chapter  2
16 Pages

Reparation and recovery in the aftermath of widespread violence: traditional justice, restorative justice and mental health


Crimes against humanity are “particularly odious offenses in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of one or more human beings” (Rome Statute 1998). A distinguishing characteristic of crimes against humanity is that they are not isolated or sporadic events, but are either part of a government policy or a widespread practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority. The types of events a person or group of people might experience with respect to crimes against humanity include murder; extermination; torture; rape; political, racial or religious persecutions; and other inhumane acts (Horton 2005). Victimization affects people in a multitude of ways, including financially, physically, socially and psychologically. This chapter focuses on the psychological effects of crime. It is important to bear in mind that victimization can affect not only the victim who directly experienced the crime, but also their family and friends. According to a report from the World Health Organization, one in four people will suffer from a mental health disorder during their life (World Health Organization 2001). Research suggests that approximately one in three victims of violent crime is at risk of developing mental health problems (Kilpatrick et al. 1987). The risk of developing mental health problems is even greater in cases of crimes against humanity, which are among the most severe form of trauma a human being can experience (Srinivasa Murthy and Lakshminarayana 2006). Some types of crimes against humanity (e.g. rape, torture) are known to be higher risk factors for developing severe and chronic mental health problems (Ullman and Filipas 2001). Certain characteristics of the victimization such as extreme violence and thinking that you are going to die also increase the risk of developing mental health problems (Kilpatrick et al. 1987). The widespread and systematic nature of crimes against humanity means that any one victim may experience multiple victimizations in a short time, and may witness the victimization of others and know people who have been victimized as well. Thus, individuals may accumulate victimizations and trauma. In this chapter we will discuss mental health problems commonly associated with violent victimization in order to better understand how these issues might play out in the case of crimes against humanity. Among the most frequent reactive mental health disorders victims of violence can suffer from, the three

main ones are post-traumatic stress disorder, complicated grief and depression. Based on research on victims of violence, we consider how these three mental health conditions can affect victims’ ability to participate in criminal justice and restorative justice procedures. Utilizing the wealth of clinical research available with victims of violence, we consider the possible parallels in the case of widespread violence. The chapter closes with a discussion of the implications for authorities’ reactions to crime.