Feature: Insider Mediators

Today, there is a greater appreciation of local, indigenous and insider methods of dealing with conflict – methods that are owned and driven by actors ‘intrinsic’ to the conflict system. Especially in the field of mediation, conflict stakeholders seek in a mediator rather the virtue of interpersonal trust and relational aspects (which local actors exhibit) than neutrality and impartiality (which outsider/ international mediators offer). Although ethnically, religiously, or in other ways affiliated to one of the conflict parties (thereby expected to be ‘partial’), insider mediators are still respected and trusted across divides, because of the credibility they draw from proven and demonstrated ‘fairness’ in mediating. Among other things, it is insider mediators’ innate drive for peaceful coexistence that makes them apply and promote alternatives to violence. In many conflicts it is them who de-escalate conflict, build bridges, and engage in peace advocacy.

The Berghof Foundation has long been observing and accompanying the conflict transformation efforts of insiders. In practical peace support worldwide, we have engaged closely with insiders, for example by providing process-related and technical support as per need. We have also been reflecting conceptually on our engagement with insider mediators and on best practices for insider-outsider collaboration in conflict transformation processes. The following provides a snapshot of these concepts and praxis.

  • Personal Standing

Typically, insider mediators may be traditional elders, religious and spiritual leaders, women- and youth-group leaders, artists, educators, entrepreneurs, politicians, state officials and even security sector actors. As an insider to a specific conflict they draw on a wide range of resources embedded in that cultural context, for example tradition, religion, spirituality, secularism, pluralism or multiculturalism. There are also interesting examples of insider mediators whose credibility and respect go beyond national boundaries, often on account of their religious or ethnic identity (e.g. elders across African contexts or certain monks in Southeast Asia).

  • Levels of Engagement

Insider mediators are able to situate themselves and operate along different tracks within a conflict context, bridging grassroots efforts and official diplomacy. While they largely operate through informal channels, some of them can influence policymaking by initiating and facilitating track 1.5 processes. Other insider mediators may solely mediate within one group, therefore paving the way for inter-group mediation.

  • Networks

Insider mediators are part of a collective, often forming a ‘network of networks’ . To ensure fair representation of interests for the different conflict parties they need to remain in close touch with the conflict dynamics and with ‘co-mediators’. Also, their potential role depends on how far they are trusted and respected by conflict stakeholders.

  • Enhancing inclusivity

Insider Mediators may increase the inclusivity of peace processes by creating opportunities for non-state groups to enter into formal political processes. But in other contexts they themselves might constitute a traditional patriarchal system that may not be inclusive, especially of women and youth. There, it is important to find avenues which do not disrupt or degrade the system but slowly and persistently sensitise it of the added value and potential of inclusivity through examples and practices.

  • Limitations

International actors sometimes tend to ‘instrumentalise’ and ‘projectise’ insider mediators instead of focusing on the mediation support needs articulated by the latter, which impedes their effectiveness and the progress they have made. Legal prohibitions put on the engagement/ interaction with armed non-state actors often prove to be a lost opportunity. In violent and volatile contexts, insider mediators are exposed to personal (security) risks. Finally, the lack of financial and organisation support for insider mediators also negatively impacts the efficacy and potential of insider mediators.

Related Berghof Engagements

  • Conceptualising ‘Tradition- and Faith-oriented’ Insider Mediators and identifying opportunities for support

Religious and traditional actors are increasingly recognised as peacemakers and peacebuilders in many conflicts around the world. To better understand these actors, Berghof Foundation has conceptualised them as a specific sub-set of insider mediators for whom values and practices of religion, faith, spirituality, culture and tradition serve as guidance and strategy for their efforts towards conflict transformation. more >

  • OSCE Support to Insider Mediation: Exploring Potential, Challenges and Opportunities. Based on case studies in Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine

This study explores opportunities for the OSCE to augment its mediation support structure for developing interfaces of mutual support that can strengthen collaboration and complementarity between the OSCE and actors involved in insider mediation processes. more >

  • Coaching and mentoring young insider facilitators in the Caucasus

A Georgian-Abkhaz-South Ossetian ‘Young Facilitators Group’ was trained, coached and empowered to evolve a new generation of facilitators capable of engaging in constructive dialogue. Today, they manage projects that cut across conflict lines, with little to no foreign, third-party involvement. more>

  • Enhancing dialogue and mediation capacities of insiders in Bolivia

Rooted in the experiences and requirements of indigenous organisations and community leaders in social change, this project set off a capacity-development process to transform their individual approaches to conflict, sensitise their communities and organisations and enable them to successfully act as internal dialogue facilitators and mediators on behalf of their organisations. more>

Study on OSCE support to insider mediation

The study examines past, present and possible activities with insider mediators for the OSCE, in particular looking at cases from Ukraine, Kosovo and Kyrgyzstan. Commissioned by the Mediation Support Team of the Conflict Prevention Centre’s Operations Service and the German Chairmanship the study provides recommendations for the OSCE and its field operations on how to make use of insider capacities in conflict prevention and resolution.

Full Study >   Recommendations >


Study on Tradition- & Faith-Oriented Insider Mediators

On the basis of case studies from Myanmar (Burma), Southern Thailand, Lebanon, Colombia, Kenya and Mali, this study conceptualises and contextualises a specific set of religious and traditional peacemakers as tradition- & faith-oriented insider mediators (TFIMs). In considering their peace mediation roles, potential and the constraints under which they work, it also reflects on the opportunities for collaborative support.

Study on Infrastructures for Peace (I4P) highlighting the role of insider mediation

This UNDP-funded research posits that insider mediation can (i) support I4P by fostering the readiness of conflict actors and their communities to become included and actively engaged in peacebuilding and reconciliation processes, (ii) become an I4P in of itself by fostering greater inclusivity, participation and ownership, insider mediation, particularly if it can build upon committed and skilful individuals and sustainable structures, (iii) be a particularly suitable I4P in societies, which suffer from weak State and governance structures, but which have strong community structures based on cultural, ethnic or religious ties, (iv) help I4Ps to enhance national, local or community ownership, strengthen self-reliance and improve social cohesion, (v) be the primary I4P mechanism in contexts where external third party intervention (e.g. former colonial powers) is widely unwelcome.

  • Hans J. Giessmann. 2016. Infrastructures for Peace: Approaches and Lessons Learned. PDF >

Convening a platform of insider peacebuilders in the Deep South of Thailand

The Platform of Insider Peacebuilders (IPP) brings together Thai-Buddhists, Thai-Chinese, Malay-Muslims and people with different political convictions who share a common interest in the peaceful settlement of the conflict in the region of Pat(t)ani.

  • Insider Peacebuilders Platform (IPP): How Can the Peace Process be Taken Forward. 28 February 2014. Policy Paper. PDF >
  • Peace Processes as Joint Learning Processes of Stakeholders and Insider Peacebuilders. A Case Study on Southern Thailand. 2013. PDF >

Articles reflecting on insider mediation in ASEAN and EU

  • Ropers, Norbert. 2014. “Insider Mediation as a Tool of Collaborative Security: Trends, Discourses and Insights from Asia.” International Studies 49 (3-4): 189–205. link >.
  • Ropers, Norbert, and Mathus Anuvatudom. 2013. “Peace Processes as Joint Learning Processes of Stakeholders and Insider Peacebuilders: A Case Study on Southern Thailand.” Paper for the Asia-Pacific Peace Research Association (APPRA) Conference 2013, Bangkok, Thailand. PDF >.
  • Gourlay, Catriona, and Norbert Ropers. 2012. “Support for ‘Insider’ Mediators: A Gap in EU Ambitions for Mediation?” In Strengthening the EU’s Peace Mediation Capacities: Leveraging for Peace through New Ideas and Thinking, edited by Tanja Tamminen, 90–102. Finnish Institute of International Affair (FIIA). link >

Research exploring the key role of Insider Mediators in informal peace processes (2008 – 9)

This seminal work that summarises and builds on findings of a “lessons-learned” workshop on Informal Peace Processes in 2008 still inspires our research on insider mediation. In order to explore the specific role, potential and limitations of local and regional “insider” mediators in current peace processes, the Berghof Foundation (then BPS) in cooperation with the Mediation Support Project of Swisspeace/CSS-ETH Zurich invited a dozen insider mediators from different parts of the world (Algeria, Burundi,D. R. Congo, Germany, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia,Mali, Mexico, Nepal, Philippines,Sri Lanka, Switzerland and Uganda) to reflect on their experiences.

  • Mason, Simon. 2009. Insider Mediators. Exploring Their Key Role in Informal Peace Processes.  PDF > Arabic > Indonesian >
  • Giessmann, Hans J., and Oliver Wils. 2009. “Conflict Parties’ Interests in Mediation.” Berghof Policy Brief 01 (September): 1–14. PDF >

Coming soon ...

  • Scoping study for exploring youth spaces of insider mediation 

Following up on the recent United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250 on youth, peace and security, Finn Church Aid and Berghof reflect on the characteristics, dimensions, challenges and potential of youth in insider mediation – the particularities of the youth approach to/in dialogue and mediation and on how this situates itself in the broader dialogue and mediation context involving other non-youth actors. more >

  • UNDP. 2015. “Supporting Insider Mediation: Strengthening Resilience to Conflict and Turbulence.” UNDP. link >.
  • Svensson, Isak, and Mathilda Lindgren. 2013. “Peace from the Inside: Exploring the Role of the Insider-Partial Mediator.” International Interactions 39 (5). Routledge: 698–722.
  • Hislaire, Peter, Richard Smith, and George Wachira. 2011. “Insider Mediators in Africa: Understanding and Enhancing the Contribution of Insider Mediators to the Peaceful Resolution of Conflicts in Africa.”
  • Interpeace. 2010. “Peacebuilding How ? ‘ Insiders ’ - ‘ Outsiders ’ and Peacebuilding Partnerships.” link >.