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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

“Whose Justice Matters?”

ICC Justice Matters Campaign Photo © AP/Reporters/Karel Prinsloo

As part of its 10 ten year anniversary, the International Criminal Court has set up a multimedia exhibit campaign entitled “Justice Matters”.  The exhibit uses explicit and graphic photographs and video clips and its aim is to show that justice matters to the individuals and communities affected by the crimes under the Court’s jurisdiction and to show that it matters to the world. This got me thinking about the meaning of the term justice and whether it meant the same thing to most people, especially those affected by mass violence or conflict?

According to the great social scientist and African Scholar Mahmood Mamadani, in his article entitled “How Shall We Think of Mass Violence: Criminal or Political? Reflections on Nuremberg and CODESA”, he suggests that notion of justice as criminal justice has had the effect of being symbolic or performative. This in his opinion is victors’ justice and has largely shaped our perception of the term justice when it comes down to mass violence as we know it today. Mamdani draws attention to the new human rights paradigm which focuses its attention on individual criminal responsibility for mass atrocities rather than focusing on the main issues that drive the violence, whether political or otherwise. He distinguishes between victors justice, victims justice and at last posits a new framework of justice called survivors justice. In victors justice there is a clear victor who will emerge as powerful as was the case during the Second World War ending with Nuremberg.  Under victims justice there is no clear perpetrator as both victim and perpetrator exchange roles blaming each other during the ongoing conflict, as is often the case in during civil wars such as in Rwanda where both Hutu and Tutsi blamed each other, often switching roles of victim and perpetrator. While, with survivors’ justice, victims transition into survivors as a result of political reform, such was the case in South Africa, with CODESA (Convention for a Democratic South Africa) where strategic multiparty talks were held and agreement was reached to end apartheid. Mamdani argues that there can be no single narrative in each given case and that each case should be determined accordingly.

Mahmood Mamdani 
I think we can learn a lot from Mamdani’s analysis which is a good vantage point to analyse the processes of justice in each given case. It makes one think out of the legal box, which is often confining. Similarly, aside from understanding the driving forces which propel individuals or states into conflicts, we should also re-evaluate the international justice process as it operates today. Since we have reduced justice to individual responsibility, as Mamdani puts it, shouldn’t we make sure that the processes which shape its development are effective: first to its victims, perpetrators and immediate community and then to the international community? As Howard Zehr, aptly puts it, “Justice is an act of liberation” It should work to liberate the victim from the offense and offender by making the offender feel accountable. In other words, by making him aware of what he has done to his victims while coming to a true realization of the harm he or she has inflicted upon another.  Zehr holds that the current justice paradigm only focuses on making sure that guilt is relieved through punishment of the offender rather than focus on the process as a whole and its outcomes, which in his view should be that of restoration and healing. Genuine accountability in Zehr’s words is giving the offender the opportunity to make things right, or to repair the damage with the victim and society. This cannot happen by only establishing the guilt of the offender only or by reducing the justice process to an impersonal adversarial battle where victim and offender are marginalized during the trial process.