‘This is a time when national dialogues are very much scrutinised in the mediation and peacemaking field,’ declared Dr Katia Papagianni, speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) on the scope of dialogues as a peacemaking tool.

National dialogue is a comprehensive, inclusive and transparent negotiating process aimed at resolving conflict and paving the way to political transformation and sustainable peace. However, there are issues concerning its effectiveness and authenticity; this event aimed to further understanding of the conditions under which national dialogue can be a promising tool.

During the event, Dr Papagianni drew on her extensive personal and professional involvement in the peacemaking processes in countries such as Libya, Syria and Myanmar.

Reflecting on these experiences, Dr Papagianni revealed that national dialogues started to attract the attention of peacemakers in the context of the last five years, a period during which conflicts of diverse intensity erupted and governments promoted nationwide talks of varying quality and effectiveness as an alternative solution to conflict resolution. This led peacemakers to evaluate how national dialogues might be more effective and how they, themselves, could do more to end conflicts and guarantee sustainable peace.

National dialogues specifically, she elaborated, have become relevant to this discussion and are used ever more frequently due to the fragmentation observed in the majority of current conflicts. This division implies bringing many actors to the discussions.

National dialogues possess a dual goal, Dr Papagianni added. First, fielding a transparent and comprehensive negotiating process for all the parties. Secondly, trying to accommodate many constituencies and participants, therefore offering the possibility to include diverse voices.

However, Dr Papagianni argued that although national dialogue is ‘quite well-placed to strengthen and legitimise an agreement or a vision that elites and leaders have already shaped’, it is not an efficient negotiating tool. In addition, it should not ‘be relied upon as a single-handedly reached agreement that would end a conflict’, especially when it is starting ‘from scratch’.

In her opinion, the biggest shortcoming of national dialogues is the fact that they are often seen as a conflict or political transformation tool. In other words, participants tend to use them both as an end to a conflict and a means of discussion for the future of the country. However, she reflected, reaching agreement is a tricky process. The negotiating sides must balance solving a concrete problem (conflict) with finding agreement to ensure sustainable peace and stability in the country, she added.

Dr Papagianni closed the discussion by highlighting that national dialogue remains a unique negotiation process because it has the potential to bring together diverse actors to discuss issues of mutual interest.

The event was organised under the IISS Armed Conflict Programme, which aims to provide rigorous analysis and in-depth examination of the dominant processes and trends in armed conflicts globally.

Dr Katia Papagianni is the Director for Policy and Mediation Support at the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD), Geneva. Her work focuses on the design of peace processes and, more specifically, on national dialogues and constitution-making processes. At HD, she has supported peace processes in several countries, including Liberia, Libya, Syria, Myanmar, the Philippines and Ukraine. She was seconded by HD to the United Nations in Yemen as an expert on national dialogue processes. Before joining HD, she worked for the National Democratic Institute, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, and the UN Development Programme. Her experience includes work in Russia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Iraq.

This event was chaired by Dr Anastasia Voronkova, Research Fellow for Armed Conflict, IISS. It took place in the Trafalgar Room at Arundel House, 13–15 Arundel Street, Temple Place, London WC2R 3DX.

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Event details

Discussion meeting
Dr Katia Papagianni, Director for Policy and Mediation Support, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue
Chaired by Dr Anastasia Voronkova, Research Fellow for Armed Conflict, IISS
Arundel House, London
Thursday 13 July, 12.30–1.30pm BST