In responding to crimes it is natural to desire justice, but have you ever asked yourself what kind of justice? Our justice system uses criminal justice because it is part of the democratic form of government and is consequently what our law schools teach. Nevertheless, after reflecting on crimes and the need for justice around the world, particularly in Africa, AFJN has chosen restorative justice as one of its focus campaigns. AFJN desires to raise awareness of restorative justice as an alternative to criminal justice in ending conflicts and suffering in many communities throughout Africa and elsewhere.
In a restorative justice system, the criminal is responsible for the crime and held accountable before being restored through reconciliation process. Its vision is to build a present and a future harmonious community by acknowledging the victim and identifying the victimizer through the accountability and reconciliation processes. Rwanda is an outstanding example of where restorative justice is needed in order to bring reconciliation to its tribes.
In 1994, Rwanda experienced genocide. The first response to this tragic crime, rooted in a long history of tribalism and power struggles between Hutu and Tutsi, was to establish a criminal justice system to punish the Hutu guilty of genocide. Today, after many trials, punishments, and a continuous hunt for those responsible for genocide, Rwanda is still far from healing. The prejudice that every Hutu is guilty of genocide is a clear social concern that needs a different response other than criminal justice if Rwanda is to recover from the 1994 genocide.
AFJN’s concern for Rwanda stems from the belief that the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania does not provide what it will take to heal Rwanda’s wounds. As a criminal justice court, it is focused on only the crime and the perpetrators are punished more than they are held accountable. Rwandans need restorative justice, beyond the Gacaca Trials, to take their justice system a step further. Restorative justice would provide an opportunity to all the victims (the families that lost loved ones, the families of the offenders, and the community as a whole) to play a role in finding a curative solution to the genocide crime that is still fresh in the minds and the souls of the Rwandan people.
A woman from Rwanda who was interviewed by AFJN, said that though she was not in Rwanda when the killings happened, she feels that she is wanted by the criminal justice system because she is a Hutu. Unfortunately, there is a generation of Hutu teens born after the genocide who feel the same way. It is therefore imperative that Rwanda utilize a form of restorative justice to rebuild neighborhoods, brotherhood, sisterhood, and friendship in response to the crime of genocide that deeply wounded the intertribal relationship between Hutu and Tutsi.
Like in Rwanda, Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu, Uganda believes that restorative justice is what it will take to end conflict in Uganda and heal the Gulu people from the devastation of the crimes committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) since 1986. BBC News quotes the Archbishop as saying, “In Uganda rebels ask for forgiveness. Forgiveness is healing and it has a more lasting effect then revenge, the perpetuation of hatred, the perpetuation of war.” This is in agreement with what Mr. Martin Ojul, a Lord Resistance Army’s representative told Mega FR radio station. “We are here for reconciliation and we want to come back and live with the people peacefully and in harmony.”
Given the many conflicts in Africa, AFJN does not believe that all of the crimes committed can be feasibly tackled by the criminal justice system. Consequently, AFJN has decided to promote restorative justice as an alternative to criminal justice in order to bring justice to all and an end to conflicts and the suffering of many African communities.
–Bahati Ntama Jacques
This article was featured in the November/December issue of Around Africa