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Restorative Justice at the UN Crime Congress

June 8, 2015

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

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.


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