Creating alternative mechanisms of dispute resolution to prevent the involvement of the police, who are potential abusers.

As an alternative to the criminal justice system, the Centre for Victims of Torture (CVICT) in Nepal has created a process of community mediation. This process keeps some people from being needlessly arrested and brought to police stations, where 60 percent of prisoners are tortured into giving confessions.

CVICT conducted research on what types of disputes were occurring, then developed a training course for com­munity leaders, including women and Dalits (of the untouchable caste), on settling disputes with a rights-based community mediation method. Community mediation is available for disputes other than violent crimes and to everyone, regardless of age, sex, class or social caste. The mediation process reduces the number of arrests. In the first year, two-thirds of cases were resolved through mediation while one-third went to the police and the courts. CVICT’s community mediation project has been able to resolve a large number of local disputes, create awareness about human rights, and reduce conflict within families and between neighbors.

To recruit trainers, CVICT held mass meetings in each community and asked for nominations. The trainers were then trained in human rights, local laws and methods of handling disputes. Many who were already involved in mediating disputes could build on their existing skills. These trainers then trained others at the local level.

These people make up committees that mediate disputes at the local level. Each committee is made up of at least 30 percent women and has at least one representative from the community’s ethnic minorities. The steps and rules in the mediation process are very clear, beginning with a request for mediation and involving self-represen­tation for both parties.

During the mediation session, five to nine trained mediators are placed between the parties of the dispute, who can also bring others to support them. The mediation committee explains the structure of the mediation process and the parties and their supporters each state their case. The mediators then involve the parties in a discussion of possible options for agreement. In general, the solutions emerge this way, from the parties in conflict and the community. However, the mediators are also empowered to decide that further investigation or legal action is necessary. The mediator can decide to file a case on behalf of one of the parties, which has resulted in the wealthy being willing to engage in the process. The tactic also greatly fosters leadership roles among women and increases their access to justice.

In the three districts that have implemented it, the mediation system is improving access to justice and the dynam­ics of power. CVICT began its work with "Human Rights and Mediation Committees (HRMCs) in 2001. The tactic was then adapted for the creation of Women Peace Committees (WPCs) run by women. These enable women to raise issues they feel uncomfortable sharing in mixed company. In the 3 districts, there are 90 HRMCs and 90 WPCS at the Village Development Committee level and 810 HRMCs at the ward level. Out of 1,273 disputes, 964 were successfully settled by WPCs. In addition, legal aid was provided to 24 women to pursue 28 cases in the formal court system. From 2001 - 2006, both committee types have successfully settled 3,107 cases out of a total of 3,939 community level disputes.

Additional evidence of the success of the HMRCs and WPCs has been the allocation of annual funds by the government’s Village Development Committees, providing vital sustainability funding. In addition, positive responses have come from the police and requests from other Village Development Committees to institute the program. CVICT was planning to expand the project to twelve districts, where one-third of the country’s population will have access to it.

For more information on this tactic, read our in-depth case study.

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What we can learn from this tactic: 

This tactic arises from the idea that we can keep people out of police stations — and thus out of danger of being tortured — by mediating conflicts outside of the court system.

Torture in many countries is used in police stations as an "interrogation tool", creating torture victims and forcing people to confess to crimes they did not commit. That is why, in this case, mediation is an effective way of preventing torture by keeping people out of police stations. This tactic also has other significant benefits: It provides an opportunity to bring and resolve complaints against each other, and particularly situations that involve class (poor in relation to the wealthy), gender and other situations of discrimination (race, caste, etc). Additional benefits of the tactic are that it uses a human rights framework - for communities to know, understand and exercise their rights. The tactic also expands leadership roles within communities, for men and women, to serve as mediators.