High Level Seminar “Humanitarian Negotiation and International Mediation : Building Bridges – speech by Minister Reynders

H.E. Didier Reynders
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Affairs


High Level Seminar “Humanitarian Negotiation and International Mediation : Building Bridges”

Tuesday 20 February 2018 – 10.00 -13.00 PM

Mr President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my honour and indeed great pleasure to welcome you today at this High Level Seminar. I would like to express my sincere thanks to all of you,  also on behalf of the co-organisers of this event, the ICRC and the UNDPA, for having accepted our invitation. Your participation today is without any doubt an illustration of the interest and importance the international community attaches to the topic under discussion.

Many  thanks  in particular  to you, Mister President ; your presence today testifies again of your longstanding commitment to the cause of peace and to the role mediation has to play in reaching that goal. (I would also like to salute the presence of representatives of the co-chairs of the Group of Friends of Mediation, Turkey and Finland.

Almost one year ago to the day, we gathered  in Brussels, at a  High Level Conference where we explored ways to promote the international mediation agenda.

Indeed, the cruel images that reach us every day, be it from Syria, Yemen or South Sudan, urge us to continuously invest time and energy in developing our diplomatic toolbox, to avert crises where possible or to end them when they occur. At the same time we have the moral obligation not to remain indifferent when conflicts erupt and to do whatever possible to alleviate  the human suffering that is an almost unavoidable and sad  consequence of  violence. Mediation and humanitarian negotiation are and will remain some  of the crucial instruments at our disposal to this effect.

In Brussels last year, we came to the conclusion  that in the broader mediation landscape,  the area of humanitarian negotiation deserved more specific attention. Humanitarian operators in the field are quite often confronted with the consequences or even the negative fallout of parallel processes aimed at ending the conflict. This needs to be addressed, whilst at the same time preserving the space for international, regional and local mediators to fulfill their mandate, i.e.to contribute to putting an end to the conflict.

It gives me great pleasure to welcome today some of the protagonists of last year’s discussions, and more in particular Peter Maurer, the President of the ICRC,  and Teresa Whitfield  from the UNDPA, with whom we agreed to set up today’s seminar.  They are joined today by several  distinguished representatives of the international mediation and humanitarian communities, who will share some thoughts that will help us to enhance our mutual understanding of their respective needs and challenges,  and to explore ways how to jointly address them.

Let me briefly dwell upon what is at stake.

In today’s world the complexity of often protracted crisis and conflict situations is increasingly changing the nature of the way humanitarian and diplomatic agents are conducting their respective mandates.  They engage with the same interlocutors, -the parties in the conflict-, but their objectives do not necessarily always coincide: the delivery of humanitarian assistance requires a framework that is based  on  the  respect for the basic humanitarian principles,- humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. Mediators, on the other hand, are looking at  all the alternatives at their disposal to end the conflict. This may include compromises of a transactional nature, that aren’t always compatible with the humanitarian agenda.

We need to bridge that divide, and strive to recognize and respect the roles both the mediation community and humanitarian actors have to play.   Both humanitarian objectives and conflict resolution processes will be better served  by a  better understanding of the playing field, and an improved cooperation on the ground.

This morning’s seminar aims to bring us a step closer to this  objective, by bringing together professionals from both  humanitarian and mediation communities in the powerhouse  of multilateral diplomacy, the United Nations. For Belgium effective multilateralism is the cornerstone of our diplomatic action, worldwide. It is only through a determined cooperative and collaborative multilateral action that the peace agenda can become sustainable. This is also part and parcel of a comprehensive approach Belgium wants to promote in its foreign policy, in which both governmental actors and civil society should play their role.

Today, with a specific focus on how to act in conflict situations, we give  them the floor to  draw on their  experiences and look for common ground. They can bring us the  building blocks to  construct the  bridge towards  a more efficient, more effective and more lifesaving coexistence in conflictareas.

The challenges  will be explored in two interactive panels, each of them followed  by a Q&A session.

  • Thefirst panel will focus on the needs that frontline humanitarian negotiators identify, whilst trying to carve out the space for their action. They will tell us which impediments they encounter, in particular in confrontation with the multitude of political and military actors that may infringe upon their mandate.  The panel will be briefed about  the deliberations of the frontline humanitarian negotiators, during their meeting in Geneva in December last year. Experienced international mediators will give their perspective.
  • In the second panel both humanitarian actors and mediators will share  their field experience and look into how the respect for the  Humanitarian principles can be better upheld. This is all the more challenging, given the  increasingly hostile conflict environment in which they have to work, where interaction with often violent non state actors and radical groups remains a critical endeavor.

The seminar will be concluded with some final remarks by Mr. Peter Maurer and myself.

I hope that our discussions will produce useful and relevant conclusions, and contribute to an improved ententebetween the political and humanitarian agendas. Bridging this  gap will be conducive to mutually  promoting our objectives of saving lives and bringing and sustaining peace.  

Mister President, last year your intervention in the High level Mediation conference in  Brussels was one of its highlights. You gave us an inspiring list of ten principles for successful  mediation. Before opening the panel debates I would like to call again upon your wisdom and ask you to share with us your initial observations on this important subject.

Again many thanks to all of you for your presence today. Let us make it together an interesting and inspiring event.

Mister President, you have the floor

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