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"Equality" Matters

by Phyllis Pollack
September 2011

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

Phyllis  Pollack

Recently, Daniel Druckman sent me an article he co-authored with Cecilia Albin entitled “Distributive Justice and the Durability of Peace Agreements” republished in volume 37 (number 3) of the Review of International Studies at pp. 1137-1168 (2011). (Equality and Distributive Justice) (Abstract: Equality Matters) The article “. . . explores the relationship between principles of distributive justice and the durability of negotiated agreements.” (Id. at p. 1137). Taking a look at sixteen peace agreements negotiated in various parts of the world during the early 1990’s, researchers coded them for the four principles of distributive justice – equality, proportionality, compensation and need, to determine how critical were these principles to the lasting effect or durability of each agreement. What they found is that equality matters: those peace agreements incorporating “equality” as a core value correlated strongly with durability, and much more so than the other principles of Distributive Justice. (Id. at p. 1164).

The authors define “Distributive Justice” as “. . .consist[ing] of general standards for allocating collective benefits or burdens among the members of a group or community. They are principles of outcome justice as distinct from justice of the process and procedures from which outcome result.” (Id. at p. 1138).

Reading through this article, I got the sense that many of the hypotheses discussed apply with equal force to individual “peace” agreements, as well.

For example, the authors mention that others have argued that;

Forward-looking outcomes, emphasizing improved future relationships, are thought to lead to more durable agreements than backward-looking outcomes concerned with settling past grievances and reparations. These arguments are based on the idea that justice (or fairness) promotes trust which results in more stable relationships. (Id. at p. 1141).

The authors note that the distributive justice principles of compensation and need are “backward” looking: “compensation occurs when the parties seek to rectify damages or costs that have been incurred. . . in the past.” (Id. at p. 1146). It addresses past injustices. “Needs,” again, addresses past injustices as it “. . .refers to essential living conditions and related wants that have been neglected during the course of a conflict. Many needs are survival relevant. . . .” (Id. at p. 1146).

Not surprisingly, the authors note that when agreements address only the symptoms (i.e. are backward-looking), the conflict tends not to disappear. Consequently, for a negotiated agreement to be lasting or durable – it must deal with the sources of conflict, or the principles of equality and proportionality and thus be forward-looking.

Looking back at many mediations, this concept seems to hit home; the settlement appears to be more durable where the parties agree to work together in the future, rather than simply pay money from one to the other. The concept of “trust” has a lot to do with this. In a forward looking agreement, there must be a degree of “trust” for it to work. The parties become invested in the future, and so the settlement becomes durable.

Equality or (“fairness”) seems to be at the heart of all negotiated durable agreements or settlements, whether they be one-on-one or nation-to-nation. Indeed, the researchers found that emphasizing equality as a core term in the agreement contributes to the success or durability of the peace agreement. “Equality” (translated as “fairness”) appears to be an universal principle that applies no matter how small or large the dispute. (Id. at pp. 1145-1147).

What the researchers also found – which makes sense even on an individual level – is that there is a distinction between “authentic” and “tactical” justice:

The latter is motivated by a need to appear just for reasons unrelated to fairness. It is a method of persuasion used to promote an agreement that serves the tactician’s interests or to manage a conflict that has become costly: Its effectiveness turns on perceptions of the tactician’s authenticity. . . . This negotiator is masking self-interest behind a veil of apparent joint interest. . . . (Id. at p. 1143).

“Tactical” justice leads to a less durable agreement. (Id.)

So, it seems that “justice” (that is, “fairness” or “equality”) matters. And, that “justice” must be “authentic.” If “justice” is used simply as a mask to better one’s own self interest at the expense of the other, the agreement will not last for long.

Whether one speaks about disputes between neighbors, strangers, groups or nations, this wisdom rings true: everyone wants what is just and fair, and to be treated with equality. So even though this article deals with international disputes between warring factions seeking to end civil wars and strife and to create peace, it seems to me that its hypotheses and the principles of distributive justice apply to the everyday disputes that we all seem to have from time to time. No matter how small the dispute, we still want “justice” and to be treated fairly and equally.

. . .Just something to think about!


Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as well as their own needs better than any mediator or arbitrator. She does not impose her views or make decisions for the parties. Rather, Phyllis assists the parties in creating options that meet the needs and desires of both sides.  When appropriate, visual aids are used in preparing discussions and illustrating possible solutions. On the other hand, she is not averse to being proactive and offering a generous dose of reality, particularly when the process may have stalled due to unrealistic expectations of attorney or client, a failure to focus on needs rather than demands, or when one or more parties need to be reminded of the potential consequences of their failure to reach an agreement.

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