By: Victoriya Levina and Basil Williams
Sydnee Robinson, a 2L at Harvard Law School and chair of the 2019 Harvard Negotiation Law Review symposium, and Shannon Schmidt, a Harvard Divinity School student, first came together to discuss their shared interest in restorative justice in summer of 2018. They were drawn to the topic because of the ways in which it represents a paradigm shift in how to view and respond to harmful behavior. An evolving concept and growing field of practices, restorative justice focuses on responding to harm through facilitated dialogue. By the fall, Robinson and Schmidt had teamed up to help organize HNLR’s three-day event.
The 2019 Harvard Negotiation Law Review (HNLR) symposium, “Redressing Harm Through Restorative Justice,” held February 5-7 at Harvard Law School, brought together students, faculty, staff, ADR practitioners, attorneys, and members of the greater Boston community to explore various applications of restorative justice within the criminal justice system in the United States and in post-conflict systems around the world. The symposium, which focused on the challenges of addressing power imbalances and trauma through implementation of restorative practices within communities, featured remarks, panel discussions, an interactive workshop, and a film screening.
As a journal, the Harvard Negotiation Law Review (HNLR) has long been interested in exploring creative methods of addressing harm, particularly those that go beyond punitive justice and attempt to restore relationships and communities. In 2015, HNLR hosted a symposium on the theory and practice of restorative justice.
“The HNLR Symposium felt like a special opportunity to bridge the gap between experts and community members,” said Schmidt. “While our speakers taught us about the powerful work they are doing in fields related to restorative justice, members of the audience actively engaged in these topics on the level of their own experiences in their own communities.”
The symposium opened with remarks from Dr. Carl Stauffer, whose transitional justice work has taken him to 20 African countries and 15 other countries in the Caribbean, Middle East, Europe, Asia, Central America, and the Balkans. Stauffer recalled his experience working with refugees who fled the civil war in Sierra Leone. “Stories of trauma were heavy and hard to carry,” he said while discussing how a formal justice process was driving a wedge in the civilian population instead of facilitating healing and reconciliation. He described the power of a ground-up restorative process that, since 2008, has created a meaningful change in Sierra Leone by harnessing the social, cultural, and spiritual power of the affected communities. Restorative justice “is evolving into a social movement,” he said. It has inspired participants to work toward a “cultural shift of how restorative justice can be used in the future,” he added.