Director of the Policy and Mediation Division at the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Teresa Whitfield, takes us through the highlights and challenges of her career in conflict mediation – starting with a chance encounter at the Havana Film Festival that led her to El Salvador in the middle of a civil war. She talks about her transition from journalism to peacemaking and the evolution of mediation support, including the deployment of digital technologies in Libya. And she explains why, despite geopolitical tensions making wars increasingly difficult to resolve, the values and principles of the UN remain a beacon of hope.
Former Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, offers insights from decades mediating conflicts across Africa, from Liberia to Sudan. He takes us behind the scenes of some of the most tense moments of his career – including when he found out about protestors setting the Burkina Faso parliament ablaze while in the middle of delivering an important speech. He also recalls the harrowing experience of coming under mortar fire on a naval ship in Liberia, and how this brought home the brutal reality of war and the importance of seeking peace.
Yemeni activist and international peace advocate, Muna Luqman, reflects on her efforts to reduce suffering in her country’s deadly war – from helping open humanitarian corridors across battlefields to negotiating safe passage for those at risk. Through stories from the frontlines, she illustrates the creativity and courage of local peacemakers, whether using social media to get army tanks removed from the streets or de-escalating tensions around access to water. She also recalls how women have put their lives at risk time and again, and how they have refused to be defeated in their fight for space at the negotiating table.
Former freedom fighter turned UN diplomat, Haile Menkerios, recounts his role in Eritrea’s war of independence and the devastation of being exiled from the country he had fought to create. Reflecting on how his approach as a mediator in Sudan, South Sudan and beyond was shaped by his own experience of war, he stresses the importance of talking to everyone and urges us to “never stop believing in a better future”.
Veteran Algerian diplomat and distinguished conflict mediator, Lakhdar Brahimi, provides a front-row perspective on key moments in Afghanistan’s troubled history – beginning with his appointment as UN Special Envoy in 1997, after Kabul last fell to the Taliban. He reflects on personal regrets and missed opportunities over years of peace negotiations – from Bonn to Doha – and recalls his interactions with Taliban leadership, including the meeting where a young interpreter played an unexpected part in preventing a war. He also discusses his role in Iraq and why, despite his reservations, he couldn’t say no to the task of trying to find a peaceful solution to the war in Syria.
Join us next week for a new season of The Mediator’s Studio podcast. Guests include a veteran mediator in Afghanistan and Syria, a former freedom fighter turned UN diplomat, a peacemaker with decades of experience across Africa, a Yemeni activist and frontline humanitarian, and more! New episodes from 15 February.
After a short break to get past the US elections and see in the Administration of President Joe Biden, the US-China Conversation is back. In this fourth episode, HD’s Asia Director, Michael Vatikiotis, a veteran former journalist, discusses the escalating war over technology. Concerns about intellectual property and national security have begun to divide the tech world into two spheres, sometimes referred to as de-coupling. To discuss this emerging ‘techno-Cold-War’ Ms Lindsey Sheppard, Fellow, International Security Program, Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington and Dr. Yu Yang, Assistant Professor at the Institute for Interdisciplinary Information Sciences at Tsinghua University engage in a lively conversation about how to prevent further escalation and better manage concerns about technology and national security.
Former Lead Negotiator for the Government of the Philippines, Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, takes us inside the peace talks that ended half a century of insurgency in the southern Philippines. She reveals how she worked to unify the positions of the army, police and political establishment on her own side and went on to find common ground with representatives of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, an armed group that for decades had fought for more autonomy. She lays out the milestones towards peace, describing how the parties reached the point of no return “on Heartbreak Hill”, and explains why we must all be radical in the search for peace.
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Former UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, reveals behind-the-scenes moments from his missions to Iran and North Korea. He also reflects on a career in the US Foreign Service, which threw him into the limelight of Lebanese politics at the time of Syria’s turbulent exit from the country, and recounts the dramatic episode when a talkative contact may have saved him from the huge car bomb that killed Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
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Former FARC commander, Victoria Sandino, now a Senator in Colombia, and the country’s former High Commissioner for Peace, Sergio Jaramillo Caro, were once enemies, facing each other over the negotiating table. Now they come together in The Mediator’s Studio to give the inside story on how secret talks led the two sides to a lakeside retreat in Cuba, where they forged a peace agreement to end one of Latin America’s longest conflicts. They reveal how they worked together when the Colombian people narrowly rejected the deal in a referendum and talk frankly about protecting an increasingly fragile peace today.
Former Acting Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Libya, Stephanie Williams, reveals how Zoom calls and digital dialogues helped put the country on the path to elections after a decade of conflict and instability. She recalls her shock when a phone call from President Trump undermined the UN-led peace process, and explains how the latest, livestreamed round of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum turned up the heat on Libya’s political class.
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Businessman turned local mediator, Ibrahim Saleh Hassan, recalls being caught up in intercommunal violence in his home city of Jos and explains why, in the aftermath of this traumatic experience, he chose to be part of the solution rather than seek revenge. He tells Adam how he applied the lessons of this first dialogue process to other mediation efforts across Nigeria’s Middle Belt and why he has found that a peacemaker’s work is never done.
Former EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, reveals the inner workings of negotiations to secure a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme and looks ahead to prospects for the agreement under a Biden administration. She recalls how she put former enemies at ease in talks between Serbia and Kosovo, argues that Europe has learned the lessons of bitter division and war and explains why, despite the fact that progress is often slow, she remains optimistic about mediation and negotiation.
Special Envoy of the African Union to Sudan, Mohamed El Hacen Lebatt, recounts his mediation role in the political transition in Sudan; his arrival in Khartoum in an atmosphere of fear just ten days after the 2019 coup, his late-night talks with the military authorities and his discussions with opposition groups, particularly after a massacre that killed over one hundred civilians. He recalls shedding tears in the search for peace, and how those tears turned to elation once a deal was done.
Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, takes us back to the origins of private diplomacy and his early efforts to bring peace to the Indonesian province of Aceh and the Basque region. He talks about the ‘tradecraft’ of starting secret talks and the art of establishing trust with conflict parties. His wealth of experience has taught him invaluable lessons, and he explains how he applies them now, in Yemen – one of the most complex conflicts of our time.
Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to the African Union, Hanna Tetteh, charts her journey from the legal profession where she defended disadvantaged women to Ghanaian politics, where, as Foreign Minister, she introduced affirmative action into the diplomatic service. She offers robust lessons for would be mediators, describing how she told a negotiator not to lecture her on suffering and making the case for women to take a central role in the search for peace in South Sudan.
Secretary General of the Global Centre for Pluralism, Meredith Preston McGhie, reveals the backroom story of working closely with Kofi Annan to resolve Kenya’s violent political crisis in 2008, typing out the peace deal as each word was negotiated, with senior ministers circling her to glimpse the draft on her laptop. She lays bare the mediator’s craft while describing her work to resolve conflicts in Asia and Africa, admitting that while heavily pregnant she once threatened to go into labour when negotiations began to stall.
In this third episode, HD’s Asia Director, Michael Vatikiotis, a veteran former journalist, discusses the ongoing battle between China and the United States over media representation and coverage with two young journalists from leading Chinese and American media outlets. At a time of growing tensions and uncertainties between the countries they cover, Zhang Qi, Chief US Correspondent with Caixin, a private news magazine, and Gerry Shih, former China-based Reporter with The Washington Post, engage in a vivid conversation about the challenges they face covering the events in the United States and China, and how geopolitics and journalism influence each other on both sides of the Pacific.
Special Adviser to the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes, Ambassador Said Djinnit, recalls the nightmares of a childhood under colonial rule in his native Algeria. With a chilling story of the moment a French soldier threatened to kill his father, he illustrates how those injustices propelled him into a lifetime of mediation. Among the many tales of the untold, he recounts being mistaken for a French agent during his mission to restore democracy in Comoros following a dramatic coup, as well as persuading a military general in Guinea to step down shortly after seizing power.
Special Envoy of Uganda to South Sudan, Betty Bigombe, retraces her steps to northern Uganda as government negotiator, engaging one of the most brutal armed groups the world has known in her efforts to end the civil war. Despite significant threats to her safety, including ambushes, landmines and accusations of treason, she persists in her attempt to forge peace. Drawing on decades in peacemaking, she outlines the principles that guided her recent engagement in South Sudan and is forthright in her views on the tension between justice and peace. Listeners are warned that this episode contains graphic descriptions of violence.
Norwegian peace facilitator, Dag Nylander, recounts how he smuggled salmon into Havana where negotiations brought to an end one of South America’s longest running civil wars. He describes how, during an early morning helicopter mission, a chance encounter with a young guerrilla influenced the peace agenda in Colombia. And he outlines the essence of Norwegian-style diplomacy, laying out how the dynamics of peace processes change over time, making the impossible achievable.
The founder and CEO of the International Civil Society Action Network, Sanam Naraghi Anderlini MBE, calls for a complete rethink of international approaches to conflict resolution to better reflect the increasing fragmentation of warfare. Sharing first-hand accounts of her encounters with Gucci gangsters in Jamaica and South Africa's Knitting Needles Guerrilla, and recounting a dash after a foreign minister through the corridors of the UN, she demonstrates the importance of diversifying voices at the negotiating table and how the pivotal UNSC Resolution 1325 established a new discourse for the inclusion of women in peacemaking.
Former United Nations Special Representative for Libya, Ghassan Salamé, reveals why he’s “very angry” and concerned about the “state of multi-lateralism and international cooperation" today. Drawing on his personal experience dealing with a highly internationalized conflict, Salamé opens up about his frustrations with members of the UN Security Council for “stabbing him in the back” and concern for their “hypocrisy” in undermining his mediation efforts in Libya. He recounts the harrowing aftermath of the terror attack on the UN mission in Baghdad in 2003, and he laments the slowness of his native Lebanon to deal with its divided past.
In the second episode, HD’s Asia Director, Michael Vatikiotis explores the risk of armed conflict between the U.S. and China with Retired U.S. Navy Admiral Scott Swift who commanded the U.S. Pacific Fleet until 2018 and Zhu Feng, Executive Director of the China Centre for Collaborative Studies of the South China Sea, at Nanjing University.
The BBC’s chief international correspondent, Lyse Doucet, reflects on the most pivotal moments of mediation in recent history – from Syria, to Afghanistan and Yemen. Through recollections of her personal encounters with renowned mediators like Kofi Annan, Martti Ahtisaari, Catherine Ashton and Lakhdar Brahimi, among others, Lyse offers a unique view of mediation, sharing insights from her work behind-the-scenes.
What happens behind closed doors when peace agreements are negotiated? The Mediator’s Studio gives you a glimpse into the normally hidden world of peace diplomacy: first-hand stories from mediators, armed groups and governments on what it takes to end wars. Join our host Adam Cooper, in a conversation with Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ine Eriksen Søreide, to get a sneak peek of the show. The Mediator’s Studio is a podcast from the Oslo Forum, the world’s leading mediation retreat. It’s brought to you by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue.
In the pilot episode HD’s Asia Director, Michael Vatikiotis speaks about the state of the US-China bilateral relationship and what could be done to put relations on a better footing to former Acting Assistant Secretary of State Susan Thornton, and Professor Da Wei of the University of International Relations in Beijing.