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Key Findings: Peace Processes

Read our key findings on peace processes


Peace processes are structured attempts to resolve radical disagreement between conflict parties. PeaceRep examines how peace processes are designed and how they attempt to rework political settlements to form both an elite bargain capable of ending fighting, and an inclusive social contract between a government and the population. This research focuses on how conflict parties and mediators navigate the inclusion of people and agendas of change in peace processes. Central to this work are the PA-X Peace Agreement Database and the support the programme provides to peacemakers, particularly through its partner Conciliation Resources (see impact for examples).


Peace Processes (overview)

Peace negotiations are one of the most common ways of ending conflict. Over 1800 formalised peace agreements in over 150 different peace processes have been signed between 1990 and mid-2020. These agreements have different goals, including establishing ceasefires, bringing conflict parties to the negotiation table, resolving substantive disagreement over power-sharing, or implementing previous agreements (PA-X Peace Agreement Database; Bell & Badanjak 2019).

Most peace agreements signed since 1990 deal with armed conflict within states (PA-X Peace Agreement Database). Only about 17% of peace agreements deal with interstate conflict. However, given the internationalised nature of many conflicts, resolution of internal conflict often requires international agreements to underpin it. Agreements between states can play an important role in ending outside support to conflict parties within a neighboring state. These agreements also offer opportunities to strengthen the role of international normative frameworks in peace processes, for example by emphasizing human rights norms (Nash 2019).

Only just under 20% of peace agreements signed since 1990 (371 out of 1868 agreements) have provisions on women, gender or sexual violence. Many of these peace agreement references are single line and tokenistic, and only a few include a more holistic gender perspective throughout (see PSRP key findings on ‘gender’ for more analysis).

Peace processes are non-linear and messy. Often talks are started, break down, and restart. Multiple sequenced small steps tend to be the norm rather than one giant stride towards ending armed conflict (as visualized by the ‘messy timeline’). Peace processes normally include several rounds of talks, with sometimes at least 3 – but often more – ceasefires and revisions of earlier agreements between opposing factions. There were 39 ceasefires during the Bosnia conflict 1992-1995, alone.

Even comprehensive peace deals can unravel. There have been at least 15 cases since the Cold War that had to be signed and revisited when fighting re-ignited. These include Bosnia, Burundi, DRC, India, Somalia and Sudan (PSRP infographic 2019).

Recent national-level peace processes have often ‘locked in’ disagreement rather than resolving it. Sometimes the need to compromise pushes conflict parties to agree on superficial or institutional reforms without tackling the root causes of a conflict. Power struggles are then carried forward into the new institutions, creating a form of ‘formalised political unsettlement’ in which conflict parties continue bargaining (Bell & Pospisil 2017; Pospisil 2019).

Inclusion makes peace more durable. There is evidence suggesting that the involvement of civil society groups, such as women’s groups, in peace processes correlates with more enduring peace (Nilsson 2012). Our research indicates that while framework peace negotiations focused on ‘comprehensive agreement’ often do have input from a wide range of actors even if they are not at the negotiating table, early stage agreements, such as ceasefires negotiated between armed actors alone, have often set the pathways for change. Similarly, implementation negotiations often narrow to armed actors. Focusing on inclusion at all stages of a peace process is important to any social contract that can help sustain the commitment to peace across peace agreement implementation ‘bumps’.

Local peace processes hold both opportunities and risks for wider peacemaking. Local peace agreements serve a variety of purposes, including halting violence, building momentum for national-level peacemaking, or enabling humanitarian access (Pospisil, Wise and Bell 2020; Wise, Beaujouan, Epple and Wilson 2020). These agreements can reduce violence on the ground, build trust between conflict parties, and resolve disagreements that undermine national-level peace processes. However, local peace processes risk fracturing armed groups, potentially creating new forms of local autonomy and conflict (Wise, Forster and Bell 2019).

The diversity of actors involved and the presence of potential spoilers often complicate peace agreement implementation. Continued mediation and third-party monitoring bodies can play a useful role in resolving disputes and overseeing implementation. While measuring peace and progress in implementation is inherently political and difficult, setting clear timelines and benchmarks may improve chances of successful implementation (Molloy 2018).


Peace Process Publications

On the Law of Peace: Peace Agreements and the Lex Pacificatoria

This book provides a comprehensive analysis of the use of peace agreements from a legal perspective. It describes and evaluates the development of contemporary peace processes and the peace agreements that emerge. At its heart, the book grapples with the role of law in ending violent conflict and the broader questions this raises for the relationship of law to social change.

Infographic: Peace Processes

This infographic illustrates key themes from our research into 30 years of peace processes around the world. Available as an interactive infographic and static PDF.

Navigating Inclusion in Peace Settlements: Human Rights and the Creation of the common Good

In this report the authors argue that peace settlements often produce compromises between parties at the heart of conflict, which are difficult to deepen into broader political commitments to govern for all in the interest of ‘the common good’.

Peace in Political Unsettlement: Beyond Solving Conflict

This book maps a new understanding of peace processes as institutionalising formalised political unsettlement and points out new ways of engaging with it. The book points to the ways in which peace processes institutionalise forms of disagreement, creating ongoing processes to manage it, rather than resolve it.

Interstate Agreements to End Intrastate Conflicts

This PA-X report examines interstate agreements that have been used to resolve internal conflict using a global dataset (PA-X Peace Agreement Database).

Peace process protagonism: the role of regional organisations in Africa in conflict management. Global Change, Peace & Security

This article seeks to illuminate the changing landscape of regional security governance in Africa, primarily through the lens of formal peace agreements, which are important tools for ending violent conflict.

Untangling Conflict: Local Peace Agreements in Contemporary Armed Violence

This research draws on discussions held at two Joint Analysis Workshops in October and November 2019, in cooperation with The British Academy (BA) and the Rift Valley Institute (RVI). In total, over 100 participants from 25 countries involved with or researching on local peace agreements contributed to thematic discussions.

Introducing PA-X: a new peace agreement database and dataset

This article introduces PA-X, a peace agreement database designed to improve understanding of negotiated pathways out of conflict. PA-X enables scholars, mediators, conflict parties and civil society actors to systematically compare how peace and transition processes formalize negotiated commitments in an attempt to move towards peace.