ARBITRATION

What it is: This is a way of settling a dispute. Representatives of the disputing groups discuss their grievances with an independent referee who does not take sides but assesses the arguments impartially. The groups agree on who the referee should be. They also agree to accept the referee's decision.

What it means: During the 19th century people who worked for peace believed that arbitration was the best way to deal with international disputes that could otherwise lead to war. In 1900 the first international court with powers to arbitrate, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, was established at the Hague in the Netherlands. It still operates in the Peace Palace built for it in 1913, with 82 states participating in it. The League of Nations set up the Permanent Court of International Justice in 1922, also sitting at the Peace Palace, to deal with problems such as disputes over the borders between countries. The United Nations replaced this with the International Court of Justice (sometimes informally called the World Court) in 1946. The Council of Europe adopted the European Convention for the Settlement of Disputes in 1977. In the UK the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) is called on to help in workers' disputes with employers over things like pay and working conditions. Arbitration can be effective at defusing conflict as well as providing sensible solutions - but can only work if the disputing groups agree to go to arbitration in the first place.

Think about it: With an arbiter putting each side's case to the other, you don't have to meet the people you are quarrelling with. This takes the confrontation out of a dispute, and means that both sides can cool off without losing face or dignity, and without saying (or doing) things they might regret later. But what about the arbiters: what special qualities and skills - and attitudes - might they need to have or learn? And once a dispute is settled, what qualities and attitudes are needed by everyone involved?  Can these things be learned too? Think about some of the conflicts in history: could arbitration have made a difference?  Think about conflicts locally: could arbitration do the trick?