THEME: Mediation and International Politics

This article was authored by Harsha Menon and Anushka Mathur from National Law University, Jodhpur.


Religion has a very abstract definition. The purpose of the essay to state why mediation is an option in resolution of religious issues, despite its vagueness and variety in form. The main problem faced is the rigidity that people tend to have when matters of religion are discussed. There are various reasons for the same. However, during the course of the essay, these problems have been discussed and dealt with. The fact that mediation can indeed be a successful tool has been demonstrated with the help of instances of the past. Also, some recommendations for a successful mediation have been provided.


Theme of the Essay

The broad theme of the essay is mediation and international politics. The subtheme chosen broadly deals with religious disputes and whether mediation can be used to navigate one’s way out of the conflict. Religion has a very huge role to play in one’s identity and belief system. Often conflicts caused due to religion are untraceable and lead a huge divide in people. People build walls around their belief systems and defend them at all costs. This is because religion has to do with one’s place in the world and the manner in which the world is meaningfully put together, and it is difficult, at best, to get someone to negotiate over issues that fall into this category.

The essay tries to cover the major issues that are relevant in the current political and economic scenario.


In the current world scenario, there are multiple religious conflicts and disputes arising in various fields and the reasons for such discord are not scarce. Religion can be said to be a form of faith or hope held on to by people. Therefore, people are willing to go to great length, including killing and getting killed, for such a cause. There have been many lives that are lost in such despairing situations. One recent yet controversial example is that of the demolition of Babri Masjid and the prolonged ensuing riots. The death toll is estimated to be around 2000 right after the demolition in December 1992. The judgment for the dispute was provided in November, 2019. Therefore, mediation with regard to religious disputes can be a tricky affair. However, this can be possible if the parties are open to suggestion and willing to rethink their position.

Mediation is an age-old practice that provides for a friendly, out of court settlement method to the aggrieved parties. It is a voluntary, non-binding process by which the parties try to find a method or a solution that is amicable to both or all the members of the disputed or conflicting parties. According to Black’s Law Dictionary, mediation is an “act of a third person who interferes between two contending parties with a view to reconcile them or persuade them to adjust or settle their dispute. In international law and diplomacy, the word denotes the friendly interference of a state in the controversies of others, for the purpose, by its influence and by adjusting their difficulties, of keeping the peace in the family of nations.”[1]

Mediation is, however, different from other processes such as arbitration in various ways. Mediation provides room for negotiation between the parties. The aim of the process is not to determine who is at fault but to bring both the parties to a common ground or a common meeting point. The mediator does not make any decisions or provide any determinations. He/ she is merely expected to guide or facilitate dialogues and thus, the process of mediation. “Some of the main characteristics of mediation are listed by Bercovitch as follows (1997: 127):

  1. Mediation is an extension and continuation of peaceful conflict management.
  2. Mediation involves the intervention of an outsider – an individual, a group, or an organization – into a conflict between two or more states or other actors.
  3. Mediation is a non-coercive, nonviolent and, ultimately, nonbinding form of intervention.
  4. Mediators enter a conflict, whether internal or international, in order to affect it, change it, resolve it, modify it, or influence it in some way.
  5. Mediators bring with them, consciously or otherwise, ideas, knowledge, resources, and interests of their own or of the group or organization they represent. Mediators often have their own assumptions and agendas about the conflict in question.
  6. Mediation is a voluntary form of conflict management. The actors involved retain control over the outcome (if not always over the process) of their conflict, as well as the freedom to accept or reject mediation or mediators’ proposals.
  7. Mediation is usually an ad hoc procedure only.”[2]


Religion plays diverse roles in conflicts: religious texts, myths, vocabulary, and narratives may be employed to justify use of force, implant negative enemy images, define issues or delineate the parties.[3] Some of these components are debatable and therefore, many views exist with regard to these. Religion, in itself, is a very broad term and it includes a variety of practices and beliefs. This unclear, indefinite and unestablished characteristic of religion are the major reasons for the disputes regarding religion. Though there are various articles in the Indian constitution regarding religion, for instance article 25-28 of the Indian constitution that guarantee freedom of religion, there is no specific definition that has been provided for religion. Thus, the Supreme Court has also struggled to lay down the essentials that must be fulfilled in order to call a group of practices or beliefs a religion. In India, the Supreme Court has referred to multiple other cases to state that that “a religion undoubtedly has its basis in a system of beliefs or doctrines which are regarded by those who profess that religion as conducive to their spiritual well-being, but it would not be correct to say that religion is nothing else but a doctrine or belief. A religion may not only lay down a code of ethical rules for its followers to accept, it might prescribe rituals and observances, ceremonies and modes of worship which are regarded as integral parts of religion, and these forms and observances might extend even to matters of food and dress.”[4] The courts have rejected the idea that a religion can be based on the basic notion of their convergence or mutual agreement on a specific creator of the world because of the existence of religions such as Buddhism that do not adhere to such a belief. At the same time, one of the vaguest religions is Hinduism as its very origin is vague. There is no certain founder of this religion and is born out of an amalgamation and intermix of various beliefs. Moreover, even after a set of doctrines and beliefs have been established and recognised as a religion, there is further debate regarding some nitty-gritties. For instance, in Islam there are two factions: Shia and Sunni. One of the factors that separates these factions is the line of descendants after Prophet Muhammad. Such factors are essential and important, however, this leads to variety within the religion. Therefore, customs must also be kept in mind as they are integral to the forming of a religion.

Therefore, it is important to remind oneself that the situation and the dispute that is being dealt with is vague but is very important to an individual and is held close to a person’s heart. Furthermore, in countries such as India, where secularism is indispensable and integral to its existence, it is important that these various religions exist in harmony and accord.

Mediation in religion

In the previous chapter, there has been an attempt to show that there is some vagueness that surrounds what comes in the purview of religion and an attempt to state the reason for the need and importance of co-existence of the various religions and their variety. In this chapter, an attempt shall be made to apply mediation to religion in realistic time and form.

Mediation is possible in case of religious conflicts. There are some limitations placed on the extent to which such mediation could help however, such limitations are placed only due to the behaviour and mind-set of the parties. Firstly, mediation is an environment or a setting where the aggrieved parties attempt to reach some common ground. Therefore, one of the most important and essential requirement is that the parties must be willing to negotiate. It would be difficult to continue negotiations if either of the parties were to be rigid regarding their thinking or position. While it is accepted that religion is private and personal to a person and that such beliefs cannot and should not be imposed on an individual, it is important to note that both parties must be willing to communicate and negotiate so that the point of dispute is resolved. In the past there have been situations when a religion has been forced on the people or due to certain reasons, people of a certain religion have been executed in the form of mass killings or ‘ethnic cleansing’. In Spain, there was initially a large population of Jews and Muslims. However, Jews were expelled in 1492 and Muslims in 1502. Additionally, those who remained were forced to convert to Christianity. Later, all the Muslim converts (called Moriscos) were expelled from the country in the early 17th century.[5] The most prominent example, however, is the mass killing of Jews in Germany by Adolf Hitler during the Nazi regime. This was opted as the “final solution”. Therefore, mediation can be a useful and apt method to tackle and resolve such disputes. It must be made sure that the parties feel heard and that all the issues that have aggrieved the parties are touched upon. The parties also do not feel that a solution has been imposed on them. Umpteen times, the parties opt for mediation because they believe that some innovative and untraditional method might help to resolve the issues between them. Such methods may not be preferred or adopted by courts.

There can broadly be two types of disputes that arise in case of religious disputes. There can either be disputes that arise between two religions or between two forms of the same religion. The manner in which these disputes have to be tackled are completely different. Similarly, the skills that the mediators must possess to handle these disputes are also entirely different.

Challenges faced

In case of mediation, there are some situation when it will be very difficult for the parties to negotiate and reach an amicable conclusion. One important thing that must be kept in mind is that mediation can be called successful only if the solution is amicable. This means that the parties must be satisfied with the outcome and neither of the parties must feel arm twisted into agreeing with the conditions laid down by the other party.

In many cases, there is one party that has insurmountable power. This party would try to overcome the other party and impose their solutions and conveniences on the other party. On the other hand, there might be a situation where a party may be very weak. Therefore, they take advantage of the situation to impose on the other party. In such situations, there may be instances where one party becomes unreasonable or provides a very irrational suggestion or solution to the dispute. This situation can be perceived to be a ‘power game’. In such a situation, mediation is difficult between the parties. However, it is still important to bring the parties to an equal footing and provide room for mediation. This would lead to the beginning of a successful mediation.

Specifically, in cases of religious conflicts, there is a threat perceived to the identity of an individual. The religion often becomes a part of the individual and the person identifies himself with a specific religion. Here, it becomes difficult for the parties to form an unbiased opinion. Also, some of the suggestions might lead to the individual believing that his identity has been debased and leads to a form of denial in people. This might lead to one of the parties being defensive or rigid regarding their belief system. This might also cause the discord in mediation. However, in such situations, it is important that the party is provided with a path to change their rigid belief into something more flexible. This path must include reasons for the necessity and requirement for a change in perspective or outlook. This could include a different interpretation of the religious texts or a slight variety in understanding, a lecture or text written by a prominent religious leader, a conversation with such a leader etc.

Lack of traceability is also an issue and challenge in such disputes. Sometimes, the dispute is so ancient and archaic that the very reason for the dispute is forgotten. The religious dispute gets intermixed with various other issues such as political issues and often the cause of one of the aggrieve parties, if not both, becomes a political stance. In other words, the religious dispute becomes a source of political power. In such circumstances, it becomes difficult to realise the dispute and resolve it. Therefore, such disputes must be resolved before they catch any political air and become the seed of political abuse, manipulation and corruption.

Successful mediations in the past

One of the most successful mediations in the past under the purview of religious disputes wold be the discord between the Catholics and the Protestants in Ireland which led to the Good Friday Agreement.

There were a lot of wars and riots prior to 1922 in Northern Ireland between the Protestants and the Catholics. The state of Northern Ireland was created in 1922 to give the Protestant community supremacy over Catholics. In 1921, the Anglo Irish Treaty led to twenty-six counties in Ireland receiving their independence. The remaining six counties in the northeast part of the country were gerrymandered into a predominantly Protestant state. This partition of the Island into two separate entities denied the Irish people the right of becoming a predominately Catholic republic, their rights as a majority, and created within the six counties of Northern Ireland, a powerless oppressed minority. Historically, minorities suffered repression when they were perceived as a threat. Such was the case in this artificially created political partition called Northern Ireland (Bartlett, 1983). This creation subsequently produced intense hostility between the majority Protestant nationalism and the minority Catholic republicanism.[6] The Catholics were not provided the right to participate in the government. In fact, such an idea was completely alien to them at the time. This was a major dispute between the Catholics and the Protestants which later became a full blown politically driven dispute. The Catholics traditionally have been associated with the political objective of making Northern Ireland part of a united Ireland which is a Catholic state, while the Protestants traditionally have been associated with the political objective of maintaining the status quo, which is retaining Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. Therefore, it has become an ideological struggle between religiously-based ethnic groups.

On Good Friday 10 April 1998 negotiations concluded in Belfast with the Multi-Party Agreement. The Agreement represented the product of perhaps the most intensive negotiations ever involving Protestant Nationalists and Unionists, Loyalists and Catholic Republicans.[7]

Issues relating to sovereignty, civil and cultural rights, decommissioning of weapons, demilitarisation, justice, and policing were central to the agreement.

It provides for a balanced constitutional settlement involving agreed changes in both British and Irish constitutional law, based on the principles of self-determination and consent. The key thrust of these changes is to reinforce the principle that in Ireland, North and South, it is the people who are sovereign.[8] There is no longer any question of an absolute or territorial British claim to sovereignty, without reference to the wishes of the people. For the first time, a precise mechanism has been defined – and accepted by the British Government – by which a united Ireland can be put in place, by the consent of Irish people and that alone.

The Agreement is an historic breakthrough, in terms of consolidating peace and ending 30 years of conflict. The agreement was made between the British and Irish governments and eight political parties or groupings from Northern Ireland the Ulster Unionist Party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party, Sinn Féin, the Alliance Party, the Progressive Unionist Party, the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition, the Ulster Democratic Party and Labour.[9] The US senator George J. Mitchell was sent to chair the talks between the parties and groups by the US president Bill Clinton.[10]

This agreement was approved by voters across the island of Ireland in two referendums held on 22 May 1998. In Northern Ireland, voters were asked in the 1998 Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement referendum whether they supported the multi-party agreement. In the Republic of Ireland, voters were asked whether they would allow the state to sign the agreement and allow necessary constitutional changes (Nineteenth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland) to facilitate it. The people of both jurisdictions needed to approve the agreement in order to give effect to it.

This complicated and intricate agreement is made up of two inter-related documents, both agreed in Belfast on Good Friday, 10 April 1998: a multi-party agreement by most of Northern Ireland’s political parties (the Multi-Party Agreement) and an international agreement between the British and Irish governments (the British–Irish Agreement).The agreement set out a complex series of provisions relating to a number of areas including: the status and system of government of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. (Strand 1), the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. (Strand 2) and the relationship between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. (Strand 3).

The agreement acknowledged that the majority of the people of Northern Ireland wished to remain a part of the United Kingdom and that a substantial section of the people of Northern Ireland, and the majority of the people of the island of Ireland, wished to bring about a united Ireland.

In this manner, a process of peace making that had been derailed and delayed for over 30 years was completed. This process witnessed over 3200 deaths. However, it was possible to mediate in such situations and reach an amicable solution.

Yet another example of a successful mediation would be the successful restoration of the US- Cuba relations.

On December 17, 2014, the U.S. announced it would restore diplomatic relations with Cuba.[11] While not rising to the level of formal mediation, papal intervention played a role in one of the most significant foreign policy milestones in recent U.S. history. Pope Francis wrote to Presidents Barack Obama and Rail Castro, expressing his desire for the countries to normalize relations.[12]

Pope Francis has an interest in Latin America beyond his role as head of the Catholic Church, as he is from Buenos Aires, Argentina.[13] Obama on a trip to Vatican discussed U.S. – Cuba relations with Pope Francis.[14] One of the issues discussed was relating to imprisonment of Alan Gross, a government contractor arrested in Cuba.[15]

According to Ben Rhodes, former Deputy national Security Advisor described that the role the Vatican played was indispensable as US-Cuba cannot trust each other the Vatican acted as a guarantor. Nobody could go back on something that they told the Pope.

Pope Francis has no qualms about weighing in on international and political affairs.[16] Some were concerned after his election that Francis lacked experience with international affairs, and has had limited exposure beyond his native Argentina.[17] Though now Francis has proven, however, that he is willing to play a role in critical, and often controversial, issues.[18] He has embraced the idea of “big politics,” in which diversity is embraced and the less fortunate are integrated into society.[19]

Similarly, there have been various instances in history where there have been negotiations by diplomats. Some of these successful negotiations were led by Otto Von Bismarck. There are also introduction of mediation in religious texts. There have been Biblical characters such as Moses and characters similar to such found in texts.

Akbar was also a staunch supporter of mediation. He introduced Din- I- Ilahi as the “religion of God” or the middle path.


The first recommendation is to suggest mediation to parties that are in religious disputes. It is also well recommended to have an open and accepting mind while accepting such a recommendation. An important requirement is that the parties are willing to rethink their position.

Once the parties have agreed to the process of mediation, it would be suggested to have a mediator that is compassionate. Since the matter at hand is a very sensitive issue and as stated earlier, in many situations also challenges the very identity of a person, it is very helpful if the mediator is compassionate, understanding and empathetic. It would be supportive to the cause if the mediator is religion neutral or if the parties feel that in their situation, the dispute would be better understood by a mediator of the same religion then, a team of mediators would be suggested in case of an inter- religion dispute. In case of a dispute between individuals of the same religion, a mediator who is conversant in the ways and forms of the religion is suggested. However, the most important characteristic is that the mediator must be neutral and unbiased to the parties. The mediator must also not impose himself on either of the parties.

The parties must be reminded that they must be tolerant of the customs of the other party and that they must co-exist in the society. Keeping this in mind, the parties must try to reach an amicable situation.


Mediation can be done in religion. At the same time, religion can also be used in mediation to resolve various issues and to strengthen arguments posed. Religion can be wielded as a weapon or as a hope that helps to save people and provide them an identity. Much power is in the hands of the mediator. Mediation is a process that requires a lot of patience, compassion and empathy. It is a process that can be used to successfully resolve religious disputes. There are many barriers and limitations that will be faced in such disputes. Especially considering the vague yet delicate nature of such issues. Furthermore, in case of international religious disputes, the political stakes are much higher. Therefore, there is greater room for manipulation. There may be multiple motivations behind such a dispute. However, there have been examples of successful mediation in the past. These were very crucial issues that gained a lot of international attention. Despite the complexities, the negotiations pulled through in these situations. There are many similar examples in history.

[1] Black, H. (1995). Black’s Law Dictionary: Second Edition. 2nd ed. The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd.

[2] Jacob Bercovitch & S. Ayse Kadayifci-Orellana, Religion and Mediation: The Role of Faith-Based Actors in International Conflict Resolution, 14 Int’l Negotiation 175 (2009).

[3] Jacob Bercovitch & S. Ayse Kadayifci-Orellana, Religion and Mediation: The Role of Faith-Based Actors in International Conflict Resolution, 14 Int’l Negotiation 175 (2009).

[4] Commr., Hindu Religious Endowments v. Sri Lakshmindra Thirtha Swamiar of Sri Shirur Mutt, 1954 SCR 1005: AIR 1954 SC 282; Also see Davis v. Benson, 133 US 333 at 342.

[5] HISTORY. (2019). Ethnic Cleansing. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Jan. 2020].

[6] Beggan, D. and Indurthy, R. (1999). THE CONFLICT IN NORTHERN IRELAND AND THE CLINTON ADMINISTRATION’S ROLE. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Jan. 2020].

[7] An Taoiseach & Bertie Ahern, The Good Friday Agreement: An Overview, 22 Fordham Int’l L.J. 1196 (1999).

[8] Id.

[9] Kelly, B. (2020). 20 years on: What was agreed in the Good Friday Agreement? [online] The Independent. Available at: [Accessed 17 Jan. 2020].

[10] Id.

[11] Peter Baker, US. to Restore Full Relations with Cuba, Erasing a Last Trace of Cold War Hostility,

N.Y. TIMES (Janurary 12, 2020),

[12] Isabela Cocoli, Obama Moved Aggressively to Restore Relations with Cuba, VOA NEWS (Nov. 26, 2016, 9:18 AM), 39.

[13] Uki Goni, Pope Francis: The Quiet Man of Buenos Aires Known for his Humble Tastes, THE

GUARDIAN (Janurary. 12, 2020, 8:20 PM),

[14] 8 Years in the Situation with Ben Rhodes, POD SAVE THE WORLD (Dec 5, 2019).

[15] Glenn Thrush, Cuba’s Prisoner, Alan Gross: Not Impressed with Bernie’s Fidelity, POLITICO (Dec 05, 2019, 5:22 AM),

[16] Camila Domonoske, Pope Francis Meets with Venezuelan President to Discuss Country’s Crisis, NPR (January 26, 2020, 11:07 AM),

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Austin Ivereigh, Is the Pope the Anti-Trump? N.Y. TIMEs (January 26, 2020),–tw-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=-.

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