More and more disputes are arising over unmet development needs, with which local communities have to cope by themselves in the absence of elected representatives at the local level.
The formal justice systems are not accessible enough, both physically and psychologically, especially for the poor and the marginalized. Traditional conflict resolution mechanisms managed by community elites are still practiced, but their hierarchical authority is increasingly challenged in today's Nepal where there is an increasing awareness on rights for the disadvantaged. Besides, when the third party does intervene to resolve a community dispute, it often results in a one-sided punishment to make winners and losers, sowing a new seed of long-term animosity in the community.
Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), a Japanese governmental aid agency, has been working with Ministry of Local Development, DDCs and VDCs in in Mahottari and Sindhuli to implement the Strengthening Community Mediation Capacity for Peaceful and Harmonious Society Project (COMCAP), a project which aims to strengthen dispute management capacity at the local level, for the past two years. For each pilot VDC, 27 volunteer mediators (3 persons including at least 1 woman from each Ward) are selected through a socially inclusive process and are trained in dispute resolution to achieve a win-win solution.
Community Mediation Centers have been established within the VDC Office to offer free mediation services to the community residents to resolve local disputes. By resolving disputes through mediation, local bodies are less burdened to attend to the complaints by the residents and are better able to concentrate on their core tasks of
administration and development in their localities.
One recently resolved case is the complex family dispute involving three brothers quarrelling over inheritance of family property while their elder father was not willing to give up any while he was alive.
Through the facilitation of mediators trained by the project, it was revealed that the father, who was becoming ill, was willing to divide the property to the sons provided that he and his wife, the mother of the three sons, would be well taken care of in their old age. Finally the sons and the father came up with an agreement that incorporated the needs and wants of all sides: the partition of the property and the role of each son to take care of their parents, thereby creating a win-win situation for all. After each of them signed the agreement paper, three sons deeply bowed to the frail father, who was overjoyed and stroked the heads of his sons, a sign of restored family unity.
In the mediation process, mediators focus not only on how to resolve the content issue of the dispute but also on how to rebuild the relationship between the two parties. This is particularly important because in almost all cases, community disputes arise among neighbors or family members who have to live side-by-side in the same community.
Another remarkable example is the case of Hindu and Muslim groups planning to stage a religious function at the same spot on the same day. The two communities were at loggerheads, and friction was growing. Mediators managed to navigate the two opposing arguments and were able to assist the both groups to realize that the Hindu festival could be held on any day, whereas the Muslim festival, which is determined by the phase of the moon, had to be held on a particular date. The Hindu group showed flexibility by agreeing to organize their function after the Muslim event. Moreover, the both groups also agreed to respect each other's religion and thus, the potentially serious inter-religious dispute was amicably resolved.
Over the last decade many donor agencies and local NGOs have been assisting in establishing community mediation services as an effective alternative dispute resolution mechanism in different localities in Nepal and Mediation Act, which legally recognizes Community Mediation for local dispute management, has already passed the parliament in April 2011 (though it is yet to be enacted) to open the path for Community Mediation to be introduced in more communities and eventually institutionalized across the country.
Curiously this pattern is also reflected in Community Mediation. The disputants, who are either neighbors or family members, revisit their past and explore their futures together when resolving a dispute at hand by a multiple "package" agreement which addresses issues in the past, present and future. The disputants realize that it is the only
way to resolve a conflict between the two in a truly sustainable way.
Isn't there a parallel in national political consensus building where all parties are actually on the same boat and have to coexist with each other?
Next time there is a clash in the national politics, the experience of Community Mediation in the villages of Sindhuli and Mahottari may offer an inspiration for creating a win-win scenario and rebuilding a harmonious relationship for the betterment of all.
Stability for growth
Interview with the new Japanese ambassador to Nepal Kunio Takahashi.