How effective have war crimes tribunals and truth commissions in Africa been in dealing with human rights abuses? What dilemmas do prosecution of or amnesty for perpetrators of war crimes pose for peace and justice? This seminar report from the Centre for Conflict Resolution analyses the dilemmas posed by peace without justice. When assessing transitional justice mechanisms, new governments need to consider mechanisms for reconciliation, the rebuilding of institutions conducive to a stable and fair political system and the economic resources needed to achieve these goals.
Peacebuilding initiatives in Africa must balance the demand for justice against the need for peace and reconciliation. Truth and reconciliation commissions have gained in popularity following their perceived success in South Africa. At the same time, there is a trend towards institutions which emphasise prosecution for crimes committed regardless of national sovereignty or peace processes. Despite the political nature of many of these bodies, many agree that their development signifies a move towards the greater acceptance of human rights law.
An analysis of the relative success or failure of transitional justice models can add to our understanding of peacebuilding in Africa:
- While truth and reconciliation commissions can help to restore the dignity of victims they may not offer a deterrent to human rights violations.
- While transitional justice mechanisms have given increasing attention to the impact of conflict on women, they have not stemmed occurrences of violence against women.
- The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has achieved landmark convictions for genocide and rape as a war crime. However, its cost and the slow nature of its proceedings have attracted criticism.
- Sierra Leone’s Special Court operates under both national and international law. It has so far failed to secure a single conviction and has been accused of promoting US interests rather than justice for Sierra Leone’s people.
- Traditional mechanisms to promote reconciliation have been used in Rwanda and Mozambique. However, there are concerns that these mechanisms do not meet international standards or establish true responsibility.
- The International Criminal Court (ICC) has so far only investigated cases in Africa, raising concerns that it targets only poor nations. There are also fears that the ICC could undermine peace talks in Uganda.
A number of policy recommendations emerged from the seminar:
- If there is to be lasting peace in societies emerging from conflict, transitional justice mechanisms must ensure that victims’ voices are heard.
- Decisions about transitional justice must take into account local needs, while learning from other experiences. In order to implement appropriate mechanisms, it is important to have a clear idea of who perpetrated what against whom.
- Peace and justice initiatives must address the democratic deficit in a way that restores civic trust. Agreements and undertakings to victims and perpetrators by truth commissions must be fulfilled.
- The UN must pay attention to disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes and recognise the multiple roles that women play during conflict. Peace processes must address root causes of conflict as well as injustices.
- Peace and justice strategies should take into consideration symbolic gestures, memorials and indigenous forms of reconciliation and justice.
- In the African context, the cultural constructions and format of commissions need to be considered. This involves physical arrangements of hearings as well as recognising indigenous forms of communication and dialogue and customary practices.