Today, 10 December 2018, is the 70th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, articulating the basic fundamentals of human rights that were conceived as societal fundamentals intended to be recognised across all countries and peoples. 

By Dr Karl Mackie CBE, CEDR Founder & President and Mediator

"Since its launch, the Declaration has proved not only a beacon of hope internationally but also a statement of standards against which numerous breaches of human rights have been measured since 1948.

In a somewhat shorter timespan of some 30 years of practice as a mediator in commercial disputes and civil litigation, I have often pondered on this question of justice and human rights in the more nuanced setting of civil disputes.  

What can mediators learn from the UNDHR?

I do believe as a community, professional mediators have not managed to articulate as well as they could the substantial contribution that mediation can make in terms of the tools available when redressing human rights complaints, and more generally for opening up routes to better ‘justice’ for litigants who, in many cases, see their basic rights as having been infringed.  

What a carefully managed mediation does, after all, is to ensure that there is a well-managed dialogue and discourse between people who see the world very differently but who will have often, on at least one side, have been living with a deep sense of pain and injustice.  Out of this process normally, all mediators will have seen examples of significant transformation in client feelings of being heard, or have helped create opportunities for acceptable redress, or better understanding where there seemed only impasse before the mediation.

Of course, it is hard to transfer this basic process experience to the more heinous examples in the last 70 years of the more gross breaches of human rights such as apartheid or genocide. However, even in many of those circumstances societies have had to find pragmatic methods of social repair and recovery in the aftermath of serious breaches of human rights through mediated dialogue, for example, through truth and reconciliation commissions, victim-offender mediation or by exploring new court forums, legislation or sanctions.

Resolving Human Rights Disputes

Fortunately in recent years I have had the privilege of working directly in a specialist area of human rights, where there are explicit claims against business, in relation to the human rights standards set for multinationals by the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises – covering areas such as rights to organisation, use of child labour, damage to communal environments.  A number of these cases have been mediated successfully, and my experience has encouraged me to collaborate in setting up a major task force to look at the ways CEDR can enlarge the contribution mediation makes to international human rights and business practice.  Alongside this, colleagues have begun to become actively involved in mediation training for those working in the field of international peace efforts.  It seemed appropriate to mention these initiatives on such a significant day as 10 December 2018.  Happy anniversary to the UDHR."