The involvement of civil society in Track I peace negotiations is still shunned by negotiators because of the difficulties of fostering cooperation when large numbers of parties are at the negotiation table.
The objective of this policy paper is to provide answers to the question of why, whether and how civil society could be involved in peace negotiations. It will also present and analyse different options to involve civil society into peace negotiations, including the advantages and disadvantages of each approach.
- In practice there is a tendency to limit involvement at the peace table to only the armed parties. Participation of civil society gives peace negotiations, and thus the entire peace process, more legitimacy and has contributed in many cases to the sustainability of the peace agreement. Consequently, it is not whether or not to involve civil society, but how. In particular mediators must address the core dilemma of having too many people at the table. Civil society groups present at the table could increase the complexity of mediation to the point that they could reduce the possibility of reaching an agreement.
- It is necessary to analyse each peace negotiation and choose a suitable solution to fit the process. Options for civil society engagement include: inviting civil society representatives directly to the negotiation table; installing a parallel civil society forum with a consultative mandate; involving civil society through effective communication channels and negotiating with civil society only when Track I negotiations are stalled.
- If civil society participation at the table is not feasible, then a parallel civil society forum in combination with an effective communication policy could be an alternative model. Research findings indicate that the more democratic and broadly representative that parties are, the less that civil society needs a direct seat at the table. This suggests that mediators and international interveners need to utilize a democratic scale in deciding to what extent they will invite civil society groups to have a seat at the table.
Who to involve at a civil society negotiation table
- Representation. Widely representative groups are strong potential partners to join a negotiation. These include trade unions, business associations, student unions, and the like, but also be representatives of civil society coalitions. The democratic structures of these groups foster wide membership participation and promote the strong inculcation of democratic political culture.
- Needed expertise. Groups that can offer specific expertise that could help reach agreement and improve the outcome. Such groups include conflict resolution NGOs or humanitarian organizations, or business associations with knowledge needed to rebuild the economy.
- Potential spoilers. Civil society groups that could have a significant role in undermining an agreement or fomenting instability in the peacebuilding phase should be considered for inclusion in the mediation.
- Potential to create political parties. If rebel movements, government forces, and other combatants are to disarm and join the political process by transforming into political parties, they not likely to represent the larger populace or be inclined toward needed social change. Mediators could invite participation of effective coalitions of civil society groups to augment the new political parties, or to create additional parties to offer the public more alternatives, and to facilitate consensus and representation.