His Excellency’s Address at the Opening of the 5th Annual Mediation Symposium

His Excellency, Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona, ORTT, SC President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago address at the opening of the 5th Annual Mediation Symposium on November 24, 2014.  The following is the entire content of His Excellency’s address.

Congratulations are in order for a very successful Peace Summit in Tobago on Thursday 2nd and Friday 3rd of October under the progressive stewardship of Mr Justice Vashiest Kokoram. That a peace Summit and mediation Symposium should be held at this time of year is indeed fitting, when the world would have stopped to remember that over 37 million men, women and children suffered as a result of the atrocities of World War I. War, apart from being nothing short of devastation, is often the result of a lack of effective mediation in resolving disputes.

The world is at a crossroads in our engagement and handling of social conflict. It is patently obvious to all that we cannot lock-up our social problems. Mediation offers a way out by engaging us in dispute resolution at all levels. Anger and violence are purported as the only way to have our voices heard amidst the upheaval and chaos of growing international terrorism and localized corruption. But if we listen closely, we will be able to hear a small cry in the wilderness. It is the cry of professionals and leaders like yourselves who are engaged in dispute resolution, developing communities, dealing with family disputes, and providing leadership in the community to divert our youth from a life of crime and violence.

Solidarity and unity of purpose are the keys, and I believe networks would have been forged over the two-day summit in Tobago and these will further be strengthened over the next few days, leading to the sharing of resources and the cross-fertilization of ideas and techniques that will assist in creating not only a peaceful nation, but a peaceful region and global society. It is pertinent to echo the sentiments of your peace declaration, because it re-emphasizes the importance of this initiative this morning: “peace begins with the individual and is an appreciation of human life, our spirituality, our well-being, our dignity, our fundamental human rights and an absolute love for each other, and is necessary for the nation’s, region’s and world’s well-being and happiness”.

This 2014 Mediation Symposium is a welcome continuation of the Mediation Board’s attempts to raise awareness and generate interest in the field of mediation. I have been made to understand that you have a roster of some 414 certified mediators. These persons can be a tsunamic charge in dealing with conflict in our diverse communities in addressing this vexing concern that we have become a very angry society in our social interactions. You certified mediators must be the panacea for what can only be described as a social and anger-management crisis. You have the responsibility and the mandate to educate all in the public domain about the peaceful resolution of conflict. One traditional method of mediation has been the Panchyat that has fallen into disuse. I recall using this social meditative tool as a trial Judge involving a matter where a brother had been found guilty of chopping his brother, the crime – wounding with intent. Although the resolution I sought in the context of the need for social engineering was not successful, it brought together a retired headmaster, a postal worker and a community leader, who listened to the issues ventilated by both sides over family land ownership. Though unsuccessful and having sentenced the brother to a custodial sentence, I am convinced that I had delayed murder, hopefully preventing it by the incarceration of that brother forcing peaceful reflection through incarceration. Though unsuccessful, I recognized immediately the great potential in engaging this traditional form of mediation, especially in rural communities

Your feature speaker, the Professor Sam Rugege, Chief Justice of the Republic of Rwanda, indeed has first-hand evidence of the benefits of mediation. Post-genocide Rwanda is an ideal example of how mediation and reconciliation can be used to deal with crimes of the past. That such has been able to be accomplished, for me is startling, having served as an Appeals Counsel at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, in Arusha. This fine example of mediation in Rwanda was preceded by the Truth and reconciliation Commission in South Africa established by President Nelson Mandela, and it went a long way to addressing the institutional hurt and anguish of the South African people under the regime of Apartheid.  There can be no peace without justice, it has been stated time and time again. I wish to reformulate those hallowed words of advice and state that there can be no meaningful peace without restorative justice grounded in mediation.  With everything that is happening in our country and in our global environment, a peaceful solution to conflict should not be looked at as just another option: it should be the only option.

As a people, our diversity in the Caribbean and especially in Trinidad and Tobago should be a basis for celebration, not division, and a difference of opinion should be looked at as an opportunity to learn, not a challenge to a fight. At the recent annual Diplomatic Dinner I challenged the diplomatic corps to not be occasion ambassadors, because too often we have become occasion persons, and it is in the same vein that I implore you to not be merely symposium peace warriors. Your role in addressing social disquiet is critical now more than ever. The criticisms levelled against the behaviour of our children may well be the result of how we react to each other as adults in terms of our conduct and language. I firmly believe that if we demonstrate to them that there is another way to solve conflict, that somewhere along the way, the lesson will be learnt.

Our communities, businesses, families and our politics are all fertile fields for the use of mediation. With your expertise and determination, the necessary resources can be developed and we can be well on the way to the development of a Caribbean Mediation resource. It is my sincere hope that the discussions engaged in over the next few days will yield substantial results that will auger well for the future of our nations and our region.