A Time for Peace

July 24th, 2014 No comments

Victoria Barker, United States of America

As I biked to the Clingendael Institute of International Relations this morning, the city seemed eerie — I hardly passed anyone else on the usually bustling bike path. The whole city seemed to be hardly moving. As I arrived at Clingendael, I took in the incredible beauty of the campus that strikes me every morning. Even here something was different. I noticed the Dutch flag flying at half-staff and realized that it must be to honor the victims of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. This “National Day of Mourning”, as it is known, is the first time in over forty-two years that the entire country of Holland has stood still to mourn for the victims of a horrific event. The feeling of loss and shock is truly palpable around The Hague. As 4:00 pm approached and the nation grew silent, I reflected on this tragic event and other tragedies that are occurring worldwide. Thousands of lives have been lost over the past week as a result of violent conflicts. What do these disasters mean for the international community?  Two weeks ago, my answer would have probably been politically charged and perhaps bitter about the ongoing conflict in Ukraine that had affected so many people that I know. Today my answer is different.

Victoria BlogFor the past week and a half, I along with thirty five other “peacemakers” have been studying in The Hague, The Netherlands. Led by the International Peace and Security Institute and taught by various professors, lawyers and social scientists from across the globe we have focused on post-conflict transitions and the role of international justice.  It came as no surprise last Thursday afternoon when we worked on a simulation focused on the role of the International Criminal Court in the current conflict in Eastern Ukraine — it was a relevant topic, to say the least. Later that day, the media was flooded with reports of a plane crash in Eastern Ukraine. The shock increased upon learning that this plane left from Schiphol International Airport in Amsterdam — the same airport where five days prior we had all arrived to embark on this month long peace training program. The magnitude of the crash hit close to home, in a sense, as I learned that some of the victims were from The Hague. People in the community where I am living are mourning the loss of a seventeen-year old girl, her younger brother, and their parents. And the rest of Holland is mourning the deaths of nearly two hundred men, women and children who had bright futures ahead.

This horrible event furthers everything that I have been learning over the past 10 days in The Hague and in time will serve as a call to action — people matter and peace as difficult (or nearly impossible) as it might be to create, is vital. We have spent the past week and a half discussing former and current conflicts. In every instance, we have read about and discussed the loss of lives that these conflicts have caused. Human lives matter regardless of the area or the conflict, be it Syria, Israel or Palestine, Ukraine or Holland, The United States, or South Sudan.

Historically, Holland has had its share of violent happenings. The Clingendael Institute was the home of a prominent Nazi leader during the occupation. Some of the buildings on these grounds were used as interrogation rooms. This place was home to so much violence and hate. Today, it is an institute dedicated to studying and creating peace worldwide and one of the most serene places I have ever been. It is a reminder that even the most horrendous places can become harmonious.

 While there are undoubtedly foreign policy implications for the actors involved, and justice to be had for the families and victims of the attack, today is a day to simply reflect on the lives of the people who were on board the plane and to unite with their families and friends in mourning their passing. It is also a time to stand behind the people who continue to be affected by the violence in Ukraine, regardless of whose side they are on. I think I can speak for all of us at the IPSI Symposium here in The Hague when I say, that we all stand for peace in conflict areas and since The Hague has become our home for the summer, we stand with Holland and the rest of the international community in mourning the loss of the victims of the MH17 crash. It is instances like these that further the mission the 36 of us came for — to learn “transitional justice skills and pragmatic peace building work”.

Categories: The Hague 2014, Uncategorized Tags:

Negotiations: It’s about who gets what!

July 24th, 2014 No comments

by Trust Mamombe, Zimbabwe

Enter Wilbur Perlot, the Deputy Director of the Clingendael Academy and a ‘Specialist in Difficult Negotiations’ (SDN, my creative acronym).  Here is a man with a non-negotiably long CV. That being the case, our training session did not start according to my preconceived expectations and this is why.

Coming all the way from the diminutive land between the Zambezi and the Limpopo rivers for knowledge-osmosis, our training was supposed to be characterized by the flow of facts from a high concentration (Wilbur) to a low concentration (IPSI participants) and not vice versa. But, Wilbur does not throw seeds of knowledge carelessly and leave them to fall, some on good soil, some on rocks, and some among thorns, to borrow from the biblical parables. Thirty six minutes gone and Perlot was mounting a whole training session around participant contributions and answers to his sporadic inquiries. How much we, the participants, gained from the session was totally dependent on what we hazarded to guess. Thus, we unwittingly negotiated for new concepts by randomly throwing commoners’ limited knowledge at him.14420827628_0e45f91a61_z

The simulation exercises were such beautiful experiences. I played the role of Special Representative of the United States of America in the Serbia-Kosovo conflict. For once in my life I knew exactly what I wanted and how to get it. For once I could be genuinely benevolent, particularly to little Serbia. I was uncompromisingly unambiguous about what can and cannot be done to my Kosovo. Better still, I caricatured the United Nations just to put Russia off balance and leveraged my positions through NATO and the EU! My superiors in New York and Washington DC were pleasantly amused.

Then, I was introduced to the stimulating Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument. It turns out that I am fairly collaborative and compromising in my approach to conflict. On a positive note,= though, I am not a competitive person. But a major weakness, I presume, is that I have a magnified avoidance approach!

Wilbur pleaded with us not to be hard on ourselves with regards to the outcomes of the conflict mode test. Instead, he gently urged us to work a little harder on the areas we scored dismally. Please! I for one will not do that. I will take the results seriously and will not go easy on myself in the areas I scored badly; it has such overarching bearing on a negotiator.

And the result of the session?  I’ve got it, Wilbur.  From negotiations, from the way you delivered your training sessions, and I’ve got it from the simulation exercises. I further got it from the TK Conflict Mode Instrument. After thorough negotiations disguised as training sessions, I’ve got it. I’ve got it.

You only palpably said it in the last seven minutes of your stay with us in Bologna. Yes, values are important, processes matter, and so on and so forth, but the short of it is that, most importantly, negotiations are about who gets what! Period. You are such a fountain of negotiation wisdom Wilbur. Thank you!

Categories: Bologna 2014 Tags:

It’s Tough to Negotiate from a Position of Weakness

July 23rd, 2014 No comments

by Melissa Gregg, United Kingdom

As we come to the end of this week, it’s hard to believe that the 2014 Bologna Symposium is at its halfway point.  As a graduate of the 2013 Hague Symposium, I know all too well how quickly the time flies. We’ve now ‘settled in’ to our IPSI family but have not yet approached the unhappy reality of goodbyes and long journeys home. We are asking more questions, challenging the simulations, and using our ever-growing knowledge to our best advantage.IMG_3673

On Thursday we were treated to another brilliant day with Wilbur Perlot, expert negotiator from the Clingendael Institute in The Hague. I had the pleasure of learning from Wilbur last year and this represented a second chance to engage with him and draw from his wealth of negotiation experience.

We spent the better part of the morning going over the lessons we’d learned from the ‘Crocodile River’ case study conducted the day before. The study asked us to rank a series of characters based on our perception of their morality and then negotiate with our peers to form a group consensus.

The task raised several issues: how to lobby effectively, how to prepare the mind for a negotiation, how to harness social capital, and how to keep negotiations going when one party threatens to walk. Wilbur is a very straightforward man (being Dutch, he is quite happy to admit this). There was no sugarcoating such lessons as “keep hold of the goal by staying at the table,” or, “be aware of body language,” and “keep your head and don’t lose your temper.”

It is extremely difficult to take those lessons into account when you sit across from your friends and peers, trying desperately to secure the outcome you want and even need in that moment.  Practice, practice, practice and a thorough review of each simulation is the most effective way to hammer home these lessons.

The afternoon, therefore, involved yet another exercise, which plunged us into the 1990s and asked us to form a successful loan agreement between Uganda and The World Bank. One of the major issues that faced our group–and indeed that faced the class as a whole during the crocodile river test–was setting and conforming to rules and procedures that allowed every party a voice. Power dynamics are both easy to forget and easily manipulated; setting ground rules diminishes the likelihood of any one participant “railroading” the others. Although equal power may be a utopian ideal for global politics, listening and patience are two of the most critical skills for us to assimilate at this early stage of our careers. 14532577800_4901c62e5e_z

Despite the dearth of procedural structure, our group managed to hammer out a deal that both the Uganda and World Bank teams signed on to. We parted with a sense of satisfaction, handshakes, and smiles. Nevertheless, I know we can do better with more practice, with time to think in order to give more careful consideration to Wilbur’s lessons.

I intend to savor every moment of the second half of The Bologna Symposium because every minute spent here is another opportunity to learn something new, to bond with my peers, and to create new IPSI traditions. I can’t wait!

Categories: Bologna 2014 Tags:

International Negotiation Training with a Professional

July 23rd, 2014 No comments

by Zachary Laranang, United States 


2014 IPSI Bologna participants Zach Laranang and Marta D’Agosto on panel during negotiations.

The second week in Bologna was even better than the first! It was all about conflict resolution and the biggest part of the week was spent learning about international negotiation from Wilbur Perlot, Deputy Director of the Clingendael Academy. Responsible for international skills training and training on EU affairs, Wilbur delivers 40+ negotiation training sessions each year, and has trained senior military staff, diplomats, civil servants, and private sector employees from many different countries. Essentially, there aren’t many people better fit to facilitate training in negotiation skills and we as a group were privileged to have him with us.

On Thursday, Wilbur introduced us to more mediation and negotiation tools and techniques.  We also talked about strategies for dealing with different group dynamics with regards to both the opposing side as well as your own side. Talking about these different approaches was beneficial because during a simulation the previous day many participants (including myself) had trouble coming to an agreement. It is one thing to intellectually understand negotiation principles, techniques, and theory, but it is another thing entirely to put them into practice whilst simultaneously dealing with conflicting opinions, group dynamics, and your own frustration. In addition, he also gave us a “Workbook of International Negotiation”, which was packed full of notes and tools. I will be sure to keep it safe and refer to it often!

We attempted to apply the tools provided to a simulated negotiation between the Ugandan government and the World Bank. This simulation was based on real-world negotiations that took place over the course of 18 months in the 1990s. I was a member of a four person World Bank delegation talking to a four member Ugandan delegation.

Right from the start, our team attempted to put ourselves in a position to achieve a settlement more favorable to us. Our first step before beginning the negotiations was to note what our strengths and weaknesses were and, conversely, what they were for Uganda. We also identified where we were willing to compromise and how we were going to operate during the negotiations. Most importantly, we chose a team leader through whom we would run our side of the negotiation with a unified voice and direction.

When the actual negotiation started things went surprisingly smoothly (or at least, more smoothly than I thought they were going to go). Although the Ugandan delegation was, on paper, supposed to be difficult regarding how much money went to the military, we were able to work out a deal in which money spent on the military did not go toward fighting the rebels in the north, which was what the World Bank wanted. Unlike previous simulations, I walked away with both a deal and a feeling of satisfaction.

Overall, Wilbur Perot has been my favorite speaker thus far at the 2014 IPSI Bologna Symposium. Although the other speakers were great as well (especially Ambassador Jan Eliasson!!), I am a big fan of practicality and action, and Wilbur Perot placed great emphasis on both. I know I will apply his training to future endeavors in both my personal and professional life.


Categories: Bologna 2014 Tags:

Mirroring Biases in Considering Reconciliation

July 22nd, 2014 No comments

Nancy Waterstraat, Germany


Is reconciliation always feasible and necessary? The first part- feasibility- might be a quite obvious maybe or even no. One of the most striking realizations personally, however, was that maybe the answer to the latter- the necessity of reconciliation- could be no also as far as Dr. Valerie Rosoux was concerned. Coming from a background of political/ social psychology I am a firm believer in a resounding yes, however idealistic this may seem at first.

In a symposium that focuses on the legal aspects of post-conflict societies, I found myself in a conversation in which Dr. Rosoux was able to conceptualize the complexities of human memory vividly and concisely. Given her longstanding experience in peacebuilding and negotiation in international affairs, both in theory and field-work, she engaged our diverse group in a discussion about the meaning, structure, and limitations of reconciliation and memorialization. So why do I remain firm in believing that reconciliation was necessary in all circumstances? Let me try to explain.

The question of who we are is in its core one of identities. Whichever identity we chose to make most salient also brings with it the memories tied to the group we connect with as part of that identity. Individual and collective memories are therefore two sides of the same coin that making up human experience thorough life. Yet the relationship only begins at the realization that both types of memories exist and that they are not always compatible. Nevertheless, contending with both is vital in what Dr. Rosoux calls demobilizing minds after a conflict situation. Conflicts turn society into groupings of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ along identification lines which in turn influence issues of processing and memorization of information. Dr. Rosoux showcased the issue of turning society on the ground from past oriented to future oriented. In order to do this memories and narratives of the conflict need to be worked on. Exactly this is where the process of reconciliation comes in. How elaborate the process is, became clear during our day with Dr. Rosoux.

IMG_4892After questioning the need for a definition of definition or the feasibility of one, the bulk of the morning was spend on considering of the procedure of reconciliation. Afterwards we discussed the context, agency, and timing of reconciliation. How to overcome the divergence of parties is at the heart of this question. For me this divergence is one of narratives and the memories that underlie those narratives. As Dr. Rosoux put it, memory is not the repetition but the reconstruction of the past. Reconciliation is a reconstruction also- a reconstruction of narratives and identities away from incompatibility towards mutual acceptance and eventually to a single agreed upon narrative. This last part is where Dr. Rosoux and I differ, as she believes the agreement on one narrative is not necessary.  Maybe accepting the other side’s story as equally legitimate is enough to stop violence, enough to life peacefully next to one another, but it is not enough to allow for social integration and unity. Perhaps this is only important for internal conflicts and two warring states can quite simply make do without integration of the population. But forgive me for a few biases that do not allow me to dwell on these examples- dwindling in numbers as international armed conflicts are. I am living through a European integration that is only possible because former mortal enemies France and Germany have found a common narrative. Moreover, the situation of Palestinian citizens of Israel is foremost in my mind when I write of this and while a future (if ever feasible) independent state of Palestine may live next to Israel, their status as Israeli citizens complicates this two state solution. We have to at least ask the question whether it is not imperative that they are able to fully integrate into society and whether that takes more than acknowledgement of their separate narrative, but also the finding of a mutual narrative within Israel.

Dr. Rosoux also held up a mirror to peacemakers and advocates for reconciliation in the broader sense. She faced us with the question of who we want reconciliation for- us, the outsiders to the conflict in question or the society concerned? For me this is the strongest critique of the necessity and feasibility of reconciliation. Because I consider the reworking of narratives as paramount, an imposition from the outside is out of the question in terms of helping a society find itself again. One cannot impose a new identity from the outside, nor can it be indoctrinated sustainably from above. I have acknowledged some of my biases above, and I think that Dr. Rosoux’s mirror resonates with all of us in different ways. And maybe this mirror most importantly helps us identify our biases when we consider whether reconciliation is always feasible and always necessary- regardless of the answer we may give.

Categories: The Hague 2014 Tags:

Blending Theory & Practice

July 22nd, 2014 No comments

by Robert Heyn, Germany

Last Wednesday was a very special day for me.  I was very much looking forward to Wilbur Perlot’s class on international negotiation.  Whenever negotiation was on the schedule during my undergraduate degree it was interesting to see how my own behavior, as well as that of my fellow students, would change under pressure. Given my educational experiences and background I had assumed that the day would not yield any major surprises, but I was wrong.IMG_4019

During the first negotiation situation, Wilbur gave us an ambiguous morality story called ‘crocodile river’ which is about a girl who decides to sleep with somebody as leverage to get to her true love. When the lover learns about the trade, he dismisses her and she, in turn, laughs at him when he is beaten up by one of her friends. Wilbur asked us to rank the different characters in the story individually and then come to an agreement as a group within 15 minutes.

This process led to some friction within the group and, at least for myself, also to personal frustration. Feeling that I did not have a stake in the outcome, I was very surprised when my group asked me to negotiate with representatives of the other groups. They perceived me differently than I did.

In the following 5-person negotiation, we could not reach any agreement because one group stymied the negotiations. Time also limited our ability to reach consensus. During the debrief, however, Wilbur gave us valuable strategies on how to deal with group dynamics and obstructing parties to a negotiation:

  1. Set commonly accepted rules and procedures prior to any negotiation
  2. Reframe the question to reach a common understanding of the issue.
  3. Summarize often and ask questions to understand the perspectives of the other side.
  4. Take breaks to resolve arising misunderstandings and conflicts informally.

Following Wilbur’s course, we had the distinguished honor to welcome John’s Hopkins University Professor, Dr. William Zartmann. With great knowledge and wit, he introduced us to his life’s work about international mediation theory.  He analyzed the factors beneficial to mediation and the different levers a mediator can bring to bear in blockade situations, such as the one we experienced earlier on. The following day we had a second negotiation situation based on the Uganda/World Bank negotiations from the mid-nineties.  These negotiations went much more smoothly than ‘crocodile river’, with every group finding consensus.  Since it occurred the following day, we were able to use both Wilbur’s strategies and Dr. Zartman’s knowledge successfully.


Wilbur Perlot lectures IPSI Bologna students on international mediation practice.

The direct relation of theory and practice were the main reasons why I chose to participate in the Bologna Symposium.  Wilbur was outstanding in his application of this educational strategy and, kudos to Dr. Zartmann for sharing with us his tremendous knowledge–may it benefit us as the world’s next generation of peace leaders!

Categories: Bologna 2014 Tags:

International Criminal Court: International Affairs, Law and Humanity Meet

July 21st, 2014 No comments

Concepcion Torres, United States of America

IMG_4878As a Christian, an International Affairs graduate, and aspiring international criminal lawyer, stepping into the International Criminal Court (ICC) was a dream come true. Having had the opportunity to study and obtain my B.A in International Affairs, surely laid the foundation for my international law interests. As an International Peace and Security Institute (IPSI) participant, studying the different mechanisms of post-conflict transitions, and visiting the first permanent treaty-based international court was remarkable. The ICC is a permanent international judiciary institution focused on bringing justice to victims of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and serious crimes of concern to the international community.

Although independent from the United Nations (UN) and created upon the Rome Convention in Rome Italy in 1998, it’s founding principles goes back to the memory of massive deaths and human rights violations that resulted in the Second World War and the Holocaust. It’s core lies on humanity’s hope for peace. Upon the Rome convention with 160 state representatives gathered, 120 voted for the creation of this international court. It is governed by the Rome Statute, and has 122 member countries. Although an international court, it is not the police of the world. It has the economic and logistic capacity to hold an estimate of 4 trials, and 7 investigations a year. With the rise of the 2010 Arab Spring, ongoing Middle Eastern revolutions, countless human rights violations around the world, the ICC Prosecution is limited to which cases to undertake. Leaving us with the reality that sustainable peace must start with the citizens in each given country.

The ICC’s priority is not only to prosecute criminals of gross crimes committed against humanity, and make examples of them but to ensure the justice for the victims, reparations and safety of the survivors. The ICC was created with the optimistic ideal of bringing justice, peace, and hope. International criminal law is composed of many components. As Sudanese former child soldier, now rapper Emmanuel Jal said, “When you have a spiritual lens you see things with more clarity.” I see international criminal law as primarily interlinked with the core human will to choose good or evil. It reflects the genuine intention to expose truth and seek justice in the political and international arena.

To better appreciate the subject of international criminal law, understanding the root cause of such crimes is imperative. The international community understands that genocide, and war crimes can only be exercised by unjustifiable motives. Criminals of such horrendous acts choose power over righteousness, self-interest over humility, money and religion over self-denial and truth. They make power, self-interest and even religion their god, rather than seeking truth in God. This can be supported by Luke 10:27 NIV, “Love The Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Many are confronted with truth, but choose to live otherwise. That is why the international community is in need of several pre and post-conflict mechanisms that starts at the domestic scale and extends to judicial institutions such as the ICC.

The ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda bears the responsibility of selecting which cases should and can be brought into trial. Prosecutor Bensouda is independent from the court or any institution, but obviously adheres to the Rome Statute, and to key case requirements. Before deciding whether to continue with a formal investigation the case must meet requirements such as: Admissibility, jurisdiction, state membership, the crimes committed must fall after July 2002, there can’t be any proper investigations currently being held, and there must be sufficient gravity. This all comes together to 3 key questions: What are the mass crimes, who may be responsible for the crimes, and who can be linked to the described crimes? One thing that caught my attention was the definition of gravity. The ICC prosecution team described their definition of gravity as, “How many crimes were committed in that country, the nature of the crime, and how quickly the crimes happened. It’s not about the number of people killed, but on the impact it had.” Hearing this, I could see the connection between clear-cut law and humanity.  The subject of law, justice, and peace is complex, but it’s something that always goes back to our core identity as humans.

Categories: The Hague 2014 Tags:

Learning to Honor Justice the Hard Way

July 21st, 2014 No comments

Santiago Alberto Vargas Nino, Colombia


July 17 marked the celebration of the Day of International Criminal Justice. On this very special occasion, participants at The Hague Symposium on Post-Conflict Transitions and International Justice organized by the International Peace and Security Institute had the honour to receive Mrs. Shamila Batohi, senior legal advisor to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. In a thought provoking session, Mrs. Batohi took a group of 36 peaceleaders eager to learn more about the functioning of the first permanent international criminal tribunal through a journey that covered the origins of the Court, its mandate and operation, as well as a balance of the Court’s activities.

Established at the Rome Conference of 1998,the Court counts with the support of 122 States Parties and it has studied situations in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Ivory Coast, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Sudan, and Uganda. Six of these situations were referred by the States themselves, two of them were initiated upon requests made by the Security Council, and the remaining two were the consequence of the Prosecutor’s proprio motu powers. The Court is also conducting preliminary investigations on a wide set of contexts, ranging from the internal armed conflict in the Republic of Colombia, where positive complementarity has proven fundamental in state capacity building and legislative efforts to fight impunity, to Afghanistan, Guinea, and Ukraine.

Mrs. Batohi’s presentation further dealt with some of the most controversial aspects of the Court’s work such as its alleged African bias, the Court’s relationship with the United Nation’s Security Council, and the fact that powerful states have not ratified the Rome Statute in a way that inspired and challenged them to continue the pursuit of an international justice that is universal, fair, and continuously evolving.

After a very productive session, peaceleaders were asked to provide legal advice to the Office of the Prosecutor in a stimulating practical exercise that faced them with the question of whether to request the initiation of a formal investigation in Ukraine. Students not only had to answer questions related to the legal framework of the Court but they were also challenged to foresee political outcomes and consequences of its decision to intervene in a particular scenario. This tested the participants’ ability to work together in a multidisciplinary context and to exercise their capacity to reach agreements in a less-than-ideal situation to better suit the interests of justice.

ICC GroupAs the fourth day of the Symposium on Post-Conflict Transitions and International Justice was coming to an end at The Hague a horrific and unsettling event was confirmed: Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, en route from Schiphol international airport to Kuala Lumpur, crashed in Ukrainian territory. The lives of 295 people were claimed by this tragedy and allegations that the civilian flight was shot down by pro-Russian militias operating in Donetsk have spread, causing an even more acute sense of despair. This event occurred only hours after an Israeli missile extinguished four little children in Gaza and an airstrike cost the lives of other three infants, raising the death toll above 200 people in nine days of intense cross-fire.  The suffering of those who were related to the victims, regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, religion or location, shakes my conscience and I cannot withhold my words of condolence and solidarity. My heart goes to all of them in hopes that they will find the strength and wisdom to overcome these shattering events.

The downing of flight MH17 and the on-going murder of civilians in Gaza stand as cruel reminders of the very real threats that armed conflicts of any nature pose to the delicate mosaic of peoples around the world. It is also a call for a deeper international commitment with a set of values that would prevent the occurrence of these heinous acts and assure that their perpetrators will face prosecution. On this date, July 17 2014, we need to go beyond acknowledging that justice matters. Today, on international criminal justice day, we need to commit ourselves to its realization.

Categories: The Hague 2014, Uncategorized Tags:

Accountable to a Purpose

July 20th, 2014 No comments

by Stephen Di Lorenzo, Australia

IMG_3350Over the last few years my adventures in the world of peacebuilding and conflict management have been rather limited, yet my enthusiasm for the field has grown. My foray into the realm of legal mediation gives me firm ground on which to build and the 2014 IPSI Bologna Symposium has been a site of rapid construction in knowledge and practical skills learnt directly from the professionals and experts in the field.

On Tuesday the 15th of July Search for Common Ground’s Michael Shipler and Rajendra Mulmi—SFCG Asia Regional Director and Nepal National Director respectively— continued their training on facilitation. I was somewhat sceptical about the focus of training purely in facilitation, but I put this down to my own ignorance of the distinction between this role and the role of mediators and trainers.

The simulation involved designing a public dialogue process that would bring together various community groups with a diverse range of views and opinions. Whilst the objective of our meeting was to pitch our project to a panel of experts, a large portion of our actual focus was on the internal mechanisms within our groups leading to a successful project pitch.

One point that was raised in our initial training was the integral nature of questioning as a process to the facilitator. It was insightful to see how this theory worked in practice during the simulation. As there are so many dynamics at play during the process.

Throughout the morning’s training, I was feeling more familiar with the role of a facilitator in a leadership capacity and I began to understand how facilitation relates to some of my previous work. Michael started going through the characteristics of facilitation: engaging and focussing on the process rather than the content of the discussion, being constantly in a mode of inquiry about multiple points of view and not advocating a particular position, distinguishing between facts and values, and knowing when to ask certain questions regarding both so as to draw out an awareness amongst the group. Then, Michael made the point that, as a facilitator, you are accountable to a purpose. This made me pause mid thought-flow and has stuck with me as an over-arching principle from which I will operate from.


Accountability is a frequently abused concept insofar as it is often avoided when it is needed and used as an instrument of injury when it should be an opportunity for exercising and demonstrating ones’ capacity. There are different levels of accountability necessary for a leader. These levels include: accountability to your superiors (uncontroversial), accountability to your stakeholders, clients, and constituents, accountability to yourself, and accountability to an over-arching purpose.  Accountability to this last level— to an over-arching purpose, — is a concept I had not considered before.

As the symposium continues, I hope to gain many more knowledge from all the incredible experiences of all the amazing speakers and trainers that we have to look forward to.

Categories: Bologna 2014 Tags:

Political Change and Bridging the Divide

July 19th, 2014 No comments

By Rishita Apsani, India/Canada

Conflict is an inevitable and healthy part of the human condition and our role as peace builders is not to stomp out conflict as such, but to move it away from the realm of violence. Professor Zartman’s insightful distinction framed today’s activities effectively. We shifted from learning about grassroots “person-to-person’ change (to use Michael Shipler’s terminology) to the tangled world of high-politics and inter-state negotiations.

The morning began with Wilbur Perlot, the deputy director of the Clingendael Academy, leading a discussion on effective negotiations and mediation. He prefaced his workshop with the observation that students of mediation are often unaware of the larger dynamics of negotiation. This comment illuminated any gaps in understanding that skills such as empathy and leadership were important to working through complicated political alliances, entrenched international organizational structures, and asymmetric power in peace processes.IMG_3349

After the discussion, it was time to start applying the lessons.  Each participant was given a story with five characters and asked to rank them from best to worst. We were then split into groups and told to negotiate a collective ranking. I was surprised at how contentious this process was.  It showed me that even simple fictional scenarios are sources of intense, value-laden debates in negotiations. My group came to the consensus that we could not rank the characters due to underlying value differences (which could not and should not be negotiated). These dynamics reminded me of negotiations regarding human rights in international politics. In such negotiations, even seemingly universal values are often met with opposition on the basis of cultural sensitivity.

Though I agreed with my group that some differences are irreconcilable, I feel that a negotiator’s success lies in reframing the process towards building bridges and narrowing the realm of debate to matters that are not so value-laden. For example, if the international community as a whole did not believe that childhood education was a fundamental human right, countries that felt strongly about the right to education could still pursue it through the tangible goal of universal literacy. Here, agreement could be premised on insisting that it is a human right to some while appealing to reasons of economic efficiency to others. It is, thus, the job of the negotiator to search through the layers of needs, interests, and positions of each party in order to break the impasse.

While Mr. Perlot focused on ‘getting to yes,’ Professor Zartman focused on readying the negotiating table itself. Instead of uncritically insisting that negotiations can be held at any time, he argued that that conflict could only be negotiated when parties were confronted with a ‘mutually hurting stalemate’—that is, both parties subjectively realize that the status quo is untenable. Though structural elements would largely determine the timing, the mediator could influence the ‘subjective’ element by using threats, warnings, and changing public opinion.

One of the lessons that I took from this session that had been overlooked at the symposium up to that point is that peace builders, above all else, must always cultivate their sense of humility and realism. Conflicts are complex, historically rooted, and structural. As such, we must be ready for political wrangling and hard politicking to force parties to come to the table—to this end, our hands cannot entirely be clean. It is only when parties agree to sit at the table that the coveted traits of empathy and impartiality even become relevant.

A final lesson is that though person-to-person change is effective, we cannot pursue it to the neglect of top-down political change. Bridging that divide is absolutely necessary if peace is to be lasting.

Categories: Bologna 2014 Tags: