The social construction of justice: searching for connection and credibility in Sri Lanka.
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Salih, M. (2013) The social construction of justice: searching for connection and credibility in Sri Lanka., no. 328.
Research in Sri Lanka suggests that many people experience a deep scepticism about the chances of achieving justice. This is true not only of those who had suffered the most gross forms of human rights violations in the country’s past conflicts but, surprisingly, also of those caught up in more ordinary forms of everyday disputes and grievances. The prevalence of this sentiment of pervasive ‘injustice’ – captured in one informant’s pithy statement that “only the powerful get justice in Sri Lanka” – compels closer scrutiny of the broader processes and politics of justice-seeking. This thesis, based on research carried out in 2008 and 2009 and on the analysis of detailed accounts from 110 informants in 3 geographical locations, studies this quotidian experience of justice-seeking and dispute settlement work in Sri Lanka. It provides insights into how the broader political and social environment shapes the possibilities of a just outcome for any of its citizens. The thesis reveals the overriding power of social and political factors in the justice-seeking process. Becoming ‘known’ in a way that establishes the credibility of disputants is important. This is an inherently social exercise in which dominant notions about credibility and legitimacy as defined by the state are reinforced. The thesis illustrates the crucial role of the state in everyday dispute management. The police are a key resource for mediators and disputants, who seem to rely most notably on the police’s acknowledged potential and actual capability for violence. Persons who are seen to be politically suspicious are especially vulnerable to such violence. Who constitutes a ‘suspicious’ person, however, is in flux. The thesis shows that attempts which focus narrowly on law reform and human rights advocacy will be in vain unless the social and political processes driving the implementation of justice are acknowledged and addressed.