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Justice for Children: Reference manual on Restorative Justice

 

Whether children come into contact with the law as victims, witnesses, offenders or complainants, it is equally important that they are met with a system that understands and respects both their rights and their unique vulnerability. This is the premise upon which the Centre for Justice Studies and Innovations (CJSI) is implementing the Youth Strengthening and Empowerment Program (YSEP) under the Justice for Children Program with support from Save the Children.



The Youth Strengthening and Empowerment Program is informed by gaps in implementation of the Children Act, married with the need to improve economic prospects for youth as a means to compliment state building and development efforts. The program works at two levels. At national level, the program responds to policy gaps. More specific focus targets children in Northern Uganda, in the two districts of Nwoya and Amuru. These two districts are among those affected by the twenty-year conflict between Uganda government forces and the Lords Resistance Army (LRA). Many of the children and youth in Amuru and Nwoya suffered gross violations such as abductions, rape, torture, loss of limb, parents and family, as well as property. Furthermore, they are not only victims but some have been involved in commission of atrocities. As such, these children are likely to be rejected by their communities. The vulnerability of these children arising out of the armed conflict has rendered many homeless, parentless and without proper livelihood, regular meals, shelter or even clothing. In order to survive, many find themselves in conflict with the law, making them potential offenders.

International human rights instruments such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) declare that all children have a right to fair treatment under the law. Uganda has signed on to these doctrines and committed to protecting its children and youth. Consequently, all actions affecting children should be guided by principles of universality, non-discrimination, participation and accountability.

Through the Youth Strengthening and Empowerment Program (YSEP), CJSI undertakes capacity development of persons working with the justice administration system at the helm of which is the Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS). This approach is intended to enhance application of child friendly justice in the target districts of Nwoya and Amuru districts, while at the same time creating linkages between the formal and informal justice structures nationwide.

Restorative Justice is a big part of linkage building between the formal and informal justice system. It allows for a form of justice that is caring and sensitive to the needs of a wide range of parties, including victims and offenders. Restorative Justice is particularly important for Northern Uganda as a means of resolving conflicts, many of these arising from insecurities of having large populations living in IDP camps for long periods of time. As a result of the twenty year conflict, 51% of the population have been personally exposed to some kind of violence. Conflicts arising from social ills such as wife battering, land boundary disputes are prevalent. Family disputes are ranked highest at an average of 45% and land disputes come second at 41%.

The Reference Manual notes that Restorative Justice is not a novel concept introduced through statute but rather, a norm that has existed over time, though practiced in varying forms across different parts of the country, whether in small or serious cases. Whereas Restorative Justice has traditionally been practiced in the informal justice system, some of its features have found themselves in the formal justice system. Interventions such as caution, compensation and diversion have their origins in traditional / informal justice but are now part of national legislation on child justice.
New and established forms of restorative justice offer communities some welcome means of resolving conflicts. They enhance direct and yet very ‘friendly’ participation of individuals and the community at large in dispute resolution. This is especially beneficial to children in conflict with the law. In fact, when properly executed, Restorative Justice minimizes the challenges that children face at each step in each aspect of a legal proceeding, and has the potential to change the lives of children who have become entwined in the legal system. 

Through this reference manual, CJSI makes a number of recommendations in the application of Restorative Justice in order to achieve child friendly justice in Uganda. For instance, the manual highlights the need for a clear operational framework at national level to guide the implementation of Restorative Justice, both in the formal and informal justice sectors on aspects such as jurisdiction (both geographical and financial) for cases of Restorative Justice; nature of cases that can be handled; responsibility of different actors; enforcement of decisions and utilization and maximization of local resources and experience. It also cautions that the application of Restorative Justice should not retain its ‘ancient’ and ‘archaic’ formats but should embrace new values such as inclusivity of historically marginalized groups so as to ably address the challenges presented by contemporary conflicts.


The manual further outlines procedural guidelines for children participating in Restorative Justice cases. It calls for adequate preparation and step-by-step explanation to children, use of ‘age developmentally appropriate’ and minimally threatening language and referral to relevant support services such as health and counseling facilities as required.
The task of developing the Reference Manual benefitted from existing literature and previous studies on Restorative Justice. It attempts to synthesize the lessons learned during the implementation of the YSEP program and places the discussion on Restorative Justice in the context of an already over burdened national criminal justice system. The manual examines how Restorative Justice is applied in local communities in YSEP project sites as well as other parts of the country and makes recommendations for strengthening its local understanding and application in Uganda.

The main purpose of this Reference Manual is to help those involved in conflict resolution in formal and informal justice systems to employ effective Restorative Justice techniques.  It is expected that the correct application of the strategies in this manual will contribute to a reduction in the entrenched disadvantage experienced by children and youth in Nwoya and Amuru, and other parts of Uganda in realizing their right of access to child and youth sensitive / friendly justice.

 

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