Monday, August 19, 2013

On justice in Bhutan

While in Bhutan, we naturally happened to compare crime in Bhutan and Western societies when talking to locals, and then switched to how communities deal with criminals. Apparently in Bhutan courts encourage local, "communal" conflict resolution for non-violent issues. This is more than a judicial attitude nuance.

As far as I understand, any society has some people demonstrating deviant behaviors. I suspect it is the context which society creates around deviant behaviors, which determines scope of their cumulative impact.

In Western societies, especially in the US, there is little personal touch in crime prevention. The punishment is often disproportionate. And community re-integration is hard and rare.

In Bhutan, with it's 700K population and about 100K in the capital, most people live in small communities (by Western measures). Crime prevention is naturally personal. People know who may be up to no good, observe what's going on, and catch many troubles before they happen. Of course I am not quoting from a statistical survey but from a single witness, a.k.a. anecdotal evidence. Yet it fits well into the rest of the picture we saw in Bhutan.

If, like I was told, judicial system is very dependent on a community, it creates all the difference in judging. No matter how emphatic is a judge, he or she judges a non-related person. And while it is the whole point of blind justice, it has a clear downside of formal law application. The problem is worsened by commercial interests lobbying to fill prisons. When villagers judge, they are very much considering somebody who is not foreign to them, and with whom they lived and will live for a while. They are also likely neighbors of the offender's family. It is a very different conflict resolution process with a natural re-integration done by the community.

I am not trying to romanticize Bhutan's court of community. It's potential dangers should be recognized. It is dependent on a particular Buddhist culture. It is not uniform - outcomes are unpredictable case-by-case. It will not scale to larger, weakly-connected communities. Heck, I know very little about it. Nevertheless I can not help but observe some of it's positive properties in the specific environment. And note it as a good example of a government being mindful of the nation's culture instead of adopting an "all-out" Western approach.

(Also, a somewhat related observation published in my other Google+ post on Bhutan)

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