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Mediators urge rethink of war on terror

Conference organisers are concerned about the heated war of words in the fight against terrorism

(Keystone)

Experts gathering in Switzerland on Friday for the fifth World Mediation Forum warn that the current discourse on terrorism is creating a "destructive mindset".

The divisive and inflammatory language adopted by world leaders in the war on terror is fuelling further violence, according to mediation specialists.

"I think the way politicians like Bush, [Australia's John] Howard and Tony Blair are talking is making things worse," Dale Bagshaw, vice-president of the forum, told swissinfo.

"You're either with the coalition of the willing or with the terrorists. There are no shades of grey in the language and what it's doing is creating a reality which is dangerous and which is really escalating conflicts around the world."

Around 1,000 mediators, judges, legislators and lawyers from across the globe are due in the Swiss mountain resort of Crans-Montana to attend the three-day conference.

One of the key themes this year is mediation in the face of contemporary challenges such as the rise in violence and armed conflict.

"This forum is happening at an important point, following the terrorist attacks in New York, Madrid and London," said Bernard Comby, president of the organising committee.

"After this increase in violence around the world, I think that it's important today to reflect on how to respond to this."

Terrorism

According to Bagshaw, the time has come to challenge the current discourse on terrorism which she says is creating a "them and us" mentality.

She claims the end result is that the "so-called terrorists" are now clearly associated with the entire Muslim community.

"Unfortunately since 9/11 we have increasingly had a way of talking about things that is whipping up people into an adversarial way of viewing the world," said Bagshaw, who is an associate professor at the University of South Australia.

"We have to be really careful in choosing the words we use, because they are creating fear and divisions, they are labelling people, they are scaring people and when people are frightened they become defensive."

"If you look at the way the world is going, with disputes escalating out of control, we really do need to train our politicians and leaders in mediation knowledge and skills," she added.

Industrial relations

Swiss Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin, René Rhinow, president of the Swiss Red Cross, and Joaquim Chissano, former president of Mozambique, are due to speak at the opening ceremony.

Adolf Ogi, the United Nations special adviser on sport for development and peace, and former Portuguese president Mario Soares are among the keynote speakers.

Other themes expected to be covered at the conference include mediation in family law, industrial relations, workplace relations, commerce, and environmental-dispute resolution.

It is scheduled to finish on Sunday with the adoption of a "Crans-Montana Declaration", calling for peace in conflicts around the world.

"We are touched by violence every day and the role mediation can play is enormous," said Professor Duccio Scatolero, an expert in conflict management at Turin University.

"All conflicts have an evolution or form of escalation that can lead to violence. Mediation enables us to manage this and make sure that it does not erupt in violence."

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont

Key facts

The conference has been organised by the Sion-based University Institute Kurt Bösch.
Around 1,000 participants from around the world are expected to attend.
This year's main theme is: "Mediation, a new culture of change."
Previous conferences have taken place in Spain, Cuba, Italy and Argentina.

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