The word "mediation" derives from the Latin medius-medium, which means "in the middle". It has been defined as "a process of cooperative resolution of the conflict" (Kruk, 1997) in which two or more parties in dispute receive the assistance of one or more impartial third parties (the mediators) to communicate and reach a mutually acceptable agreement by themselves about the issues in dispute.
Internationally, mediation is understood as a generic term that unites the wide variety of ways in which this method is used to resolve disputes in many different areas: civil and commercial, neighborhood and community, with respect to housing, in divorce and other types of family disputes, in health, education, employment, criminal justice system and international disputes. In English, French, German, Spanish and Portuguese the same word is used ("mediation"), only with minor variations in spelling and pronunciation. On the other hand, its use extends throughout the world, from Europe and North America to Australia and New Zealand, China and Japan. In the countries of South America of Spanish and Portuguese speech has grown rapidly. International exchanges are multiplying through literature, research, congresses and the Internet.
Mediation is often considered a novelty, although in reality it has a very long history in many different civilizations and cultures.
In ancient China, it already existed in the fifth century B.C. Some anthropologists have described mediating traditions existing in many places in Africa. There are many examples of communities in Europe and North America that used mediation in the past. In England, in the 1860s, the first conciliation commissions were created with the aim of contributing to the resolution of disputes in certain industries. There is a long tradition of conciliation in the Hebrew communities.
At the international level, its application has been formalized more in some fields such as labor, industrial, commercial, health, community disputes and education. In the penal system, mediation is used in programs of reparation to the victim. There is also a high demand for the help of mediators in the resolution of disputes within a country or between different countries and communities. This has happened, for example, in the Near East or in Africa with Nelson Mandela.
In some countries, mediation is the usual means of settling disputes, and sometimes it has been established as mandatory. Modern China has more than one million mediators. Usually, family, community and labor conflicts are mediated. In this country and Japan, in principle, there is an emphasis on moral precepts and persuasion. By contrast, in other countries, mediation is conceived as a means to strengthen participants' capacity to make their own decisions and reach agreements. This is the case in most countries of the European Union, America and Australia. It was precisely Australia that was one of the first countries to enact a law, in 1975, that would promote the use of family mediation.