International Development Law Organization

What is restorative justice and how can it work in Honduras?

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Justice based on human rights is crucial in Honduras. As part of its project to reduce homicide through access to justice, IDLO is working to promote restorative justice mechanisms to address the consequences of criminal behavior involving the offender, the victim and the community. 

IDLO’s Latin America team explains what restorative justice is and why it is central to access to justice for all. 

What is restorative justice and why is this relevant in Honduras?

Restorative justice is an approach to peaceful conflict resolution, based on the dialogue among parties involved - victim, offender and community - that seeks to repair the damage caused by an injustice. It gives the offender an opportunity to reintegrate in the community as an individual that values him or herself and respects the law and his or her surroundings. Drawing from ancestral practices, the model of restorative justice is participatory and restorative, understanding that conflict is generated by all of us, affects all of us and shall be solved by all of us. In recent years, the approach is being implemented in the Latin American region, particularly in Mexico, Peru, Colombia and Costa Rica - the latter has a 96 per cent rate of effectiveness in the resolution of cases processed through this alternative approach.  

Restorative justice is particularly relevant in Honduras considering the challenges the country is facing. According to the 2018 Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “impunity is widespread in the country, where poverty and inequality are deeply rooted”. Moreover, in 2018, more than 41 homicides per one-thousand-inhabitants were recorded according to the National Violence Observatory of the National Autonomous University of Honduras and the Police Statistics System. The Honduran justice administration requires an alternative approach in light of the high level of unresolved cases and the high number of prison population - over 21,000 people are imprisoned, out of which approximately 50 per cent are kept in pre-trial detention. Considering such a deadlock affecting the justice system, restorative justice presents an opportunity to address alternative measures for those cases that could not be resolved before reaching the justice system.   

The potential of restorative justice in Honduras is explained through the importance of shifting the approach of the justice administration so that the criminal response is not limited to jail-time punishment. It explores programs such as victim-offender mediation, community and family group conferencing, circle sentencing and reparative probation and community panels. What’s more, the criminal justice system guarantees citizens’ access to justice through more agile and effective dispute resolution mechanisms, while contributing to reduce repeat offenses and the notable gap existing between reported and unresolved cases. Lastly, restorative justice grants the community with a more active role in the process of dispute resolution, therefore strengthening the social fabric in the interest of reconciliation and building a more peaceful society. 

What are the main challenges in implementing restorative justice mechanisms in Honduras?

During the First Meeting on Restorative Justice organized by IDLO in Honduras in March 2019, national stakeholders identified the following as the main obstacles facing the implementation of a restorative justice model: the need for political will in a context of social pressure demanding responses to crime, knowledge gap of the judiciary on how to implement restorative justice, and the need for budget allocated specifically to this issue.

How will a more robust policy on restorative justice in Honduras improve access to justice and reduce violence?

A well-structured policy, with achievable and measurable indicators and defined roles for all actors involved - police, prosecutors, judges and corrections officers – will yield results and positive changes. In addition, the policy will enable effective and rapid responses to citizens seeking justice, when repairing the damage inflicted to the victim and rebuilding offender-community relations. This way, repeat offenses and the propensity to commit crimes are reduced, and society’s social fabric strengthened. A restorative justice policy will provide the necessary resources for the implementation of the system at the national level. 

What is the way forward?

Firstly, it is important to share successful practices, processes and models already implemented in the region to deepen the knowledge on restorative justice models and establish baselines for progress in Honduras.

Moreover, drawing from earlier experiences and relationships built by IDLO over the course of three years working in the country, a pilot model could be developed to support key stakeholders and citizens to bring positive change to the justice administration. Eventually, the actors involved can advance towards a reform of the justice and security sectors, including the police, prosecution, judicial council and the National Penitentiary Institution.     

Finally, it is vital to promote public awareness on the meaning of restorative justice, to deconstruct preconceptions about restorative justice being a second-rate version of justice and, most importantly, that restorative justice is not about the failure to impose a sanction for the benefit of the offender.

It is vital that citizens, together with decision-makers and the judiciary, understand the virtues of restorative justice and how this approach, reduces impunity, addresses the high rates of crime and violence in the country, and improves access to justice for all.