IILJ Emerging Scholars Paper 10 (2008)

Armed Groups in Peace Processes: Who Gets a Seat at the Negotiating Table?

Zoe Salzman

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This paper examines the participation of non-State armed groups in contemporary peace processes. It argues that, despite the controversy surrounding the international legal status of both armed groups and the peace agreements that they sign, both can and should be understood within the parameters of international law. Focusing on the peace process that ended the Second Congolese War, this paper reveals that there is currently no clear strategy for determining which non-State armed groups get a seat at the peace negotiating table. Instead, there appears to be a clash between the mainstream conflict resolution theory, which advocates including all the parties to the conflict, and the reality on the ground, where many armed groups are excluded from the peace process, seemingly on the basis of ad hoc, arbitrary standards that are never clearly articulated. This approach is problematic because it undermines the chances of building a durable peace and because it does not provide incentives for armed groups to comply with their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law. This paper argues that both of these weaknesses can be addressed by adopting a principled approach to armed group participation in peace processes, under which participation would be guided by compliance with a code of minimum humanitarian standards.