What is Justice?

HAART has been chosen to participate in the Global Learning Collaboration project by Safe Horizon. This project will focus on sharing best practices among organizations in the world that deal with victims of human trafficking. On August 5th we had our first online meeting and the conversation was centered upon the definition of justice for survivors.

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By Rehema Baya/A2ES

I was looking forward to the breaking down of the concept of justice because I am slowly discovering that the definition of the word might be universally the same but it’s meaning is quite different to every person you ask. Therefore, the meaning of justice to victims of trafficking is just not different from mine as a practitioner but also from one victim to the other. This is something that all of us agreed upon. The question then becomes, do you find a common meaning for justice or do you go with the meaning that a victim presents?

When we think about justice, most of us think about the courts and the legal process but it is good to acknowledge that the legal process is a small part of the definition of justice especially for victims that have gone through the kind of trauma that trafficking does. Most victims see justice as the whole process of healing and recovery and reintegration back to society. We all seemed to agree that victims should come first therefore what justice means to them should always be the focus of our work. This is not always easy because we live in communities with systems that sometimes require us to respond in a specific way and that way might require that a victim’s priority will not be ultimate as it should be.

Access to justice through the legal process is a difficult task for most of us in the field of counter-trafficking. The discussions focused on the process of administration of justice for victims of trafficking. It is common practice in criminal cases for the police to want to collect evidence from the victim as soon as they are rescued. This is not easy for a victim who has gone through extreme trauma. In many cases and especially for victims of sex trafficking, their relationship with the police is not one based on trust. Most of them are scared because they have probably been through the system and been abused therefore asking them to trust the police and give their statement is a tall order.

It is also notable in places like Kenya that the police who are responsible for prosecution are not trusted to do the right thing. In most cases even if they are willing to help the complexity of the crime of trafficking makes it impossible for them to meet the threshold of evidence required to prosecute a trafficking case. The question then is should we give up on trying these cases? No, there is definitely work to be done especially with the police to create awareness about human trafficking and prosecuting these cases. It is when prosecuting a case that as a practitioner you discover that partnerships are important not just with each other but also with the government. We cannot give up on prosecution but we can systematically and strategically address some of the areas that we need to improve.

There was a suggestion of trying human trafficking cases as civil suit instead of trying them as criminal cases. Civil suits can be tried at any point when the survivor is ready for the case to be tried in addition any compensation made from the case directly benefits the victim of trafficking. Is this something that we should consider? I think we should. At the end of the day getting justice through the legal process for victims of trafficking should always be a priority for all of us. We don’t always have the means but we have every reason to try and ensure that victims feel that they have received justice after going through our programs.

Sophie Otiende