Restorative Justice at the UN Crime Congress
Apr 13, 2010
I’m in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, representing Prison Fellowship International at the 12th United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. Later in the week, I will be participating in sessions on restorative justice in prisons and restorative justice in Latin America. So, I was quite interested to hear several references to restorative justice in today’s opening events. I wanted to share some of what was reported and a few of my thoughts.
During the afternoon plenary, the Congress took up two issues: 1) Children, Youth, and Crime and 2) Making the United Nations guidelines on crime prevention work. The Secretariat (or United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) presented discussion papers on each of the topics. Then, each of the member states who wished were given the opportunity to speak to the topics.
Several of the reports just mentioned the need for restorative justice such as the Special Rapporteur on Torture who called for the development of a comprehensive juvenile justice system with a focus on restorative justice. But, others spoke at length on restorative justice or very similar topics.
For example, the delegate from Finland focused on bullying as an important area of crime prevention when it comes to children and youth. He discussed the need for a comprehensive response that would allow for the restoration of relationships in the school environment. He stated that not only are bullies guilty but so are those who observe the behaviour and do nothing to stop it.
He described a project in the Finnish Department of Education that won a crime prevention award in 2009. The project works with all students -- bullies, victims and observers -- to teach them the impact of such behaviour and help those not involved show they do not support such actions. The programme includes individual and small group discussion which each of these groups to explore the impact of bullying and find solutions.
The delegate ended by stating that teaching conflict resolution mechanisms in schools is an important way to help lower children’s exposure to crime. His examples included peer mediation and restorative justice.
The Canadian representative said that the Canadian government agrees that restorative justice processes can have many positive impacts on juvenile offenders. However, he raised concern about the vulnerability of child victims in such processes and whether or not they can fully enter into such processes on an informed, voluntary basis. He called for caution and more research in this area.
The Argentine delegation talked at length about the need for alternatives to incarceration stating that incarceration should be used only in exceptional cases. They discussed restorative justice processes as one mechanism from removing juvenile offenders from the criminal justice system. The presentation was so strongly worded that a colleague later asked me if I had heard what was said and that it was great.
There was one puzzling statement made during the session. The delegate from Switzerland discussed the special needs of juvenile offenders. She described how Switzerland had created a new juvenile justice law in 2007 that strengthened retributive elements of the juvenile justice system. The legislation also incorporated restorative justice principles to help young offenders understand the impact of their offending and change their behaviour. I was surprised to hear the language (and hope that it was an issue with interpretation). It amazes me that a government can tie retribution and restorative justice together so neatly.