In much of the developing world, the promotion of human rights is seen as an affront to common practices and traditions that are unique to particular cultures. From female circumcisions to forced marriages, strict observance of sharia law to severe methods of capital punishment, many societies are prepared to confront the imposition of perceived ‘Westernized’ human rights. The four fundamental restorative questions can help to better understand this impasse while also providing unique approaches to fostering both human rights and cultural distinctiveness. Who is affected? What is the harm? How can we repair the harm? And how do we avoid future victims? Using these restorative questions not only raises awareness of these pressing issues, but also offers non-traditional ways to repair harm and restore societies.
Restorative practices are being used with greater frequency in post-conflict reconstruction efforts, both by national governments and non-governmental organizations. The success of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-Apartheid South Africa spawned many similar national reconciliatory attempts across Africa, and such practices have also been attempted with varying degrees of success in the Central American states of El Salvador, Guatemala and Panama. However, one need not reach the point of national emergency before restorative practices and questioning can be of use; on the contrary, applying these techniques at an early stage reduces the chances of state failure and fosters cultural appreciation in and across state borders.
More often than not the international community views such issues and crises in legal terms; such conflicts, if addressed and/or resolved, are usually the results of multi-lateral treaties and international decrees based on moral imperatives. Like the humanistic disconnect between relational impact and criminal justice, international law focuses on treaty obligations and governmental culpability. Thus, the international community focuses on the legal aspects of a given issue – the degree of government responsibility, and personal accountability for such violations. Amidst vast national and international attempts to place liability on someone or some state, there is oftentimes neglect of the very people being harmed in such situations. Caught up in this maneuvering is the true human impact – what restorative justice calls affect – which, if continually neglected, festers and poisons both communities and nations.
In other cases, though human rights are guaranteed by international treaties, and though the United Nations Security Council and several international courts strategize to improve governmental accountability, oftentimes such human rights abuses are either misunderstood or overlooked. It is here – where law cannot adequately resolve human rights and cultural issues – that restorative practices and restorative questioning are useful implements for community restoration and conflict resolution. Restorative justice need not completely replace criminal and international justice, but can instead act as a constructive tool in fostering cross-cultural understanding and ethno-religious appreciation.
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