WORKING TOWARDS RESTORATIVE JUSTICE IN ETHIOPIA: INTEGRATING TRADITIONAL CONFLICT RESOLUTION SYSTEMS WITH THE FORMAL LEGAL SYSTEM
Dr. Julie Macfarlane Professor of Law, University of Windsor, Ontario Canada, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most legal scholars study the formal legal system, focusing on principles of law and state-sanctioned procedures and institutions. However, we know that this is only one aspect of the complex landscape of dispute resolution. In every country, community, and organization, systems of informal dispute resolution systems – often based on community customs or familial relationships, or embedded in institutional practices – run alongside the “official” state sanctioned processes. Despite their lack of formal authority and legitimacy, these informal alternatives may have as great, or even greater, an impact on the lives of those who use them as the state-sanctioned system. A growing interest in informal systems of dispute resolution has spawned a vibrant literature representing the intersection of many disciplines, including law, anthropology, sociology, and social psychology. Scholars of conflict resolution in their various disciplinary guises explore the substance and the role of informal systems of disputing and dispute resolution and their relationship, if any, to the formal legal system.
This paper considers how the multiple realities of dispute resolution in any environment affect the work of conflict resolution practitioners. Conflict resolution practitioners are almost always invited in by representatives of the formal legal system, and their work generally focuses on managing – and perhaps reforming – this system. In practice, they cannot ignore the existence of parallel informal systems of conflict resolution that may undermine or distract from the formal state system. These may include structured alternatives to law, such as religious tribunals or community mediation programs. There may be other, more informal but equally significant family or community-based processes which provide their own social order outside the legal system. Whatever form an informal system takes, it is a mistake to overlook or underestimate its impact on the formal legal process and any reforms or innovations planned there. Whether invited to assess existing systems, or to develop new processes or models, practitioners and consultants often find themselves mediating between formal and informal systems already in place.
The second part of this paper focuses on a particular example of the intersection of a formal and an informal system in the development of an innovation – Restorative Justice (RJ) programming – within the formal criminal justice system. It describes my experience working in the People’s Republic of Ethiopia and efforts to introduce RJ as an alternative regime within current criminal system. The dilemma facing reformers in Ethiopia – though this initiative is supported by the highest levels of government and the judiciary – is how to affect reform of the criminal justice system in a way that harnesses the energy of Ethiopia’s vibrant culture of informal tribal conflict resolution processes. In many regions of Ethiopia and especially those far from regional centers, these informal processes are in fact more influential and affect the lives of more Ethiopians than the formal system, which is remote from the lives of many ordinary people. How can the formal justice system become an appealing and appropriate alternative to customary justice for Ethiopians who have little or no contact with the formal justice system? How can RJ principles be legally entrenched in a way that is compatible with community traditions and customs of dealing with conflict, yet maintain the oversight of the State to ensure that human rights and due process are respected? And perhaps most important of all, how can trust and collaboration be enabled between the key players – the tribal elders and the officers of the state system – for the good of Ethiopia’s many diverse communities?
Despite the focus of this paper on Ethiopia, there are many lessons here for RJ programming in the West, which still wrestles with the dilemma of its relationship with the formal criminal justice system. The issues I encountered working in Ethiopia are familiar ones in the West. Those committed to RJ question whether working with the state will dilute or undermine “alternative” approaches and whether the state can be trusted to be the steward of RJ programs. Whose justice is Restorative Justice – the individual actors, their communities, or the state which must enforce and oversee its outcomes? Many would argue that the very essence of RJ is its fidelity to intuitive and organic forms of informal justice within any given community, and that its adoption by a State machinery inevitably detracts from that authenticity.4 Throughout this paper, I shall reflect on parallels these challenged for RJ models and similar issues which arise wherever dispute resolution systems are provided and administered – often by distinctive religious and cultural groups – as an alternative to the state system, civil or criminal. What is the relationship between such informal systems and the formal justice system? Can the formal and informal systems work together? How should the interests of cultural diversity on the one hand, and respect for universal rights of due process and equality on the other, be balanced when it comes to the relationship between state and non-state justice systems?