Restorative Justice and Reconciliation

I participated in a workshop on ‘Restorative Justice’ in Pondicherry, India yesterday (March 13, 2012). Restoring justice is an essential element of reconciliation. The little I know about it is only through readings of reconciliation efforts in South Africa. After reading the book ‘Forgiveness and Reconciliation’ Forwarded by Desmond Tutu early this year, I learnt that reconciliation in polarized societies after violent conflicts is really case of ‘putting Humpty Dumpty together again’. The following quote is the best to summarize what Tutu means,

“Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing.” – Desmond Tutu –

What is the difference between restorative justice and retributive justice? Dominic Barter explains (http://www.restorativecircles.org/) retributive justice as a means of maintaining social order. In that, a dominant justice system maintains the social system via imposing the punitive ethos and legal apparatus i.e. the state justice system. But the question is whether such a system can bring trust among people who are polarized and gone through violence over decades. On the other hand, restorative approach focuses on not at who has done wrong but at what needs are unmet. It seeks not to label and condemn but to alert us to our place in the power structure and to act and our power to mend.
What fascinated me in this regard is the fact that the conflict is not seen as something that needs to be changed or managed within this process, but as an essential part for personal or communal wellbeing. I remember learning about sociological functions of a conflict for my bachelor’s degree at the University of Colombo. And it was yesterday that I first exposed myself to its use in the society. That is through, ‘Restorative circles’.
A restorative circle is a community process for supporting those in conflict. It brings together the parties to a conflict with an intentional systemic context, to dialogue as equals. Ideally, participants invite each other and attend voluntarily. The dialogue process used is shared openly with all participants and guided by a community member itself. The process ends when actions have been found that bring mutual benefit. The underlying pillars of the process are shared power, mutual understanding, self-responsibility and effective action. On the other hand, any society that develops these will reconcile its conflicting issues without causing further harm to the society.

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