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Library Mediating forest conflicts in South East Asia: Getting the positive out of conflicts over forests and land

Mediating forest conflicts in South East Asia: Getting the positive out of conflicts over forests and land

Mediating forest conflicts in South East Asia: Getting the positive out of conflicts over forests and land

Resource information

Date of publication
November 2013
Resource Language
ISBN / Resource ID

Executive summary: "The high incidence of forest conflict in Southeast Asia underscores the need for conflict-transformation tools to maximize
the positive impacts and reduce potential damage. Mediation is considered one of the most effective approaches in
transforming conflict over natural resources. Mediation is often chosen when negotiation between conflict parties fails due
to the complexity and intensity of the conflict and because of unequal negotiating power. It is also chosen when the judicial
process is considered too complex and requires higher transaction costs.
This issues paper is based on analysis of six conflict mediation cases in three countries in Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Indonesia
and Thailand). The study aimed to increase the understanding of how mediation has been applied in transforming forest
conflicts, including what factors led to the success and the challenges encountered. The paper also provides suggestions on
how mediation, as an approach for conflict transformation, can be strengthened in Southeast Asia.
The findings of the study indicate that mediation was crucial in transforming the six forest and land conflicts. It facilitated
the creation of an environment conducive for multi-stakeholder dialogue, built trust among conflict parties and instilled
problem-solving capacity of the conflict parties. Mediation brought out several positive outcomes for the conflict parties
beyond just the settlement of the conflict: It improved mutual understanding and respect, fostered better social relations
and long-term cooperation and increased the parties’ capacity to find sustainable solutions to conflict. The impacts from the
six cases are categorized from economic, environmental and social points of view, with the social outcomes considered the
most notable impact of the mediation experience.
The study also found that mediation can be applied in various types of forest and land conflicts that involved different actors,
issues and at varying levels of intensity. Five of the mediation cases studied involved communities in conflict with external
actors (plantation companies, mining companies and protected area authority); the sixth case involved a conflict between
communities. In terms of conflict intensity, the cases were of medium to high intensity.
The success of the mediation process in the six cases hinged, to a large extent, on the commitment, participation and trust
of all the conflict parties to the mediation as well as the skills and competence of the mediators. The achievement of the
agreements, for example, was largely possible because the mediators possessed the right skills, knowledge and personality
traits needed for mediating the conflict. In achieving their mediation objectives, those mediators worked as a team and
performed several roles, including process facilitator, communication facilitator, advisor, capacity developer and resource
Although the six cases studied followed a general mediation process, the approaches and type of mediation used varied,
depending on the dynamics and context of the conflict. There did not seem to be a one-size-fits-all approach. However, there
are principles governing the mediation process that were apparent across all the case studies, including the participatory
nature of the process, capacity development, restoration of relationships and communication.
Despite mediation’s important role in transforming conflict in the six cases, the study found that it is not a silver bullet for
all situations. Like other conflict-transformation approaches, mediation has limitations. In some cases, for example, the
results of mediation are difficult to be enforced because the decisions are not legally binding; therefore, its’ implementation
depends on the willingness of all parties to comply with the agreement. It is also not immune to the influence of internal
and external factors, such as the socio-political climate at the local or higher level. Nor can it stand alone in addressing the
root causes of a conflict; sometimes it requires policy changes. There are also a limited number of skilled mediators available
to mediate the vast number of forest and land conflicts in the region...

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