One of my tasks at the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) is attending mediation sessions. The mediation cases we are being offered can consist of any complaint that is brought to the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice in Cape Coast or in the region, Central Region, which the office covers. The complainant brings a complaint in at the registry department; they will take in the complaint and discuss with the department investigation whether CHRAJ has the mandate to do investigation/mediation on the matter.
Some of the titles of mediation cases I have had during my stay here are:
– Non maintenance of child
– Breach of agreement
– Unfair treatment
– Right to property
– Denial of access to child
– Breach of contract
– Retirement benefit
– Improper care
– Denial of share property
A mediation session is normally scheduled on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday morning. The invitation states the date and the time the parties have to come in. It even mentions ‘prompt before the time’. But in almost all the cases they are not in prompt, not just 5 minutes late but cases never start before 11, although the invitation says prompt 9.00 AM.
All mediation session are held in Fante, the language they speak in Cape Coast, Central Region besides English. Unfortunately for me they not even try to do it in English. But my co worker always translates after someone has spoken what he or she has said. Although it is in Fante, non verbal communication (body language) is universal. I can easily read from the parties in front of me how they feel about the case. Sometimes it is very emotional for one of the parties. I learn a lot of the culture by attending the mediation sessions, since the way they sometimes settle the case or approach the case is very different from how ‘we’ in the Netherlands or in a western country would solve or react to a case. In some of the mediation cases this is because there are some big differences between the Ghanaian and Dutch legislation, but in most cases it is more because of the cultural differences – which makes the way of solving the case different. I have grown up in a western (Dutch) culture, which consists of a high level of individualism whereas the Ghanaian culture is built on collectivism. Ghana people live in most cases in communities and look after each other. They will handle after the best interest of the community.
If a case is settled/closed, we make a mediation agreement document, which states upon which terms the parties have agreed. The agreement is signed by a fingerprint stamp (the thumb), not with a signature which I had expected when I set up the agreement. The last thing we have to do after the agreement has been signed, is to write a report on the case. A general outline is as follows: it states the parties, the dispute of the case, case background, complainant’s position, respondent’s position, functions of the Commission (under which section of the Act CHRAJ has the mandate to do mediation/investigation), the findings, conclusion(s) and recommendations by the commission.
Attending to the mediation sessions is my favorite task at CHRAJ. Each mediation session I learn something new, more about the culture. For some cases we have to visit the parties (community visits), to do more investigation into the case.