Traditional conflict resolution processes: mediation and rituals to address conflicts in multi-ethnic cultures of Laos

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Stobbe, Stephanie Phetsamay
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Countless millions of people in the world have little formally recognizable means for receiving any form of social justice. Laos, a small landlocked country in Southeast Asia, is a place that has seen some of the most brutal forms of poverty and violence. Over centuries, ethnic groups have been polarized and used by foreign powers to support their own agendas. In spite of this, the Lao people have consistently managed to recreate the peace and harmony that support their social relationships. Through the development and use of appropriate grassroots conflict resolution structures that do not require a formal court system, and exist outside the political arena, they have been able to resolve conflicts within and across cultural groups. Using in-depth interviews with different ethnic groups in Laos, this research examines traditional conflict resolution processes used in their communities. It identifies and discusses a Lao Conflict Resolution Spectrum, bringing particular attention to the Village Mediation Committee (Neoy Gai Geer). Laos' unique and most recognized conflict resolution ceremonies and rituals,the baci ceremony (soukhouan) and the reconciliation ceremony (soumma), are examined as tools for peacebuilding. These conflict resolution practices are significant in addressing conflict, repairing harm, rebuilding relationships, and restoring harmony to communities in conflict. The systems incorporate principles of effective conflict resolution, including transparency, accountability, inclusivity, flexibility, familiarity, accessibility, support networks, and relationship building. This research discovers how the conflict resolution systems of Laos are embedded in the fabric of grassroots life, and operate independently of the hierarchical structures that dominate governing institutions. It presents a case study of how people from a violent and impoverished past still manage to find ways to address their need for social justice and interconnectedness. The results provide greater understanding and appreciation of the contributions from diverse groups of people who are working daily to establish positive relationships, constructive and appropriate conflict resolution systems, and overall peace in their world. It demonstrates where peace can be found in difficult situations, among people who care little for political agenda and care a great deal about existing harmoniously with the people in their communities in order to mutually raise their quality of life.
conflict resolution, mediation, rituals, reconciliation, Laos, Southeast Asia, cross-cultural, multi-ethnic, culture, traditional processes, indigenous processes, conflict resolution spectrum, peacebuilding, peace and conflict studies, ceremonies, grassroots, informal conflict resolution systems, customary laws