By Rocco Puopolo

Why Restorative Justice?

In our Western culture, there is a tendency to automatically equate justice to punishment, but is it accurate to consider this notion universal? An even bigger question is, is this kind of definition for justice ultimately beneficial to communities affected by conflict?

AFJN believes that although people who use violence and warfare should be held accountable for their actions in order for justice to be achieved, justice is also locally defined and locally driven. Justice in the court does not result in justice in the community. How can we help bring about justice between individuals and groups once perceived as enemies? How do we help rebuild trust and relationships after pain and trauma? AFJN believes that restorative justice is an essential component to building peace, and this is why restorative justice is one of our focus campaigns.

The Role of Community-Based Justice Mechanisms in Burundi and Uganda

Despite their different situations, both Burundi and Uganda are at critical crossroads on their path to rebuilding the country post-conflict. With the last rebel group putting down its arms in Burundi and the return of former abductees and displaced persons back to their villages in Uganda, in both countries, relative peace can be observed. Our study, however, argues that in order for there to be true peace within these countries, the desires of its people to utilize community-based justice mechanisms to restore peace fully must be recognized. Despite the irrefutable importance of rebuilding economy, infrastructure, and homes, the rebuilding of lives and relationships amongst the people lie at the root of post-conflict transformation and true, lasting peace.

In Burundi, the collaboration and initiative taken by Hutu and Tutsi youth has served as an innovative community-level approach to rebuilding relationships amongst the people of the two tribes. Through the Kamenge Youth Center, almost 31,000 youth members have come together to restore the lives and relationships of their people. Not only do they learn to live together in peace, but they work within their communities to reintegrate formerly displaced persons of all ethnicities. In this manner, these youths are breaking down ethnic boundaries in the pursuit of peace, justice, and reconciliation. Furthermore, the restoration and empowerment of a traditional justice mechanism, Ubushingantahe, is not only imperative to delivering justice, but also to promoting democracy.

In Uganda, as formerly displaced and abducted persons are returning home to their villages, local chiefs and religious leaders are joining efforts to restore the relationships damaged by the LRA. Central to the Acholi sense of justice is the communal nature of society, where an offense committed by one individual is understood as an offense committed by the entire clan or tribe. In this way, the whole community becomes both the victim and the perpetrator of serious crime, thereby calling for a more comprehensive approach to justice than what the punitive system can deliver. By utilizing traditional justice mechanisms, Acholi in the north are mending the relationships amongst themselves, and achieving restorative justice and peace in their communities.