Working Paper 93-32, October 25, 1993(1)

By Ved Nanda

University of Denver

(1) This paper is an edited transcript of a talk given by Ved Nanda for the Intractable Conflict/Constructive Confrontation Project on April 10, 1993. Funding for this Project was provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the University of Colorado. All ideas presented are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Consortium, the University, or Hewlett Foundation. For more information, contact the Conflict Resolution Consortium, Campus Box 327, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309-0327. Phone: (303) 492-1635, e-mail:

Copyright 1993. Conflict Resolution Consortium. Do not reprint without permission.

We have seen a shift in the past few years from interstate to intrastate conflicts. In interstate conflicts we have traditionally looked at the Middle East and other conflicts between and among nations during the period of the Cold War. Obviously, ideological conflicts exacerbated the problems.

It is a defeatist stance to assuming that seemingly intractable problems can be resolved only by conquest, defeat, or surrender. Conflicts that have become intractable consist of not only a party's interests, claims and demands, but also involve conflicting core values. Ethnic, religious, and cultural values in the context of history make for intractable conflicts. Thus it is essential to look at all the basic reasons why a problem has grown to the dimension of intractability.

Conflict resolution experts have been saying for years that parties to a conflict have to be convinced that it is in their interest to find a peaceful settlement, that both parties can perhaps win and that resolution does not always have to be a zero-sum game.

The major veto-wielding powers in the United Nations have asked Boutros Ghali, as he took the position of the Secretary General a year ago, to work on the future of conflict resolution, the maintenance of peace, and international peace issues. In response to this request, Boutros Ghali came up with a very small booklet, "An Agenda for Peace." In this booklet he has gone beyond simply parroting the usual Chapter 6 means of resolving disputes--negotiations, good offices, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, and the judicial sacrament of disputes. Boutros Ghali gives serious thought to refining alternative dispute mechanisms so that countries do not necessarily have to use force. In his plan there would be an effort to increase and enhance the capacity of United Nations and regional organizations to play a much more effective role.

Over the past few years, in some seemingly intractable conflicts the United Nations mediation role has been successful--Afghanistan, Cambodia (problems still exists there), El Salvador, Angola, and Mozambique. Efforts have been going on under the auspices of the United Nations' good offices and other mediation efforts. But when these efforts have not succeeded there has been the obvious use of force. Two conflicts that mirror the conflicts listed above and in which I have modestly participated in efforts to find a resolution involve conflicts in Fiji and Sri Lanka.

Fiji is an area where there is a seemingly intractable conflict between two ethnic groups--the indigenous people of Fiji (the Melanesians, Polynesians) and people from the India who were brought to Fiji many years ago.

Let me briefly recount for you some history into the Fiji conflict. General Rebuca, a native Fijian, led a May 1987 coup d'etat in which he overthrew the elected government of Vavatra. Rebuca claimed to have taken the action to prevent racial violence and to maintain law and order. A civilian government was formed, but Rebuca led a second coup overthrowing this civilian governance. As a result, Fiji was kicked out of the Commonwealth and many governments around the world took political and diplomatic sanctions against Fiji.

The new constitution allowed indigenous, native Fijians to always have their own prime minister and their own president.2 Their numbers in the senate and the house were disportionately higher than other populations. In essence what happened was that democratic rule, majority rule, or one person-one vote meant absolutely nothing under that constitution.

In response to this condition I presented a petition to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on behalf of the Indians in Fiji seeking their participation in the political processes of Fiji. Indians in Fiji represent the largest population group--about 48 percent of the total population; about 43 percent of the population are Polynesians and Melanesians and the remaining 8-9 percent, others.

The Fijian Indian Parliament members researched international human rights law and presented papers on this matter to the people in power. The Indians pointed out that internationally protected human rights demand that some democratic rights be given to everyone in the country and that everyone had a right to participate in the political processes in the country. Thus, the education of one another in such facts and the process of negotiation between the parties was aided somewhat by New Zealand, Australia, nongovernmental organizations, and individuals like me.

This seemingly intractable conflict is coming close to having both sides come together on some issues. The negotiations are continuing and the process of mediation, which is a creative mediation, is trying to find common interests between the two groups. The mediators have pointed out to the two groups that if they keep fighting there will be no economic progress. The Fijians need foreign investment and they also need New Zealand and Australia to be able to send them tourists. It is also crucial for the Fijians to understand that if economic progress slips from them, then what happened in Uganda and other places might happen to their country.

The history of Sri Lanka and the conflict between the Tamils and Senegalese is complicated involving religious and cultural differences, ethnic diversity and third-party involvements that have exacerbated the situation. But in Sri Lanka the involvement of international organizations has been very helpful as well. As in the Fiji case, I was asked to present a petition to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on behalf of the Tamils asking the international community to take an active step in mediating this particular conflict. They wanted the UN to put pressure upon the Sri Lankan government to not use state-sponsored terrorism and force as the means of resolving that conflict--the state has a monopoly upon the use of force.

After this petition, as well as the other petitions presented before them, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights decided that attention must be given to the very serious problem of state-sponsored terrorism. As a result, the government of Sri Lanka was called upon to explain their actions. Then some peaceful ways of negotiating and talking with other parties were settled upon. Nongovernmental and international organizations have been of some assistance in trying to narrow the differences in this conflict and in trying to find a way of improving the economy.

In these two conflicts, as in others, economic issues, questions of sovereignty, and participation in governmental processes have to be wrestled with in order to obtain resolution. Bosnia brings much of the same problems to our attention on a daily basis giving the sense that it is an extremely intractable conflict. But there, as in the above cases, the efforts of third parties and some creative mediation can perhaps narrow differences sufficiently so that even this very difficult conflict can eventually be resolved.


2 The total population of Fiji at the time of the coup was 785,000 people. People of Indian origin comprised 48.4 percent of the population and 46.2 percent of the population were indigenous peoples.