The Peace Treaty Initiative: Can international law facilitate peace negotiations?

Published: 14th June 2022

Should there be an international treaty that facilitates the negotiated settlement of non-international armed conflicts? This question was what a group of legal experts discussed on 16 May 2022 during a knowledge exchange workshop in the beautiful Turnbull Room at the University of Glasgow. The basis of the discussion was the draft Framework Convention on Conflict Prevention and Resolution, the indicative text for a purpose-built multilateral treaty designed to incentivise warring parties to choose the pathway of negotiation in order to help prevent armed conflicts and atrocities in the first place, and to end them once underway. 

The indicative text has been developed by the Peace Treaty Initiative (PTI) of the Institute for Integrated Transitions following three years of legal research, expert interviews, and stakeholder convenings, and is currently the object of an inclusive global consultation process. The workshop at the University of Glasgow took place as part of this consultation process and as the first consultation with international legal experts. Jointly organised by the University of Glasgow, University College London, and Institute for Integrated Transitions, the workshop brought together prominent UK-based academics and practitioners with expertise in diverse areas such as armed conflicts, peace building, human rights, development, arbitration, litigation, and international criminal justice.  

During the workshop, participants discussed the vision behind the Peace Treaty Initiative and the key questions of law and policy embedded in the indicative text of the proposed treaty. The discussion centred around three particular issues: the scope of application of the proposed treaty, the situation referral procedure, and the “presumption of conformity”. 

As to its scope of application, the treaty is intended to facilitate the peaceful resolution of non-international armed conflicts (NIACs). Some participants proposed amendments to align the adopted definition of NIAC more closely with the existing definitions in international law, while others pondered the viability of a definition that focuses on the nature of the targeted conflicts as ‘political violence’ rather than using the term NIAC. In their view, this could help the draft treaty to avoid becoming the subject of definitional debates about when a conflict constitutes, or stops being, a NIAC. 

The draft treaty provides for an innovative situation referral procedure – an option for affected states to refer a situation of potential or actual armed conflict on their territory to the Conference of Parties to be treated according to the terms of the treaty. Participants discussed the advantages, necessity, and challenges of the envisioned state-centric referral procedure and whether the procedure can be opened up to non-state actors.  

Another novelty of the draft treaty is the presumption of conformity – a presumption in favour of the international legality of the process and outcome of a Referred Situation. Accordingly, a peace agreement achieved under the framework of the draft treaty would benefit from a presumption of conformity with international law. The legality of such an agreement can only be challenged upon evidence that the parties intended to defeat the object and purpose of the Convention. In the last focussed session of the day, the participants explored the benefits and pitfalls of adopting this presumption of conformity, its implications for the contentious issue of amnesties, and how the presumption might fit with other parts of international law. 

The workshop provided for a rich discussion on the legal and political viability and utility of the Peace Treaty Initiative. Generating ideas and proposals on how to develop the indicative text of the proposed treaty, all participants agreed on the need to incentivise, simplify, and strengthen peace negotiations.  

Written by Franziska Chyle, with contributions from Dr. Asli Ozcelik Olcay and Héloïse Guichardaz