How can we promote inclusive, equitable, and peaceful societies?

The role of norms in peace processes

Basement Room A-119 September 6, 2017 11:00 am - 12:30 pm

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Sara Hellmueller1, Thania Paffenholz2, Jamie Pring1, Julia Palmiano Federer1, Dana Landau2

1swisspeace; 2Inclusive Peace and Transition Initiative


The role of norms in international peace processes is growing. Peace mediators, peacekeepers, humanitarians and other actors are increasingly expected to incorporate or uphold a growing set of norms in their interventions. For instance, norms such as inclusivity, gender equality, transitional justice, democracy promotion and the powerful normative and legal instruments that accompany them are increasingly incorporated into the strategies of international and regional organizations, states, and non-state actors that engage and intervene in conflicts and crises around the world. Guidance documents and handbooks abound that outline recommendations and best practices for supporters of peace processes to promote these norms.

Premised on the notion that promoting these norms contributes to sustainable peace, current insights on norm diffusion in peace processes are generally treated prescriptively or only as part of the policy literature. In academic research, while there have been various studies on norm diffusion in international relations theory, the diffusion of norms in peace processes, especially the possible agency of actors in promoting or rejecting norms, has been less examined. This current trend leaves fundamental questions underexplored: How does norm diffusion take place in peace processes? What kind of norms are being diffused and how? What is the role of norms in peace processes? Do norms contribute to inclusive, equitable and peaceful societies and how? Who are the agents in norm diffusion?

This panel seeks to contribute to analysing the trend of increased normative demands addressed at peace actors and supporters of peace processes. It aims to gather policy and research experts that have studied and/or supported peace processes around the world in an innovative roundtable format to exchange their perspectives on these questions. The format is an interactive one in which 4-6 scholars discuss the topic from various perspectives. These include scholars analysing the role of norms in peace processes from a legal, humanitarian or political science background as well as researchers providing specific case studies on how the diffusion of specific norms has influenced the peace process in a given context. After an initial discussion amongst these scholars, the floor is opened to the audience to participate in the reflections.

In line with one of the conference themes, “How can we promote inclusive, equitable, and peaceful societies?”, the session aims to generate insights on whether and how the diffusion of international norms foster security, stability and well-being of individuals and societies in fragile contexts. It explores the potential of international norms diffusion to trigger change in peace processes, as well as the risks and opportunities related to these changes.

Furthermore, the session aims to inspire further research on the impact of peace actors’ norm promotion in the conflict context. While the debates have largely focused on either requiring supporters of the peace process to promote specific norms or calling for more pragmatism with regard to the demands addressed, the session will assess the specific influence that peacebuilding actors have in norm diffusion.