Peace Agreements

Peace agreements are contracts intended to end or significantly transform a violent conflict so that it may be addressed more constructively. It is often difficult to categorise each and every document negotiated during a peace process since the contents of agreements sometimes overlap. The following are classifications used by this Site to differentiate between various types of agreements:

Types of Agreements

Various types of agreements can be reached during a peace process, though not all types are needed for each conflict. Each type of agreement has a distinct purpose and contributes uniquely to the positive momentum that will result in a final settlement. Some peace processes may consist of step-by-step agreements that lead to a comprehensive settlement, while others might seek to negotiate one agreement comprehensively.

Truce, Cessation of Hostility, Ceasefire and Armistice Agreements

The terms “truce,” “cessation of hostilities,” “ceasefire,” and “armistice” are often used interchangeably. They once were used in the specific discourse of international security to denote similar but distinct situations; each term served a particular purpose within the continuum of war to peace. Recently, however, this vocabulary has been used loosely or in inappropriate contexts, and its colloquial usage has made it difficult to articulate precise definitions. The current praxis overlooks distinctions in the various situations to which these terms are applied. UN Peacemaker seeks to clarify these crucial distinctions and to illustrate the proper context for each term.


A truce refers to a procedure in which the parties enter into “parleys,” or talks. It is an informal cessation of hostilities and used to be undertaken by field commanders. A truce heralds the desire to negotiate a specific issue, such as the free passage of women and children out of the conflict area, the access of the wounded to medical treatment, or, simply, the exchange of food for cooking gas. It is signified by the carrying of a white flag to negotiate a specific issue. A truce is usually temporary in nature and is very much localised in its application. It is a stoppage of hostilities for a very specific area of the conflict. It does not indicate an overall desire of the parties at command level to undertake negotiations, nor does it necessarily indicate an end to the war. It signifies or calls on the good will of the belligerents for an interlude and serves as a period of rest in war. A truce is not a peace. Often these measures are undertaken for a specific purpose, even the celebration of Christmas. These good-will or confidence-building measures, however, can sometimes apply pressure on higher levels of command to achieve a more permanent ceasefire.

Cessation of Hostilities

A cessation of hostilities is a temporary stoppage of violence, or the suspension of fire. It has sometimes been referred to as “days of silent guns,” or “days of tranquility.” It is usually undertaken at the beginning of a peace process and is normally declaratory and non-binding. It can be unilateral in nature, since its declaration does not require negotiations. When one side does declare a cessation of hostilities, it is considered to be in “bad form” for the other party to continue violence. A party does not give up any military position or arms in declaring a cessation of hostilities: instead, it freezes positions on the ground and serves to stop violence temporarily. When undertaken, a cessation of hostilities usually indicates a respect for humanitarian concerns and the willingness to find a negotiated settlement.


A cease-fire is usually undertaken within the framework of a peace process and is part of a larger negotiated settlement. A cease-fire can be undertaken at the beginning of a peace process or at the end of it. Under exceptional circumstances a cease-fire may also be imposed by external powers. Cease-fires usually have the following characteristics:

* Issuance by the parties of cease-fire orders to all forces under their control;

* The Parties freely adjust their defensive positions behind the cease-fire lines, but without any augmentation of military forces or the introduction of any additional military potential;

* The Parties are able to confer regarding the local changes in the disposition of military forces, with a view to avoiding incidents and facilitating the holding of the cease-fire;

* De facto lines are demarcated to separate the forces of the two sides and possibly establish demilitarised zones; and

* Military observers that report to the Security Council or subsidiary organ are deployed to supervise the observance of the cease-fire.

When a cease-fire is undertaken at the beginning of the process, it usually indicates a temporary stoppage of war and is therefore quite limited in substance. In this context, it is merely a cessation of hostilities by agreement. By itself, a cease-fire at the beginning of a peace process is not quite stable and requires further negotiations. It provides space for negotiations and humanitarian assistance, but does not resolve the underlying causes of the conflict.

When undertaken at the end of the process, a cease-fire can be quite extensive in terms of obligations in the security sector. Modern-day cease-fire agreements at the end of a war can include the withdrawal of forces to agreed-upon positions, the disarmament and demobilisation of forces and the restructuring of the entire security sector. These issues, however, form part of a larger settlement in the political, economic and social sectors. A final cease-fire marks the end of the war and acknowledges that the casus belli have been resolved.

When undertaken at the end of a process, a cease-fire is a negotiated settlement and becomes an integral part of the overall peace settlement. It is then as binding as the overall peace agreement. An effective cease-fire is one that is part of a comprehensive settlement and that is seen as a final conclusion both to the negotiations and the permanent end of the war. Because it is effectively the end of all military operations, it can also be referred to as an armistice.

The Security Council has sometimes imposed, or tried to impose, a cease-fire on parties to recent conflicts. A Security Council cease-fire is undertaken when the parties to the conflict are so entrenched in their position, or there is such a high level of distrust, that direct negotiation either cannot be sustained (one party is not recognised) or is not easily achievable (intractable conflicts). In these instances, the Security Council has become a stage for negotiations by proxy. A final Security Council cease-fire resolution usually requires agreement from the parties on the terms of the cease-fire and on the mandate and the composition of armed forces that will monitor the cease-fire. Implementation of the resolution on the ground is undertaken on the basis of an announcement of a cessation of hostilities by both parties and an acceptance of the terms of the UN resolution and the mandate of the inter-positioning force.


An armistice is the effective end of a war or an end to all military operations. In other words, it indicates that the warring parties have agreed to stop fighting permanently. The term is derived from the Latin arma, meaning weapons, and stitium, meaning a stopping. The legal definition for armistice comes from the Laws of War and the 1907 Hague Convention (IV), Chapter 5 Article 36-41.

An armistice can be considered a cessation of hostilities or a cease-fire with two major differences: it need not be undertaken within the framework of a peace process and does not signal the final settlement of the conflict. An armistice is not a peace agreement. It does not resolve the underlying causes of war, nor does it indicate that these will be resolved within a definitive time frame. An armistice is a modus vivendi in the sense that it ends military operations whether or not all political, economic and social grievances have been resolved. As such, it may continue indefinitely without a final settlement or until a final settlement is reached. Armistices are always negotiated between the parties; for this reason, they generally are viewed as more binding than, for example, a unilateral cessation of hostilities or a UN-led cease-fire resolution.

Preliminary Agreement

Preliminary Agreements are sometimes undertaken as the parties’ way of demonstrating commitment to conducting future negotiations and reaching a settlement. They are often seen as “agreements to agree” and are usually issued as a joint declaration or communiqué to the press after a meeting between the parties, usually at the level of Heads of State. These agreements serve to build confidence between the parties and create momentum to start a peace process. Such agreements normally do not address procedural or substantive issues. Instead, they may provide over-arching principles for the conduct of future negotiations. Preliminary agreements may signal that the parties will respect the cessation of hostilities agreement. Such adherence, however, will not be stable unless the preliminary agreement is quickly followed up with a discussion on procedural and substantive issues.

Pre-Negotiation Agreements

Pre-negotiation Agreements define how the peace will be negotiated. The management of a peace process often determines if an agreement will be reached. Accordingly, these agreements structure the negotiations in order to keep them on track and reach the goal of ending the conflict. They delineate procedural issues, such as schedules, agendas, participants and location, as well as the Peacemaker’s role and the procedure for drafting the agreement. Pre-negotiation Agreements usually signal the first achievement of success in a peace process and serve to build confidence and promote trust between the parties.

Framework and Comprehensive Agreements

Although the terms “Framework Agreement” and “Comprehensive Agreement” are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between these two types of agreements:

Framework Agreements broadly agree on the principles and agenda upon which the substantive issues will be negotiated. These agreements are usually accompanied by protracted negotiations that result in separate Annexes, protocols or sub-agreements, which contain the negotiated details on substantive issues. Framework agreements together with their separate components are sometimes collectively referred to as the Comprehensive Agreement.

Comprehensive Agreements address the substance of the underlying issues of a dispute. Their conclusion is often marked by a handshake, signifying that an historic moment has ended a long-standing conflict. Comprehensive agreements seek common ground between the interests and needs of the parties to the conflict; they resolve the substantive issues in dispute and provide the necessary arrangements for implementing the agreement.

Interim Agreements

Interim Agreements are agreements reached in-between substantive negotiations. They recommit the parties to continuing the peace process and are useful to restart stalled negotiations. They sometimes provide temporary measures that serve to reduce the conflict until a final agreement is reached. They may also provide some over-arching principles for the continuation of the talks. Interim agreements usually signal whether the parties are committed to the agreements that have already been reached. They generally are not stable; therefore, if the momentum of a peace process is to be maintained, these agreements must be followed quickly by negotiations on substantive issues.


Sub-agreements, or Protocols, are normally stand-alone agreements on a particular issue that make up part of a larger and more comprehensive agreement. Sub-agreements are usually negotiated separately and after the framework agreement has been established. They normally address a subject matter in greater detail and with greater technical substance than framework agreements.

Implementation Agreements

Implementation Agreements elaborate on the details or provide greater clarity to a Comprehensive or Framework Agreement. This type almost always requires a new round of talks with the relevant parties. In these negotiations, the terms of the Comprehensive or Framework Agreements are fine-tuned and given specificity. Accordingly, the goal of the Implementation Agreement is to work out the details and mechanics to facilitate implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement.

Implementation Agreements are not always formally written documents. Sometimes they are verbal contracts, an exchange of letters, or joint public statements that help move implementation forward. As such, it is often difficult to keep a record of this type of agreement. Its sometime informal nature also makes it more challenging to hold the parties to their commitments. While formally written implementation agreements often take a longer time to achieve, they serve to indicate the seriousness of the parties and their commitment to implementing the agreement.

Structure and Substance of Agreements

Peace agreements are not always structured in the same way. Sometimes they are just one document consisting of various chapters or discrete components. In other instances, each substantive component can be part of one Comprehensive Agreement or be a stand-alone agreement that is negotiated separately and during different periods of a peace process. The substance of an agreement also differs from conflict to conflict. The type of war, the issues in dispute and the question of how the war is brought to an end are all factors that will alter the structure and substance of a peace agreement. Intra-state or civil wars are usually caused by a failure of governance. Peace agreements that bring these conflicts to an end often focus, therefore, on rebuilding governance mechanisms. The disputed issues in inter-state wars normally concern security or territorial claims. Peace agreements that bring inter-state conflicts to an end focus primarily on arrangements to enhance security and provide clarity on territorial issues. Thus, the substance of peace agreements in each of these cases will naturally be different. The manner or method by which a war is brought to an end also affects the substance of an agreement.

Violent conflicts, whether inter- or intra-state, typically end in three ways: Agreement on the Terms of Surrender, Partial Agreements, or Full Peace Agreements. Each method to end a war affects the substance of an agreement and the nature of the peace that follows.

* Terms of Surrender occur when one party has clearly defeated the other party and the losing party has surrendered. The terms of such agreements are usually favorable to the victors. Such agreements are generally stable.

* Partial Agreements only involve some of the parties and/or some of the issues. They are reached when it is not possible for all parties to converge on resolving the conflict at the same time or the parties cannot address all the issues at the same time. Partial Agreements are sometimes useful as an interim step to reaching a full agreement. These agreements can sometimes be stable but they may not necessarily lead to sustainable peace. Partial Agreements require subsequent political processes that include the disenfranchised parties and address the remaining issues to become a final settlement leading to a stable peace.

* Full Agreements involve all relevant parties negotiating a lasting peace. This peace is the end result of a Comprehensive Agreement, combined with the necessary Implementation Agreements. Peacemaking efforts generally focus on reaching Comprehensive Agreements. Full Agreements seek to have all parties to a conflict agreeing on resolving all major issues.

Components of Peace Agreements

Most peace agreements address three main concerns: procedure, substance and organisation.

Procedural Components

Procedural components set out the processes that establish and maintain peace. They delineate the HOW of a peace process. They establish the processes and measures that help build the peace, including the establishment of schedules and institutions that facilitate the implementation of substantive issues, such as elections, justice, human rights and disarmament.

Substantive Components

Substantive components are the parts of the agreement that define WHAT is going to change after the peace agreement is reached. These elements include political, economic and socio-structural changes that are needed to remedy past grievances and provide for a more fair and equitable future. Substantive components, therefore, include the changes that are required in issues such as the distribution of power, the management of natural resources and the type of mechanisms to address past injustices.

Institutional Components

Institutional components are the organisational arrangements or mechanisms intended to promote the peace consolidation effort after the agreement. They address the WHO element of the agreement. These mechanisms are either directly responsible or provide oversight and guidance to other actors to carry out the activities intended to consolidate the fragile peace and lay the foundation for sustainable peace and development. There are two types of institutional components. The first, often referred to by the United Nations as Implementation Mechanisms, immediately follow a peace agreement and are intended to promote agreement implementation.

Implementation Mechanisms are designed to provide:

* A neutral monitoring capacity to ensure that peace agreement commitments are honoured,

* A steering capacity which sets priorities and keeps the peace implementation on track,

* A political forum which allows parties to resolve implementation disagreements through political negotiations.

Implementation mechanisms could include a United Nations or regional peacekeeping operation. They can also entail monitoring committees, chaired by the United Nations or a neutral third party, which includes parties to the conflict and other relevant actors required to help build the peace.

The second type of organisational/institutional component is designed to resolve subsequent or future conflicts over substantive issues, such as the abuse of state power in relation to human rights and the promotion of transparency and accountability in governance. These mechanisms, sometimes referred to as Peacebuilding Mechanisms, help promote the culture of peaceful conflict resolution in a society and public confidence in the state’s capacity to resolve future grievances systematically and impartially.

Peacebuilding Mechanisms are designed to provide:

* A neutral structure and capacity within the state to resolve future conflicts and complaints,

* A means for the peaceful resolution of public grievance before they become a source of conflict in a society,

* A means for preventing future conflicts.

Peacebuilding Mechanisms could include the setting up of a new office of Ombudsperson, a Commission on Human Rights and the strengthening of the Judiciary with international advisory and/or monitoring capacity.


Leave a Comment »

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at
Entries and comments feeds.

%d bloggers like this: