Restorative Justice: An Answer to Sexual Violence in Nepal?

Note on how to cite this journal:

Author, Date of the post, WMO Conflict Insight, Title of the post,  ISSN: 2628-6998, https://worldmediation.org/conflict-insight 

1) KeyWords

Nepal, South Asia, restorative justice, alternative justice, criminal justice, survivor-centered approach, sexual violence, gender-based violence, violence prevention, violence against women, taboo, patriarchy, civil war, high—level corruption, police corruption, healing, mental health, COVID-19 lockdown, victim-blaming, awareness, online sexual violence, cybercrime, NGOs, funding challenges, advocacy, sexual and reproductive health and rights, reintegration, women empowerment

2) Abstract

Rising sexual violence threatens Nepal’s widely patriarchal, male-favoring, and gender-biased society. Research shows that the country’s traditional justice procedure commonly disappoints to address survivors’ holistic needs due to corruption, insufficient state capacities, and by restricting its engagement to penalizing the responsible party. A punishment-centered system is only a short-term answer, missing out on risks for repeated misdemeanors after detention discharge. Survivors of sexual violence stress their need for holistic justice that exceeds traditional courtroom scenarios. Restorative justice, a participatory alternative to sanction-centered systems, has proven its potential in Nepal and is, mostly unknowingly, applied in support programs. More awareness, support, and emphasis on the survivor-focused restorative mindset could greatly benefit many of those affected by or at risk of sexual violence. 

3) Introduction

Sexual violence against girls and women continues to be a pandemic threatening to harm psychologically, physically, and economically. For good reasons, it is declared as one of the most widespread human rights violations, depriving girls’ and women’s equality and self-worth. 

According to the United Nation’s Populations Fund, UNFPA survivors of sexual violence need, among others, justice and healing the most. Survivors and their communities claim that the traditional criminal justice system often fails to meet their interests and needs. In a context with rising reported cases, Nepal’s rape survivors often experience that the police is not always their friend. Police and state mismanagement of sexual violence cases is a common issue, and victim-blaming still the knee-jerk response for many. One consequence is a debate over the opportunity to create and introduce a more innovative approach, including restorative justice principles.

Restorative justice focuses not only on the needs of the survivors and the community but also on the offending party’s reintegration. The approach, which includes conferencing, mediation, and circles, addresses the survivor’s need for validation and compensation and contributes to preventing future sexual offenses. 

Ph.D. candidate Tobias Volz assessed the awareness of sexual violence through an online survey. He interviewed Nepali sexual violence survivors and experts to look into current procedures and analyze the potential of restorative justice in this setting. This article provides insights into the results and calls to more actively advocating for the concept.

4) Sexual Violence and the Needs for Restorative Support

The South Asian country Nepal, rich in culture and nature, remains one of the least developed nations worldwide. The mostly Hindu-dominated society defined itself for centuries through the hierarchical caste system, which often outlines women’s roles as housewives and justifies violence against them. According to an assessment of sexual violence in different districts, a high prevalence of sexual violence exists among adolescent girls. Almost one in ten girls, 9.8 percent, stated that they experienced sexual violence. 

Recent public incidents created concern, and issues like online sexual violence indicate the urgency for changes. Consequently, some women stopped checking the news since additional reports on the topic became unbearable to read. Women activists utilize the benefits of online activism, significant during COVID-19 lockdowns, a period in which intimate partner violence spiked. 

The consequences of sexual violence are often severe and shattering, creating layers of needs within survivors. One of the first responses when asking about survivor’s needs is the necessity of getting justice. Interviewed women claimed that justice is subjective and individual in each case. Often, getting justice can be equivalent to the restoration of survivors’ lives. Various survivors expressed the desire to talk to the harming party to learn the reasons or to hear explanations, validation, or an apology to move on. 

The concept of restorative justice is most defined by what it is an option to. The idea helps to experience a real sense of justice, often not guaranteed through the traditional justice system.  The restorative justice concept entered Nepal’s general discourse after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord. Initially, it was a procedure meant to support the country dealing with the legacy of human rights violations from the past. Currently, Nepal pilots projects on trial and probation, bringing new opportunities to link restorative and traditional justice.

Restorative justice work for sexual violence survivors in Nepal is practiced in different forms. In most cases, those who work restoratively are either unaware of it or do not call it restorative, for example, due to fundraising challenges. Women’s rights experts believe that community mobilization and involvement, a core principle of restorative justice work, is one of Nepal’s major strengths. 

The vast majority of interview partners did not see significant risks in applying restorative justice in cases of sexual violence in Nepal. However, one needs to pay special attention to ensuring the confidentiality and safety of survivors, showing professional standards, and preventing re-victimization and community biases. If working restoratively means having a facilitated dialogue with the harming party, text- or video chats might be viable if safety can otherwise not be ensured. 

Unfortunately, government actions are often oriented towards acute events, such as the civil war, the earthquake, political tensions, or managing the COVID-19 pandemic. While many live in poverty and struggle to cover their basic needs, restorative justice and sexual violence prevention are seen as a comparatively secondary priority.

5) Conclusion and Recommendations

Violence against women, especially sexual, is a global threat, including for many women in Nepal. The country’s patriarchal system discriminates against women based on cultural, religious, and societal practices, which are explanatory factors, yet no excuses for sexual violence. Noteworthily, restorative justice has excellent potential here.

Working restoratively can start as small as through a basic conversation. For example, the author experienced that some of the interviews with survivors, especially on their needs and justice understandings, had restorative effects. Interviewees expressed that the conversations about their experiences through the restorative justice lens are helpful and valuable in themselves, and this idea might be utilized for projects in the field.

One survivor shared that talking about sexual violence during the interviews made her realize that she has been more frequently affected by sexual violence than she was initially aware of. She learned how sexual violence she experienced through numerous harassment experiences accumulated and unconsciously affected her attitude towards men. She agreed that talking about restorative justice has been a restorative experience and helped her express her emotions. 

Nepal progressed significantly within the last decade in terms such as literacy and education, which brings hope that women’s situations can continue to improve when it comes to sexual violence. Positive experiences in applying restorative justice need to be utilized for advocacy and build upon. While possible future scenarios discussed in interviews often projected mixed pictures, the general consent was that more work needs to be done to present future generations a more bright picture.

References

1. UNICEF, Domestic Violence Against Women and Girls, Innocenti Digest. Florence, Italy: Innocenti Research Center, June 2000, 2.

2. UNFPA, “Survivors of Sexual Violence Need Healing and Justice Even amid Pandemic, Leaders Assert – World,” ReliefWeb, 2020, accessed December 29, 2020, https://reliefweb.int/report/world/survivors-sexual-violence-need-healing-and-justice-even-amid-pandemic-leaders-assert.

3. Bhrikuti Rai, “For Rape Survivors in Nepal, Police Is Not Always Their Friend,” 2019, accessed December 28, 2020, https://kathmandupost.com/national/2019/07/17/for-rape-survivors-in-nepal-police-is-not-always-their-friend.

4. Amnesty International, “‘I Knew I Couldn’t Stay Silent Anymore’: Meet the Amazing Women Fighting Sexual Violence in Nepal,” 2019, accessed December 29, 2020, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/01/i-knew-i-couldnt-stay-silent-anymore-meet-the-women-fighting-sexual-violence-in-nepal/.

5. Clare McGlynn, Julia Downes, and Nicole Westmarland, Seeking Justice for Survivors of Sexual Violence: Recognition, Voice and Consequences, SSRN Scholarly Paper (Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network, November 22, 2014), accessed December 7, 2020, https://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=2874138.

6. Ibid.

7. Tobias Volz, “Restorative Justice in Nepal: An Analysis of the Approach in Cases of Sexual Violence Against Women” (Ph.D. diss., EUCLID, 2021).

8. Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Kathmandu: National Capital, Nepal,” 2020, accessed June 12, 2020, https://www.britannica.com/place/Kathmandu.

9. Lynn Bennet, Dilli R. Dahal, and Pav Govindasamy, Caste, Ethnic and Regional Identity in Nepal: Further Analysis of the 2006 Nepal Demographic and Health Survey (Calverton, United States of America: Macro International Inc., 2006).

10. Himalayan Human Rights Monitors, Sexual Violence Assessment in Seven Districts of Nepal: A Study Conducted in Kanchanpur, Kailali, Bardiya, Banke, Dang, Parsa, and Bara (Kathmandu, Nepal, December 2012), accessed December 21, 2020, https://www.himrights.org/download/12_1633811810.pdf.

11. John Braithwaite, “Restorative Justice: Assessing Optimistic and Pessimistic Accounts,” Crime and Justice 25 (1999): 1–127.

12. Amnesty International, “Nepal: Recent Steps Undermine Transitional Justice,” 2020, accessed October 25, 2020, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/01/nepal-recent-steps-undermine-transitional-justice/.

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