Resolving conflicts through mediation in Honduras
Martha kept her savings in a jewellery box next to her bed in her home in the city of Tela, Honduras. One night, her nephew Antonio snuck into her room and took the money without telling her. The next day, Martha realized the money was gone. When she saw Antonio riding a new motorcycle, she accused him of theft and told his father what had happened.
Looking for help, the young man’s father went to the closest community mediation site, known as Puntos de Convivencia Comunitaria (Community Coexistence Points). There, a community leader trained in mediation welcomed them, called in both parties and began the process of conflict resolution
Antonio apologized to his aunt, proposed selling the bike and returning the money he’d taken, and offered economic support after he got a job. Martha accepted the apology and put an end to the family’s acrimony.
- The programme contributes to the peaceful resolution of citizens’ problems, without the need to go to court.
- More than 5,500 conflicts have been addressed in five communities and more than 97 percent resolved in the region of La Ceiba.
- Some 500 people have been trained in community mediation and conflict resolution.
The Puntos de Convivencia Comunitaria are part of a UNDP initiative with funding from the Spanish cooperation agency (AECID), the Swiss cooperation agency (SIDA) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The goal is to foster a culture of peace and contribute to harmonious coexistence in municipalities with high rates of violence.
So far 5,546 conflicts have been addressed in five communities. A particular milestone was reached in the northern area of La Ceiba, where last year a satisfactory agreement was reached in 97 percent of mediated cases.
This community strategy is grounded in the Comprehensive Citizen Coexistence and Security Policy (2011-2022), which lays out the need to promote alternative mechanisms for peaceful conflict resolution. Under municipalities’ justice departments, Mediation and Conciliation Units have been set up, which are responsible for the Puntos de Convivencia Comunitaria located in the communities.
According to Ricardo Herrera, a mediation expert with UNDP Honduras, “mediation is the opportunity to re-knit, repair and restore human interactions through dialogue and respect for differences. Conflicts are constantly developing, and if not addressed, they can intensify and spread, which can eventually lead to violence.”
With specialized workshops, close to 400 people from different communities, including rural and indigenous areas, have been trained in community mediation. Another 100 people, mostly municipal employees, have taken a certification course in conflict mediation and conciliation, backed by UNDP.
Hugo Contreras, mediator in the community of Chamelecón, in the northern city of San Pedro Sula, says, “I’m happy to be an option in people’s lives. I feel good because they choose to resolve their conflicts through mediation instead of waiting for the conflict to escalate to the point where it becomes necessary to go to court with a lawyer. People know that if they come to me in time, they can save themselves a lot of trouble. I’m convinced that mediators are a viable option, since we are trained to serve.”
Many countries in Latin America and elsewhere are implementing conflict prevention and management mechanisms, including community mediation and dialogue. These strategies have been used in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, Panama, Peru and Venezuela, as well as in African and Asian countries. These tools have enabled governments to reach agreement on public policies and national plans, address conflicts with indigenous peoples and even to resolve conflicts over mining.
In Honduras, the project faces challenges: improving record keeping; following up on the work that communities, local governments and international cooperation agencies are doing together to decrease conflict in the country; and fostering spaces that are more inclusive and participatory. But with community involvement, mediation is emerging as a viable option to resolve conflict and strengthen social cohesion.
“I knew I had to be very neutral,” Hugo says. “This mediation between neighbours had such an impact on the community that it built all the trust that we needed from the people, to the point that since then, they trust the mediation process.”