Between harmony and justice: An interview with Ivan Ormachea

Reflections from Practice Series – No 12

ACCESS Facility shares from time to time insights on company-community dialogue and rights-compatible, interest-based conflict resolution from senior practitioners who are part of the Community of Practice hosted by ACCESS.

Between harmony and justice: An interview with Ivan Ormachea

Ivan Ormachea specializes in conflict prevention, conflict transformation dialogue and mediation. He works on social and environmental issues related to extractive industries, and on family, commercial, workplace and labor disputes. He is a mediator for the Office of Mediation and Facilitation Services of the World Bank and the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman of the IFC. He is the President of the Peruvian NGO ProDiálogo. He is a part-time professor of the Catholic University of Peru and has an MA in International Relations from Syracuse University, USA.

What is one of the more significant challenges or dilemmas you face when you are facilitating company-community dialogue?

Helping people appreciate the complexity of incorporating human rights issues during consensus building processes.

Many activists in the human rights community see consensus building as a bargaining process where human rights are sacrificed. For some of them it is a black-and-white issue. Sometimes they believe that local people have to give up their rights in order to receive a material benefit from a company. They see no common ground between fostering human rights and promoting consensus building between local communities and companies.

This leads to a great misunderstanding of what conflict transformation work is actually about, and how human rights feature in it. Activists don’t typically believe that human rights can be a normal part of the dialogue process and integrated into the final agreement. I’ve witnessed a prime example of this attitude. A human rights activist recently got a prestigious award from an international conflict resolution organization. In the acceptance speech this person said, “I don’t believe in conflict resolution, I believe in human rights.” It left everyone quite surprised.

The human rights community doesn’t always appreciate that, as facilitators, we have to be careful to include human rights in the negotiation agenda. We encourage communities to become educated about their rights, to engage with rights-focused NGOs and the Ombudsman mandated to protect the rights of indigenous people. However, we can’t force communities to make human rights their top priority. When people are poor, the most significant thing to them might be their immediate livelihood needs. Talking about jobs and contracts might take precedence over other conversations. That does not mean human rights falls off the agenda; the conversation is only postponed until people feel their most pressing issues are addressed.

What is an example of this challenge?

Working with a mining company and indigenous community in the Peru highlands.

As facilitators, the first thing we did when working with a mining company and indigenous community in the Peru highlands was to encourage the community to take up the “Right of Consultation of Indigenous Peoples.” This is a government-driven mechanism that gives Peru's indigenous communities the right to be consulted about a state´s administrative decision in regard to any activity, plan or project that affects their ancestral territories.

But this particular community felt no need to involve any state agency. This is not uncommon. The state is something abstract for them, completely absent from their territory and daily lives. Companies move into an area and communities realize there is a new, rich neighbor in town. The community was extremely willing to engage directly with the company.

There were also no NGOs or human rights organizations involved. As with government, NGOs are also treated with suspicion. The community hired their own advisors whom they trusted and felt comfortable with. They even hired their own lawyers. A self-sufficient community can obtain numerous benefits from an agreement they reach directly with a company.

In cases like this, human rights organizations are very critical of our work because we manage these dialogues. But at the end of the day, it is up to communities to decide how to conduct the dialogues and what to prioritize. As a facilitator, you have to accept the communities decisions. It is not your role to decide for them what is important or not. You have informed and advised them about human rights mechanisms and frameworks such as the right of consultation for indigenous peoples, but they have the final say about what they do or don’t want to do. Your role is to be equidistant from both the community and the company. You are an impartial resource for both.

How did this impact the parties’ ability to achieve rights-compatible, interest-based outcomes?

The mediators helped keep human rights on the agenda.

Even though we acted impartially, it doesn’t mean that we saw ourselves as “neutral”. We believe that neutral is a risky word; it implies that when there is injustice that nothing will be done. As a third party, you can’t be neutral when there is something unjust, or when there are asymmetries that will impact on the integrity of the negotiation process. If we see an unfair practice, we raise it during the dialogue.

For example, a mining company had an agreement to provide jobs to unskilled members of the community. We asked the company whether they had a system in place to ensure jobs were given to people in a fair and transparent manner. The company replied that they had no system and decided to investigate the matter of job allocation. Soon it became clear that only 5% of the jobs went to women. Female leaders in the community were upset and demanded their fair share of the jobs. We held separate meetings with the company, discussing options for a more equitable approach. As a result, the company initiated a plan of affirmative action for women. Through acting as a resource to both the company and community, we were able to place human rights back onto the agenda. It shows that justice and harmony are not mutually exclusive.

Written by Lindie Botha based on an interview by Pablo Lumerman. It may be cited as

Lindie Botha with Pablo Lumerman (2016). Between harmony and justice: An interview with Ivan Ormachea. Reflections from Practice Series No. 12 (B. Ganson, ed.). The Hague: ACCESS Facility.

It may be freely copied and distributed with proper attribution.