Kerry Clamp’s final chapter of her new volume, Restorative Justice in Transitional Settings , is about a transformative vision for restorative justice as a response to mass victimisation. One way I have argued for transitional justice to become more transformative is for it to become less transitional. In her recent writing, Kerry Clamp has also questioned quick closure as a transitional justice objective. Rather, Clamp is attracted to the Nils Christie ideal that it is often better to own and live within a conflict rather than ‘solve’ it.

The conflict between restorative and prosecutorial justice itself is a good example of one that is best not ‘resolved’, but continually contested by advocates with different visions of justice.

Ray Nickson and I in Deeper, Broader, Longer Transitional Justice have made a case for permanent truth and reconciliation commissions that broaden, deepen and lengthen their conception of justice. Restorative justice learnings are the path we see for deepening justice through participatory ownership of it by neglected stakeholders, particularly victims, but not only victims. The way restorative justice can deepen the meaning of justice is by being ‘responsive to the centrality of [affected] communities as stakeholders in justice work’ as Harry Mika argues in his chapter of Restorative Justice in Transitional Settings. Justice can be broadened so that it includes reparations of diverse kinds that encompass: ‘symbolic reparation’, sometimes with a tangible quality such as returning bones, as well as ‘material reparation’; Clifford Shearing’s ‘justice as a better future’; apology; memorialisation, and much more.

Lengthening justice means making transitional justice permanent! This means truth and reconciliation commissions or an archipelago of local and national peace committees as permanent institutions.

In every country that has suffered a major war only a tiny proportion of victims have been helped by transitional justice. One reason is that modern management techniques have never been applied to transitional justice. This leads to a discussion in my article about long term commitment to iterated cycles of fail fast, learn fast, adapt fast. The computer industry had many decades of producing dud computers or computers that were of little use to we ordinary citizens before the contemporary era where most of us carry a computer most of the time (in our phone).

A permanent commission could be mandated to achieve long-run continuous improvement in access to transitional justice.

This would mean consultations with transitional justice stakeholders to set performance indicators. The Commission could be required by law to maintain records on how many victims had received different kinds of justice; how satisfied they were with the justice they received and the quality of listening to their grievances;  whether they had an opportunity to say all the things they wanted to say and ask for all the things they wanted to request; whether their rights were respected in the process; whether they were treated with dignity; whether PTSD services and other forms of counselling were provided as needed, and so on.

Such data should be independently collected because CEOs of Permanent Truth and Reconciliation Commissions should be evaluated partly according to how successful the society is in improving justice indicators during their watch. Many other indicators could be identified by stakeholders as measurements the commission must collect such as:

  • refugees and IDPs resettled,
  • mines cleared, schools rebuilt,
  • child soldiers completing their education and getting jobs,
  • ethnic and religious discrimination surveys,
  • equality measures of various kinds,
  • restorative justice circles completed and followed up to the satisfaction of participants,
  • criminal prosecutions completed,
  • named victims memorialized through ceremonies to unveil memorials,
  • peer review evaluations from transitional justice practitioners from elsewhere on the strategic and reconciliatory qualities of the prosecutions, restorative justice circles, reparations, and other initiatives.

Put another way, this is a proposal to scale up restorative justice[1] and other forms of transitional justice, both in terms of the proportion of survivors benefitting from them and in terms of quality, by mandating a permanent truth and reconciliation commission (or a permanent peace committee architecture) to invest in management and cultural change to continuously improve transitional justice.

In the first few years of operation, one could expect a permanent commission to fail slowly, learn slowly and adapt slowly. This is just to say that it would need to learn how to manage itself, how to open itself to feedback from stakeholders and peer reviewers. Such a reasonable expectation about how a management system might mature gradually to cultivate learning through monitoring goes to why it seems so naïve to believe that a transitional justice institution that wraps up in three years could achieve great things. Hope for transformation  in three years is worse than a triumph of hope over experience (managerial experience). It is ritualism of victim rights.[2] It is about the politics of being seen to be ‘doing something’ about victim rights without a sustained strategy for succeeding at justice that matters with all or most victims, over time.

[1]Braithwaite (2016) ‘Learning to Scale up Restorative Justice’ in K. Clamp (ed.) Restorative Justice in Transitional Settings,173-189. Abingdon: Routledge.

[2]Charlesworth, Hilary and Emma Larking (eds.) 2014 Human Rights and the Universal Periodic Review: Rituals and Ritualism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.