What is Global Justice?

As many may know, I direct the Global Justice Program at Pepperdine University School of Law.  I often get asked what we do, so I wanted to take time to answer “What is global justice?”

Africa Pictures 2010 040

What is Justice?

As a lawyer, I love the word “justice”–it’s what we’re supposed to be about.  But justice is much bigger than law or lawyers, and sometimes both get in the way.

Justice is concerned with fairness and restoration.  Justice is restoring the world or a situation to how it ought to be.  Justice is the pursuit of making things whole.


Global Justice is More Than International Law

Justice is not law, although we’ve confused the two.  Law is simply an instrument to achieve justice.  Laws, however, are not always just.  For example, laws that protected and encouraged the global slave trade centuries ago were unbelievably unjust.

A visit from a Rwandan delegation this week showed an example of how law is slow to catch up to justice.  After the 1994 genocide, Rwanda had 200,000 genocide suspects and no lawyers or judges left in the country.  Even if they could have set up courts to try every case, it would have taken an estimated 200 years.  Rwanda developed the Gacaca Courts modeled after its own historical methods of dispute resolution.  The gacacas took lay leaders in the community and granted them the power to render judgements.  The trials or murders were done in large groupings in front of the community with community input.  The people felt that justice was done and the perpetrators were often forgiven and reintegrated in the community.  Advocates for international law, however, complained that it was done in a proper fashion in a court room.    They wanted it to conform to international law rather than restore wholeness.


What Are the Human Rights?

Global justice is much more than “international human rights.”  The Global Justice Program at Pepperdine was originally named the “International Human Rights Program.”  The name made me uncomfortable.  I felt like an activist that would make you sign a petition about some amnesty case in Turkmenistan that you had never heard about.  We work with many foreign judiciaries and governments and to tell them “I work for the international human rights program” seemed to imply that they were violating human rights.  I changed it to Global Justice and it felt better for everyone.

Interestingly, through some Google keywords research, I found that “international human rights” is searched frequently.  It’s often searched in the form of “What are the human rights?”  This suggests, again, that we confuse justice for law.  When people search for “human rights,” they know that there is something wrong–justice and fairplay have been violated.  They want to know how it “ought” to be.  Yet, they look for an enumerated list of human rights because we think that international should have the solutions.


All Justice is Social Justice

A few years ago, the term “social justice” started popping up in casual conversation.  Many students at Pepperdine aligned themselves with the term.  In many ways, “social justice” became trendy and it even developed negative connotations in some circles.

To be honest, I never understood the term “social justice.”  All justice is social justice–you can’t act justly without affecting society and people.


Growth in Global Justice

The term is catching on too.  Stanford University, Regent University, and others have subsequently adopted “global justice” as titles for their program.  I predict we will see this phrase become used more frequency.

“Global Justice” demonstrates the truly global nature of this holistic goal.  It is not simply domestic or merely international; it is global.  As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  We must seek justly everywhere–globally.

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