Ram Prasad Bhattarai (RB), President of the Nepal Mediators Society (NEMS) was interviewed by Anna Milovanovic-Fazliu (AMF), Communications & Operations Manager of MBBI, on 30 August 2016. Initial interviews took place with MBBI Nepal Project Team Leaders: Ross Madden (RM), Badri Bhandari (BB) and Alise Halbert on 24 August 2016. Responses have been shortened.
The Nepal Mediators Society (NEMS) is a non-governmental organization established on 20 September 2006 with a view to promote peaceful settlement of disputes through mediation. The society has nearly 200 trained mediators—among them: judges, lawyers, court officials, court mediators, those associated with the Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industries (FNCI), as well as social activists.
AMF: What is NEMS currently working on?
RB: On 14 April 2014, the Nepal Mediation Act [henceforth, “the Act”] was enacted—after having been passed by parliament nearly two years prior. Prior to the passing of the Act, NGOs worked for more than ten years on community mediation, but their work and settlements had no legal binding on the parties. Previously, court rules only worked in courts. The Act now includes community and commercial law. The Act is detailed and the challenge of NEMS is to implement it— by informing individuals, disputing parties and lawyers of their rights through awareness campaigns. Interaction’s program works among stakeholders on the progress of the Act and how in future, mediators can cooperate with courts, the community and commercial field.
With limited resources, NEMS members have visited two districts (Sindhupalchok & Kavre Palachok) that were severely affected by the April 2015 earthquake. In those districts, consisting of six villages and two urban areas, nearly 200 participants attended the mediation awareness campaign. The villagers learned a lot about mediation and were committed to conveying this message to other villagers. NEMS members discussed how the new law works, what rights citizens have, and what type of disputes could be settled by it.
The Supreme Court of Nepal has 24,000 pending cases and nearly sixty percent of these can be resolved through mediation. NEMS works with court officials and judges who send more than 300 cases per year to mediation [to encourage more cases to be brought to mediation]. Nearly twenty-percent of those cases have succeeded with a settlement. In district courts, there are more than 100 thousand pending cases and 50,000 pending cases in the 16 appellate courts.
AMF: What is the government’s approach to mediation in Nepal?
RM: Nepal has a rich history with community-based mediation. John Paul Lederach has had a significant influence on this, but not as much on the court-based system. Community mediation, through limited resources that are limited to villages only, has been successful and the deepest social changes have occurred in those areas. Community mediation is a voluntary process, and needs regular funding from donor agencies for continuity. The MacDonald Foundation worked in Nepal for 20 years on how to institute this. There are federal statutory regulations on mediation—the Mediation Act of 2011, on legal settlements of disputes. Disputes are referred to mediation—settlement is low for court referred cases, but quite high for community-based mediation cases.
BB: After 12 years of insurgency, the monarchy ended through dialogue. A power-sharing system was set up with the Maoist insurgents in 2006/2008 and a Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction was set up. Hundreds of agreements have been reached. It has been understood that experience can be shared where there is no conflict and war.
AMF: What have NEMS and MBBI’s Nepal Project partnered on?
RB: The MBBI team visited Nepal several times and last visit was in 2013. The Second National Conference of Mediators brought together 300 participants including Supreme Court Judges, lawyers and affected parties from Nepal to discuss common challenges. The 1st and 2nd National conferences were inaugurated by the Hon. Chief Justice of Supreme Court. MBBI’s team from presented papers at the 2nd National Conference, where it conducted basic and advanced training and interaction program research work. However, both MBBI and NEMS are nonprofits and are very limited by their [financial] resources.
RM: Combined projects have included: 3 events, 2 trainings and one national conference; and assessment with the former Chief Justice; and a 1-day community dialogue in Lumbini (the birthplace of the Buddha).
AMF: What is the effect of the earthquake and following natural disasters on mediation?
RB: So many died in the earthquake, so many were displaced; there are problems, psychological, physical, mental, financial; as well as strains on education, health, insurance and land—within the affected communities. NEMS has visited six villages and two urban areas as well as one district and five villages in another badly affected by the earthquake—and managed to contact people about finding amicable settlements through mediation. Participants in the remote areas shared their feelings, and new challenges. NEMS convinced them that there are mediation tools they can apply to their situations and they can settle their problems through mediation and among mediators.
AMF: What is MBBI’s Nepal team working on next?
RM: Since MBBI was unable to return to Nepal as planned when the earthquake struck, the team seeks to follow up on its 2013 goals by conducting refresher trainings in Pokhara in 2017. The MBBI team can assist trauma counselling efforts in villages—but it may take a long time before results are visible.
Since 2013, the referral rate of cases to the Supreme Court Mediation Center is currently below 3.4% and of these cases, 20-22% settle in mediation. Ross and Badri were in conversations with the Supreme Court about how to increase the settlement rate from 22% to 50% in five years but that project has stalled because of political and structural considerations within the court system. NEMS aims to make the case for mediation so that judges refer increasingly more cases to mediation for a positive outcome.
Over the next 3-5 years MBBI will conduct exit surveys and provide questionnaires to be distributed by the Supreme Court Mediation Center. MBBI will offer training and forums for information sharing among practicing mediators with NEMS and other key stakeholders.
Mediation remains a voluntary profession in Nepal. Only if a case is resolved in mediation, then both sides pay 10,000 Nepalese Rupees (approximately USD $125) to the mediator.
MBBI and NEMS share common goals—to seek where they will be most effective with limited resources.