Brazil: Return to an ancestral system of justice
*The Quilombola, a community descended from African slaves, has developed a special system of justice over the centuries, similar to that whose merits are praised by Tdh.
The delegation is attempting to remind the State of these ancient practices and to raise the public decision-makers’ awareness of the chance to preserve the cultural and ethnic identity of these Quilombola youngsters, who forget more and more their cultural roots and turn to crime.*
Tdh, in partnership with the Secretariat for Racial Equality (SEIR) aims at developing the project ‘Code Public’, which looks at the Quilombola communities and their ways of resolving conflict in the towns of Alcantra and São José de Ribamar. Through the culture of these communities, the new project seeks to understand and capture the practices of age-old justice so as to be able to use them as well eventually in the provinces of Maranhão state.
The Quilombolas are the descendants of Brazilian slaves from Africa, and is a term that originally described escaped slaves. They created hidden villages so as not to be found by their former owners. During the centuries, these communities developed in isolation with their own rules, especially for justice.
Starting with this historical context of social deprivation, imprisonment and slavery, the Quilombolas have today arrived at a special law system, in which justice is set in motion directly within the community. Social restoration is the key word of this legal system that uses dialogue as a tool, and which closely resembles the practices of juvenile justice developed by Tdh in Brazil.
Tdh is attempting to recall these ancient practices and raise public decision-makers’ awareness of this opportunity to preserve the cultural and ethnic identity of the Quilombola adolescents who forget their cultural roots more and more and turn to the path of crime. Collecting information on the system of justice of the Quilombola enables bringing out the factors needed to set up restorative practices suited to their ancestral experience. The objective is thus to promote the engagement of the youngsters and the Quilombola community leaders to, at one and the same time, preserve their ethnic and cultural identity, and to diminish the rate of criminality.
The state of Maranhão has only about 700 black Quilombola communities still, a reflection of the oppression they have undergone over the centuries. Today, the Quilombola children and teenagers live in great poverty and receive no support from public policy, which makes them even more vulnerable to crime.
Data from the Brazilian Institute for Geography and Statistics (IBGE) shows that the black population in the Maranhão has around 1’678’000 persons aged between 10 and 24. 15% of these young people are illiterate, and 85% of them need job training to enable their access to the work market. These figures explain, in part, the large number of Quilombolas in the Maranhão prison population.
Tdh, in partnership with the SEIR, wants to set up an experimental project based on research already done, to qualify the approach to justice for the teenagers still in the Quilombolas. Current research shows that the typical practice of justice in these communities has great success with these kids.
Since 2008, Tdh and its partners have set up various activities to allow the adolescents in conflict with the law to finish their sentences close to their families and coexisting with their communities in the state of Maranhão and by getting them involved in places for protected talks. There, they can put right the damage they have done in a responsible manner, within their community, whenever this is possible with the participation of the victim.