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Building trust between negotiating parties is not enough for a sustainable peace process. Guaranteeing personal safety and security to those involved is crucial, otherwise the most vulnerable may pay a high price for peace. How can peace facilitators put measures in place to protect all parties during peace processes? Véronique Dudouet of Berghof Foundation co-facilitated a workshop on security guarantees.
Entering peace negotiations is challenging for all parties to a conflict. But in some peace processes, the negotiating teams, their advisors and advocates face legal penalties, imprisonment or even violence and death threats. The arrest of the Basque peace negotiator Josu Urrutikoetxea in 2019 is a prominent example. He was a member of ETA and played an active role in its disarmament and ultimately its dissolution. Urrutikoetxea’s prosecution raises questions about security pledges and immunity guarantees after peace processes end. But we have seen many more tragic examples of members of negotiating parties as well as lawyers and democratic rights activists being detained or killed on their way to or from peace talks.
Especially when governments negotiate with opposition groups, adequate legal and security guarantees for everyone involved are vital for peace processes to be sustainable. At the negotiations table, all sides are forced to make concessions and move out of their comfort zones. Government officials need to know that their actions and decisions do not violate law. Especially as the negotiators’ decisions are often implemented by civil servants, who might be more reluctant to do so when they fear their actions could have legal consequences.
To feel safe to explore options for dialogue and to be willing to make compromises, representatives of opposition groups also need to be ensured that they will not face legal consequences due to their involvement in negotiations. Without some guarantees, and – crucially – without confidence in those, it is hard for those involved to change their mindset to move towards dialogue; and to persuade their constituencies that it is worth taking risks to find peaceful solutions.
How can peace facilitators or mediators put effective legal measures in place to protect all parties during and after peace processes? Too often peacebuilders, diplomatic corps, or hosting states focus on building trust between negotiating parties, but fail to agree on a secure legal framework for the talks. Yet guaranteeing personal safety and security is crucial to ensure those who are most vulnerable will not pay a ‘price of peace’.
To discuss and tackle this important topic, I was invited by the Basque NGO Telesforo Monzon eLab to co-facilitate a workshop on personal safety and security guarantees for peace negotiators.
At the workshop, representatives of opposition groups who were involved in peace talks met with legal advisors to negotiation parties, experts in public and international law, third-party peace mediators as well as representatives of states who have negotiated peace agreements. We discussed examples from peace processes in the Basque Country, Catalunya, Colombia, Kurdistan, Israel/Palestine and the Philippines to examine challenges peace negotiators face as well as lessons that we can learn from these processes.
All participants agreed that ensuring proper guarantees and legal clarity for peace negotiators would be a crucial step in removing obstacles to settlements and in creating more conducive conditions for peace processes to produce a positive outcome. This topic needs deeper analysis to understand better which political and legal measures can be used to safeguard participants, for example from proscribed opposition groups, and their advisors during peace talks.
We hope that our discussion will lead to a larger initiative that helps collect best practices and creative solutions to secure their engagement in dialogue, and inform policy debates to improve ongoing and future peace processes.
The full workshop report and recommendations can be found here.
Read more about the peace process in the Basque country and find more resources in the library of Berghof Foundation.