Int’l negotiators cite transparency, simplicity, people’s participation key to successful peace agreements

May 29, 2010 9:17 pm 

By Ben Cal

MANILA, May 29 – Gleaning lessons from their stories of challenges and triumphs in resolving conflicts, five seasoned peace negotiators from Indonesia, Ireland, Sudan and the United States on Friday were in unison that transparency, simplicity and people’s participation are among the essential ingredients of a successful peace agreement.

Former Indonesian Vice President Yusuf Kalla; Gov. Irwandi Yusuf of Aceh, Indonesia; former Sudanese Deputy Foreign Minister Nureldin Satti; Prof. Omar Dajani from the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, California; and Gerry Kelly of the Sinn Fein Party in Northern Ireland related the lessons they have learned in their long years of negotiating for peace in their own countries during the last day of the International Negotiators’ Conference at the New World Hotel in suburban Makati City.

Sponsored by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, the two-day conference aimed at providing a venue for the guest negotiators to impart their insights, and for the government peace panel members and other stakeholders to learn from their experiences.

Participants were members of the government peace panels, members of the diplomatic corps, civil society and media.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was the guest speaker at the end of the two-day forum where she vowed to pursue the peace process vigorously, particularly in southern Philippines, the country’s food basket.

The Philippine government is working on forging a final peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to end the decades-long conflict in Mindanao, while engaging in back-channel talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF), the political wing of the New People’s Army (NPA) and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

On the importance of public transparency, Kelly, a former revolutionary leader who was instrumental in wrapping up the Good Friday Agreement between the British and Irish governments, cited the importance of transparency because it guarantees that any agreement is not only between or among a few group or people.

“People will have ownership of it,” he said.

Yusuf, who served as vice chair of the Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency of Aceh until April 2009, stressed that the “people have the right to know what’s going on in the negotiating table.”

For Satti, he said that information or the lack of it must be used wisely.

“It is important to have a reasonable degree of transparency to combat spreading rumors,” he said, warning that rumor magnifies the conflict, citing the case between the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda.

As a consequence, the conflict turned from bad to worst as it triggered the 1994 genocide wherein more than 800,000 people were murdered within a three-month period because of their ethnic identity.

On the other hand, Kalla, current chair of the Indonesian Red Cross Society, underlined the value of building trust between parties.

“When you reach an agreement, you should fulfill it,” he said.

Dajani, a Palestinian-American who served as legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team in the peace talks with Israel, said that simplicity is a tremendous virtue in pursuing a peace agreement that is implementable.

“If we can reach simpler agreements, we can be in better shape,” Dajani said.

The international negotiators likewise stressed the importance of people’s participation in the peace process.

However, Satti commented that the role of civil society is not recognized in the negotiations, but needs to be included on the table or around the table.

“But when it comes to implementation, civil society is encouraged to play a role. I’d like to see that role fully recognized in the process,” he added.

During the interaction, Dajani likewise encouraged broad-based participation in the implementation of a peace agreement.

“One way to ensure that an agreement is on the right track is to give greater involvement to the people, not just the government,” he said.

Along this line, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Annabelle T. Abaya underscored the need to get in touch with the people.

“What it requires is to have a really close relationship with the people to know their pulse,” Abaya said.

David Gorman of the Centre of Humanitarian Dialogue also shared his views on the importance of pursuing peaceful negotiations during the two-day forum.

Recently, the government, through OPAPP, partnered with civil society groups for a series of ‘reflective dialogues’ and ‘grassroots conversations’ held in various parts of the country.

During the consultations, participants were given an overview of the Mindanao problem in which they shared their sentiments and opinions.

Their inputs will be collated for submission to the peace panels of the government and the MILF for their study and consideration for crafting a solution to the long-drawn conflict in southern Philippines.

These dialogues, according to Abaya, are some of the many mechanisms of OPAPP to reach the stakeholders.

“That is why we are taking on an incremental track, a level at a time to build confidence,” she said, adding that the consultations will provide energy to move forward from incremental towards a more comprehensive approach in the peace process. (PNA) scs/RBC/jsd

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