International Peace Mediation: No Silver Bullet, But Silver Lining

Posted on Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Written by : Annie Arko and Les Honywill

There is no silver bullet. We often hear this adage when discussing the complex dilemmas that pervade the 21st Century. This is especially true when it comes to resolving violent international conflict.

Professors John Packer and Ellen Zweibel’s International Peace Mediation course, sponsored by the Neuberger-Jesin Professorship in International Conflict Mediation, peels back the layers of triggers and causes of conflict and looks at how law and mediation can support peace-making and building initiatives.

This inaugural course covers topics from the foundations of international law, to analysing conflicts and actors, to designing peace processes. The course engages us in the substantive body of laws governing conflict and intervention, and allows us to study current conflict situations and mediation efforts.

This course also builds upon the University of Ottawa’s Dispute Resolution and Professional Development program by allowing us to experiment with different communication and mediation skills in multicultural scenarios. As a class we grapple with the practical realities of securing cease-fires and comprehensive peace agreements against the backdrop of deep-seated ethnic conflict and a range of competing interests.

This class presents an exciting opportunity to gain experience in a quickly evolving field and to be on the forefront of change in exploring how law can assist or constrain attempts to build lasting peace. Peace studies is a relatively recent discipline, with more questions than answers. Part of this stems from the closed-door nature of most peace mediation, which can make it difficult to determine good-practices and to identify learnable moments.

As more scholars and practitioners enter the field, the collective ability to deconstruct and critically evaluate peace processes will grow. But in the meantime, our class relies on candid conversations with practitioners like Professor Packer and others directly on the front-lines.

From November 7 – 10, 2019 our learning was enormously complemented by a class trip to the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, where we met and learned from practitioners and leading thinkers in the field.  Hearing stories from around the world gave our class a much more vivid understanding of the boots-on-the ground challenges and complexities that mediators and other practitioners face.

The Kroc Institute’s conference, Building Sustainable Peace (, drew a large multidisciplinary crowd allowing us to attend talks on building peace from the perspectives of elections, health, environment, economics, disarmament, the list goes on. One particularly powerful keynote speaker, sujatha baliga, a former practicing lawyer, spoke about her restorative justice approach to domestic peace building by diverting youth from America’s dysfunctional and costly criminal justice system to combat the over-incarceration of racial minorities.

Beyond the traditional parameters of the state, diplomats, and the United Nations, we were exposed to a variety of grassroots, bottom-up, and community-centered peace building initiatives that focus on stakeholders and actors who are often absent in mainstream peace processes.

Exposure to multiple modes of problem-solving is essential for developing creative legal minds of the future that are capable of responding to the growing complexities and non-traditional problems we will face throughout our careers. 

This conference was both a mind- and possibility-expanding opportunity as many of us received not only greater substantive and practical knowledge of the field, but also exposure to career paths previously unknown to us.

Attendees also benefited from candid talks on peace building failures on personal and systemic levels. Hearing critical perspectives on common practices in the field is something that will stick with us as we strive to ask the right questions and talk to the right people when planning peace processes from discreet negotiations to national dialogues.

While there are no silver bullet solutions, we are encouraged by the silver lining that together our collective and multidisciplinary approaches will enable greater peace outcomes in the future.

On behalf of our class, we thank Professors Packer and Zweibel and uOttawa Faculty of Law alumni (Class of 1981) Edith Neuberger and Normin Jesin for this wonderful hands-on and cutting-edge learning experience.



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