What is mediation?

What is mediation?

by Maddalena Pezzotti

Mediation is an alternative method of international dispute resolution, in which a neutral and impartial third party facilitates dialogue in an organized context, to help the parties reach a satisfactory final agreement. It is a way of managing a peace process that is triggered when the antagonists, alone, are unable to resolve the disagreement. At a macro level, two or more parties may request the help of a third party, or the latter may offer itself, when the escalation has taken a direction that could generate, or is already creating, situations of violence, or even when the solution to the gravity of the problem, or the brutality of the clashes, seems far from being found. In essence, mediation is a negotiation – the latter usually initiated between two or more states or factions directly implicated in conflictual issues -, with the addition of another subject, extraneous to the events.
Its main characteristic is that of being non-coercive and, ultimately, non-binding. In fact, mediators do not have the authority to force the parties to overcome their differences, as in arbitrary and legal procedures, in which total delegation is granted to independent and qualified subjects who issue mandatory opinions and indications. Precisely this dimension favors a role for non-governmental organizations, otherwise excluded from international mediation. Mediators enter a dispute to resolve or modify it, bringing with them personal, institutional and cultural baggage, made up of ideas, knowledge and resources, with a specific weight in the progress of the talks. Their intervention, in addition to having to be characterized by non-invasive practices, is essential for it to remain limited in time.
Mediators assist in the identification and articulation of needs, interests and priorities, in safeguarding the interaction and overall coherence of social, economic and identity factors, in addition to perceived tensions and confirmed aggression. They can focus on the specific dynamic that triggered the hostilities, or on the profound transformation of relationships, always carrying out work of a political nature. The different types of approaches are not to be considered separate, rather they are elements whose relevance, sequence and complementarity are assessed case by case, in the construction of solid and lasting goals. The agreement at the end of this process represents the final point of the discussion and discussions of the parties and serves both as a basis for deliberation in the present and as a reference for the future.

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