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Hope for healing

May 18, 2014

Although the measures in the TRC suggest a restorative approach to justice with retributive elements, lessons from, for example, Latin America teach us that the workings of a TRC do not automatically lead to reconciliation. When old wounds are reopened in the absence of a supportive framework for healing, such a commission runs the risk of aggravating the very suffering, anger and polarisation it is supposed to be addressing. One of the slogans of South Africa’s TRC was “revealing is healing,” yet people’s anger and grief were compounded by the terrible truths that surfaced. Whether it actually achieved its goal remains a matter of dispute.

In Nepal too, the TRC process is bound to provoke painful emotions that should be adequately acknowledged and addressed. If not healed, they could block forgiveness and reconciliation. Psychological studies show that when feelings of enemity towards one another do not change, violence is likely to recur. The principles and practices of restorative justice and psychology provide essential guidance on how this can be prevented. If genuine reconciliation is indeed the goal, it is imperative that the government, victims’ organisations, civil society organisations and institutions active in psychosocial counseling, mediation, dialogue facilitation and peacebuilding, as well as donors, consider these.

Restorative justice processes have taken place all around the world, including in Rwanda, Bougainville, Northern Ireland, Timor-Leste, Sierra Leone, Canada, Brazil, Japan and Norway. Considering the needs of the victims, offenders, and the community, they focus on healing relationships and restoring social harmony. Rather than being spectators to court processes, victims take an active role while perpetrators are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions and repair the harm done. Justice and truth are regarded as components of the process, not as ends in themselves. Restorative justice processes are usually mediated to ensure that they are rooted in empathy and bring about the fundamental changes in attitudes, perceptions and emotions necessary for reconciliation. As experiences in Brazil have shown, hearing the perpetrator express his own pain about the pain of the victim can have a powerful healing effect. One could argue that amnesty as an outcome of such a process will be just while amnesty granted in the absence of authentic reconciliation promotes impunity.

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