach in presenting itself at the meetings of regional organisations, in order to attain an even stronger commitment on the part of the organisations’ member countries.
In addition to the discussions held amongst themselves, during the two-day meeting the Group of Friends of Mediation heard presentations by Crisis Management Initiative (CMI) and Finn Church Aid. CMI’s Executive Director Tuija Talvitie shed light on the importance of non-State actors in peace processes and told about the CMI’s activities in the field in more detail. Finn Church Aid Executive Director Antti Pentikäinen conducted a panel discussion on the significance of religious and traditional leaders as mediators.
The role of religious leaders in mediation is great, but in the past it has not been known how to benefit from its value in international activities. Many important local actors participated in the panel discussion, for instance from Myanmar and Somalia, who gave concrete examples of their work as conflict mediators. Two Somalis, Sultan Abdisalam, Director of the Horn of Africa Peace Center and Halima Ismail Ibrahim, an active promoter of women’s rights, said that their work had even been dangerous at times. More recently, however, cooperation between the clans has made considerable progress in Somalia.
The enthusiastic atmosphere that prevailed throughout the conference showed clearly that there is great need for mediation. Despite the significant achievements of the Group of Friends, much remains to be done and the Group of Friends has an important role in the development of mediation internationally. The Group of Friends led by Finland and Turkey is an example of the UN’s important cooperation across the borders of country groups.
At the end of the meeting, the Group of Friends’ focal point representatives agreed to meet on a regular basis twice a year in future. The arrival of focal point representatives from as far as Uganda and Columbia to a freezing cold Helsinki was itself an indication of staunch commitment to the Group of Friends.