Sara Hellmuller CCDP


Senior Researcher at ETH Zurich
Spoken languages
English, German, French, Italian
Areas of expertise
  • Peacebuilding, peacekeeping, peacemaking / mediation
  • Multilateralism, international organisations UN
  • Diversity and local-global interactions
  • Norm diffusion and contestation
  • Armed conflicts
  • Knowledge production and science-policy transfer
  • Qualitative research methods and ethics of field research
Geographical Region of Expertise
  • Syria
  • DR Congo

Sara Hellmüller is an SNSF Assistant Professor leading the PRIMA project "A child of its time: the impact of world politics on peacebuilding", with the Graduate Institute's Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding (CCDP). She was an academic visitor at the University of Oxford in the fall term 2022. Until 2019, she worked as senior researcher at swisspeace and lecturer at the University of Basel. Moreover, between 2017 and 2019, she was a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Montreal. Sara obtained her PhD in Political Science from the University of Basel. During her doctoral studies, she was a researcher and research coordinator at swisspeace, a visiting scholar at Columbia University in New York, and an affiliated researcher at the University of Bunia in DR Congo.
Sara has (co-)led several multi-annual research projects, such as on the role of norms in mediation (2015-2019, funded by the SNSF), civil society inclusion in mediation (2018-2020, funded by the United States Institute of Peace), and most recently on how changing world politics influence UN peace operations (2020-2024, funded by the SNSF). She has also obtained funding for shorter-term projects implemented in cooperation with partners in Lebanon, Norway, Syria, Turkey, and the United States. Her research has been published in English, French, and German and she is the author of the book “Partners for Peace” (2018, Palgrave Macmillan). In the framework of her employment at swisspeace, Sara has built up their Syria program (including direct support to the UN office of the Special Envoy for Syria from 2016 on 2018) and has been involved in several peace processes, such as in Guinea-Conakry, Guinea-Bissau, Libya, and Darfur.

Expertise details

  • Impact of changing world politics on UN peace operations

  • Interaction between local and international peacebuilding actors

  • Local, national, regional, and international aspects of armed conflicts and their interplay

  • United Nations peacemaking (particularly in Syria) and peacekeeping (particularly in DR Congo)

  • Norm diffusion in mediation processes (particularly the norms of inclusivity and impartiality)

  • Knowledge production on peacebuilding and its transfer to policy and practice

Publication List

Publications (selection)


Peer reviewed articles in scientific journals

Hellmüller, Sara, “A Trans-Scalar Approach to Peacebuilding and Transitional Justice: Insights from the Democratic Republic of Congo”, forthcoming in Cooperation and Conflict.

Hellmüller, Sara, 2021, “The Challenge of Forging Consent to UN Mediation Processes in Internationalized Civil Wars - The Case of Syria”, International Negotiation, online first, Link.

Hellmüller, Sara, 2021, "Normen in der Mediation: Analyse und Ausblick", Zeitschrift für Friedens- und Konfliktforschung, Vol. 10 (1), pp. 77-81, Link.

Hellmüller, Sara, Jamie Pring, and Oliver Richmond, 2020, “How Norms Matter in Mediation: An Introduction”, Swiss Political Science Review, Vol. 26 (4), 345-363, Link.

Hellmüller, Sara, 2020, “Meaning-Making in Peace-Making: The Inclusion Norm at the Interplay between the United Nations and Civil Society in the Syrian Peace Process”, Swiss Political Science Review, Vol. 26 (4), 407-428, Link.

Goetschel, Laurent; Sara Hellmüller, 2019, “Friedens- und Konfliktforschung in der Schweiz”, Zeit-schrift für Friedens- und Konfliktforschung, Vol. 8 (1), pp. 79-98, Link.

Hellmüller, Sara, 2019, “A ‘Global and Inclusive Agreement’? Participation of Armed Actors in the Inter-Congolese Dialogue and its Impact on Local Violence”, International Negotiation, Vol. 24 (1), pp. 38-60, Link.

Hellmüller, Sara; Corinne von Burg; Mathias Zeller, 2014, “Kann Mediation schaden? Konfliktsen-sitivität in internationalen Friedensverhandlungen”, Konfliktdynamik, Vol. 3 (4), pp. 2-11, Link.

Hellmüller, Sara, 2014, “A Story of Mutual Adaptation? The Interaction between Local and International Peacebuilding Actors in Ituri”, Peacebuilding, Vol. 2 (2), pp. 188-201, Link.

Hellmüller, Sara, 2014, “Explaining the Congo wars”, book review of “Congo” by Thomas Turner, The Political Quarterly, Vol. 85 (1), pp. 93-95, Link.

Hellmüller, Sara, 2013, “The Power of Perceptions: Localizing International Peacebuilding Approaches”, International Peacekeeping, Vol. 20 (2), pp. 221-234, Link.

Hellmüller, Sara, 2012, “The Ambiguities of Local Ownership - Evidence from the Democratic Republic of Congo”, African Security, Vol. 5 (3-4), pp. 236-254, Link.


guest edited special issues

Goetschel, Laurent; Sara Hellmüller, Kristoffer Lidén, 2023, “Knowledge Production on Peace”, International Affairs, forthcoming.

Hellmüller, Sara; Martin Wählisch, 2021, “The United Nations at 75 and Mediation as an Instrument of Peace”, International Negotiation, forthcoming.

Hellmüller, Sara; Jamie Pring; Oliver Richmond, 2020, “Norms in International Mediation”, Swiss Political Science Review, Vol. 26 (4).


Other peer-reviewed contributions

Hellmüller, Sara; Marie-Joëlle Zahar, 2019, “UN-led mediation in Syria and civil society”, Accord Issue on “Navigating Inclusion in Peace Processes”, London: Conciliation Resources.

Hellmüller, Sara; Julia Palmiano Federer; Jamie Pring, 2017, “Are Mediators Norm Entrepreneurs? Exploring the Role of Mediators in Norm Diffusion”, Working Paper, Vol. 4, Bern: swisspeace.



Hellmüller, Sara, 2018, “The Interaction between Local and International Actors in Peacebuilding: Partners for Peace”, Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, Link.

Hellmüller, Sara; Martina Santschi (eds.), 2014, “Is Local Beautiful? Peacebuilding between International Interventions and Locally Led Initiatives”, Cham: Springer, Link.


Book chapters

Hellmüller, Sara, 2020, “Mediation”, In: The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Peace and Conflict Studies, Oliver Richmond and Gëzim Visoka (eds.), Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, Link.

Hellmüller, Sara, 2020, “Civil society inclusion in peace processes”, In: The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Peace and Conflict Studies, Oliver Richmond and Gëzim Visoka (eds.), Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hellmüller, Sara, 2020, “DR Congo: Local and international peacebuilders' interaction”, In: The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Peace and Conflict Studies, Oliver Richmond and Gëzim Visoka (eds.), Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hellmüller, Sara, 2020, “Inclusion and Performance as Sources of Legitimacy: The UN Mediation on Syria”, In: Local Legitimacy and International Peacebuilding, Oliver Richmond and Roger Mac Ginty (eds.), pp. 160- 179, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, Link.

Hellmüller, Sara, 2020, “The Role of Civil Society Actors in Peacemaking and Peacebuilding”, In: The Routledge Handbook of Peace, Security and Development, Fen Osler Hampson, Alp Özerdem, Jonathan Kent (eds.), pp. 407-419, Abingdon / New York: Routledge, Link.

Hellmüller, Sara, 2019, “Beyond Buzzwords: Civil Society Inclusion in Mediation”, In: Conflict Management and Transformation: Theory and Practice, Ho-Won Jeong (ed.), pp. 47-63, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, Link.

Hellmüller, Sara, 2016, “Timing and Sequencing of Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Peacebuilding Efforts in DR Congo”, In: Building Sustainable Peace: Timing and Sequencing of Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Peacebuilding, Arnim Langer and Graham K. Brown (eds.), pp. 243-261, Oxford: Oxford University Press, Link.

Hellmüller, Sara, 2016, “Connections for Peace: Frictions in Peacebuilding Encounters in Ituri, Democratic Republic of Congo”, In: Frictional Encounters in Peacebuilding, Annika Björkdahl; Kristine Höglund; Gearoid Millar; Jair van der Lljin and Willemijn Verkoren (eds.), pp. 172-187, London / New York: Routledge, Link.

Hellmüller, Sara, 2014, « Que signifie la paix en République Démocratique du Congo ? Des perspectives locales sur les stratégies internationales », In : Annuaire Français de Relations Internationales Vol. XV, Centre Thucydide (eds.), pp. 657-671, Paris : Université Panthéon-Assas, Link.

Hellmüller, Sara, 2014, “Owners or Partners? A Critical Analysis of the Concept of Local Ownership”, In: Is Local Beautiful? Peacebuilding between International Interventions and Locally Led Initiatives, Sara Hellmüller and Martina Santschi (eds.), pp. 3-14, Cham: Springer, Link.


Policy Articles

Hellmüller, Sara, 2019, “Congo’s elections had a startling result. This is what’s going on”, Monkey Cage, Washington Post, Link.

Hellmüller, Sara; Marie-Joëlle Zahar, 2018, “Against the Odds: Civil Society in the Intra-Syrian Talks”, Issue brief, New York: International Peace Institute, Link.

Abo Naser, Metwaly; Sara Hellmüller; Leila Hilal; Ryme Katkhouda; Yosra Nagui, 2016, “Inside Syria: What Local Actors Are Doing For Peace”, Bern: swisspeace, Conflict Dynamics International and FarikBeirut, Link.

Hellmüller, Sara; Julia Palmiano; Matthias Siegfried, 2015, “Norm-Pushers or Deal-Brokers? Normative Challenges of Modern-Day Mediators”, Background Paper for the Oslo Forum 2015 commissioned by the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, Geneva, Link.