Where are you mediation activists?

Florence de Vesvrotte
Former UKAid Lobbyst- MA International Relations – Human Rights, Political Economy and International Order

Mediating an exit out of violence and poverty

Almost 20 years ago, the ‘Ley Sobre Resolución Alterna de Conflictos y Promoción de la Paz Social ley número 7727 (Ley RAC)’ or legislation for the alternative resolution of conflicts, was being promulgated in Costa Rica to develop alternative methods to resolve conflicts such as mediation, arbitration, negotiation.

There has been tremendous progress in that area of work in recent years, in particular under the impulse of the past Government which initiated the creation of ‘Centro Cívicos’ or violence prevention centres around the country to provide young people with safe havens to find alternative to violence. These centres provide youth with a breathing space where they can disconnect from the reality of poverty and violence. They are staffed with mediators who try to encourage pacific dialogue over violence and empower young people to take ownership of their environment, building peace by themselves. We call this peer mediation. This works as these centres provide them with different opportunities through which they can find motivation, confidence, and see that they can exit the cycle of violence or poverty they might be in. As a result, they end up becoming peace builders and little by little spreading this culture of dialogue, communication, peace, and non-violent conflict management.

These places are incredibly important in difficult environments. And it is incredibly important that this be available as part of kids’ education. I read once from a famous book, a quote a journalist had heard from a kid in the Israeli-Palestine conflict. It said: ‘Fatah, we are your children, and, when we are older, we will be your soldiers’[1]. Violence is a cycle if we don’t break it. And whether that be in a deep entrenched conflict or a community suffering from less severe violence, the principles remain the same, kids must be given opportunities to see alternatives to violence.

Lack of resources, lack of commitment

But why is this conception an aside, why is it not part of the education program, why is there no more efforts to avoid having to use these centres at the first place. Generally speaking most governments invest a huge amount of money to tackle the impact of violence and poverty, whether that be by investing in the police or prisons or centre to re integrate prisoners.

Discussing with government officials in Costa Rica it is clear that it has been a crusade to get these above programs running at the first place. Why is it such a struggle to convince Governments that it is better to invest more in building a culture of peace than war or patching up the effect of war?

Barack Obama, when speaking about the riots in Baltimore, said: ‘If our society really wanted to solve the problem, we could. It is just that it would require everybody to say: this is important’[2]. Politicians answer to electoral pressure and in a sense I guess we are all guilty to not be pressurising them more to invest in peace and mediation. At the same time governments are here to protect, they too should invest in showing the electorate the benefit of alternatives to conflict. Either way, short termism must be overcome.

There is a lack, somewhere, of concern, of care, about building peaceful communities, countries, about the need to mediate conflicts, and be better at dialoguing. At the end of the day, this should not be something mainly charities provide, and for free. The ability to collaborate, cooperate, work and develop together, should be a priority, in all areas, for all Governments.

A need for mobilisation

There is a profound lack of activism among mediators and peace builders. Jim Melamed[3] puts it perfectly well for the US:

Our failure to come up with a reasonable and sustainable way to fund community mediation in the United States is nothing less than an embarrassment.  Are we saying that the most powerful and richest nation on earth can spend over a trillion dollars on a war that gets us no clear positive results, but cannot spend perhaps 50 million per year to adequately fund community dispute resolution throughout our land?  Our building one less B-2 bomber would allow us to fund community dispute resolution services in this country for more than 10 years.  What are our priorities as a nation?  Why are we not protesting in the streets about this?  Mediators need to become activists on so many fronts, but this does not come naturally to many “peacemakers.”  By our own inaction and our failure to create conflict regarding the dramatic under-funding of community mediation, we as mediators participate in and support this abomination.  If ever there were a smart investment for our country to make, it would be to elevate community mediation services to the respected place in our society that these programs so richly deserve.  I, for one, am tired of being quiet about this and encourage you to join me in shaking cages and challenging our political leaders on this critical issue.’

Whether that be in Costa Rica or elsewhere, mediators are all struggling for funds and support to do their work. And while NGOs and civil societies are fighting hard to get funding for their work, not enough is being done for mediation specifically, and the need to bridge gaps in between people and communities in conflict. Mediation must be better looked at, but it is for us to make its case.

We need many more advocates for mediation. We need an army of lobbyists for Governments to invest in effective peacebuilding, re-establishing dialogue among people. Because at the moment, this, does not exist.

[1] Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon, Robert Fisk

[2] http://whitehouse.tumblr.com/post/117619463313/if-our-society-really-wanted-to-solve-the

[3] Jim is an experienced and well known mediator, co-founder of mediate.com. You can find his profile here http://www.mediate.com/people/personprofile.cfm?auid=5

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