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The decades of physical and psychological harm occasioned under the apartheid system in South Africa was one of, if not the most acts against one’s fellowman during the Twentieth century. Yet, it appeared, man’s capacity for bloodshed remained unabated.
In 1994, when South Africans were close to eliminating apartheid from their system of governance, the Hutus in Rwanda carried out a systematic and indiscriminate slaughter of more than one million Tutsis – both the pure-blooded and those of mixed ethnic lineage.
But, it was the process which was adopted to bridge the chasm which resulted from the criminality and savagery that occurred in both nations that must be commented on. The Trust and Reconciliation Commission, established by then President, Nelson Mandela and headed by Nobel Prize recipient, Bishop Desmond Tutu, set about healing the wounds in South Africa.
Eight years later, in 2002, Prison Fellowship International (PFI) introduced the Umuvumu Tree Project in Rwanda, where some 11,000 traditional courts were reportedly set up to deal with the estimated 115,000 people in lock-ups who were accused of taking part in this genocide. Both processes were embedded in the principles of Restorative Justice, which sees crime as a breach of the community.
With the high levels of confession which came out of hearings at both initiatives, the process achieved a commendable rate of success. For example, less than six months after the Umuvumu Tree Project, more than 32,000 genocide offenders confessed to their crime.
In China, the state has enacted some of the most severe sanctions against crime. The retributive nature of its present criminal justice system is such that there are two kinds of death penalty in place: the death penalty suspended for two years and the death penalty with immediate execution.
That country’s criminal laws also provide for supplemental punishment through fines, removal of political rights (with terms ranging from no less than one year to no more than five years), and the confiscation of property. Today, China is looking inwards to its centuries-old Confuscian roots which promote community harmony (ren) and individual values and conduct (li), as the cornerstone to societal development.
Furthermore, the Confuscian tenet which extols the transformative effect of moral education on community stability has led to the evolution of the traditional system of mediation to its current stage where civil disputes and minor offences are the focus.
The process is community-based and enjoys full recognition in the 1982 Constitution. Figures provided by the Ministry of Justice in China showed that by 2002, there were some 920,000 local mediation committees which dealt with approximately six million cases, of which there were more than 50,000 criminal offences. More recently, the move to embrace Restorative Justice on a wider scale in that nation has led to the training of some 250 prosecutors and senior police officers.
Thais, like most Jamaicans, hold that Restorative Justice is not a new approach but is entrenched in its tradition and culture. And, in keeping with this ethos Thailand made some provisions for community involvement in justice administration in its 1997 Constitution with particular focus on the victim. Meanwhile, the Thailand authorities have modified the New Zealand “Family Conferencing Model”, to institutionalise “Family and Community Group Conferences” since June 2003, as a means to deal more effectively with its own juvenile cases. That country also introduced a feature of the Jamaican justice system: the Drug Rehabilitation Act 2002, which provides for mandatory drug treatment programmes.
What these initiatives highlight is the usefulness of Restorative Justice in almost any political and socio-economic climate. The degree of success is, however, dependent on how involved the nation’s people choose to be.
As it concerns Jamaica, a Restorative Justice policy framework is soon to be developed, with the Ministry of Justice assuming a co-ordinating role among communities, Non-Governmental Organisations and relevant State agencies. The start-up phase for an expanded focus on, and adoption of the principles of Restorative Justice locally, has the support of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), which underwrote an 11-day study-tour for a Jamaica delegation to Canada in November 2005. Canada is among the countries that have contributed to the adoption of Restorative Justice principles by the United Nations in the Bangkok Declaration in April this year.
The group, comprised largely of representatives from the Church and civil society, was exposed to varied practices of Restorative Justice. Among the delegation was the Jamaica Constabulary Force, represented by Deputy Commissioner of Police, Linval Bailey; as well as representatives from the Victims Support Unit and the Department of Correctional Services, in the Ministry of National Security.