[Marc Weller is Professor of International Law and International Constitutional Studies in the University of Cambridge. He is the Principal Investigator of the Legal Tools for Peace-Making Project, drawing on extensive experience in international high-level negotiations in Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Libya, the Darfur crisis, Yemen, Somalia and, most recently, Syria. Tiina Pajuste is a Lecturer in Law at Tallinn University, and former researcher on the Legal Tools for Peace-Making project. She has continued to contribute to the Legal Tools for Peace-Making project since taking up her current post. Mark Retter, Jake Rylatt and Andrea Varga are researchers working on the Legal Tools for Peace-Making project, based at the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law, University of Cambridge. The authors, in collaboration with the United Nations Department for Political Affairs and PASTPRESENTFUTURE, developed the Language of Peace research tool that forms the basis for this post.]
This post was originally published on EJIL: Talk, and is cross-posted with the kind permission of the editors.
In a year which saw an unprecedented number of people displaced by violent conflict, and peace processes suffering setback after setback, from the repeated ceasefire violations reported in Yemen to the difficult process of bridging differences in Syria, faith in peace-making appears to be at its lowest. But when faced with the devastating impact of conflicts around the world, there can be no question of the need to redouble the efforts directed at achieving negotiated peace; as illustrated by the case of Colombia, peace is attainable even in the most entrenched of conflicts. In most cases, redoubling efforts requires going back to the drawing board, reframing issues and suggesting different approaches in order to create novel solutions to seemingly intractable problems. In such cases, the ability to draw on the practice of previous agreements drafted in similar situations may prove invaluable to the process; but without a consolidated and issue-based digest of such previous practice, this means having to spend days combing through possibly hundreds of documents (often on very short notice) each time, while there is still a chance of missing at least some of the relevant results.
Furthermore, identifying the range of options utilised in previous practice is only the first step; the negotiating parties must then consider whether these approaches comply with, or appear to depart from, international law. This in itself can be a cause of great controversy within peace-making processes: for instance, is it legal for peace agreements to grant blanket amnesties, including to (suspected) war criminals? Such controversies, as well as the ever-growing attention to concepts such as lex pacificatoria and jus post bellum, highlight the need to clarify the underlying relationship between peace and international law in specific areas.
It is in response to these concerns that the Language of Peace research tool – launched at the UN Secretariat in New York on Tuesday, 6 December 2016 – was developed, allowing instant search capability across the provisions of around 1,000 peace agreements, categorized according to the issues they address, from negotiating agendas through human rights to power-sharing arrangements. This post identifies two areas in which Language of Peace seeks to contribute to the development of international peace-making.
The Research Gap in Peace-Making: The Origins of Language of Peace
Before Language of Peace, those involved in peace-making processes had no consolidated, analytical digest of peace agreement practice. Beyond valuable personal experience, mediators were almost invariably required to research settlement options afresh each time a dispute arose. Depending on the range of issues to be covered in the prospective peace agreement, from a simple ceasefire to a comprehensive peace settlement, collating and analysing the burgeoning previous practice could be extremely time-consuming. Language of Peace eliminates this repetitive and tedious research by providing a search tool through which past solutions and options adopted in the provisions of previous peace agreements can be accessed within seconds.
In order to ensure that it addresses the needs arising in the field, Language of Peace – part of the Legal Tools for Peace-Making Project at the University of Cambridge – was developed in collaboration with the UN Department of Political Affairs, incorporating feedback received over the course of several months from the Mediation Support Unit and its Standby Team of experts, as well as from the Project’s own practitioner and academic advisory boards, which includes members from the EU and the OAS.
Through this innovative tool, users can search according to 226 issues, organised under 26 main issue headings, and refine their search according to a number of filters such as signatories, region, date range and conflict type. Additionally, the tool contains a word search function which allows users to search by word or phrase as an alternative to the issue area search, or as a method of further refining existing searches. Search results can subsequently be bookmarked and exported in either PDF or DOCX format. Furthermore, in order to provide information about the broader context of provisions on a particular issue, and as part of the Cambridge-UN collaboration, Language of Peace is linked to the UN Peacemaker database, which contains full text PDF documents of the agreements.
Language of Peace also addresses the difficulties presently faced by non-state parties to peace negotiations. Specifically, it alleviates the imbalance of power inherent in negotiations between non-state actors and central governments, arising from the fact that the former lacks the extensive administrative apparatus at the disposal of the latter. The search tool provides non-state actors with ready access to past practice, enabling them to articulate their grievances in a negotiable form. Through analysis of such practice, parties can propose constructive approaches and options to find common ground on contested issues, which can assist them to move beyond deadlocks arising from emotive assertions and counter-assertions. Language of Peace can therefore help to transform or reframe negotiations by equipping all parties with an open-access tool containing decades of peace agreement practice.
Bridging Theory and Practice in International Peace-Making: The Use of Language of Peace in Academia
Language of Peace has also been developed with an eye to enhancing academic research at the intersection of law, practice and policy in international peace-making. From a legal perspective, Language of Peace presents the practice which underpins and cuts across theoretical debates on jus post bellum and lex pacficatoria, offering potential to identify where international law potentially conflicts with, and/or influences, peace-making processes. Additionally, the research tool can be viewed as an access point into a rich deposit of potential customary practice, raising questions about the international legal status of obligations contained within peace agreements. Going beyond the discipline of law, Language of Peace captures valuable source material for inter-disciplinary research comparing the approaches taken in peace agreements with their subsequent implementation.
From Language of Peace to Legal Tools for Peace-Making
Beyond its status as a standalone tool which aims to contribute to the theoretical and practical development of international peace-making, Language of Peace is part of the broader Legal Tools for Peace-Making project. The project team is also working on 26 case studies corresponding to the main issue areas identified in Language of Peace. The case studies analyse the approaches taken in previous peace processes, identifiable within source material generated by Language of Peace, against the backdrop of international law. By doing so, they aim to identify the range of options available to parties on a particular issue by reference to international legal obligations, while also considering the extent to which peace agreement practice complies with or diverges from international law. By the conclusion of the Legal Tools for Peace-Making project, the case studies will become available online, and aim to be a valuable resource for mediators and a starting point for further academic research on the influence of international law and customary practice of peace-making.
Alongside the case studies, the scope and functionalities of Language of Peace will continue to be developed and refined; we would be delighted to receive feedback at legaltoolsproject [at] lcil [dot] cam [dot] ac [dot] uk.