The Heart of the Matter: Human Rights in Mediation

An interview with Katarina Månsson

In the afternoon of Wednesday, 17 April at the Berlin Moot, we will be hosting a Human Rights and Mediation panel that explores how these two fields can work together to achieve lasting peace.

Ahead of this, we interviewed Katarina Månsson, author of “The Heart of The Matter: Human Rights in Mediation”, where she unpacks the practical use of human rights in the field of mediation.

Why did you decide to write this book?

Fundamentally, I wanted to understand and illustrate the important role that human rights can play in what is arguably the most challenging political process – i.e. mediation between two or more parties to conflict.

We often speak about the inherent problem-solving character of human rights, but are less successful in showing how this unravels concretely in real life.

By illustrating how human rights have contributed to and facilitated mediation processes, this book attempts to highlight their positive problem-solving power – or “political potential” of human rights.

What’s the key thesis of your book?

As the title alludes to, a key thesis is that human rights stand at the heart of mediation.

Since conflicts most often stem from unfulfilled or violated human rights, the resolution of conflict must also address those dimensions.

Past and present practice proves that mediators themselves have embraced human rights, despite the difficulties and sensitivities, even going as far back as the peace efforts by the first-ever UN mediator – Count Bernadotte in Palestine in 1948.

In what became his last so-called progress report to the General Assembly in September 1948, Bernadotte’s call for equal political, economic, social and religious rights of all Arabs and Jews was part and parcel of his proposals for a peaceful settlement of the Palestinian conflict.

Bernadotte may have been inspired by an overwhelming agreement among the drafters of the United Nations Charter at the time, namely that peace – both within and between states – depends on the fulfilment of individual rights and freedoms.

This book is therefore a call to urgently recommit to that consensus and understanding in 1945 by approaching human rights holistically: i.e. the full spectrum of human rights need to be engaged in mediation processes – economic, social, cultural, civil and political.

This requires mediators to look not only to the past (justice for victims) but equally to the future (institutional protection of rights).

This is essential in that it goes beyond an oft-held perception that human rights are primarily about criminal accountability of perpetrators and instead embraces a broader understanding of human rights as an essential component of political governance and inclusive statehood.

Can you give a further example of this approach?

The peace process in Colombia 2012-2016 is an extremely important example that can serve to inspire future mediation processes.

Notably, the parties themselves – i.e. the Government of Colombia and the FARC – placed the rights of victims at the centre of peace talks at the very outset and ensured victims’ direct participation to inform the negotiations (a first in any mediation process).

The Colombian peace process also benefitted from human rights analysis via a long-standing OHCHR country presence, including in the most conflict-affected rural areas, as well as active domestic human rights and civil society organisations.

In addition, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and other actors played a constructive role in supporting the development of Colombia’s own unique transitional justice model – the Special Jurisdiction for Peace – based on victims’ rights and interests and recognition of their suffering.

Any final thoughts on the future of human rights in mediation?

I was very encouraged by the positive reception of this project among all interviewees and the overwhelming agreement on the need to step up action to make human rights an integral and more institutionalised part of mediation – regardless of the actor.

There seems to be a common agreement that being principled and pragmatic at the same time is possible, and that adjustments and flexibility on each side are needed. So, going forward, I am hopeful that we will see new and exciting developments.

For further insights on how the practice of mediation can be improved through human rights, watch our livestreamed Human Rights and Mediation panel on 17 April via our homepage.


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