Peace negotiations as fundamental fairness

Peace negotiation is essentially about fairness.

One can sometimes be misled into looking at peace negotiations only from a “technician” point-of-view and thus,be tempted to rely on “techniques” like “constructive ambiguity”, “low-ball/high ball”, or even “sandbagging” but these methods can only bring you so far.

Negotiations is an “emotional” process

Negotiations involve “human beings” and thus must be seen as an “emotional” process rather than a logical one. They are not about documents, drafts, matrices or initial positions per se. Even seemingly “rational” sessions like Q&A sessions, while appearing to be “detached” and “clinical”, are not. In fact, they constitute opportunities for the parties to “feel” out each other. All sessions are about feelings and emotions, bar none. Thus, the first order of business in any negotiations is an updated “emotional scan” of the actors involved.

2 Facets of Fairness.

Back to fairness. The “fairness” that I am talking about consists of 2 things: fairness-in-outcome (also known “social justice”) and fairness-in-procedure (also known as “procedural justice”).

At the root of armed conflicts are a set of grievances which require a fundamental shift  in present structural and social relationships in order for the conflict to end. Social change is the goal of peace negotiations. These “shifts” usually are detailed and spelled out in a comprehensive compact.

Hand-in-hand with a comprehensive compact for social change, it is equally important that the process in attaining that outcome must be fair. In short, the fair outcome must be attained through a fair process. This is the tricky part as there can be a divergence of views as to what constitutes a fair process. Still it must be reiterated that the search for a fair process is as important as the search for a fair outcome.

Even from a purely pragmatic point-of-view, a comprehensive compact has a better chance of succeeding if there is a significant consensus among stakeholders that the process that led to the outcome was fundamentally fair. In fact, studies have shown that parties are even willing to accept a less than desirable outcome if they feel and perceive that the process was, on the whole, fair.


Author: Bong Montesa

I teach children how to think. I am engage in the work of ending armed conflicts and bring about a just, inclusive and sustainable peace in the Philippines and in the world.