Sometimes, what it takes to lay the foundations for a major change in the state of things is forward-thinking, vision, and willpower in the face of obstacles. All these three virtues line up in the person of Sarah Babaian. Notwithstanding her young age, Sarah has already established herself as a successful certified mediator and negotiation consultant for businesses across Germany, leading the personal firm Conflict Consulting Mediation in Hamburg. Lifelong motivated by the desire to stand for those who cannot fight for themselves and to prosecute those responsible for the most serious crimes of concern, she holds a specialization in International Criminal Law and International Humanitarian Law. Since July 2019, she has been a member of MBBI, getting actively engaged with the MBBI United Nations Multilateral Working Group. The Group works to support mediation capacity-building within the UN system as well to foster the partnership between the UN and the broader MBBI network. “MBBI is such an important organization for supporting communities across the globe in building mediation capacities. I am thrilled by the fact the organization is so international, far-reaching, and resourceful”, she says enthusiastically.

International Law as a springboard.

Sarah recounts that the urgency of standing up to defend the weakest has always characterized her attitude, ever since high school classes. This is why she embarked on the study of Law at the university. “The desire to bring justice to the most in need is what always mattered the most to me” Sarah recounts, “but my ambition has always been to fight for a big cause rather than focusing only on small-scale disputes”. The desire not to resize her own horizons pushed Sarah to undertake a Master of Advanced Studies in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights at the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Once back in Germany, she enhanced her specialization in International Criminal Law with a Ph.D. at the University of Hamburg, researching the topics of the jurisdiction and cooperation mechanisms of the International Criminal Court to determine whether the latter could be regarded as an International Criminal World Court.

With the energy and passion of a young aspirant change-maker, when Sarah found herself on the edge of starting a professional career, she decided to explore various options and test diverse, and rather opposite, working opportunities. In the first place, she undertook a period of internship at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, being able to get deeper into the functioning of the United Nations system as well as meeting thoughtful and charismatic personalities. In the second place, she worked for nearly a year at the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, a “very competent” NGO seeking to enforce and advocate for civil and human rights worldwide. Despite being inspired by both of the experiences, the two could not have been more different for Sarah.

“While an NGO can, and has to, say what it likes to say, without however having the same power like States in changing things, within the United Nations the opposite occurs: in light of the diplomatic sphere, people are afraid to speak out the truth and tend to remain silent despite the power at their disposal” Sarah explains. “Nevertheless, it was important to see the two faces of the coin in order to get a profound picture of these two different institutions”. Although the experience lowered her expectations, Sarah is still convinced that big changes can be achieved by the forward-thinking and passionate commitment of talented individuals, and she firsthand demonstrates resilient determination in achieving her objectives.

Between mediation, law, and negotiation.

“My main goal in life is to contribute to something truly significant by applying my expertise of being a jurist, a mediator and negotiator in the ‘big world’” Sarah admits, I really believe that if the right people sit in the right positions, a real, big change for the better is possible”. Certainly, Sarah armed herself with the tools offered by mediation and law, among others, to pursue such aspiration.

Having been always attracted by conflict management, she got fascinated by the innovativeness of alternative dispute resolution methods, as something that people are not so used to consider and different from the traditional conflict resolution processes contemplated by the law field. Motivated by its effectivity and uniqueness, she earned a mediation apprenticeship, managing to get fully into the spectrum of mediation about both its diplomatic as well as phycological sides. “I always wanted to do something that could make a real difference for people”, she asserts speaking about the choice of picking mediation, “but through traditional dispute resolution processes it is often hard to find a solution that satisfies both parties, while simultaneously building a renewed relationship among them”.

Sarah explains that is generally hard for people to have a genuine conversation when they are stiffened up on their respective worldviews and stances. In particular, tricky psychological factors would play to the detriment of the possibility of listening to the other party truthfully and being willing of open-up channels for communication. Basically, when people get angry, they tend not to establish a conversation among each other, hinging on their respective viewpoints. This stems majorly from the fact that human beings are unique, and sometimes too sedimented, in their expectations, previous experiences, and, above all, histories. And this latter, according to Sarah, plays a fundamental role in the way people think and make up their own points. 

The Full Picture of Conflict 

“What is fundamental for the mediator is the capacity of grasping what lies under the tiny top part of the conflict iceberg, namely what is not said, and making it realize to the parties themselves through their own interactions” Sarah says. First and foremost, the mediator must be able to get the full picture of the conflict and to enable the assisted parties to equally understand the motives behind their and the opponent’s positions. This is made possible by effective conflict resolution processes in emphasizing communication and using specific tools and techniques such as paraphrasing and open questions. “Firstly, it is crucial to leave both parties a fixed time for speaking without interruption to push for mutual listening” Sarah explains, “while paraphrasing is the next fundamental step since it enables both sides to realize their hidden feelings, fears, and expectations, by naming them out loudly”.

Based in Hamburg, Sarah is currently offering mediation services to both big and small companies involved in any kind of internal or external dispute. Besides, she owns deep expertise in negotiation techniques, and she is putting her skills at the service of big companies as a negotiation consultant. “In a negotiation, it is of paramount importance to let the negotiation partner talk” she shares, “in this way you can manage to acquire more information and therewith determine the real motives behind the stated positions you need to know for a successful negotiation process”. When contracted, she assists the company in improving its negotiation capacities either more broadly, by training CEO’s or employees on negotiation methods, or strategically to a specific transaction underway. Her aspirations are not extinguished, and Sarah keeps on thinking big; her aim is to apply her judicial and mediation expertise in the international arena on a high-level position that counts. From her perspective, that path will not get an easy one as it is firstly about to fight for justice in speaking out loud what others are afraid of and secondly a challenge to let leaders try to change their focus from solely political to legal matters within an exclusively political environment. Nevertheless, in awareness of these possible obstacles, Sarah is fearless and highly motivated to try to change – with other like-minded people – the world into something more just. To state it in the spirit of a famous quote from Robert F. Kennedy: “Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. And in the total of all those acts will be written the history of a generation.”

Written by Matteo Piovacari: MBBI Writer