Restorative, participative and transparent justice is not new to Sri Lanka. The Gamsabhawa (or village council) had a mandate to maintain local peace and harmony by facilitating the amicable settlement of disputes, which dates back to 425BC. Similarly, the head priest of the village temple took an active role in dispute resolution.

Both processes were traditionally conducted in the open air – in a shed without walls, or under a tree – where any member of the village could come and observe, or give testimony that would be taken into account in the matter heard. Both offender and victim were given a chance to relate their side of the story, to explain what had happened and how they felt. When all had been heard, the community as a whole decided what recompense was due the victim, what justice should befall the offender, and what action was needed to ensure that the incident would not ever happen again.

There, in the open, before so many witnesses, there could be no deception or manipulation – either in the telling, or in the process that followed – and the strength of the community was such that all were keen to keep it together, rather than fragmenting, punishing and bringing shame.

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