The Inaugural Asian Mediation Association Conference wrapped up yesterday in Singapore . . . and the next one will be in Malaysia, hosted by the Malaysian Mediation Centre in Kuala Lumpur in February 2011. Mark it in the diary.
This one brought in around 300 participants from 20 nations, from Australia to Venezuela (and the folks from Venezuela reminding us that the 7th World Mediation Forum will take place from 27th to 29th November this year, on Isla de Margarita. Main themes will be “Mediation, Justice and Governance.” Contact Dra. Nelly Cuenca de Ramirez, firstname.lastname@example.org
The mediation / justice / governance linkage for that conference is a good point of connection with the AMA Congress – though this wasn’t the theme or focus, However, the highlight – and keynote – was the address by former President Martti Ahtisaari, 2008 Nobel Peace Laureate, who drew those important connections. His key lessons from Namibia, Aceh etc:
- political participation – the mediation process is also part of negotiating ongoing political engagement, and the necessary shifts (for example the formation and inclusion of regional political parties in Aceh);
- economy – mediation doesn’t take place in a vacuum and, at least in these highly contested settings, needs to address issues of distribution and economic justice;
- human rights – tricky one, especially in the ASEAN region, though the new Charter gives space for human rights mechanisms, yet to be implemented (likewise in Aceh – it’s in the agreement, but yet to be established);
- amnesty and reintegration – dealing with the former ‘rebels’ or fighters; how to address issues of the availability of arms;
- security – through demobilisation of troops, agreement on ongoing security arrangements;
- monitoring the peace – creating mechanisms, including external observers (trust, but don’t trust naively . . . );
- dispute settlement – establish processes for ongoing resolution
At the heart of this for me – the importance of linking social and economic development to conflict mitigation. This also came up in various conference conversations – though not, as you’d expect, in sessions on international arbitration, or the more process-oriented sessions.
And of course the perennial theme and question – how to reconcile or balance peace and justice – knowing that, in the end-of-conflict processes, one can too readily be sacrificed to the other, as in peace and reconciliation processes that address goals of amnesty and narrative but not necessarily of accountability and impunity.
A few other key take home points for me:
- the importance of discovering and redefining the Asian “voice” in mediation and dispute settlement, recognising that mediation is the ancient and traditional process in much of the region, but has been re-imported in Western mode in the last decade, though not yet taking complete root;
- nevertheless, considerable enthusiasm for and experience in mediation, especially in the member countries of AMA: Singapore, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Hong Kong;
- recognition (as was picked up in later conference sessions) of variations in perceptions and preferences on elements such as mediator authority, role and level of activism of mediator, levels of formality, tools of face saving, styles of communication; representation and participation (who needs to be there at the mediation table will vary according to cultural preferences);
- and of course the risk of over-ascribing weight and value to culture;
- and the value of empirical research on mediation (everyone needs to read Jacob Bercovitch’s work on this, especially in the international mediation arena to get an insight into the variables that impact on the efficacy of mediation) – the empirical work is a counterbalance to the enthusiasm and commitment that have marked the recent history of mediation;
- plus the great value in meeting such a range of mediators, from the arbitrators who increasingly use and prefer mediation, to the dyed-in-the-wool commercial mediators, to the community and family mediators . . . .
But – it’s clear that, if mediation can, in the hands of a Martti Ahtisaari, deal with intense and enduring conflicts, mediation itself is not without its boundary disputes:
- the familiar facilitative / evaluative / transformative preferences – though this was really only mentioned in passing (maybe we’re over that particular boundary skirmish);
- the new hot button topic – whether mediation conducted entirely by caucusing really is mediation, or is it something else; is there a core principle or process which defines mediation in terms of the essential element of bringing the parties together (albeit with plenty of use of caucuses); are mediators who don’t use joint sessions in some way diminishing mediation . . . See Geoff Sharp’s provocations on this: http://mediatorblahblah.blogspot.com/.
- culture . . . do we fall into the “attribution error” of granting too much or too little weight to culture (read Amartya Sen on Identity and Violence on this, and especially on the risks of ‘singular affiliations’).