Beyond Violence 

No Justice No Peace? Part One

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Peace and justice go hand-in-hand in most countries, but in countries which are neither stable nor democratic, peace and justice often compromise one other and it seems that only one can be achieved at any time. Peacemakers, international organisations and politicians ask themselves whether it is more important to end violence and save civilians from atrocities, or whether charging leaders with crimes against humanity and bringing justice to the victims is more important.

Can there be peace without justice, or can the pursuit of justice hinder peace processes? What is more important to achieve in the long-term and in the short-term? And are both peace and justice more important than order in the international society? Can order prevent violence and injustice, or are violence and injustice forms of order that can lead to peace? Beyond Violence examines the three concepts and the questions surrounding them in a series of blog entries, and looks at how the debate relates to modern day conflicts and peacemaking.

Peace over justice

“Peace will come wherever it is sincerely invited” – Alice Walker, American feminist

In order to put an end to violence, it has proven successful in some cases to provide amnesty to warlords and instigators of violence. Amnesty strengthens a peace process, persuades warlords to negotiate and ends oppressive regimes. Such examples include the end of the civil war in Mozambique (1977-1992), El Salvador (1979-1992) and South Africa (colonial time-1994). In all examples, it was possible to roll out extensive rule-of-law programs after amnesties were granted and the peace had been secured.

The best-known case of peacemaking through granting amnesties and refraining from aggressively prosecuting previous leaders is the end of the South African Apartheid system in the 1990s. The South African society was characterised by the Apartheid system that separated black and white people in socially differentiated units in all aspects of the society, discriminating the black majority. The system of oppression was demolished in a series of negotiations in 1990 to 1993. The first democratic election including the black population came in 1994 where Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) won the President seat. The way to peace and justice in South Africa was achieved by the immediate goal of peace, with trials to bring justice for the black population coming only later.

The difficulty with justice over peace

Today, the International Criminal Court (ICC) represents a landmark in the history of international law and justice. The court is dedicated to pursuing war criminals for their crimes against humanity, which could include grave human rights violations and genocide. The court has been critiqued in the media for endangering peace processes in cases where it interferes with on-going conflicts.

The peace process has been disturbed in Sudan, where the ICC issued its first warrant of arrest on President Omar al-Bashir in 2010. The arrest warrants are based on al-Bashir’s involvement in the Darfur crisis and ethnic cleansing of black non-Muslim Sudanese. The warrants have caused a stir in the African Union for indicting a sitting head of state. With the support of the African Union, al-Bashir is now even more reluctant to negotiate peace with the international society. The warrants have made it necessary for al-Bashir to stay in power in order to avoid domestic prosecution.

In Kenya, the ICC indicted President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice-President William Ruto for their involvement in the post-election violence in 2007 that caused more than 1,000 deaths. When the court indicted the two Kenyan politicians, their resistance against foreign influence in Kenya manifested their popularity, helping them to consequently win more votes and the 2013 election. Kenyatta and Ruto are now both now cooperating with the court, however.

Rule of law

Increasingly, the public has become wary of idealistic overreach, and justice is thus pursued with practical arguments such as putting an end to violence. Examples show however that this argument is misleading in some cases. With both the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia tribunal put in place to deal with the Srebrenica massacre and the genocide in Rwanda, the belief was that justice would end violence, but in both cases the violence continued. When the ICC indicted Libya’s former leader Ghaddafi he was still able to continue the bloody civil war for months after the indictment. As in the example of Sudan’s president al-Bashir, the indictment of Ghaddafi made him reluctant to negotiate peace. The critique was explicit in the case of Uganda’s controversial guerilla leader Joseph Kony as one UN negotiator publicly critiqued the ICC indictment as a barrier to peace when it fell in the midst of negotiations.

Because the ICC has so far only succeeded in indicting African individuals, and even head-of-states the courts engagement in the continent is increasingly viewed as racist, and has caused the court’s unpopularity in Africa.

The biggest point of critique of pursuing justice has been justice’s lack of ability to strengthen local legal capacity to sustain the rule-of-law. Immediately engaging in a peace process and granting amnesties can build the foundation for continued peace talks and reforming the legal system, which will lead to justice, and thus could be considered both a short-term and a long-term sustainable solution to violence in some cases.

The dilemma of peace and justice arises every time a dictatorship falls; should we charge perpetrators with their atrocities in order to achieve justice for the victims? Or is it expedient to grant amnesties if it appears to be the only way for a warlord to lay down arms? In the next blog we will look at peace: at means of creating sustainable peace, obstacles to peace, and how peace correlates and collides with pursuing justice.

“Peace is the work of justice indirectly, in so far as justice removes the obstacles to peace; but it is the work of charity (love) directly, sincere charity according to its very notion, causes peace” – Thomas Aquinas, philosopher (1225-1274)

For more information on peace and justice
The Peace and Justice Initiative in the Netherlands work towards universal implementation of the ICC Statute. Find more information or join their mission at

The author is an investigative reporter currently residing in Paris, France. She has written about international politics and organized crime for a variety of international magazines and newspapers.

Written by TES and published on 10-May-2014

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