Mediation as a form of alternative dispute resolution and a culture has been establishing itself in one way or another across the world in the last half a century. It is believed to be routed in ancient times, applied in a whole range of conflicts throughout history and developed into a supported by many governments, independent profession in the modern day and age. In the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries mediation is a relatively new concept. For example, in Belarus it was first introduced by German mediators in 2007.
The exciting journey for the first Belarussian mediators had begun from the first training seminars and learning about mediation in Germany. Since then an enormous amount of work was done by the mediators to promote mediation on all levels, to raise awareness nationally, to develop best possible training, to set standards and stimulate legal recognition. Just a few years later, in 2011-2012, a first pilot project for the use of mediation in commercial and other disputes was run.
The results of the project proved the effectiveness of mediation and were most positive: out of the 116 disputes, 52 per cent were resolved with an agreement signed; 92 percent of the agreements were executed voluntarily. The findings and the outcomes of the project helped to accelerate the development of the Belarus Law on Mediation, which came into force on the 25th of January 2014. Further to this, the Ministry of Justice of Belarus and the Ministers Council introduced 5 law amendments for using mediation and approved the Rules for Mediation and Rules for Professional Ethics, which all provide legal framework for mediation in Belarus. The project had also provided a fantastic opportunity for Belarussian mediators to practice mediation and gain inspiration for pushing the development of the profession in their country further.
Nowadays mediation is firstly seen as an ADR form for court cases and an ‘in-court’ model of mediation is promoted. Mediation practice is seen as ‘non-commercial’ and in order to become a mediator, an individual should achieve a Certificate of a mediator by Ministry of Justice. The foundation course is 140 hours long for lawyers and 170 hours for those without legal background. There are currently three national mediation centres in the country, which are approved by the government to train mediators, and so far 108 Belarussian mediators had qualified there.
Interestingly, despite the supportive legislation and availability of qualified mediators, for one reason or another, the courts refused to use mediators for dispute resolution in court cases. There was a clear need for further action that would attract more attention to mediation, create an arena for addressing the obstacles and defining the potential for mediation in Belarus. This was the idea behind the “First Republican Mediation Forum”, which took place in Minsk on the 15th of October 2014 and the “Week of Mediation” also organised last month.
The concept of the “Week of mediation” and the Forum belongs to the Centre for Mediation and Negotiation – a non-commercial organisation, which was created in 2012 in order to promote mediation in Belarus. The Centre’s idea was further supported by the Republic’s College of Lawyers. Together they became the main organisers of all events, which were part of the “Week of mediation”.
Prior to the events there was a significant distribution of information about mediation, including a number of newspaper articles, radio and TV interviews. High volume of printed material was sent out to all parts of the country. One of the capital’s courts had started a pilot project for resolving the cases that were ‘stuck’ at the court for over a year. 40 mediations were provided to the court on voluntary basis and 12 disputes were resolved with a mediation agreement signed. Around 10 more disputes are currently in mediation. In different cities across Belarus other mediators volunteered their time and conducted mediation under the “Open doors” initiative.
The Mediation Forum was the central event of the “Week of mediation”. Over 160 people took part in the Forum, including representatives of the President’s Administration, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Labour and Social Protection, representatives of the Parliament. The plenary session consisted of two parts. During the first part of the session the Supreme Court had stated that the current legislation does not provide support for an effective multidisciplinary approach in conflict resolution, there is a range of unresolved issues, for example, in relation to mediators’ being paid for mediating court cases. As the result of this open discussion it was decided that further proposals for changing the current legislation on mediation will be developed.
The second part of the Forum was dedicated to sharing knowledge about the development of mediation in other countries. Specially invited experts such as Sarah Gonzales (USA), Bill Marsh (United Kingdom) and Alexander Karpenko (Russia) delivered their speeches about the specifics of mediation development in their countries, followed by their workshops.
As the Forum came to an end, the “Week of mediation” was still on. On the 16th of October Bill Marsh had presented two seminars, for the judges of Belarus – talking about the possible models of cooperation between the courts and the mediators, and for the representatives of the Ministry of Justice about the possible ways the Ministry may aid the promotion of mediation. Both seminars were valued very highly by the participants. There were dozens of questions raised and answered by the expert.
The “Week of mediation” was concluded by Bill Marsh’s two-day training course on commercial mediation. The course was attended by mediators from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Belarus. No less inspiring was another outcome of the “Week of mediation” initiative – there were 4 partnership agreements signed between mediators from the CIS countries.
By organising the “Week of mediation” the Belarussian mediators had succeeded in drawing attention from the government to the need for developing current legislation, promoting mediation and improving the standards for mediation and quality of mediation training. They are taking initiative in developing their own proposals for the Ministry of Justice in the near future and stimulating further collaborative work with other government agencies.
Mediators in Belarus are carving out their unique way for the mediator profession and give the most inspiring example to colleagues in surrounding countries where traditionally all conflicts are resolved from the position of higher authority and power.
Written by: Liliya Vlasova (doctor of law, mediator, founder of the Centre for Mediation and Negotiation) and Jen Rumble (family mediator, JR Family Mediation, UK).