Disputes, mediation and the UN
Khalid Iqbal


Recently, two eye-catching events took place at the United Nations in a quick succession; unfortunately, both escaped the desired attention. First, Ban Ki-moon was elected for the second five-year term as Secretary General. He took the oath of office, placing his hand on the original UN Charter, promising to discharge his functions in the interests of the entire UN and not seek or accept instructions from any government! It was indeed a tall claim. “As Secretary General, I will work as a harmoniser and bridge-builder among member states, within the United Nations system, and between the United Nations and a rich diversity of international partners,” Ban said.

The Secretary General will surely be required to walk the talk and dispel the impression that the UN has degenerated into an instrument for regularising the US led trends of unilateralism, whereas veto is exercised only to prevent factual persuasions by the comity of nations to rein in Israel. However, there is a silver lining that some of his illustrious predecessors have set the tradition of deflecting similar pressures. One wishes that Ban could be effective and assertive enough to initiate processes for resolving the chronic conflicts, which continue to haunt the comity of nations since World War II.
Second, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) passed a resolution on the “untapped potential” of ‘mediation’ in the peaceful settlement of disputes. It unanimously approved the peace mediation resolution presented by Finland and Turkey. This is the first resolution on peace mediation adopted by the United Nations. Finland’s representative to the UNGA presented the draft on behalf of the ‘Group of Friends of Mediation’; the resolution was adopted without vote. “We are proud to present the first General Assembly resolution on this important issue,” he said.
The aim of the resolution is to consolidate normative mediation efforts, reinforce support for mediation activities and enhance engagement by member states. The international community’s universal support for the resolution is proof of the growing need to pool efforts to make mediation more effective and efficient.
The resolution invited the member states to optimise the use of mediation and other tools outlined in Chapter VI of the UN Charter for peaceful settlement of disputes, and for conflict prevention and resolution. It requested the Secretary General to strengthen the organisation’s mediation capacities and develop guidance for more effective mediation, while keeping in view the past experiences.
The principle of mediation is well recognised in the UN Charter. Article 33, in particular, calls upon the parties to seek a solution through mediation; it is a cost-effective way to promote a peaceful dispute settlement. The importance of mediation had previously been reiterated in a resolution on the prevention of armed conflict, adopted by consensus during the 57th session of the UNGA.
The representative of the European Union delegation, speaking before the adoption of resolution, said: “Recent decades had seen a strengthened determination to boost mediation efforts in order to end the scourge of conflicts.” Those efforts had sprung from the realisation that the world was increasingly interdependent and that instability affected everyone. While the international conflict-management toolbox was well developed, instruments in the area of conflict prevention and resolution - including mediation - were less so, as they received less political attention, attracted fewer financial resources and were applied less systematically.
Switzerland’s delegate observed that the international community’s universal support for the resolution was proof of the growing need to pool efforts to make mediation more efficient. While the number of actors on the ground had grown, the world of mediation had too often become competitive rather than cooperative. He further opined that the resolution addressed this problem specifically, by encouraging partnerships and the exchange of information at all levels.
Norway’s representative articulated that several issues relating to mediation required further attention, including resource mobilisation, strengthening partnerships and greater participation and involvement by women; he stressed that the resolution was an important step forward. Venezuela’s delegate said her country had played an active role in the negotiations on the text, which outlined such important principles as the sovereign equality of states, respect for territorial integrity, and the duty of states to refrain from using or threatening to use force.
A day after the UNGA approved Ban Ki-moon for the second-term, he said that he would be discussing the longstanding Kashmir dispute with the leaders of India and Pakistan to help resolve it peacefully through a dialogue. “I will have opportunities in the future, as in the past, (to) discuss the matter with leaders of both India and Pakistan how we can help or how this issue could be resolved peacefully through dialogue,” he said.
The Palestine conflict is another saga that has been haunting the comity of nations since 1948. A statement by the Middle East Quartet (United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia) in New York on July 2 amply indicates the gravity of prevailing stalemate. “The Quartet remains concerned about the unsustainable conditions facing the civilian population…..that considerably more needs to be done to increase the flow of people and goods to and from Gaza, including a liberalisation of the market in aggregate, steel bar and cement. Members of the Quartet continue to urge full implementation of Israel's June 2010 policy decision and further meaningful steps to improve the situation in Gaza consistent with Security Council resolution 1860.” Ban-Ki-moon has recently stated: “A genuine end to the Israel-Palestine conflict needs to address all final status issues, including Jerusalem, borders, refugees and security.”
Kashmir and Palestine indeed make a strong case each for mediation, because bilateral relations between the parties to these conflicts lack adequate structures, tools and political will to resolve these issues on their own. Due to the complexity of these issues, President Obama has almost given up the effort to resolve these disputes.
It is time for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to appoint his special representatives to pave the way for the resolution of Kashmir and Palestine disputes through mediation. This will go a long way to dispel the impression that the United Nations acts promptly to resolve only those issues where the resolution is likely to benefit the non-Muslim population, like East Timor and Sudan. However, it drags its feet when the expected beneficiaries are likely to be Muslims.