Process of Mediation

INTERVIEW, 7 Feb 2011

Jordi Palou Loverdós – Letter of Peace

To what extent is the process of mediation an innovation?

It is true that the use of mediation in conflicts is now presented as a new instrument, mainly because in the last thirty or forty years it has been used in the Anglo-Saxon world, where people are very good at presenting things as if they were new. However, we must point out its existence, for example in ancient Chinese texts, where mediation was used in all kinds of conflicts. This is also true of many cultures from the North, South East and West of the planet, where mediation was formerly used theoretically and practically. Therefore that which is now presented as an innovation is the fact that since establishing it as a formal instrument, some societies, and particularly ours, are beginning to regulate and legislate processes of mediation in order to ensure that processes between two or more parties who decide to submit themselves or accompany processes of mediation has ever increasing social and judicial impact. The good deeds of third parties who attempt to accompany the other parties in their conflict process and facilitate communication, and where applicable, an agreement between them, is as old as humanity itself.

Do you have any experience of governmental mediation, within governments or countries? What was the outcome of these processes?

Until very recently inter-state or national conflict mediation was exclusively dealt with by diplomats, people who represent the power of the states. A monarch would offer their services to the two states who were at war or engaged in conflict in order to mediate their dispute. In other words, only diplomats, who understood the politics of the underlying interests of each person, and above all each state involved in the conflict, were given the power to enter into this process.

In the last twenty years professionals or mediators belonging to civil society have put forward different initiatives and proposals to intervene in international or intrastate conflicts or conflicts between different communities within the same state.

How does a state go about requesting a process of mediation?

In the case of Rwanda and the Congo, the country did not request intervention; instead it was initiated by civil society. The Rwandan people requested it, and particularly in this case, this was after a number of episodes of war in different territories. Therefore it is not requested before war breaks out but rather after war has already been suffered. Many of those who enter into this process are refugees, and hence are outside their country. They are worried about what is happening in their country and above all want to prevent others from experiencing the same suffering they have and therefore decide to instigate these processes of facilitation.

This initiative has gained strength qualitatively and quantitatively, at the beginning only members of civil society were involved, basically refugees, whereas more and more people from Rwanda have joined, including politicians and even ex-presidents. Two ex-presidents of the Republic, a number of ex-ministers and ex-ambassadors belonging to the two main sides have all taken part in the process. There is still a long road to travel in order to get where they want to go- because the process is not complete- in recent resolutions they have requested the celebration of what is called a national dialogue or a highly inclusive dialogue, where they consider that in order to effect a transition current power must be settled. In this case power is oriented from the bottom up.

How can resentments be dealt with in mediation processes?

There are many cases where repetitive cycles of violence arise due to unresolved past issues. By starting from the bottom and working up the levels, the inter-Rwandan dialogue process, has made it much more viable to deal with this because it is so enmeshed with history and the education given by elders to children, particularly in countries such as this one with a strong oral culture. Here history is not written down in books. Instead it is passed on from one generation to the next, and, this repetition means that people are very aware of century-old history.

This is a key focal point in the dialogue sessions. They consider that in looking to the future there must be as a high a degree of consensus as possible on the way the past is transmitted in terms of how negative or conflictive elements are explained, as well as the positive things that have united the different ethnic communities, the Hutus, Tutsis and Twas, who make up the three main communities in Rwanda.

One basic consideration in working out how to undo this knot is recognising that there are other issues a part from the ethnic question that divide or unite people. There are other differences that are completely unrelated to ethnicity and which are often not dealt with, such as regional issues, for example between the north and the south of Rwanda. By talking openly about the reality of these differences, the things that separate and unite people have a transformative effect all of their own.

If civil society can be a driving force and cause people to talk to each other within these terms and recognise these terms, then people’s story about the past, upon which resentments are built, changes completely.

The Letter of Peace addressed to the UN also refers to the need to build communities on solid foundations that are free from resentments. How then, can a set of resentments be disarmed in certain conflicts?

In these longstanding, generation-old complex circumstances the mediator will firstly try to reveal everything that is being hidden, try to understand the dynamic that has lasted for generations and the current situation. Based upon this they must produce gestures towards mutual recognition. Forming an understanding of the current situation, where it originates from and how it affects us, gives way to mutual recognition and from this point certain structures can be used to dilute and certain structures can be used to create and build again.

The main aim and the main difficulty of al these conflicts is this: we’ve seen it in the Basque conflict, we’ve seen it in the conflict in Northern Ireland and we’ve seen it in South Africa, leaders take a series of decisions but then have to get civil society on board.

Nelson Mandela acted in a very interesting way in order to manifest this reconciliation- this new structure- from the very moment he took leadership of the country’s new phase. His first response could have been to “eliminate” the exploitative whites from all positions of power, but he was intelligent enough to incorporate them into key positions within the governments political direction, within its private security, and thus drew them into his team and made it clear to South African people how it was possible to live and work with old adversaries in order to work for the good of everyone.

And what about providing compensation for the damage people suffered? another issue touched on in the Letter of Peace.

A term that encompasses many things and includes different forms of compensation has become very popular: the term is transitional justice, and it refers to ways of treating violent conflicts in parallel, complimentary or simultaneous ways. A very important aspect of transitional justice, of moving from a dictatorial state to a desired democratic state, is applying different forms of reparation.

Symbolic compensation is very important; it is so connected with victim’s memory, the recognition of all victims, etc., revealing hidden truths in violent conflict. This can give way to symbolic recognition, statues, memorials, celebrations, days dedicated to celebrating victims, etc. where everyone feels they are given the opportunity to be recognised. And we could go on with this process of intense acknowledgment to recognise not just symbolically, but also to effect material recognition, material compensation, whether this be on an individual or community level. The latter possibility implies different modes of material compensation that should be established in the different Peace Agreements or transactional agreements that put an end to violent and/ or armed conflicts: the economic compensation of personal (physical or moral) damages, the economic compensation of communities that have been directly or indirectly affected by the conflict by building a school or a hospital, to reimburse local means of production that have been destroyed, etc, in order to heal people and care for children and widows and widowers, and the elderly and the most vulnerable members of society; this benefits the community and provides support for the victims. Those who were responsible for causing the violent conflict should invest at least the same amount of economic and human resources in building peace as they did in the war in order to help individuals and their communities. And we know that this doesn’t happen spontaneously: if all aspects of mutual recognition are tended to, compensation, respecting rights and obligations and transforming people, communities and humanity as a whole, then people can start to explore new and surprising horizons.


Jordi Palou Loverdós: Lawyer, conflict mediator and harmony coach. Palou works with Irma Rognoni at the Aequitas Centre in Barcelona carrying out mediation within families and organisations as well as dealing with conflicts that involve communities, peoples, states and nations. He was a conscientious objector to military service and, with the support of many other members of the peace movement, successfully led an act of civil disobedience at the tribunals, which culminated in the suppression of obligatory military service in Spain. He has been working to promote fundamental human rights nationally and internationally for more than twenty years. He is one of a very few lawyers in the world authorized to act before the International Criminal Court (in the Hague).

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