Happy International Restorative Justice week 2016! It is that time of the year, I get the pleasure to write my annual blog*. Empathically guessing has never been my communication style. So, here it is and I hope you enjoy it.
First, congratulations to all the practitioners, researchers and campaigners from around the world who kept the real restorative justice (RJ) flame burning. Some have called me "dramatic". To honour this title, I must reiterate my grave concerns for the route that the RJ train has taken. The resilience that is now required from the RJ movement is rather demanding particularly when it comes to defending RJ's founding values of empowerment and equality for all parties involved in conflict. You know who you are - thank you for continuing to inspire me with your work and sucrifices.
And now I turn to say thank you to the many individuals who have trusted the RJ process whether our system calls them "victims" or "offenders" (here, I must also ask: "will we ever move beyond the labels and see the pain and the bond that bind us all?")
I have always advocated in favour of work (research, policy or practice) that advances the RJ movement even if it means accepting some realities and indeed limitations. We have long exited the era of innovation and unfounded claims. We are also living in an era of globalisation and yet fear and jingoism.
Following the November tragic events in Paris last year, I called for a new role for RJ that responds to current global needs for safety and security. As my faith was shaken, I asked: “If restorative justice (as an ethos, a value and yes ... as an international ideology) has the potential to bring out the best of us, help us reconcile and empower the weak, then how can people like me regain their belief in it, following events such as those in Paris two days ago?” A number of fellow researchers tried to restore my lost faith only to have it questioned again on 22 March 2016 as I was watching the multiple bombings in Brussels.
Soon, I was to find comfort in these words: “the pursuit of restorative justice is grounded in a social-ethical vision that focuses on the quality of social life. Furthering the quality of social life is possible through three ethical guidelines (or virtues) for members of the community: respect, solidarity and active responsibility (Walgrave, 2008). Repositioning RJ in Europe (and beyond) could not be more timely. With the help of the IARS International Institute and the Restorative Justice for All (RJ4All) Institute, the views of various colleagues have been collected in a video format, including Prof. Artinopoulou, Dr. Zellerer, the CEO of the Restorative Justice Council, Ms. Iwi from Respect UK and others.
The road that we have taken is leading international society to becoming more polarised than ever. Independently of your political allegiance (or indifference), we must accept the unexpected changes in the USA, UK and Europe. As I write, Russia has become yet another member leaving the International Criminal Court sending a clear signal that international morality is questioned as a concept and as a foundation for regulation and penalisation. I recently spoke about the Forces of Power and Control and the Death of democracy as we know it. I was accused of spreading doom and gloom when our communities are in need of hope and inspiration. I must apologise as my intentions were, in fact, the opposite. There can be no construction without deconstruction and the acknowledgement of the change we are all facing. My fear is that we are still in denial collectively and individually. A collective denial that allows hate crime to rise by 200% within 3 months of the BREXIT vote .
The truth is that our communities will apply restorative justice whether our governments chose to endorse it or not. With or without campaigning and laws, communities will find their way to RJ like they have done so for centuries. For example, in the case of Paris, the French government was swift by declaring a “war on terror” and by putting a ban on public gathering. And yet, what followed was unprecedented. On 11 January 2016, thousands of people from France, Europe and internationally gathered to march against what they saw as a “war on liberties”. It is true that this demonstration did not involve any encounter between victims and offenders and yet its impetus goes at the core of restorative justice. It focused on the positive values of the affected communities and on what binds these communities together irrespective of faith, nationality and economic interests. One could even call this attempt ‘a ritual’. Follow up interviews with the killers’ relatives (and other members of the Muslim community) showed that they have found this ritual to be the most inclusive and constructive act that made them feel part of the solution and no longer the enemy. The Paris demonstration reminded me that the forgotten victim in all terrorist attacks is the community and with it our humanity.
I hope that this is not yet just another International Restorative Justice week. And no, RJ does not save £6 for every £1 spend and yes, the evidence base for certain crimes is thin. Sorry UK Parliament but we have to speak with responsibility. As we gather to tell people how fantastic we have been and what funding we should get, lets all ask how we can preserve our humanity and what bonds us all. I hope that this week we can at least start a conversation about our respective roles in the transitional era that we are living. Isnt dialogue the foundation of RJ? Your thoughts are always welcomed either via email or by leaving a comment below. I have also launched a Call for Case studies for Race, Power & Restorative Justice: The dialogue we Never Had.