Settling disputes amicably: How Mediation Boards can helpView(s):
In a society where violence against women has become a troubling concern, there is a lack of awareness among women as to some of the key underlying issues: what is violence against women? What are the consequences? What are ways to prevent it? What are the legal procedures? What is the correct place to direct this question?
Another issue for many women when facing such concerns is maintaining privacy.
Every woman has the right to her own life, and the right to equality and freedom, under the full protection of the law, without any discrimination. This is where Mediation Boards are beneficial for women who have found it difficult to access the formal justice system.
The first Community Mediation Boards (CMBs) were established in Sri Lanka in 1990, as per the Mediation Boards Act (No. 72/1988). This was approved with the intention of having key members of society play a role in settling disputes between individuals (including minor criminal offences, civil, land, and debt issues) in an unbiased manner.
With policy oversight and administrative support from the Ministry of Justice, the National Mediation Programme of Sri Lanka is currently led by the Mediation Boards Commission (MBC) and supported by well-trained volunteer mediators across the island.
The Mediation Board Act No.72 of 1988 defines ‘Mediation’ as follows:
“Mediation, as a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), is a course of actions taken to bring about an amicable settlement between the disputants by regular means, with their consent, and whenever practicable, removing the real cause of the grievance to prevent recurrence of the dispute of concern.”
The main objective of setting up Community Mediation Boards (CMBs) across Sri Lanka is to reduce the escalation of local conflicts. This is done by providing the necessary facilities and attaining volunteer-based efforts to focus on resolving disputes at a grassroots level – ensuring that peace and harmony among communities are maintained.
Community Mediation Boards (CMBs) are based around Divisional Secretariat offices located all over the island. The services provided by CMBs are very important especially for women and marginalised communities.
Under the National Mediation Programme, various disputes and minor offences are often referred to the closest CMB. The chairperson will appoint a Mediation Board with the consent of both parties consisting of three mediators to discuss the relevant issue or dispute. The complainant initiating the dispute is considered as the first party, and the other is considered the second party. Through this mediation process, the relevant dispute is discussed between these two parties, while the three mediators facilitate – making them the third party.
During the process, if one party is a woman and has difficulty in presenting her problem, she is allowed to ask for at least one woman mediator to be present. Additionally, if the problem cannot be stated directly in one session, it can always be presented later.
It is importantly, an inexpensive option. If a complaint is made through the police or the court, and referred for mediation, then the service will be completely free of charge. In any other case, it would cost Rs 5.
A unique feature of the mediation process is the ability for parties to present their disputes by themselves, unlike in a public court of law, where cases are presented by representatives. This allows people to give life to their grievances and express their feelings in front of the Mediation Board.
In terms of privacy anyone can submit their issues to the Mediation Board in confidence. The level of confidentiality is high as the Mediation Board is legally barred from presenting personal statements to a court of law as evidence.
Mediators are typically nominated by the Divisional Secretary or Chairperson of the specific Mediation Board, or nominated by non-government or political organisations, religious leaders, school principals or government officials. They are selected through an interview process and undergo 40 hours of training in mediation techniques and skills.
Mediators seek to understand power imbalances between disputing parties and focus on creating equal power between disputants, as a basis for an effective settlement of a dispute.
Unlike in the adversarial formal court system, the role of the mediator is not to solve the dispute, but rather to help disputants find a win-win solution acceptable to both parties, without deciding who is right or wrong.
For more information about the Community Mediation Board in your area, reach out to your nearest Divisional Secretariat, Gramaseva Niladhari Office or even through the Mediation Boards Commission.
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