In this project I depart from the assumption that there are three basic ways of dealing with past injustice. First of all, we can try to forget the past; that is, to ignore or to deny what has happened, in a desire to establish order after a period of serious conflict. Secondly, we can endeavor to remember the injustice of the past and commit ourselves to justice by trying to restore past wrongs as far as humanly possible. And lastly we can take a more reconciliatory attitude in a quest for enduring peace. In that case we try to deal with the past in order to overcome it; that is, with an eye to a common future. These three attitudes are very human and reflect the vicissitudes of everyday life. However, phenomena such as forgetting, remembering and reconciling not only play a role at a mundane, individual level, but also figure prominently at a collective (or state) level in post-conflict contexts.
In the Wheel of Restoration as a theoretical model, it is taken for granted that, at this macro or collective level, one of these attitudes always dominates the other two. In their collective outlook, all three have their strengths and weaknesses. They operate as paradigms tied to specific historic eras and to specific social, political and economic circumstances and, as such, are relatively difficult to influence. Moreover, each has its own specific relationship with the past, present and future. In a context of collective forgetting, for example, there is a clear focus on the present, while the connection to the injustice of the past is somehow suspended. An era marked by public remembering, on the other hand, is preoccupied by the past and generally aspires to correct past wrongs, preferably by punishing the perpetrators (retribution) and by undoing (if possible) the wrongs committed. In such a backward-looking approach, restitution-in-kind is the preferred way to do justice to former owners (or heirs) who have been deprived of their property rights in a context of extreme injustice. Lastly, in a context of reconciliation, the dominant timeframe is clearly the common future. In an era of reconciliation, restoration of the status quo ante is not the primary goal. The injustice of the past will usually be addressed in a way that helps lay the foundation for a common future, in which the past injustice can be overcome. In this future-oriented approach, redistribution rather than restitution of property rights is seen as more appropriate. There is no need, in such a process of redistribution, to stick rigidly to the past as other factors, relating both to the present and the future, can also be brought into play.
This (book) project aims to elaborate on the role of law in this model – departing from the presupposition that human beings are in need of having access to past, present and future when confronted with a violent past. How can legal institutions operate as ‘game changers’ and put the Wheel of Restoration in motion to the benefit of all?
For more information on the project contact Wouter Veraart