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How to design peace negotiations

How a negotiation is designed deserves as much of the parties’ time and attention as what they are negotiating. These 12 considerations guided the Colombian government and FARC delegations in designing the negotiations. Español

President Santos during a UN Security Council field mission to Clombia, co-led by governments from Uruguay and the United Kingdom. Photo by: UK Mission to the UN/Lorey Campese

The Final Agreement to End the Armed Conflict and Build a Stable and Lasting Peace, signed on 24th November 2016, was the product of over four years’ intense negotiations. In the run-up to the public referendum, the month before, both parties had conceded that the negotiated settlement was imperfect, yet they reassured the public that it was the best one possible. It owed this undoubted success as much to the negotiating framework as it did to the endurance shown during the negotiations themselves.

 “How a negotiation is designed deserves as much of the parties’ time and attention as what they are negotiating.” – Institute for Integrated Transitions

Understanding the workings of such a negotiating framework, and all its methodological considerations, may seem a fair few steps away from the heated action of the negotiating table, yet it is an undeniably important part of the overall negotiating machine. The variety in conflicts we see emerging throughout the world mean that no one method can be applied to all, yet the following considerations offer a valuable insight into how the process design phase can prove the ultimate success or failure:

1. Establishing the ultimate objective of the negotiations. The 2012-2016 peace negotiations held the ultimate objective of securing the termination of conflict and the construction of durable and long-lasting peace in Colombia.

2. Agreeing on a limited, but precise agenda of issues that will be included. It must also appear neutral, carrying no predefined positions on any of the issues to be discussed. In the case of Colombia, it was agreed that the six agenda items identified could be discussed in any order, as long as Agenda Item 1: Comprehensive Rural Reform was addressed first. You can explore each agenda item in our interactive timeline.

3. Clearly distinguishing the ‘rules of the game’, from the substantive agenda items. To protect the negotiations and the resulting final agreement, the rule “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” was set, as well as agreeing on no bilateral ceasefire. Without such rules in place, delegations may have been tempted to devalue areas of the negotiations in favour of others, not fulfil commitments or be influenced by external factors. These parameters were also made public.

4. Defining the composition of each parties’ delegation. This would include the size of the delegation, as well as the respective roles and decision-making powers of each member. If possible, the delegation should also include the more radical contingent from both sides. During the Havana negotiations, it was agreed that each party would have 10 negotiators at the table, and a maximum of 30 representatives supporting them. As part of the government’s delegation, General Mora represented the retired military position opposed to the process. His counterpart in the FARC delegation was Iván Márquez.

5. Establishing a meeting format that can facilitate both political decision-making and technical advances. The format between the two Colombian delegations generally allowed for 5 members of each ream to tackle the most basic negotiations. When there were more sensitive issues to discuss, the negotiations would retreat into a 3 by 3 format. The role of the principal negotiating table would then be to communicate the official agreed upon position.

6. The creation of parallel committees that, in providing an alternate space for reaching agreements, support progress at the principal negotiating table. There were several examples of such subcommittees in Havana. Two such examples are the sub-commission for the end of conflict, which brought active military personnel and members of the FARC into the negotiations, and the judicial sub-commission, which was able to bring external advisors into the negotiations alongside the two delegations. Both were offered constructive and creative ways to help the two parties reach an agreement.

7. Setting up a periodic review process in which any procedural issues can be discussed and redressed, separately from the substantive negotiations.

8. Determining the location and frequency of the negotiation sessions. It was agreed that the negotiations between the FARC and the government would be held outside of Colombia, which led to the agreed location of Havana, Cuba. Negotiating cycles consisted of 11 days in Havana, where the delegations alternated between 3 days’ uninterrupted work, followed by a days’ rest. After each negotiation cycle came a retreat in Bogotá or elsewhere in Colombia of a similar duration.

9. Distinguishing between issues that will form part of Confident Building Measures (CBMs) – acts intended to demonstrate trust between both parties and with the public – and those relating to the implementation of the agreed settlement itself. An example from Colombia was the demining (removing land mines) joint initiative, which was carried out towards the end of the discussions on agenda item 2: political participation. Importantly, the demining joint initiative was not aimed at specifically facilitating this agenda item, but rather to create broader, more favourable conditions for a ceasefire.

10. Establishing national, international or hybrid mechanisms for mediation, facilitation, observers and/or guarantors, in order to support the negotiation process. In Havana there were no mediators. It was decided that Cuba and Norway would facilitate the process, whereas Chile and Venezuela, as guarantors, would support the development of the negotiations, and in a judge-like fashion, they were ultimately able to provide impartial communications and acts as a calming-presence in heated moments of the negotiations.

11. Establishing rules that reduce the scope for either party to use the negotiation space tactically within the context of the wider conflict, such as to buy time or seek rearmament. For example, by distinguishing the negotiations in Havana from the ongoing conflict in Colombia, the continuity of the negotiations was protected, irrespective of change in the levels of conflict.

12. Ensure that there are technical and operational experts lined up to support the negotiation process. External advisors accompanied both delegations for each agenda item of the Colombian peace agreement. This strengthened both parties, and helped legitimise their decisions. Additionally, considerable support came from the international community and it was valued in the development of the agreement.

Understanding the workings of such a negotiating framework, and all its methodological considerations, may seem a fair few steps away from the heated action of the negotiating table, yet it is an undeniably important part of the overall negotiating machine. The variety in conflicts we see emerging throughout the world mean that no one method can be applied to all, yet the following considerations offer a valuable insight into how the process design phase can prove the ultimate success or failure:

 1. Establishing the ultimate objective of the negotiations. The 2012-2016 peace negotiations held the ultimate objective of securing the termination of conflict and the construction of durable and long-lasting peace in Colombia.

2. Agreeing on a limited, but precise agenda of issues that will be included. It must also appear neutral, carrying no predefined positions on any of the issues to be discussed. In the case of Colombia, it was agreed that the six agenda items identified could be discussed in any order, as long as Agenda Item 1: Comprehensive Rural Reform was addressed first. You can explore each agenda item in our interactive timeline.

3. Clearly distinguishing the ‘rules of the game’, from the substantive agenda items. To protect the negotiations and the resulting final agreement, the rule “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” was set, as well as agreeing on no bilateral ceasefire. Without such rules in place, delegations may have been tempted to devalue areas of the negotiations in favour of others, not fulfil commitments or be influenced by external factors. These parameters were also made public.

4. Defining the composition of each parties’ delegation. This would include the size of the delegation, as well as the respective roles and decision-making powers of each member. If possible, the delegation should also include the more radical contingent from both sides. During the Havana negotiations, it was agreed that each party would have 10 negotiators at the table, and a maximum of 30 representatives supporting them. As part of the government’s delegation, General Mora represented the retired military position opposed to the process. His counterpart in the FARC delegation was Iván Márquez.

5. Establishing a meeting format that can facilitate both political decision-making and technical advances. The format between the two Colombian delegations generally allowed for 5 members of each ream to tackle the most basic negotiations. When there were more sensitive issues to discuss, the negotiations would retreat into a 3 by 3 format. The role of the principal negotiating table would then be to communicate the official agreed upon position

6. The creation of parallel committees that, in providing an alternate space for reaching agreements, support progress at the principal negotiating table. There were several examples of such subcommittees that in Havana two such examples being the sub-commission for the end of conflict, which brought active military personnel and members of the FARC into the negotiations, and the judicial sub-commission, which was able to bring external advisors into the negotiations alongside the two delegations. Both were offered constructive and creative ways to help the two parties reach an agreement.

7. Setting up a periodic review process in which any procedural issues can be discussed and redressed, separately from the substantive negotiations.

8. Determining the location and frequency of the negotiation sessions. It was agreed that the negotiations between the FARC and the government would be held outside of Colombia, which led to the agreed location of Havana, Cuba. Negotiating cycles consisted of 11 days in Havana, where the delegations alternated between 3 days’ uninterrupted work, followed by a days’ rest. [Is this correct? Your notes mentioned something about being in Bogotá]

9. Distinguishing between issues that will form part of Confident Building Measures (CBMs) – acts intended to demonstrate trust between both parties and with the public – and those relating to the implementation of the agreed settlement itself. An example from Colombia was the demining (removing land mines) joint initiative, which was carried out towards the end of the discussions on agenda item 2: political participation. Importantly, the demining joint initiative was not aimed at specifically facilitating this agenda item specifically, but rather to create broader, more favourable conditions for a ceasefire.,

10. Establishing national, international or hybrid mechanisms for mediation, facilitation, observers and/or guarantors, in order to support the negotiation process. In Havana there were no mediators. It was decided that Cuba and Norway would facilitate the process, whereas Chile and Venezuela, as guarantors, would support the development of the negotiations, and in a judge-like fashion, they were ultimately able to provide impartial communications and acts as a calming-presence in heated moments of the negotiations.

11. Establishing rules that reduce the scope for either party to use the negotiation space tactically within the context of the wider conflict, such as to buy time or seek rearmament. For example, by distinguishing the negotiations in Havana from the ongoing conflict in Colombia, the continuity of the negotiations was protected, irrespective of change in the levels of conflict.

12. Ensure that there are technical and operational experts lined up to support the negotiation process. External advisors accompanied both delegations for each agenda item of the Colombian peace agreement. This strengthened both parties, and helped legitimise their decisions. Additionally, considerable support came from the international community and it was valued in the development of the agreement.

About the authors

IFIT’s Brain Trust for the Colombian Transition ("Fondo de Capital Humano para la Transición Colombiana") aims to ensure that the wealth of knowledge acquired during the Colombian peace talks remains available and actively engaged during the transition out of armed conflict. Read more here.

DemocraciaAbierta es la plataforma global que publica en español, portugués e inglés voces de América Latina y más allá, y las conecta con el debate global de openDemocracy. Twitter: @demoAbierta

DemocraciaAberta é a plataforma global publicado em vozes espanhol, português e inglês da América Latina e além, e se conecta ao debate global na openDemocracy. Twitter: @demoAbierta

DemocraciaAbierta is the global platform that publishes in Spanish, Portuguese and English voices from Latin America and beyond, and connects them with the openDemocracy global debate.Twitter: @demoAbierta

 


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