Work on crime and justice through international Quaker organisations

There are three international agencies involved. FWCC (Friends World Committee for Consultation) is the global Quaker organisation, and has consultative status at the UN.  QUNO is the Quaker UN office, based in New York and Geneva. QCEA, the Quaker Council for European Affairs, is based in Brussels, and has consultative status in the European Union. Much of QCEA’s work feeds into FWCC and QUNO, and the three agencies collaborate extensively.

FWCC’s key activity is participation in the meetings and other work of the UN body with responsibility for crime and justice.  This work is based in Vienna, and is now part of the UN office for drugs and crime, set up in 1997. Quaker representatives have contributed to this work since 1985. FWCC were also participants when the International Criminal Court was established in 1998, and stressed the need for restorative justice approaches to be integral to the Court’s practice.

The two threads of (a) crime prevention and (b) fair and effective treatment of offenders permeate FWCC’s work.  A recurring theme is restorative justice – seeking ways of dealing with offences that do something to repair the harm done to individuals and communities. Another is rehabilitation of offenders, and their subsequent reintegration into society when they are released. The worldwide AVP (Alternatives to Violence) movement, started by Quakers working in New York prisons, is a key element in this.  QUNO and QCEA documents and people feed into this, and QUNO and QCEA people are often FWCC representatives too.

QUNO’s input into this work is often behind the scenes in quiet discussions with and between diplomats and others involved in these debates. QUNO staff may be members of delegations to UN meetings, or may provide support to those delegations. The exception to this kind of activity has been the extensive work done in Geneva on Women in Prison, in collaboration with QCEA and British Quakers. The work stems very much from the human rights perspective, and has examined how prison regimes impact on women in ways that differ from the typical effects on men. All those imprisoned have rights, and need rehabilitation, but particular issues for women include abuse and childcare. Children suffer if imprisoned with their mothers, and they suffer if separated from them, and the rights of children of imprisoned mothers have been a major thread in this work. In 2010, informed by this work, the UN approved new standards for the treatment of women prisoners and women offenders, known as the “Bangkok Rules”, and a handbook ‘Women in Prison’ was published.

QCEA has developed several policy papers on crime and justice themes, often at the request of Quaker organisations. In 1987 the Northern Ireland committee asked for a study on life imprisonment, ‘A Fair Deal for Lifers’. At a similar time, German and Austrian Quakers were instrumental in setting up QCEA studies on ‘Crowd Control’ (during demonstrations), and ‘Waiting for Justice’ (to do with the experiences and human rights of prisoners waiting for trial).

Both these were picked up at UN level. In 1990 in Cuba, a resolution on life imprisonment was passed, based on the QCEA study. A UN report on life imprisonment resulted, prepared by a Quaker intern, working in the UN offices in Vienna.  At the same Congress, a resolution was passed restricting the use of firearms when controlling demonstrations and other crowd contexts, and a UN code on this was subsequently adopted.

There have been other major studies as well as Women in Prison. ‘Alternatives to Imprisonment’ surveys different practices across the EU with regard to probation, community reparation, and other alternatives. ‘The Social Reintegration of ex-Prisoners’ underlines the need for rehabilitation work to begin as soon as someone is imprisoned.  Education, AVP training, and restorative justice processes, are all part of this. The report also stresses the importance of enabling prisoners to exercise some of the rights of a citizen, one of which is the right to vote.

This international work builds on a longstanding tradition of Quaker concern about criminal justice issues at local and national levels, so is based on much thought and experience. It is also rooted in the belief that there is that of God in the most hardened criminal.