The Asia Foundation has now extended its community mediation boards to North and East Sri Lanka, which were otherwise inaccessible due to ongoing wars.
Today, 13 boards are active in Jaffna District and 39 boards in Trincomalee, Batticaloa, and Ampara Districts, with over 600 mediators trained on interest-based mediation to serve communities in these areas.
Sri Lanka's mediation boards were initiated in 1990 as an alternative form of dispute resolution, providing accessible, timely and affordable justice by settling disputes between individuals, families, and small groups.
‘Restoring workable avenues for citizens to resolve personal conflicts and seek redress is badly needed in the Northern and Eastern Provinces where the justice system was impaired as a result of the armed conflict. Disputes between individuals, if not addressed and effectively resolved, can simmer and escalate into wider conflict that further divides communities’, said the Asian Foundation report.
The community mediation boards are one of the longest running programmes of assistance in Sri Lanka and are supported by the Asia Foundation, USAid, and the British High Commission. The project has helped train and support voluntary mediators from their communities.
‘Mediators are drawn from a diverse disciplines and backgrounds and include teachers, engineers, surveyors, native physicians, government servants and clergy. The only criteria for selection are that they should be respected members of their community and possess the necessary qualities to be a skilful mediator’, highlighted Kamalini De Silva, Additional Secretary for the Ministry of Justice
One example of success has been that of Nalina. Her story is:
Nalina and her son lived on a small land with some fruit trees. When a business man (Sivam) built a house next door, Nalina’s trees were damaged. As a result she refused to give workman access to the building. After 7 months of stalemate, a mediation team were called in. After initially refusing to even sit next to each other, Sivam and Nalina, came to an agreement with Sivam accepting damages and loss of earnings to Nalina. Sivam as compensation built her a kitchenette and was allowed to finish his building next door.
The Asia Foundation have claimed that successful outcomes such as Nalinas’ occur because of: the extraordinary level of government commitment, the passion with which the officials at the Ministry of Justice drive and nurture the programme, the commitment of the people who serve voluntarily as mediators, the comprehensive training process, and the independent Mediation Boards Commission that ensures proper management of the programme.
The low cost of mediation is a key factor to its success. A.K.D.D.D. Arandara, the assistant secretary of the Ministry of Justice has highlighted that, ‘for a disputant the total cost is only the cost of the 5 rupees stamp for the application form. For the government, the cost works out to about 520 Rupees ($5 US) per dispute – a tiny fraction of the cost of even the simplest court case’.
Currently there are over 300 settings for disputes (such as schools and community buildings), with more than 10,000 disputes handled by 7000 mediators each year. The project continues to succeed and has now been implemented as the model for other countries such as China, Mongolia and Nepal.
The Asia Foundation, which is a nonprofit international development organization committed to improving lives across a dynamic and developing Asia, hopes to continue to expand this project to support those that have less resources to hand, to help resolve conflict and promote unity in their communities.
‘For poorer people in our communities, the courts are simply unaffordable. Mediation is a free service. It gives these people access to a means of resolving their problems and, I believe, helps to create unity in society’, emphasised Ven. Pethigamuwa Rahula Thero (age 67 and mediator for 7 years).
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