Negotiation Institute & Human Rights Advocates International

West African Mediation Project

Human Rights Advocates International, Inc. (HRAI) has, for the past two decades, been involved in active, hands-on human rights advocacy on a world-wide basis. The organization has sought freedom for individuals unjustly incarcerated in a number of the world’s prisons. It has sought – and achieved repatriation of tens of thousands of Ameri-Asian children to the United States from Vietnam. Among its most important achievements, HRAI has been instrumental in the writing and implementation of constitutions in many nations and has worked with governments to establish legal standards to address issues of human rights.

Throughout the history of the organization, its principals have had a nagging ambition to provide a means to prevent abuse of human rights for individuals and groups. There has been a desire to put in place appropriate methodologies whereby people can avoid and resolve problems, disagreements and confrontations before they degenerate into hostile, violent actions, in our view, negotiation/mediation in our view the best and, perhaps, the only modus operandi to accomplish that goal, because this process preserves the dignity and integrity of disputants while preventing human rights abuses.

With the cooperation of the Project on Negotiation at Harvard Law School and the Negotiation Institute, HRAI will create a mediation project that, for the first time, will address issues of conflict in societies throughout the world. HRAI will work to avoid the use of armed force or the introduction of armed intervention. The Mediation Project will offer its expertise and experts to the United Nations and its member nations to help resolve disputes early and peacefully.

The project will be led by the “wise men” in the field of mediation, Roger Fisher, author of Getting to Yes and the creator of the Harvard Negotiation Project, and Gerard I. Nierenberg, founder of the Negotiation Institute and author of The Complete Negotiator and 21 other titles. Each of these experts has used his expertise to successfully resolve disputes in the private and governmental sectors worldwide.

Mediation Project

Mediation, as an alternative means of resolving disputes, is an art form whose use should be the rule instead of the exception. Unlike the legal system, one in which decisions are made in an adversarial setting, mediation provides a vehicle for litigants to reach agreement with each of the participants coming away with something that they want and need. Thus, there are no losers. Each participant “wins” in one way or another. Mediation is negotiation raised to at least the second power.

The concept of Mediation is growing in popularity, in fact, the current American Administration recently issued a directive to all the governmental departments to create mediation structures to settle disputes within their departments. And, the United Nations has been involved in mediation since its founding.

To conduct Mediations, a mediator must first be a Master Negotiator. But, there is a problem: We do not train people to mediate disputes. Rather, we train people to advocate. The Master Negotiator, functioning as a mediator negotiates with the disputants and creates a favorable climate for the parties so that they may negotiate with each other to seek a resolution that is workable for both sides of the dispute. The mediator may suggest, cajole and recommend, but never decides for the parties involved. He or she is ever the negotiator, part-time participant, and full-time observer.

The ultimate goal of the Mediation Project is to train cadres of negotiation/mediation specialists in countries throughout the world. To begin, we have chosen to develop a 12 – Month pilot program in three countries of West Africa, Senegal, Mali and Gambia. Human Rights Advocates International has done extensive work in these countries. HRAI’s professionals are knowledgeable of the societies and have access to the people in government and other important sectors. The primary trainer has extensive experience in the area, having served in Senegal with U.S.A.I.D. In this position, he oversaw programs in the countries of West Africa that necessitate close contact with government officials at the highest level. He also negotiated with various United Nations agencies and officials of various European nations to better coordinate the agency’s development efforts.

These countries, too, are well suited for the project, because of their sociological mix. Ethnic diversity – and conflict – is widespread throughout the world. It is seen on every continent. Using this region as a model to address this critical issue, the project can and should develop paradigms for other such mediation programs in other countries.

“The Wise Ones”

A key to the success of this mediation project is the development of a rapport with those men and women who have the trust of the people and have the knowledge and sophistication to deal with dispute resolution. The first step in the project will be to identify those people whom the local population identifies as “the wise ones”, men and women who are influential in the areas of culture, religion and politics. Because they are the society’s decision-makers, the “wise ones” are the people who must accept the concept of mediation and select those who will be trained as mediators by the Mediation Project professionals. As a result of work done in previous years by HRAI, a number of “the wise ones” have been identified. However, the project’s professionals will consult with host country officials, American officials, United Nations functionaries, and Embassy staffs to assemble a coterie of “the wise ones”.

Once “the wise ones” are identified – and their participation assured – each will be interviewed to obtain their opinions and recommendations regarding sectors that can and would be helped by the mediation process. They will be asked for their recommendations on the best ways to institute a mediation process in their countries. After this process is completed and the recommendations drafted, a 3-5 day meeting of “the wise ones” will be scheduled to discuss the recommendations and reach agreement on the complete proposed process, including the mediation sites, and the identification of those people who will be trained as mediators.

The meeting will be held in a hotel in one of the cities in the region. Bringing them to a hotel will take them out of their localities and give them the ease to discuss the process without the pressures of their everyday situations.

These first steps are critical to the success of the mediation program, for it is essential to gain the trust of the “wise ones” – and it is critical that they make the process their own.


The results of the group meeting will determine the design of the training program. Once this meeting is completed, the H.RAI professionals will carefully tailor their mediation techniques to the needs identified by “the wise ones”.

The training program, a two-three week process, will teach the mediators how to prepare, develop strategies and counters, and effectively conduct Mediation. Participants will learn the use of a “presentation map” to examine the subject matter, objectives, issues, fact-finding and agenda. They will develop “questions maps” and checklists for different negotiations. Using the techniques of role-playing and psychodrama, they will be guided through the creative preparation methods. Basic to the training is the understanding of the needs that everyone strives to fulfill. Therefore, an essential part of the training will be learning how to recognize these needs and how they will affect the negotiating of the disputants. Using this knowledge, the mediators will learn how to find common interests among the disputants, change “win-lose” stances, and satisfy the appropriate needs of the parties. Participants will learn to identify the agenda of disputants and their effect on the mediation process. They will learn techniques to move the disputants from defensiveness to openness, suspicion to evaluation, territorial dominance to cooperation, among other attitudes necessary to bring mediation to a successful end.

Participants will join in applying the skills that they have learned to complex scenarios. The results will be critiqued by the participants and HRAI and compared to earlier efforts in dispute resolution.

To overcome possible language barriers that may hinder the participants’ understanding of concepts that will be new to them, simultaneous translation will be provided throughout the training process.

Project Implementation

Once the training is completed, the mediators will return to their home communities and work closely with the trainers who will be critical to the implementation of the mediation process. While the Mediation Project will develop relationships with the local and national governments, it is expected that “the wise ones” will be of primary import in the introduction of the process into their societies.

The Mediation Project professionals will be on-site for the first 3-6 months so that they can work closely with the mediators during their first mediations, assisting them in the preparation of their strategies and guiding them through the process.

The professionals will continuously be available for consultation with both “the wise ones” and the mediators.


The Mediation Project will be evaluated continuously throughout the first year of the project. Records will be kept of the original interviews that will outline the project’s objectives. The mediations will be critiqued to assist the mediators, as they become more proficient in the negotiation process. At the end of the year, a meeting of “the wise ones” and HRAI will evaluate the successes and failures of the project, including the number of mediations conducted, the success of the negotiations and the general tenor created by introducing this process of dispute resolution into their societies. Adjustments and/or modifications will be implemented when necessary and appropriate. Project trainees will eventually become the principal trainers of others in their culture.


The introduction of appropriate methodologies for dispute resolution that make possible the peaceful avoidance and resolution of conflicts in their infancy is integral to a just and stable society. We anticipate that the West African Mediation Project will have dramatic consequences for regional stability. As we demonstrate the Project’s success, it will become apparent that this model, with the necessary and required cultural adjustments, can be successfully replicated in other countries in Africa and beyond.

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