An Eye-Opening Visit to Iran

Flag_of_Iran_svgMy work in Restorative Justice provides me with many rewarding travel experiences, and my recent trip to Iran is at the top of the list.

Professor Mohammad Farajahi, who teaches Persian law at Tarbiat Modares University in Tehran, invited me to attend a Restorative Justice (“RJ”) conference at its law school. I was one of seven keynote speakers from around the world, each asked to discuss how our respective country actively uses RJ processes within the criminal justice system. The conference also was an opportunity to discuss my current RJ projects as a panelist with Iranian and Iraqi lawyers and judges as well as to hear 40 scholars from Tehran present their research and findings on a variety of RJ initiatives. Professionally, the ability to interact with lawyers, judges, law students and the general public attending the conference was extremely fulfilling; personally, the cultural experience is unforgettable.

Most Americans do not readily think about traveling to Iran — especially women and, in my case, women who happen to be judges — given that the country’s Muslim laws generally limit females in society and specifically prohibit us from serving on the bench. As the only American invited to the conference, I felt both honored and admittedly apprehensive. While I have many Muslim friends in the U.S. and have been to other Muslim countries, I knew religious rules and overall “do’s and don’ts” would be much stricter in Iran, where I would be without the security of an American embassy since Iran and the U.S. have no formal diplomatic relations. This circumstance meant I could not get a visa directly from Iran, having to work through Pakistan. Receiving my visa only 36 hours before my flight, I worried about what awaited me culturally.

My clothing was a primary concern. From head to ankles, I needed to be covered despite being a foreigner traveling during the heat of summer. I stocked up on scarves for my head and shoulders and bought a montos, a knee-length coat that must be worn even when wearing pants. Only my feet could comfortably breathe as sandals are permitted. With 7,000 morality police patrolling the streets of Tehran to catch dress code violators and the Swiss embassy as my best option in case of trouble, I took no chances, donning my scarf and montos before getting off the plane. (more…)

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When in Rome (Teach Restorative Justice)

Students and staff join me during my spring 2016 Rome teaching experience.
Students and staff join me during my spring 2016 Rome teaching experience.

Last spring, I again had the privilege to travel abroad to train people in Restorative Justice (“RJ”). Father Hans Zollner, S.J., director of the Pontifical Gregorian University’s Center for Child Protection in Rome, invited me to teach a segment of a diploma course addressing the Catholic sex abuse scandal. Specifically, the training involves safeguarding minors. My students included 19 religious sisters, brothers and priests representing 19 countries. It was an honor to work with such a diverse group of individuals, who are truly eager to repair the harm caused to so many innocent victims. Although I was the teacher, the students provided me with a lesson in hope and perseverance.

They had come to Gregorian University’s Center for Child Protection to learn about dealing with past sexual abuse and preventing further incidents. Originally launched in Munich in 2012, the center began educating seminarians, priests and laypeople by conducting e-learning programs and interdisciplinary research on abuse prevention.  The facility moved to Rome in 2015, spotlighting and advancing the Church’s resolve to address the issue globally. This year marked the first time the center offered an in-class experience, providing participants with a certificate after four months of training.

Such was the context of my week-long experience in Rome, when I met 19 dedicated religious from Africa, India, Belgium, Mexico and South America. I essentially had a day to expose them to RJ principles. In the morning, we watched “The Healing Circle,” an RJ documentary created at Marquette’s Law School a number of years ago that depicts how healing circles involving victims, offenders and clergy have been used effectively to talk candidly about sexual abuse and its devastating impact. Hoping that the students could imagine the value of healing circles in their own communities, I immediately saw the emotional power of the presentation, which visibly hit close to home for many in the class. With the second half of the day focused on discussing other effective RJ practices in dealing with abuse, the students had many questions and stories to share. (more…)

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Restorative Justice and Mediation in Ireland

I have the privilege this week of serving as the keynote speaker at the annual Irish Mediator’s Institute conference in Dublin, Ireland. I will talk to this professional mediation organization about the incorporation of restorative justice principles into high emotional conflicts. In this time of family, community, political, national, and international conflict and discord, the principles of restorative justice that call all of us to truly listen to those with whom we disagree, so that we can better understand the…

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Restorative Justice Conference to Focus on Restoring Faith in Government Through Civil Discourse

Recently Sheldon Lubar, a highly respected and successful Milwaukee businessman, called upon our political leaders to return to civility. Finding that political labels are not particularly helpful, he describes his personal politics as follows: My politics are for what is right, what makes common sense, what is decent, what will create prosperity and a good life -- I am for civility. So what is civility? Webster defines civil, civility, civilization as follows: A community of citizens. A rational and fair…

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Victim/Offender Mediation in Turkey

After a delegation of members of the Turkish Parliament visited Marquette Law School last month, I had the privilege of traveling to Istanbul to moderate a victim/offender mediation conference for two hundred fifty Turkish prosecutors and judges. There were fourteen of us restorative justice “experts” from ten different countries who were there for three days to talk to the ballroom full of lawyers, who wanted to learn how to best implement Turkey’s already enacted victim/offender mediation process during criminal prosecutions.  It was a fabulous experience.

The United Nations’ Development Programs for Judicial Reform organized and oversaw the planning of the conference. Because the panel members came from many countries (Albania, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Italy, Scotland, Spain, Turkey, and the United States), we had simultaneous translations of the conference into several languages. The Turkish audience was lively and eager to participate in the dialogue. Over the first two days we spent much of our time taking questions from the floor and answering them from the perspectives of different cultures, judicial systems and philosophies. The Turkish prosecutors and judges, like prosecutors and judges around the world, are working to improve the delivery of justice despite their significant caseloads. They hope that by using restorative processes that they can provide a more just system while reducing the number of cases that must go to trial.

I have a number of observations about the conference. (more…)

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