World Peace in Three Days?

Most of us are beavering away in our corners doing our best to further the cause of world peace. We may be marching in protest, signing petitions, stuffing envelopes, delivering leaflets, taking in refugees, helping homeless people, running food banks, doing voluntary work of all kinds. We try to help those in need, and we try to challenge the causes of war and want. But we rarely see results on the global scene.

This summer I had such a chance. Readers of The Friend will have seen the account of my attendance at the 28thUnited Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ), where the theme was ‘The responsibility of effective, fair, humane and accountable criminal justice systems in preventing and countering crime motivated by intolerance or discrimination of any kind’. I delivered a statement to the plenary session (see The Friend 28 June) and a workshop on ‘A Restorative Approach to Hate Crime and Discrimination’.

Then, I was invited by Jee Aei Lee (Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer, UNODC – United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) to take part in a UNODC Expert Group Meeting to discuss the updating of the UN Handbook on Restorative Justice, first published in 2006. There had been a resolution to this effect in 2017, followed by a Meeting of Experts in Ottawa, Canada in November 2017. Based on this meeting, two Restorative Justice experts from Canada, both working at the University of the Fraser Valley, wrote a first draft of the new Handbook.  The call for an updated Handbook was repeated at the UN Crime Commission in May 2018, asking the UNODC to take account of the many new developments in restorative justice, and to provide practical guidance and training materials.

We were sent a copy of the draft manual by e-mail. It took a whole weekend and more to read the 120 pages, prepare comments and look up extra materials to cover the gaps I identified.

The meeting took place in Bangkok, equidistant between Europe, Canada, Latin America and Australia, but chosen also because the Thailand Institute of Justice is very supportive of restorative justice. The meeting format was very formal, with the 43 participants arranged alphabetically around a long thin rectangular layout of tables. In my place at the end of one of the long sides, I could not see any of the other 15 people on my side, only the end and opposite people. But we had individual microphones so we could hear each other. I found myself seated between a venerable Finnish member of their Ministry of Justice and a young Canadian/ British criminologist lecturing at a university in Ireland.

The programme lasted for three days, and some members of the group were assigned to chair sessions on each section of the report. I was asked to chair the discussion on Chapter 3, Types of Restorative Justice Programmes, one of the longest in the Handbook. Fortunately, we only overran our time slot slightly, and were able to finish reviewing it on the first day.

The whole process was utterly fascinating. Group members came from all over the world – UK (me), Albania, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Finland, Georgia, Hungary, Iran, Ireland (north and south), Italy, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan (but living in Bradford, UK), Poland, South Africa and of course Thailand. One minute we were discussing starting new programmes in Nepal, then hearing about the ‘Jirga’ peace-making process in traditional areas of Pakistan, then considering how to include the values of Aboriginal peoples of Western Australia. I had plenty to contribute, both from my practical experience in the UK and from my work in several countries in Africa and Eastern Europe, also as a representative of Quakers. It was quite thrilling to know that our comments and deliberations would result in a Handbook which would be used all over the world to promote development of restorative justice – a seminal peace-making process in its values and practices.

Many of us wrote e-mails of grateful thanks for the thoughtful organization of the meeting. The Finnish minister added:

Over the years, I have attended quite a number of UN expert meetings, on a range of different issues. These have always been stimulating, rewarding and enlightening. My experience with these meetings has been that there are usually three or four who tend to dominate the proceedings: they are the ones who have already crystallized their expertise into words, and this small group will then bounce the ideas among themselves.

This meeting was quite different. Perhaps it was the subject, restorative justice, and the experience that all of you have necessarily had in listening to one another. Whatever the reason, you all were respectful of the different views and contexts represented around the table, and you all contributed to enriching the discussion, for the benefit of all of us, and of the manual. I was honoured to have been able to have participated at such a meeting. Thanks to all of you, good colleagues in restorative justice!

I too felt privileged to have met so many interesting people, all practising the values of restorative justice as we deliberated the topics. I left the meeting feeling that our work would indeed have a direct impact on world peace.

Marian Liebmann