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Negotiating Reconciliation, Amends And Forgiveness in Burundi

From Settle It Now Negotiation Blog

Whenever I read about restorative justice (my paper on the topic here) I am somewhat ashamed that I cannot put aside my own grievances when others resolve harms of such major magnitudes such as the murder of children and genocide.  I am reminded of this today because of Paul and Rebecca Mosley’s blog on the work they are doing in Burundi.

What relevance does this bear to my attempt to settle “pure money” litigation you ask.  First, I must say that there is no such thing as “pure money” litigation (see my paper on this topic here starting on page 60).  Second, the conflict of litigation is nothing compared to the matters resolved in a restorative justice session — matters such as the murder of one’s child and rape by one’s own brother at knife-point (in the tragically mesmerizing Beyond Conviction). And in the unfortunately common outbreak of genocide such as that occurred in Rwanda

There is something for all of us to learn about the power of reconciliation of these matters of far greater import than the value of a breach of contract or even the infringement of a patent, trade mark, trade name or copyright.  In my own personal life I am forced to ask myself, in light of the courage displayed by these people, who I am not to forgive.

So today I bring you a recent post from Paul and Rebecca Mosley’s blog Holy Week and Transitional Justice about their work in Barundi with the Mennonite Central Committee. These are the modest international heroes of the modern peace movement.  I will let them explain their work in their own words below.

I was invited to represent MCC at a meeting of Peace Church organizations working in Burundi. Representatives from The American Friends Service Committee, Quaker Peace Network, as well as others were in attendance. When asked what the AFSC saw as ‘flashpoints’ of conflict—anticipating and trying to prevent potential conflict flashpoints is an important part of peace work— they identified several problems. First, there is the continued problem of repatriated refugees coming back to land they had abandoned that is now occupied. There have been many ongoing land disputes that have often turned violent and even murderous. Secondly, there are the upcoming 2010 elections. There will be many political parties, including some fairly radical ones formed by recently demobilized rebel groups. Peaceful transfer of power is historically almost non-existent in sub-Saharan African nations and there is considerable anxiety about what will happen in the next 12 months. However, the biggest concern identified by AFSC was ‘transitional justice’. This is really a serious problem here and speaks to the greater problem of trying to bring to ‘justice’ those who have been guilty of past war crimes.

Here’s the problem: how do you persuade a government to pursue justice for those who are guilty of committing crimes in the past 14 years of civil war, when many perpetrators are now occupying seats of power in the government itself? Also, there is the ongoing undercurrent of ethnic conflict. Any attempt by one ethnic group to pursue ‘justice’ against another looks like retribution and not impartial arbitration. Add the complication of a highly politicized election, and this becomes a real conflict tinderbox. Doing nothing (letting sleeping dogs lie), however, is not an option as it fuels growing resentment in the population, as they see many known war criminals ‘getting away with murder.’

At the local level, MCC partners—particularly MiPAREC—have set up ‘peace committees’ in communities all over the country to try to introduce concepts of ‘restorative justice’ to resolve conflicts. This involves providing a forum for grievances to be aired, victims’ stories to be heard, and an opportunity for perpetrators to ask for forgiveness and make amends. They have had a great deal of success at the local level, but whether this type of reconciliation can be accomplished at the national level is an open question.

As I said, the problem is that there is no impartial arbitrator. Everyone is on some side, and many who would need to implement justice have blood on their own hands.

I am learning that justice is not a simple matter of getting the facts and making a ruling. Those in power can decide which facts are relevant and can largely determine who is tried and the outcome of any legal process.

What human beings are capable of—even at their best—is only a shadow of what I believe divine justice will look like. I am considering in a new way that passage in 2 Corinthians (5:17-21) that says we have been given “the ministry of reconciliation.” – which is the gospel! We may never be divine judges, but we have, in Jesus, the capacity for divine forgiveness. I pray this capacity will be shared in Burundi by those who follow him.



Victoria Pynchon

Attorney-mediator Victoria Pynchon is a panelist with ADR Services, Inc. Ms. Pynchon was awarded her LL.M Degree in Dispute Resolution from the Straus Institute in May of 2006, after 25 years of complex commercial litigation practice, with sub-specialties in intellectual property, securities fraud, antitrust, insurance coverage, consumer class actions and all… MORE >

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