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Enabling Citizen Access to Justice and Community Harmony: Three Decades of Support for Sri Lanka Mediation Boards

Program Year: 2024

Celebrating seventy years at The Asia Foundation

The Asia Foundation is celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2024. For seven decades, we have partnered with change-makers from government, civil society, the private sector, and academia to solve some of the greatest challenges facing Asia and the Pacific. To mark this milestone, we are sharing a series of highlights showing the scope and impact of our contributions past and present. We are committed to building on these achievements in the decades ahead.

Unlike conventional court decisions, in which one party prevails, mediation yields equitable, win-win outcomes that foster greater harmony and are sensitive to the complex dynamic of community life and relationships. The efficient and lasting settlement of disputes on terms agreeable to all parties has freed women from the specter of violence, restored damaged property, and facilitated commercial lending for improvements to farmland and farming practices and the launch of small businesses. In addition, mediation has helped people to recover from the trauma of devastating events like the Indian Ocean Tsunami, placed marginalized populations on an equal footing with those who would otherwise wield greater power and influence in a dispute, and healed deep societal wounds.

Like many Asian countries, Sri Lanka has long grappled with inequities in its justice system, especially those affecting women, the economically disadvantaged, and marginalized communities. Sri Lanka’s Mediation Boards Act in 1988 established a new process for resolving family, property, financial, and other disputes through mediation—facilitated by three-member panels of trained mediators who guide parties to a dispute toward a mutually satisfactory settlement. The Ministry of Justice turned to The Asia Foundation as a known and trusted partner in prior justice system development efforts, seeking our partnership in implementing the Act. It was clear at the outset that the success of the Community Mediation Boards would depend on the professional skills and sensitivity of mediators, efficient administration, and public awareness of and confidence in the process.


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A mediator training workshop conducted in 1997 in a rural village of Uva Province. Mediators are appointed by an independent Mediation Boards Commission for a three-year term. Mediator Training Officers annually roll out five-day training programs and refresher training for volunteer mediators. (Photo: The Asia Foundation)

We began small, working with partners and experts to provide an initial group of 22 serving Family Court counselors and probation officers with the specialty skills needed to become Mediator Trainers. They, in turn, spread their expertise by training local volunteers to serve as mediators so that their knowledge and skills could ripple outward. Adapted over time to embrace new training tools and techniques, this professional development process has continued through generations of dedicated mediators and mediator trainers and remains a hallmark of The Asia Foundation’s contributions to the success of the Mediation Boards.

Decades on, our commitment to the Mediation Boards continues to deepen. With Boards now operational in every part of Sri Lanka and more than 8,800 trained mediators in place, Asia Foundation support has been instrumental to the program’s growth and success. In addition to continually building the skills and expertise of mediators, we have supported the expansion of the program to the entire country, enabling access for all ethnic and religious minorities and economically and geographically marginalized citizens; responded to unique challenges and needs, including disputes arising from the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and land conflicts stemming from decades of civil war; refined mediation practices on the basis of thoughtful review and scholarly research; and increased the number of women mediators from 2 percent in the late 1990s to 26 percent today.

In 2023 alone, the Mediation Boards resolved nearly 68,000 disputes, achieving a 69 percent settlement rate and consistently high satisfaction among parties. Building on this performance, we now provide solutions to debt and other post-pandemic economic recovery challenges by supporting the introduction of Sri Lanka’s first commercial mediation system. Over the years, we have helped others to study Sri Lanka’s Mediation Boards Program as a model for adaptation elsewhere, including in Cambodia, China, Nepal, and Mongolia.

The Sri Lanka mediation experience is one of many examples of The Asia Foundation’s commitment to increased public access to formal and informal justice and broader rights protection. We invite you to watch the following slide show, highlighting the Sri Lanka experience through a glimpse of processes followed by Community Mediation Boards. 

Related programs: Good Governance, Law and Justice
Related topics: AsiaFoundation70

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