Summary of "Beyond Retribution: Seeking Justice in the Shadows of War"

Summary of

Beyond Retribution: Seeking Justice in the Shadows of War

By Rama Mani

Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff

Citation: Mani, Rama. 2002. Beyond Retribution: Seeking Justice in the Shadows of War. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Mani explores the prospects of achieving justice in post-conflict situations in order to realize lasting peace. The book examines the challenges of building peace with justice in contemporary conflicts. Mani criticizes practitioners and philosophers alike for not being cognizant of the fact that policy prescriptions need to account for the fact that the societies in which pressures for justice exist are also very poor. What is more, they have failed to conceive of post-conflict justice as entailing three interrelated aspects: legal justice or the rule of law; rectificatory justice; and distributive justice. Unless all are considered jointly, justice will be more difficult to realize. To make the case, Mani draws from the experiences of El Salvador, Haiti, Namibia, Mozambique, Cambodia, Rwanda, South Africa, and Guatemala. One positive sign Mani finds is that peacebuilders have clearly learned from past mistakes from Namibia to Guatemala, although much of the improvement is rhetorical at this point.

First, Mani criticizes the prevailing view peacebuilders have of the rule of law. It is often viewed mechanistically, as a way to establish order in post-conflict circumstances rather than as a means to achieve justice. International efforts to aid in constructing the rule of law suffers from three primary faults: the neglect of political aspects in favor of technical concerns; the adoption of a one-size-fits-all approach; and an approach Mani calls 'programmatic minimalism'. There has been significant emphasis on police reform, but inadequate attention to reintegrating combatants and dealing with the continued power of perpetrators in society. What is more, the frequent crime wave following the end of conflict also provides challenges for a police force under construction. The judiciary has also been a frequent target of reform. The international community has been effective in training the judiciary and providing materials. However, it has been more difficult to ensure the independence and impartiality of the judiciary, which political actors and the judiciary itself may not favor. In addition, with respect to rule of law, Mani discusses prison reform, which has only recently gained the attention of international peacebuilders. Generally, they have been using universal human rights standards. However, countries frequently lack the resources to conform. Given bureaucratization and the volume of post-conflict activity, peacebuilders have also often not sufficiently adapted their programs to local conditions. Finally, Mani notes that international peacebuilders have generally pursued 'programmatic minimalism' by which she means that there is a focus on institutional mechanics to the neglect of creating an ethos of the rule of law.

Mani than proceeds to examine how international peacebuilders have approached issues of rectificatory justice. There is disagreement as to whether trials or truth commissions are more effective means. Unfortunately, however, regardless of preference, they have tended to pursue uniform structures that do not adequately account for local context. What is more, there is so much focus on perpetrators and victims that the much larger number of survivors are often overlooked. These categories are problematic at least in part because referring of individuals as victims is backward-looking and deprives them of agency. These mechanisms are also poorly suited for getting at systematic, structural injustices. There is a need for greater adaptability in constructing official mechanisms to permit different timing or constructing amnesties in ways to meet local circumstances. There has also been inadequate attention to how informal, traditional mechanisms as well as monetary and symbolic reparations can play a positive role in achieving justice.

Finally, the third component is distributive justice. By and large, Mani observes, international observers have focused on dealing with the effects of conflict rather than the underlying causes. In order to truly achieve justice, the socioeconomic inequalities that led to the conflict in the first place must be addressed. They have focused on growth over equity and paid inadequate attention to the social and political consequences of such policies as privatization, liberalization, and stabilization. These policies can generate or exascerbate competition for scarse resources.