The Truth Commission and Restorative Justice

In June of 2009, we showed a film at WISR called Zulu Love Letters, which was critical of the Truth Commission in South Africa.  The point was that for such terrible crimes, the movement toward healing that was supposed to happen was not nearly enough.  This article, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truth_and_Reconciliation_Commission_(South_Africa) , refers to this process as being a type of restorative justice, which I think is appropriate and which I think is a good idea, and I have always been impressed that they were able to carry it so far in South Africa when you consider all the horrible things that people have done to other people through the ages. I learned when we showed the film, however, that some people did not think this process was appropriate or nearly enough, considering the damage that had been done. It is a challenge for people of faith and Christians like Desmond Tutu who apply their faith in this way. I truly believe there needs to be more restorative justice to heal society and not just punish people. I hope to study this article referenced above for starters and would like to dialogue with others more about this so feel free to post your comments here and let me and others know what you think.

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4 Responses to The Truth Commission and Restorative Justice

  1. While sitting at the knee of Jesse Jackson duing the early days of Operation Breadbasket, we spent a great deal of time and energy structuring an ethical response to economic injustice. The framework we finally reached was a reasonably simple three-part understanding of justice:
    1) Distributive justice – the fundamental level of justice required to establish fairness. It is illustrated by the process kids use when sharing a bag of candy with their friends: “one for you, one for you, one for you and one for me” repeated until all the candy is gone. In the larger society, if we had reached this level of justice we would find a fair distribution of members of the society in all its major roles and circumstances such as executive positions, mangers and sales people in businesses, in elective offices, as voters, as inmates in prison, etc.
    2) Restorative justice – the generation of special efforts required to overcome the injustices of the past. Afirmative Action is an example of a restorative justice initiative attempting to correct the failures of the society to hire, retain and promote minorities and females. Operation Breadbasket, for example, required companies to sign and implement covenants incorporating steps they must take to correct their unjust employment practices.
    3) Creative justice is the highest level of justice and incorporates forgiveness and love as elements that wipe away all other considerations. We rarely reach this level.
    My sense is that South Africa–and slavery and racism in America–reach such devastating levels of injustice that there is no satisfaction in restorative justice and an inability to reach the requirements of creative justice. No matter what we do to address that level of injustice, some, if not all of us, will be dissatisfied.

  2. Thanks, Richard, that is well put and thought out. I didn’t know those definitions for restorative and creative justice. I thought restorative justice was also creative and thought of it in connection to alternatives to the criminal justice system so will have to research before commenting more on that. I usually also think of the angle of indigenous people, and what is fair for them, if that can even be considered. I think the step forward is through popular education leading to social democracy, though even then, if you distribute the candy to everyone, it may lead some people down the road of diabetes and so on. As they say, many of us came over on different boats, but we are all in the same boat now. The more we are have opportunities to learn and can talk to and approach understanding with each other, the better world it will be. Did you see my post on the folk school page about the film coming out, The Economics of Happiness? Anyway, the roads to justice bear more study and reflection. Thanks again for your response.

  3. Marilyn-
    I do not know how universally accepted those definitions are, but they are old, working definitions based on our study of Love, Power and Justice by Paul Tillich which may be a starting point for your research. These are definitions the Ministers of Breadbasket used in talking to our congregations about why picketing and an economic boycott were necessary actions of ethical Christians.
    Your notion of restorative justice as applied in the criminal justice system seems to me to be a widely accepted application of the concept and consistent with the working definition I suggested.

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