Incorporating human and minority rights into EU’s conflict management

Accommodating the principle of equal treatment (human rights) and the recognition of cultural diversity (minority rights) is a major challenge for conflict management. The MIRICO project has analysed minority and human rights during ethnic conflict in the Western Balkans. It concludes that, if the EU intends to strengthen its role in conflict management, it needs better co-ordination, more communication with other organisations and a streamlining of policy instruments.

EU foreign policy on conflict is shifting from re-active crisis management to regional stabilisation and association with the EU. The MIRICO - Human and Minority Rights in the Life-Cycle of Ethnic Conflicts - project studied the conflicts in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia and South Caucasus. Its aim was to understand what conflict management policies were successful and unsuccessful, and to provide insight on the EU’s future role in this field.

The research identified five aspects of ethnic conflict that are policy-relevant:

  • Complexity – All ethnic conflicts studied had complex interactions between domestic, regional and international players. This means the effects of policy were often modest and sometimes not in the direction intended. Often policy has to be a best compromise in order to stop the violence.
  • Individuality – Conflicts differ substantially and there is no single recipe for successful management. For example, if a minority group makes up a large part of the population (as with the Albanians in Macedonia) or there is no dominant ethnic group (as in Bosnia and Herzegovina) then sharing the power between groups may be successful. However, if there are no sizeable minorities or many small minority communities, a different approach is needed.
  • Depth – Conflict is often deep-seated in a region’s history. It could be better to focus on establishing basic conditions for stability, tolerance and co-operation before introducing democratic elections.
  • Durability/persistence – Due to the length of conflict it may be problematic to define phases into ‘pre-conflict’, ‘conflict’ and ‘post-conflict’ for purposes other than research.
  • Mediation of conflict – MIRICO’s research indicated a lack of co-ordination and co-operation between relevant actors in human and minority rights.

On the basis of its findings, MIRICO made several recommendations for EU interventions:

  • Strengthening instruments for arriving at common positions. The diverse interests and varying degrees of political will amongst EU Member States can be a challenge towards reaching consensus. Possible solutions include changing the voting rules, using opt-out procedures and forging subgroups of key players that share positions on a conflict situation.
  • Developing a comprehensive mechanism for conflict management. This would streamline different policy actions across EU institutions, for example from the different European Commission Directorate Generals, such as DG External Relations, DG Enlargement, DG Justice and DG Home Affairs, as well as from the European Parliament and European Council. This could benefit from the formation of an EU Commissioner for Peace and Conflict Transformation which has previously been suggested. Through policies such as the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP) and the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), the EU has started to build social and economic relationships with countries prone to conflict. These relationships can be deepened to the extent of potential EU membership if the countries meet certain conditions of democracy and human rights. To be successful these policies must be adjusted to the specifics of each situation.
  • Adopting a graduated approach to conflict management engagement. The level of EU engagement should depend on a systematic methodology that considers the nature of the conflict, the EU’s strengths compared to other international organisations and the geographic proximity of the conflict. This would reduce the previous ad-hoc nature of the EU’s intervention.
  • Improved external coordination and channels of interaction. There are a large number of international organisations and state actors with interests in the field of conflict management. The EU could take a leading role in building on existing mechanisms for cooperation between these organisations and NGOs to avoid duplication of efforts and clashes of approaches. Better channels of interaction are needed between EU officials, the NGO community and academic experts in conflict management.
  • Developing conflict analysis expertise and improving data collection. This would include better in-house expertise on methodologies for risk analysis and assessing conflict potential. The EU could also upgrade its on-the-ground capacity, using its 128 EU delegations throughout the world to gather information in regions with the potential for conflict.
  • Improving funding instruments. Funds should be more specifically allocated to conflict management and given longer life cycles. Although the Rapid Reaction Funding mechanism is a move forward, it only funds projects for up to six months. More needs to be done to accelerate delivery of funding, develop tailored incentives and co-ordinate funding with other international organisations.

MIRICO – Human and Minority Rights in the Life Cycle of Ethnic Conflicts (duration: 1/5/2006 – 30/10/2008) was a Specific Targeted Research Project funded under the 6th Framework Programme for Research of the European Union, Thematic Priority 7 – Citizens and governance in a knowledge-based society.

See: http://www.eurac.edu/en/research/projects/ProjectDetails.html?pmode=4&textId=2893&pid=8381

Contact: Joseph Marko, joseph.marko@eurac.edu