With more than 70 percent of prisoners in Bangladesh’s overcrowded prisons awaiting trial, a variety of constituents are advocating for restorative justice initiatives to help lessen the court dockets and return many innocent people to their families.
M. Asadullah (Asad), MA ’11, and Ali Gohar, MA ’02, were invited speakers at the first International Conference on Restorative Justice in August in Bangladesh. Criminologist Dr. John Braithwaite of Australian National University was the keynote speaker. Both Asadullah and Gohar are graduates of Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP) program in conflict transformation. Gohar is the first recipient of CJP’s Alumni Award for Outstanding Service.
Pressing need to alleviate court backlog
Three million cases are pending in Bangladesh courts, mostly for petty crimes, including theft, vandalism and family disputes, says Asadullah, a PhD student at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada. “This is why there is a convergence of interest among academics, practitioners and law enforcement agencies to tackle this case backlog through restorative justice interventions. The philosophy and principles of restorative justice also resonate with local and traditional practices, such as shalish and village courts.”
In his presentation, Asadullah explained the background, case studies, benefits, and whole-prison and rehabilitative approaches of restorative justice programs in prisons. He also talked about local initiatives in Bangladesh.
Gohar, founder and director of the Pakistan-based Just Peace Initiatives, discussed factors contributing to recidivism and the mental, social, psychological and emotional needs that restorative justice techniques can address for both victim and offender. Inclusion of government officials and community elders will help minimize recidivism, he said. Gohar has done significant research on the reconciliatory aspects of Pakistan’s indigenous traditions, including that of village-led jirgas.
The conference was organized by Dhaka University and The Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of Bangladesh, with funding from The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and the United Kingdom Department for International Development.
Sharing the potential of restorative justice
Following the conference, Asadullah spoke at the Bangladesh Society of Criminology’s annual general meeting about the challenges and opportunities associated with peacemaking criminology and restorative justice. He also reprised a version of his talk to more than 60 graduate students at the Institute Social Welfare and Research, University of Dhaka.
Asadullah noted future plans for a restorative justice in education conference, some interest in the inclusion of RJ models in police training manuals and the potential for collaboration on RJ-related research projects.
Editor’s note: Regrettably, we learned after the article was published that Jeremy Simons ‘MA 02 was also present at the conference. Simons, who works in the Philipines with the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute, gave a presentation on the transition from crime prevention to conflict transformation, with history and examples drawn from the context in which he works. Restorative justice, he offered, can bridge the gap between criminal/colonial justice systems and community-based relational justice.