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ODR for e-commerce, judicial delivery, peace, voice, and what not?

Team YS
8th Feb 2011
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View from the sidelines by Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy

ODR 2011, the 10th annual meeting of the United Nations Online Dispute Resolution Working Group, got off to a flying start with 300 people filling the Trident Hotel auditorium at Chennai. The highlight of the first day was huge interest shown by students from different colleges in Chennai, but predominantly from Ambedkar Law University. The chair of the conference, Chittu Nagarajan, Head -- Community Courts, eBay and PayPal, was obviously elated. Ethan Katsh, who conceptualized ODR and popularized it with his first eBay experiment in 1999, said, "ODR helps resolve disputes across countries and enables resolution of disputes without anyone meeting face to face." He said that two years before the eBay experiment, ODR was applied first to resolve ICANN domain name disputes. "About 5000 domain name disputes are solved every year," explained Prof. Katsh. Colin Rule, Director, Online Dispute Resolution, eBay and PayPal told a press conference that 60 million disputes are solved through ODR at eBay, which makes a billion transactions a year. Chittu Nagarajan emphasized on the use of technology to solve disputes and said that its reach is beyond just online transactions. "In India, ODR is at a nascent stage," Chittu said referring to how India fared with respect to ODR.

What then followed the first day of the proceedings was a breathtaking overview of ODR and its applications. Johnston S. Barkat, Assistant Secretary-General, United Nations, Ombudsman and Mediation Services, delivered the keynote.

National and Regional ODR

The sessions ODR in India (Prathamesh Popat, lawyer and Naavi Vijayashankar, Navvi.org Cyber Law College), ODR in Italy (Irene Sigismondi) presented some national perspectives about ODR. Pablo Cortez of Leicester University explained how the EU is leveraging ODR for commercial disputes. Online dialogue opportunities in South Asia by Beth Fascitelli along with Cortez's session presented the regional outlook of ODR.

ODR: Blurred in definition but not when finding voice for the suppressed

Orna Rabinovich (University of Haifa, Israel) said that with the evolution of alternative dispute mechanism (ADR), ODR has shadowed its growth. So in some instances, with the juxtaposition of ADR techniques with ODR, the line seems blurred. In effect, ODR is becoming integral to conflict resolution. Sanjana Hattotuwa, who is now TEDGlobal 2011 fellow, explained how his blog helped peace initiatives in war-torn Sri Lanka in 2009. The blog has now generated 5 million words of content (moderated by Sanjana to avoid extreme abusive criticism of the Sri Lankan government), which is being researched by Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, and Harvard universities for how the voices of the affected people can be heard during and after the war. This was perhaps the moving session of the day. Leah Wing explained the process of documentation of principles governing the conduct of various disputing parties after the Northern Ireland's Good Friday Agreement. Using ODR, the voices of the oppressed were finding expression.

Trust me ODR

Fran Maier, President, TRUSTe, explained how the company ensures protection of privacy online using various technologies and tools.

ODR is not confined to e-commerce and online commercial transactions. Although Ethan Katsh and Colin Rule explained the commercial applications of ODR in the press conference, the first day sessions showed an eclectic mix of domains and areas in which ODR is applied. To put it simply, where there is conflict, conflict resolution is undertaken and when this is done online, it is ODR. This definition seems to fit rather than starting what ODR stands for.

With the sweeping changes brought about by the digital world, when Sanjana said 'O' from ODR may become irrelevant (as most dispute resolutions will be online in future), it seems possible. The next generation may call it just dispute resolution.

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