The Village Mediation Programme
‘Resolving conflict is rarely about who is right. It's about acknowledgement and appreciation of differences.' (Thomas Crumm)
What is mediation?
Mediation is a voluntary process of resolving disputes whereby a mediator helps disputants find a settlement which is acceptable and workable. Mediation allows people to decide how they would like to settle their problem and tries to help them reconcile. Village Mediators (VM) will not make any judgement or take a decision. The mediation process and the outcome belong to the disputants. It is important to understand three things about mediation:
1. It is voluntary. This means that disputants cannot be forced to agree to anything;
2. It is confidential. No one will talk about what anyone says or does in the mediation. A VM cannot be called as a witness in any other proceedings;
3. It is neutral. The VMs will not take a decision or make a judgement. Their interest is only that disputants reach a settlement which is acceptable and workable and achieves reconciliation. In addition, mediation is: (a) informal, (b) participatory, (c) local, and (d) free of charge.
What is the Village Mediation Programme?
The Village Mediation Programme (VMP) is a model of mediation established first in Africa by GJG practitioners working under the auspices of the Paralegal Advisory Services Institute (PASI) in Malawi. The VMP introduces a village-based diversion and mediation scheme that can assist poor and vulnerable people to access justice in civil and some minor criminal cases. The Programme is inspired by the Madaripur Mediation Model in Bangladesh and other village-based mediation programmes around the world.
The VMP provides mediation services to the community, by the community. Village-based mediators are trained in their local language how to manage disputes in their communities. In many countries in which the GJG works, legal systems are formal, complex, urban-based, time consuming and expensive. Therefore poor people, particularly the illiterate and the disadvantaged living in rural areas, cannot enforce their own rights and suffer injustice in silence.
The purpose of the VMP is to support existing dispute resolution mechanisms and to provide means for diverting suitable cases away from the formal justice system. In this way, the VMP will help to reduce case backlogs in the courts, divert offenders away from detention where appropriate and thus reduce overcrowding in prisons, provide quick settlement of matters so that they do not escalate, enhance access to justice for the poor and vulnerable, and contribute to better harmony in communities. Village Mediators are supported and given supplementary training on an ongoing basis by their teachers, supervisors and paralegals.
Sensitisation is a key part of VMP activity: villagers will be assisted in understanding that the VMP is available to them in their villages and how to access it; traditional leaders and the formal justice system will come to understand and appreciate how the VMP works to support them. The VMP is being implemented by Village Mediators (VMs) who live within the communities they are assisting. VMs have all been carefully selected,by the communities they serve, are trained and have attributes that win the confidence and trust of the people in their villages.
What are the benefits of mediation over other dispute resolution processes?
Mediation benefits villagers who cannot access the formal justice system or who want to avoid a difficult formal process:
- Mediation through the Village Mediation Programme is available locally, immediately and free of charge
- The VMs are known to the villagers, speak the same language, understand their needs and will work with the disputants in a familiar, informal environment
- Mediation respects local principles, cultural norms and values
- Mediation works to support the existing local dispute resolution mechanisms
- Mediation is participatory and empowering. The Mediator does not impose a decision on the disputants.
What are the results of the Village Mediation Programme?
Malawi is the country in which the VMP has been running the longest. In Malawi, it is being implemented in 350 villages in 14 Traditional Authorities (an administrative entity akin to the Commune in South East Asia) in seven districts.
As of August 2014 Village Mediators had handled a total of 8,355 cases. In 8,127 of those cases, the parties were able to reach a settlement. The 205 cases which could not be settled were referred to the appropriate authorities; the police (for minor criminal matters), a first instance court, or to the traditional chiefs (who serve more as arbitrators). The utility of the VMP is also illustrated by the number of cases referred to mediation by the various authorities. The police referred 338 cases to the VMP for mediation, diverting cases away from the criminal justice system. The busy Kanengo police station, for example, credits the VMP with a 25% drop in minor cases, opening up resources to handle more serious cases. The courts referred 232 cases to the VMP and the chiefs referred a total of 1,655 cases. This last number is highly significant, as it shows that chiefs appreciate that the VMP does not take any powers away from the chiefs.
Brenda Brainch is GJG's main resource person for the Village Mediation Programme. For further information, please download a information pamphlet about the Programme. You can also learn more about the VMP and other PASI initiatives on the PASI website at http://www.pasimalawi.org