by Mara Goldberg, United States

I first interacted with Dr. Joyce Neu in March. I had recently completed my undergraduate degree and was searching for organizations that could provide me with career advice in conflict resolution. One that particularly sparked my interest was Facilitating Peace, a network of consultants who practice mediation and work to resolve conflicts. I typed a message into the “Contact Us” box, doubtful of any personal response. The next thing I knew, a woman named Joyce Neu had emailed me. To my pleasant surprise, she was friendly, thorough, and had attached a self-created career guide for my use. She even mentioned the IPSI Bologna Symposium as a step in the right direction! I thanked her and assumed this would be the last time I heard from her.


IMG_4058-300x275Fast forward to the Bologna Symposium. I had previously discovered that Dr. Neu would be lecturing for two days about international mediation. Excited about meeting this generous stranger, I conducted a quick Google search. I could not believe her range of experience and expertise in mediation. I wondered why someone with such an impressive CV would respond to my “Contact Us” message. Yet once I experienced her genuine humility and charm in person, I had my answer.

Dr. Neu gave us helpful advice and useful techniques for practicing mediation. The last point she made during her presentation was pivotal for me. After studying and working on both human rights and conflict resolution, I often wonder why these two fields tend to be paired together in various academic programs and NGOs. Dr. Neu addressed this matter eloquently and clearly. She first explained that human rights activists and conflict resolution practitioners need each other and must work closely together. That being said, the two disciplines are very different. The main commonality is that practitioners in both fields represent victims of conflicts. However, conflict resolution and mediation practitioners must also represent the perpetrators of human rights abuses. Even if they committed crimes that go against the mediator’s personal values, he or she must empathize with them. This task is difficult but crucial for a mediator who may not show preference toward one side or the other.

Here is an example: A mediator’s job is to empathize with the victims, as well as try to understand the motivations of conflict perpetrators. The goal of mediation is not to advocate one side, but for all sides to humanize and understand each other’s positions, interests, and needs. The parties may still clash at the end of a mediation but at least they see where the other is coming from.

In contrast, the field of human rights focuses on one side – the victims. The role of human rights workers in conflict is extremely important because they seek justice and advocate for the needs of individuals and communities. It is likely impossible for a mediator to do his or her job without the efforts of human rights workers to empower victims. However, Dr. Neu asserts that the fields of conflict resolution and human rights should not be lumped together because they require different skills and strive for different goals.

If you want to read more on this topic, Dr. Joyce Neu recommended Bridging the Divide by Michelle Parlevliet. You can find it here:


Dr. Neu adresses 2014 IPSI Bologna participants at SAIS Bologna Center.