Few societies and their elites are immediately in favour of reviewing peace agreements. Perhaps they are happy with the status quo or they fear reopening controversial issues and memories. However, it is a key tool for preventive diplomacy and policy planning. By Ivan Shalev
A couple of weeks ago the European Commission published its 2015 Progress Reports, and the one on Macedonia was of particular interest for EIP. We are currently working on the fragile inter-ethnic situation and facilitate the review of implementation of the 2001 Ohrid Framework Agreement (OFA). The European Commission featured the need to complete the Review quite prominently in their assessment. So why is it so important to review peace agreements and their implementation? For us, it has to do with preventive diplomacy:
In Europe, we have the good practice of reviewing big policy decisions every five to ten years. We take a step back and assess – is a national or regional strategy still making a useful contribution to resolve an identified problem? We also asess its implementation: Did it meet our expectations and how can it be improved in the future?
This should also apply for peace agreements. Circumstances change and provisions can become outdated. For example, there may be a significant demographic shift. This can raise issues related to power-sharing arrangements, such as decentralisation and political participation. It could also become a detriment to minority rights when appropriate policies are not in place. Poor governance is a slow but certain way to jeopardize peace and social cohesion.
Reviewing peace agreements is also a matter of political sustainability. Too often, parties to a conflict manage to reach an agreement only to soon endanger it with lacklustre implementation. Just as often, international actors spend the bulk of their energy to help secure an agreement but then neglect to monitor or assist its implementation. This is arguably the most difficult part of the conflict and peace cycle.
It is therefore important for society at large and politicians to discuss and address their existing grievances. Some may feel unfairly treated from the very outset of the agreement. Others may argue that those responsible for its implementation are not complying with its spirit. Civil society, academia and different population groups should be part of this discussion, facilitated by transparent decision making and public information processes.
Lessons from the past
Finally, how could we possibly strengthen conflict prevention and resolution efforts if we did not learn from experience? Let’s go back to the Western Balkans. EIP’s assistance for the review of the OFA (which, incidentally, followed the first instance of UN preventive diplomacy action) is based on lessons learnt.
In Bosnia, the 1995 Dayton Accords became such an integral of the Constitution that they set it in stone. Any amendment needs a consensus from all the parties, which makes substantial reforms close to impossible. At the same time, the agreement was criticised for giving non-elected foreigners too much say in post-transition politics. So in Kosovo, references to the 2007 Ahtisaari Plan and the period of international supervision were consciously removed from national legislature. The lesson being: ownership and responsibility must remain local.
There are plenty of reasons why peace agreements should be reviewed. My experience is that people are initially sceptical and hesitant – often for the exact same reasons why a review should be carried out: they distrust the agreement or fear that unresolved issues would resurface. This is not a sustainable situation.
Reviews are a normal and a desirable feature in well-governed societies, they allow important space for political dialogue and help us to do better in the future.