Notes from the Field

From Nepal: Social Transformation through Community Mediation

September 17, 2008

In the area of Devpura Village Development Community in Dhanusha District, Nepal, Kaladhar Jha had a property dispute with his brother, Devendra, which went on for almost 20 years. Even during festive occasions, like marriage ceremonies and social events, the two brothers refused to visit each other’s homes. Since the two brothers faced a lot of tension for a long time, Devendra Jha, who had heard about something called community mediation, decided to apply for mediation services. Eventually — somewhat miraculously — the two brothers were persuaded to attend mediation.  After a few hours their decades-long dispute had been resolved. Now the brothers are on very good terms and have started living in a joint household again.

The Asia Foundation promotes community-based mediation in Nepal, where trying cases in regular court can be very expensive and time consuming.  Mediation can improve access to justice and help establish a culture of peace building within communities. Community mediation services have now been established in 118 towns in 14 districts — and people are making increasing use of them. After five years of implementing the program, there have been more than 14,000 applications registered for mediation, with approximately 85 percent of the cases resolved. Community mediation helps people attain immediate resolutions to local conflicts and costs a lot less.

Working on the ground in Nepal we have seen community mediation making a significant difference in four aspects of community life: personal, relational, structural, and cultural.

Personal dimensions

On a personal level, the mediation process strengthens peoples’ capacity to analyze situations, consider the perspectives of others, and make effective decisions for themselves.  Fatalistic attitudes are common in Nepal, but community mediation encourages community members to transcend them and take ownership of the problems. Mediation helps them to overcome their inhibitions, develops a sense of responsibility towards causes of conflict, and builds long-term relationships based on trust. The mediation process is also a transformative experience for the mediators. Rohit Deuba of Dadeldhura District, a district program coordinator, said, “mediators learn to be more respectful and less judgmental. They also learn to become more responsible human beings and develop a more positive outlook towards dispute resolution.”

Relational dimensions

Mediation sessions often transform adversarial tensions among neighbors and families into cordial relationships based on values of equality, respect, and participation. During the mediation process, disputants learn to listen to each other’s experiences and respect the other person’s point of view. There is a growing recognition of the idea that justice is not delivered through confrontation, but through discussion and negotiation at the community level. Community mediators and disputants have an increased ability to deal with the real causes of disputes among themselves, and have learned to deal with real interests and needs rather than their individual positions. Mediation has provided practical problem-solving techniques that can be utilized to resolve future disputes. People who have resolved disputes have discovered and exercised their personal strength. This is how community members are maintaining and improving relationships, as well as building social harmony and peace.

Cultural dimensions

In more traditional villages where women have a limited role in public life, the introduction of community mediation has significantly transformed the lives of these women. With more than one third of the total certified mediators being female, the Foundation’s program has successfully empowered women to participate in community affairs. As women mediators assume new leadership roles to carry out development activities, they become trusted and respected members of the community.

Structural dimensions

Mediation services are becoming particularly popular in communities where former disputants, traditional mediators, social workers, and even courts have begun to refer local disputes to mediation rather than to traditional village headmen. Local government authorities have responded with equal enthusiasm by referring complaints to community mediation and earmarking funds in their development budgets to support the program’s endowment. Local courts have also recognized the strength of the mediation program by including names of community mediators in their rosters for case referral. Institutionalization of such structural changes in the community justice system will be further strengthened in the coming months after the Ministry of Law and Justice completes the draft mediation bill and community mediation becomes legally recognized.

Preeti Thapa is The Asia Foundation’s Program Manager for Community Mediation, Conflict Transformation and Peace Building in Nepal.

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