Understanding the Mediator: Taking Stock of the osce’s Mechanisms and Instruments for Conflict Resolution

In: Security and Human Rights
Christina Stenner Mediation Support Officer, osceConflict Prevention Centre, Vienna

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Mediation and dialogue facilitation are at the heart of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europes’s (osce) engagements, and have become widely recognised as being among the most effective means for the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts both, in terms of costs and results. 1 The osce has however started with a different set of mechanisms to settle conflicts, such as the Valletta mechanism or the Conciliation Committee. This article examines these mechanisms and elaborates on the reasons why they have never been applied. It further describes the evolvement of new instruments, in particular, its mediation and dialogue facilitation capacities. Further, the osce has institutionalised an explicit mediation support capacity to provide adequate assistance, similar to the un and the eu. Without a doubt, the osce can be clearly regarded as a mediator. The article presents the osce’s different roles of being a mediator and its struggle for principles like inclusivity and efficiency, or impartiality and neutrality. The stocktaking of mechanisms and instruments and the osce’s role as a mediator concludes with the Organization’s weaknesses and strengths, and respective recommendations for further development.

* Dr. Christina Stenner works as a Mediation Support Officer in the osce Conflict Prevention Centre in Vienna. She is a certified mediator and has extensive mediation as well as mediation support experience in the osce and Middle East Northern Africa (mena) regions, in particular, in Moldova, Ukraine, the Balkans and Egypt. Christina Stenner completed her PhD on the relationship between power and influence during phases of democratization from the perspective of Luhmann’s systems theory at the University of Witten/Herdecke, Germany. She was a visiting scholar at the Central European University in (ceu) Budapest and worked for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (unhcr) in Bosnia & Herzegovina as well as the osce Mission to Serbia.

The osce as a Mediator

Mediation has become one of the leading approaches over the last 15 years when it comes to the settlement processes of violent and non-violent political conflicts. This was not always the case, as past alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, such as arbitration, litigation and of course force show. This article takes the opportunity to describe the evolution and rationale of the osce’s role in mediation processes, in particular as a mediator.

The osce is a different kind of international organisation, and as such the article starts by providing specifics about its legal background. The article provides an overview of third party resolution instruments at the osce since its inception until now, and further examines its more recently developed role as a mediator. There is an obvious rationale behind this evolution, yet, still today the osce as a mediator is challenged by the principles of mediation to be fully effective in its efforts, such as inclusivity or impartiality. For example, the engagement with civil society cannot be taken as a panacea for the efficiency of peace processes, nor can the osce provide the often requested neutrality. Yet, the osce decided to strengthen its mediation instruments and as such its mediation support capacity, which will be presented in this article by concrete examples. The conclusions consist of a comparison of weaknesses and strengths of the osce’s conflict resolution capacity and provides recommendations for the way forward.

Based on the osce Mediation-Support Framework (, this article uses the following broad working definition for mediation, namely as a “structured communication process, in which an impartial third party works with conflict parties to find commonly agreeable solutions to their dispute, in a way that satisfies their interests at stake”. However, dialogue facilitation represents a distinct approach insofar, as it is a “more open-ended communication process between conflict parties in order to foster mutual understanding, recognition, empathy and trust”. 2

Maintaining Open Communication Channels

From the beginning, in 1973, dialogue has underpinned the development of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (csce) – later the osce – and dialogue between governments, civil society, as well as partner states and organisations still remains the Organization’s main driving force. The specific legal structure of the osce is set up in a way to enable and promote dialogue throughout the Organization. The osce is a unique undertaking in this regard. It is perhaps the only international organisation of its size which possesses no charter, founding treaty, or other founding legal document, but is, instead, based entirely on the willingness of its participating States (pS) to engage in a permanent, institutionalised, and open discourse on all issues on the osce’s comprehensive agenda; to come to conclusions and decisions; and to forge instruments for their implementation. 3

The osce provides the ideal framework for enabling such discourse. This can be called the osce’s comparative strength in the area of mediation and dialogue facilitation 4 and is rooted in its unique acquis, 5 namely an inclusive membership that spans across a vast geographic space, including 57 pS, a relatively flexible institutional structure, and a decision-making process based on consensus which gives legitimacy to all osce action. The institutional flexibility is inter alia reasoned in the chairmanship’s possibility to change its areas of priorities on a yearly basis.

The Organization has a range of instruments to initiate and facilitate dialogue, each with pre-established rules or procedures at its disposal that can be activated by one or more pS, including for issues related to the osce’s “conflict cycle”: early warning, conflict prevention, crisis management, and post-conflict rehabilitation.

Such instruments all have in common the formalisation of exchange and response processes to request information on different levels of crises. For example, the 1992 Helsinki Document is the basis for the Permanent Council (pc) where all 57 pS convene weekly to discuss developments in the osce area and to make appropriate decisions. Another dialogue format is the Ministerial Council (mc). Here, ministers for foreign affairs of the pS meet annually to review osce activities and to also take decisions on a higher political level. And finally, summits are periodic meetings of heads of state or government that set priorities at the highest political level. 6

It is significant that decisions are taken by consensus on a politically, but not legally binding basis. Regardless, of its legal set-up and acquis, one can consider the osce, even organisationally, a provider of good offices and a mediator or dialogue-facilitator as it keeps open channels for discourse through its diverse range of fora, instruments and mechanisms.

osce’s Formalised Mechanisms for Conflict Settlement

The osce’s core mandate and comprehensive approach to peace and security is closely tied to the concept of the conflict cycle. Mediation is an explicit means to crisis response, yet, it applies as an approach to all 4 parts of the conflict cycle.

This approach was already mentioned in the Helsinki Final Act of 1975. 7 The osce has several other documents that broadly apply to the entire conflict cycle, including the 1990 Charter of Paris for a New Europe, 8 the 1992 Helsinki Document – the Challenges of Change 9 with its wide-ranging provisions on the conflict cycle, the 2003 Strategy to Address Threats to Security in the Twenty-First Century, 10 the 2010 Astana Commemorative Declaration – Towards a Security Community, 11 and the 2011 Ministerial Council Decision No. 3/11 (mc.dec/3/11) 12 on Elements of the Conflict Cycle, Related to Enhancing the osce’s Capabilities in Early Warning, Early Action, Dialogue Facilitation and Mediation Support, and Post-Conflict Rehabilitation. As such, the pS have committed themselves to the use of such means as mediation and dialogue facilitation in order to settle and resolve conflicts peacefully.

The osce has within its toolbox an extensive range of mechanisms with regard to mediation and dialogue facilitation, yet they are rarely applied. Beginning with the more formalised conflict settlement mechanisms, the establishment of the Valletta Mechanism, the osce Conciliation Commission, Directed Conciliation, and the Convention on Conciliation and Arbitration within the osce, shall here be mentioned: 13 , 14

The Valletta Mechanism 15 aims at facilitating the peaceful settlement of a conflict between pS. It consists of the selection of 1 or more individuals from a register of qualified candidates maintained by the osce Secretariat’s Conflict Prevention Centre (cpc); and in the setting-up of an osce body for the peaceful settlement of conflicts that is responsible for advising the parties in their choice of an appropriate conflict settlement procedure and for helping the parties find a solution to the conflict. If the parties are unable to settle the conflict within a reasonable time, any party to the conflict may notify the other party and bring the circumstance to the pc’s attention. 16 To date, the “Valletta Mechanism” has not been used.

The osce Conciliation Commission was established to complement the Valletta Mechanism. It includes provisions to preside over a conflict brought forward by 2 pS, if they agree to do so. The Commission, with conciliators selected from the above-mentioned register, will seek to clarify the points in the conflict between the parties and endeavour to bring about a resolution on mutually agreeable terms. If any party does not accept the Commission’s recommendation, the Director of the cpc will forward a report from the Commission to the pc. This mechanism has never been activated so far (possible reasons explained below).

Directed Conciliation enables the mc or the pc to direct any 2 pS to seek conciliation to assist them in resolving a conflict that they have been unable to settle. It is also called “consensus minus two” since the pS in conflict will not take part in the decision by the mc or the pc directing the parties to conciliation. This mechanism has also never been activated. 17

The Convention on Reconciliation and Arbitration provides for a general conciliation and arbitration procedure on the basis of ad hoc agreements or, in advance, on the basis of reciprocal declarations. So far, not all pS have signed and ratified the Convention and, although it came into force in December 1994, the Convention has so far not been activated.

The question remains as to why these main formalised mechanisms for facilitating the peaceful settlement of conflicts between pS have never been activated. A few hypotheses can be noted as follows:

First of all, these mechanisms stem from the early 90s when the osce mainly dealt with inter-state conflicts (East–West focused). Since then, Europe has primarily faced intra-state disputes, such as the protracted conflicts in Moldova and Georgia, though they are obviously regionally impacted by interests of other pS. The abovementioned mechanisms are not applicable to intra-state conflicts, as all mechnisms start from a point of 2 pS requesting support for conciliation. Further, most of these mechanisms are initiated upon the request of 1 or all conflicting pS. This implies (a) the recognition of having a conflict (for example, in 2017, the situation in Ukraine is officially described as the crises in and around Ukraine), and (b) the willingness to resolve the conflict, which is not a given at all stages of escalation (referring to the concept of “ripeness” that sets the readiness of the parties to resolve the conflict as a precondition for a peaceful and political settlement). Thirdly, the Valletta mechanisms and the Conciliation Commission, may it be voluntary or directed, are based on the Convention on Reconciliation and Arbitration, and thus, are presided by a third party decision-making authority. In all cases, selected experts or eventually the pc or mc take decisions that can be accepted or not. Non-political disputes foremost refer to such third parties inhibiting the decision-making authority, for example litigation or arbitration, since those decisions are based on enforceable law. Whereas political disputes could only be agreed upon international law, which is commonly binding, but not easily enforceable. In this connection, it must be kept in mind that most protracted and on-going conflicts within the osce area address issues concerning territorial integrity, sovereignty over territory, or competing claims with regard to the jurisdiction over other areas. In such complex conflicts, opposing parties prefer to maintain decision-making power over their own disputes to the greatest extent possible. The osce developed over the years further instruments and approaches to resolve conflicts, including intra-state conflicts, for example, mediation and dialogue-facilitation via its special representatives, field operations, High Commissioner on National Minorities (hcnm) or the osce Parliamentary Assembly (pa) (see below).

The Evolution of osce’s Role as a Mediator until Today

Due to the above mentioned changes in realities, the osce began to take on a more practical role as a mediator in specific peace processes, where there were a wide range of actors, functions and instruments. Recalling the osce working definition of mediation as a “structured communication process, in which an impartial third party works with conflict parties to find commonly agreeable solutions to their dispute, in a way that satisfies their interests at stake,” conducive factors for the osce as a mediator may already appear apparent: the osce is able to be an impartial third party/mediator and at least theoretically is mastering the process of settlement, whereby the final decision-making authority remains with the conflicting parties.

At the moment, the osce holds a prominent role in 4 conflict settlement processes within the osce area. The osce is a co-mediator in the 5+2 talks regarding the Transdniestrian Settlement Process (tsp), and functions together with the un and the eu as co-chair in the Geneva International Discussions (gid) that addresses the consequences of the 2008 conflict in Georgia. Furthermore, the osce holds the auspices of the Minsk Group dealing with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, co-chaired by Russia, the us, and France; and finally, acts as mediator in the Trilateral Contact Group (tcg) in Ukraine. 18 Apart from these established formats in current peace processes in Europe, the osce has also previously played a mediation role in reacting to crises erupting, for example in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (fYRoM) in 2001 or in Kyrgyzstan in 2010. 19

Given the Organization’s decentralised structure, the osce plays an important role in facilitating dialogue between communities at national and local levels.

One osce institution, the hcnm, engages in quiet and preventive diplomacy by confidentially facilitating dialogue in cases of tensions involving national minorities, as was done successfully in the fYRoM between ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians since 1993. 20 An additional institution, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (odihr), also has a facilitating role, as was the case in 2006 between the Roma community and ethnic Albanians in Kosovo 21 regarding the reconstruction of housing. Another structure, the pa is involved in dialogue facilitation, especially on the parliamentary level, through the pa President, her/his special representatives, namely on mediation, 22 and working groups on specific conflicts, regions or critical issues. It can set up ad hoc committees that work to increase parliamentary attention, as was done in case of the tsp. 23

As for other osce executive structures, osce field operations are the arms, eyes and ears of the osce as they are mainly located on-site in regions involved in ermerging or ongoing conflicts. They are primarily involved in crisis response, often to different extents and according to their respective mandates. Communities request the osce’s mediation and dialogue facilitation capacity in order to reduce tensions and build-up relationships and trust between conflicting communities locally.

For example, the osce Mission in Kosovo has continually supported religious leaders to meet and discuss issues of common concern as part of its multi-year strategy to promote inter-faith dialogue in Kosovo. More specifically, the project brought together religious leaders in South and North Mitrovice/Mitrovica to communicate about joint concerns and facilitate the development of common interests. Another example is the mediation project of the osce Centre in Bishkek that aims at developing the capacity of the so-called Youth Councils. Here, young leaders seek to prevent religious extremism in their communities among local and vulnerable youth. The osce staff facilitate dialogue among the young leaders on practical consequences of religious radicalisation by focusing on daily, concrete topics of conflict. 24

osce’s Principles of Mediation

As seen above, the osce provided many more instruments and approaches to conflict settlement over the years in order to provide adequate response to the new kinds of emerging conflicts such as inter-state conflicts.

Mediation, in all its decribed forms, is a political rather than a legal instrument. Also, Other stakeholders beyond the conflicting parties utilise mediation over other conflict resolution means in order to have a larger impact on the final settlement process. “All stakeholders” are explicitly mentioned in this regard, since third-parties, such as other pS, also have an interest in leading significant peace processes and determining their framework conditions. The osce commits to a certain set of principles based on the un Guidance on Effective Mediation, 25 in order to chanel the further interests of all stakeholders in a more conducive manner as presented below.

In the further above mentioned examples, the inclusion of specific communities in society, such as religious groups or youth were addressed. Inclusivity is one of the basic principles of the osce, especially in its role as mediator and dialogue facilitator. 26 The guiding question in peace processes is often who should get a seat at the table? Besides representatives of the conflict parties themselves, the osce constantly aims at probing the mediation space for relevant communities to be integrated in the mediation process. The osce believes that legitimacy can be foremost achieved in a mediation process when all major stakeholders are included. Only in this way can all important substantive issues be addressed, and comprehensive and sustainable peace agreements be achieved. The relevant stakeholders may include youth, women, civil society actors, religious actors, specific ethnicity representatives who do not directly belong to a conflict party, and others.

However, the more inclusive a process is in terms of participants and issues, the more complex it becomes. Therefore, the osce needs to carefully strike a balance between inclusivity and efficiency. If not all stakeholders can have a seat at the negotiation/mediation table, other mechanisms are additionally put in place to include those not present in official talks. For example, the osce promotes and conducts civil society/track ii dialogue formats, 27 in order to ensure that their voices are heard and that their needs and interests are addressed in other official formats. 28

Concretely, the osce Project Co-ordinator in Ukraine (pcu) regularly conducts “Ukraine Dialogue Forums”: A format applied to bring together local decision-makers, civil society actors and key local institutions so they can express their views, and further brainstorm ideas and recommendations regarding common demands. Such track ii formats offer the local population a platform to be heard and contributes to the diffusion of eventual tensions. They also provide a possibility for local and national governments to “keep a finger on the pulse” of specific issues. The recommendations resulting from the Ukraine Dialogue Forums are subsequently handed over by the pcu in the format of a report to Ukrainian government institutions.

A similar forum was organised by the osce cpc together with the Austrian Delegation to the osce and the osce’s Mediterranean Partners for Co-operation, the latter comprised of 6 countries in the Mediterranean Region with which the osce maintains special relations. Experts from civil society, including academia and think tanks from the osce region, the osce’s Mediterranean Partners, and Libya, convened to discuss the significance of track ii dialogues on social cohesion and their linkages to high-level peace processes. The recommendations arising from the discussions were conveyed to the pS and Mediterranean Partners for Co-operation. 29

In summary, civil society actors can promote understanding between communities on different sides of conflict divides, and can facilitate popular support for the results of negotiations as a multiplier. Conversely, they can ensure that issues affecting different segments of society are fed into the negotiations, making the eventual solution more comprehensive and thus more durable. Civil society actors also play an important role in capacity-building and can assist in strengthening local mediation efforts. Last but not least, civil society organisations contribute to the osce’s early warning network by functioning as so-called “Insider Mediators” by belonging to local communities, even conflict parties, but enjoying a high level of reputation and respect within all communities. 30

Within all these interactions with civil society organisations, it is important to mention that the osce rarely acts as a donor but rather promotes a framework for conditions that enhance the working environment for civil society. For example, the osce field operations conduct capacity-building trainings and organise platforms to enhance exchange among different civil society actors.

For the osce, the principle of inclusivity remains crucial but difficult. Public discourse seems to almost exclusively refer to civil society representatives when talking about inclusivity. But, as mentioned earlier, this includes a variety of actors, meaning civil society is not a homogeneous group sharing the same interests. Inclusivity is also highly dependent on the specific context of the conflict. Furthermore, the osce as a mediator, cannot automatically count on a constructive contribution to peace processes by civil society actors per se. Civil society does not underly the same meaning throughout societies. In polarised societies civil society organisations range along the full spectrum of ideologies and motivations. For example, civil society is not always genuinely civic; this seems to be particularly true for societies in conflict contexts, where the space for such groups to exist alongside and independently of the state is usually severely limited. Civil society can, for instance, simply act as an extension of conflict drivers, meaning an extension of a particular set of interests that is already represented at the table. Moreover, civil society is often very fragmented and highly divided on the items they consider important. In practice, this makes a meaningful inclusion very challenging. Civil society representatives have generally been brought to talks without being provided a protected space to consolidate their position and demands. Therefore, the different parties already holding a seat at the table could easily manipulate and instrumentalise the highly divided group of actors, nullifying the intention to bring in additional views and issues. Civil society can also play a less positive role by perpetuating negative stereotypes of the other side and emotional approaches to issues. Seeking to subject mediators to too much monitoring and control, can limit the mediators’ freedom to explore innovative approaches. It may in minor cases hinder popular acceptance of difficult decisions, which may need to be made as part of peace agreements (amnesties et cetera), as was the case in Columbia. Still, all these aspects mentioned should be viewed for awareness raising purposes and should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

The osce aims at enabling complementarity of both high-level and civil society actors, as well as other communities with a stake in the peace process. All these various actors have different roles and functions related to the common objective of promoting stable societies through social cohesion, while the osce has the comparative advantage in facilitating dialogue between these actors on both a civil and political level.

Another important principle for the osce as a mediator is impartiality. Impartiality belongs to a set of terms, such as objectivity, independence, or even omnipartiality that serve to guarantee fairness as a mediator. Impartiality can be described as freedom from favouritism and bias in either word or action and involves a commitment to support all parties to the conflict as opposed to a single party in reaching a mutually satisfactory agreement. 31 In applying this principle, the osce assures the conflicting parties that the process and treatment of all involved is fair and balanced. Thus, impartiality always refers to the parties, whereby neutrality refers to the issues at stake and the outcome of mediations. The term neutrality is hardly defined in common standards or code of conducts of mediation. According to some mediation experts, neutrality is the freedom from bias regarding outcomes, 32 while others believe it refers to denying or curbing one’s self-interest and suspension of judgement. 33 In other words, neutrality is the principle of not influencing the content or outcome of the mediation process but only facilitating the process.

The osce with its institutional set-up of a conference is able to provide impartiality; since decisions are taken based on consensus by all 57 pS, the osce does not prefer one pS’s interests over the other’s. However, the osce cannot be neutral; the osce is obliged to international law, such as territorial integrity and souvereignty of its pS and thus, cannot facilitate negotiations that, for instance, may lead to the seccession of a certain, so-called breakaway republic under self-declared independence.

The osce refers to more theoretical differentiations that provide guidance for the mediator and are generally supportive to the mediation process. However, it is difficult to raise awareness and convey the reasons for such differentiated treatment to conflicting parties during peace processes. The osce is challenged in its general acceptance as an (impartial) mediator if neutrality is also desired by the parties to the conflict. This is mainly the case in all territorial disputes within the osce area, such as in the tsp or the conflicts about non-government controlled regions, such as “Tskhinvali”. As mentioned above, the osce is bound to the international principle of territorial integrity that might challenge the interests and understanding, and, as such, acceptance of the conflicting parties to its role as mediator. The osce responds to this challenge in various ways, including by considering whether other mediators would be better suited to lead the process. Here, the principle of coherence, co-ordination and especially co-operation provides effective guidance and interlinkages with other organisations.

The osce’s Mediators Themselves and Mediation Support

Describing the osce as a mediator refers to the overall mediation role as mentioned earlier: by ensuring communication channels remain open through the various dialogue formats, such as pc, mc, summits, etcetera It also refers to the involvement in a diverse range of current mediation processes, such as the Transdniestrian Settlement Process (“5+2”), the Minsk Group, or the Geneva International Discussions.

Mediation itself has received broad recognition and expansion in its application within the last 2 decades. 34 Moreover, the complexity of conflicts has increased significantly over the last 20 years with regard to the vast amount of issues and stakeholders involved. Therefore, the mediator as a person has also increased his/her demands towards methodological knowledge and capacity in order to adapt to the changing conflict environments. Mediators are no longer only asked to mediate peace, but are also expected to integrate cross-cutting issues, such as gender, and work alongside multiple stakeholders, such as civil society organisations, regional organisations, or states. Time constraints, multiple demands, myriads of internal and external meetings and the pressure to produce results (e.g. within the 1-year period of an assigned special representative) limit the impact of the mediator as a person. Their work tends to turn into problem-solving negotiations about odds and ends with little opportunity or time to unpack and talk about the root causes of the conflict, such as the need for recognition, etcetera.

This has led to a strong demand for professional support to maintain qualitative and efficient mediation engagements, which found its legal framework in the afore-mentioned mc.dec/3/11. 35 This official decision is the most comprehensive decision taken to date on the conflict cycle and establishes a systematic mediation-support capacity within the osce. The 4 “task-areas” spelled out in the document form the operative pillars of an osce-wide systemic mediation-support capacity, namely the Mediation Support Team (mst). The mst supports all mediation engagements across the 4 pillars, as illustrated in the following examples.

The mst is able to provide operational support to high-level mediation processes through conducting high-level mediation coachings for head of field operations, and special representatives. As part of its operational guidance pillar, the osce consolidated its Reference Guide on Mediation and Dialogue Facilitation 36 in 2014. The mst further develops operational guidance on specific cross-cutting issues of high relevance within the field of mediation, for example on insider mediators, civil society dialogue formats (track ii dialogues), or inter-faith dialogues, etcetera. With regard to training and capacity-building, the osce conducts its own mediation course that aims to strengthen mediation skills of osce staff members and to fostering co-operation across executive structures. Mediation and dialogue facilitation training have also been provided through tailor-made training sessions in several field locations, as well as on specific thematic issues, such as high-level inclusive mediation and gender retreats. Finally on outreach, the mst has consolidated partnerships with other mediation actors, in particular the un, and closely liaises with the eu, the African Union (au), several civil society or hybrid mediation and mediation support entities, as well as several osce pS, especially those active in the Group of Friends of Mediation.

Conclusions, Challenges and Recommendations

The following 4 characteristics can be considered among the osce’s comparative strengths in mediation: firstly, the osce has an explicit mandate for the peaceful settlement of conflicts. Secondly, the osce’s broad membership and its inclusive decision-making process (consensus) gives it legitimacy and credibility when it acts as a mediator. For example, most of the actors in conflicts subject to osce mediation are among the pS of the osce, such as regarding the conflict in and around Ukraine or regarding the recent violation of a ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh. Thirdly, all pS meet on a weekly basis, establishing the osce as a dialogue platform. Fourthly, in the majority of osce field operations it is ensured that mediators are familiar with the situation on the ground and have possibilities to liaise with local actors. Moreover, the osce has a unique advantage where other international and regional organisations cannot provide a likewise conducive set-up; it offers great expertise in field operations, where the presence of nato and eu would only increase tensions, foremost in the post-Soviet regions.

At the same time, one can argue that the osce faces several challenges when acting as a mediator. For example, the consensus-based decision-making process means that the osce can be blocked by one or several pS that are opposed to the Organization’s involvement in seeking a conflict settlement. Furthermore, the capacity of mediation support is still not fully mirrored in the field operations, so that specialised mediation officers could be found across the architecture of the Organization and function as focal points for the mst in Vienna. The osce is active in regions where a multiplicity of international and regional organisations operate. Finding a “mediation niche” may still be challenging in that context.

The comparative advantage of the osce’s de-centralised structure is also its challenge. Crisis response, including mediation and dialogue-facilitation, asks for strong coherence, continuous co-ordination and co-operation within the individually devised entities. The osce’s field operations may also challenge the request of the osce to participate at the same time in track i mediation peace processes due to a conflict of interests. For example, it is difficult for the osce to promote track ii discussions as a peace process mechanism while acting as a mediator in a track 1 dialogue regarding the same conflict.

It can be concluded that the osce as a mediator has a broad range of instruments and mechanisms foreseen to mitigate the framework conditions of peace processes in a way that eases conflict settlement. Not all of its original mechanisms have come to action yet, though it is important to keep them available in the back of operations. The last decades have shown how fast the peace and security situation in Europe is able to change, and even though for now these rather inter-state focused mechanism are not appropriate for the current intra-state and complex protracted conflicts, they can be kept as potential future options at no cost. Nowadays, a consensus for mechanisms like those from 1991 (see above) may be hard to reach. The establishment of the osce Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine showed how difficult it is to reach consensus in times of crises, yet not unrealistic.

Instruments, which do not underly the condition of consensus, have more potential to be adapted to the requirements of complex conflict situations. For example, increasing the period of assignments of the special representatives to more than 1 year could contribute to re-focusing on processes, including trust-building and interest-based dialogue and less on results and problem-solving.

Structural change must come from within, especially in an organisation with a unique legal structure such as the osce. Therefore, within its various discourse formats, the osce, including all executive structures, institutions and the specific entity of the pa, and its various formats of convening, needs to re-strengthen its culture of dialogue by moving from positional bargaining presented through prepared statements, as in the Permanent Council, to examining and addressing the interests underlying the positions.


Cf. osce Conflict Prevention Centre (eds.), Mediation and Dialogue Facilitation in the osce. Reference Guide, Vienna, 2014, p. 7.


osce Conflict Prevention Centre (eds.), Mediation and Dialogue Facilitation in the osce. ­Reference Guide, Vienna, 2014, page 10.


Cf. core, Centre for osce Research and Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg (ifsh), F. Evers, M. Kahl, and W. Zellner, The Culture of Dialogue. The osce Acquis 30 Years after Helsinki, Hamburg 2005, p. 5.


Mediation can be defined as a “structured communication process, in which an impartial third party works with conflict parties to find commonly agreeable solutions to their dispute, in a way that satisfies their interests at stake”, whereby dialogue facilitation represents a distinct approach to mediation insofar as it is “a more open-ended communication process between conflict parties in order to foster mutual understanding, recognition, empathy and trust. These can be one-off conversations, or go on over a longer period of time. Although ­dialogues can lead to very concrete decisions and actions, the primary aim is not to reach a specific settlement, but to gain a better understanding of the different perspectives involved in a conflict”. (for more details: osce Conflict Prevention Center (eds.), Mediation and ­Dialogue Facilitation in the osce. Reference Guide, Vienna, 2014).


The osce acquis consists of general principles and more detailed commitments within the Organization’s 3 dimensions: politico-military, economic and environmental, and human.


To be complete, the Forum for Security Co-operation also needs to be listed here under the Organization’s dialogue formats. “The Forum works to increase military security and stabili­ty in Europe and covers some of the most fundamental politico-military agreements of the osce participating States. It helps implement landmark confidence and security-building measures to regulate the exchange of military information and mutual verification between states, as well as the Code of Conduct, a key document ensuring the democratic control of security forces. The Forum also develops norms and provides practical assistance to address the proliferation of illicit small arms and light weapons; deals with non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; and oversees the regular contact, co-operation, and sharing of military information among the participating States.” osce, Fact Sheet Forum for Security Co-operation, (last visited 30.05.2016)


See: Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe ( csce ), Final Act, Helsinki 1975, p. 5, “For this purpose they will use such means as negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement or other peaceful means of their own choice including any settlement procedure agreed to in advance of disputes to which they are parties”.


See: Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (csce), Charter of Paris for a New Europe, Paris 1990,


Third csce Summit of Heads of State or Government. See also: Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe ( osce ), The Challenges of Change, Helsinki 1992,


Strategy adopted at the 11th meeting of the Ministerial Council. See also: Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe ( osce ), Strategy to Address Threats to Security and Stability in the Twenty-First Century, Maastricht 2003,


Seventh osce Summit of Heads of State or Government. See also: osce Chairperson-in-Office, Astana Commemorative Declaration: Towards a Security Community, Astana 2010,


18th osce Ministerial Council Decision. See also: osce Ministerial Council, Decision No. 3/11 on elements of the conflict cycle, related to enhancing the osce ’s capabilities in early warning, early action, dialogue facilitation and mediation support, and post-conflict rehabilitation, Vilnius 2011,


For more details on osce mechanisms and procedures see: Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, osce Mechanisms and Procedures: Summary/Compendium, ­Vienna 2011, p. 28 ff.


There are further mechanisms, such as the Court of Arbitration and the Mechanism for Consultation and Co-operation as Regards Unusual Military Activities of the Vienna Document and the Stabilizing Measures for Localized Crisis Situations. There are also other osce mechanisms which can be utilised for the peaceful settlement of crisis/conflict situations even though they do not specifically mention the role of a third party. For example, the 2001 Ministerial Council Decision No. 3 on Fostering the Role of the osce as a Forum for Political Dialogue allows the Permanent Council and the Forum for Security Co-operation to provide a platform for dialogue, with the fsc providing “third party” expert advice on issues of a politico-military nature (see osce Conflict Prevention Center (eds.), Mediation and Dialogue Facilitation in the osce. Reference Guide, Vienna, 2014, p. 12).


Established by the report of the Valletta meeting of experts on the peaceful settlement of disputes, dated February 1991, and adopted at the first meeting of the Council in Berlin in June 1991.


Centre Virtuel de la Connaissance sur l’Europe (cvce), R. Valls, The procedures and mechanisms of the osce , 2006, p. 6,


Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Conflict Prevention Centre, ­Operational Framework for Crisis Response, Vienna 2013, pp. 15.


Cf. osce Conflict Prevention Centre (eds.), Mediation and Dialogue Facilitation in the osce. Reference Guide, Vienna, 2014, pp. 79.


Cf. osce Conflict Prevention Centre (eds.), Mediation and Dialogue Facilitation in the osce. Reference Guide, Vienna, 2014, pp. 97.


Cf. osce Conflict Prevention Centre (eds.), Mediation and Dialogue Facilitation in the osce. Reference Guide, Vienna, 2014, pp. 97.


All references to Kosovo in this text, whether to the territory, institutions or population, should be understood in full compliance with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244.


Cf. osce Conflict Prevention Centre (eds.), Mediation and Dialogue Facilitation in the osce. Reference Guide, Vienna, 2014, p. 36.


Cf. Mir Mubashi, Engjellushe Morina, Luxshi Vimalarjah, osce support to Insider Me­diation. Strengthening mediation capacities, networking and complementarity, Vienna 2016, p. 37ff.


United Nations, Department of Political Affairs/Division for Policy and Mediation/­Mediation Support Unit, Guidance for Effective Mediation, New York 2012, p. 6 ff.


Besides other principles of the osce as mediator, such as: preparedness, consent, owner­ship, international law and normative frameworks, coherence, co-ordination and complementarity, and quality of peace agreements. Cf. osce Conflict Prevention ­Centre (eds.), Mediation and Dialogue Facilitation in the osce. Reference Guide, Vienna, 2014, p. 28 ff.


One of the instruments that aims at social cohesion is the civil society, respectively track ii dialogue. In the most basic way, a track ii dialogue can be defined as informal and unofficial face-to-face dialogues between individual members of communities in conflict, in many cases facilitated by an impartial third party, such as the osce. Contrary to negotiators in results-oriented, official track i diplomacy, participants in track ii dialogues are not endowed with official decision-making power. Due to their “middle” position within society, these track ii actors yet can have access to and influence on decision-makers as well as the public. Therefore, conclusions may be conveyed to a higher level of decision-makers, such as track i diplomats and governments. Civil society/track ii dialogues are a process-oriented format that is able to collect issues of relevance to local populations, contributes to the diffusion of tension, and is able to function as an early-warning mechanism.


The integration of civil society actors was mentioned and recalled in different documents (for example, the Helsinki Final Act of 1992 (Chapter iv), osce Charter for European Security in Istanbul, November 1999 (stressing the need for the osce participating States to implement the osce commitments to “enhance the ability of non-governmental organizations to make their full contribution to the further development of civil society and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms”)), in resolutions of the osce Parliamentary Assembly, such as of Brussels in 2006 (Resolution on Co-operation with Civil society and Non-Governmental Organizations, calling upon participating States “to recognize that a strong and independent civil society free from interference of government contributes essentially to the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law”) and of Istanbul in 2013.


Cf. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (ebd.), Augustin Nicolescou, Blanka Bellak, Dialogue in Search for Social Cohesion. Report and Findings from the osce Expert Workshop on Dialogue in Search of Social Cohesion held in Madrid on 23 May 2016, Vienna 2016.


“‘Insider’ mediators often facilitate informal processes. (…) Here insiders are seen to have in-depth knowledge of the situation as well as close relationships to the parties, also ­allowing them to influence their behaviour on a normative level. The term “insider” or “outsider” mediator is a relative term; it only really makes sense in comparison to another mediator”, Berghof Foundation for Peace Support and Dr. Simon Mason, Insider Mediators. Exploring Their Key Role in Informal Peace Processes, 2009, p. 4.


B. Heisterkamp, "Conversational Displays of Mediator Neutrality in a Court-Based Program", in Journal of Pragmatics, 2006, no. 38(12): 2051–2064, p. 302.


D. Frenkel and J.H. Stark, The Practice of Mediation, 2008, p. 84.


Cf. B. van Gramberg & Teicher, Managing Workplace Conflict: Alternative Dispute Resolution in Australia, 2006.


For example, it is 5 times more likely to reach an agreement through mediation compared to non-mediated negotiations. Mediation also leads to a 2.4 times greater probability of longer-term tension reduction (cf. K.C. Beardsley, D.M. Quinn, B. Biswas, J. Wilkenfeld, Mediation Style and Crisis Outcomes, in Journal of Conflict Resolution, 2006, no. 1, pp. 58–86).


Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, 18th Ministerial Council, Decision No. 3/11 on elements of the conflict cycle, related to enhancing the osce’s capabilities in early warning, early action, dialogue facilitation and mediation support, and post-conflict rehabilitation, Vilnius 2011, p. 5.


osce Conflict Prevention Centre (eds.), Mediation and Dialogue Facilitation in the osce. Reference Guide, Vienna, 2014.

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