I recently attended a seminar about how mediators can make a positive impact in helping to resolve conflicts and wars across the globe. It was organised by the Mediators’ Institute of Ireland with the excellent Ken Cloke as the guest speaker. Ken talked about how mediators could act in the context of autocracies gaining in strength and power across the globe and the role mediators can play in addressing the challenges of climate change.
There was a great discussion about the difficulties in the Russia/Ukraine war in identifying ways that negotiations might take place, the dangers of demonising particular sides and how to support Ukraine’s self-determination in the current context. There was a particular call for mediators to offer to help the difficult discussions around climate change and to take a lead in demonstrating from their own work initiatives that will reduce carbon impacts.
Perhaps the most powerful part of the seminar however was when mediators, some based in Ukraine and some working as refugees, told their stories of conflict and the challenges facing them on a day-to-day basis. Until I had heard their contributions, I had naively presumed that most ‘normal’ mediation would have been stopped by the war and that any focus would be around negotiations around the conflict and issues presented. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Perhaps not surprisingly the need for support for families via mediation has intensified and the mediators told us of the challenges of separated families and the issues around trauma that are impacting on family relationships on a day-to-day basis. Most of the mediations are taking place online which is dependent on telecoms infrastructures being maintained and that has not always been easy. In many cases the fact that that families are separated both within and outside the country has also provided significant challenges. What amazed me was the resilience of the mediators working in amongst all that is going on who will have their own family challenges.
From the discussion a number of issues became clear in terms of ways that support can be given. One of these is on training programmes to support the mediators. There are particular needs around dealing with families in crisis and with people who have suffered and are enduring trauma. The other area where people need support was in terms of financial aid as many of the organisations that provide work and pay salaries are not functioning due to the war.
The other area discussed was the need for mediation organisations to coordinate their work in our own countries to ensure that mediation is available to refugees from Ukraine (and indeed refugees from other countries too) to navigate the issues around family relationships and other areas for potential conflict that they may be experiencing. The Mediators’ Institute of Ireland have been doing commendable work with the Irish Government to make sure information and services are in place and this is an area that may require further consideration in Scotland.
Scottish Mediation will now be engaging with our Irish counterparts to better understand how they have engaged with government and other organisations to put in place their arrangements. Being able to provide such vital support is another way of assisting those whose lives have been turned upside down. It is also a way of showing solidarity with mediators in Ukraine who continue to provide their services in the most difficult of circumstances.