States of Mind in Conflict - The Psychological Dimension of Peace Mediation

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Article, 31.05.2022

The role of a peace mediator has always been intricate and multi-layered. As conflicts become increasingly complex and recurrent, changing circumstances and new challenges require mediation practitioners to consider new approaches. The States of Mind in Conflict (SOMIC) project is an attempt to innovate peace mediation practice through the application of psychological insights and tools to mediation.

a man speaking at a lecturn addressing a room full of people
Mediation is a key element of Swiss foreign policy. © FDFA

This was the focus of an event held in London on 18 May 2022, co-organised by the Embassy of Switzerland, Conciliation Resources and the Centre for Researching and Embedding Human Rights (CREHR) at Birkbeck, University of London.

Discussions explored the findings of a new pilot study by the ‘States of Mind in Conflict’ (SOMIC) project, which aims to grow and enhance peace mediation by equipping mediators with psychosocial tools, strategies and understanding.

The SOMIC project was launched in August 2020 and led by Prof. Dr. Irene Bruna Seu, Professor of Psychosocial Studies and Critical Psychology and Founding Director of the Centre for Researching and Embedding Human Rights (CREHR) at Birkbeck University, in collaboration with the Peace and Human Rights Division of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA).

Professor Seu commented that traditional peace mediation processes have overlooked psychology and emotion. She said:

“States of mind in conflict are not rational. The situation is volatile, unpredictable and full of ‘eruptions’ of emotions. Elite mediation overlooks these ‘eruptions’. Yet if we really want to engage with parties in conflict, we need to engage with their reality.”

The report was presented by Professor Seu and followed by a panel discussion, where the speakers included Mr Matthias Siegfried, Senior Mediation Advisor, Peace and Human Rights Division, Swiss FDFA and Professor Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, Professor of Law, School of Social Work and Social Welfare, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The panel was moderated by Mr Jonathan Cohen, Executive Director, Conciliation Resources.

The event was opened by Ambassador Leitner who remarked that mediation is a key element of Swiss foreign policy.

Switzerland is a candidate country to be a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2023-24 and, if elected, intends to continue its engagement in support of peace mediation processes from within the Security Council.

This event was the third and final in a series to mark Switzerland's candidature for a UN Security Council seat for 2023-24, which will be voted on by the UN General Assembly on 9 June.

Watch highlights from the panel discussion on States of Mind in Conflict - The Psychological Dimension of Peace Mediation