Beyond Violence 

No Justice, No Peace? Part Two

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Peace and justice go hand-in-hand in most countries, but in countries that are neither stable nor democratic it peace and justice often compromise each other and only one is achieved at any time. The questions that peacemakers, international organisations and politicians ask themselves are is it more important to end violence and save civilians from atrocities? Or are charges of leaders for their crimes against humanity and bring justice to the victims more important?

Can there be a peace without justice, or can the pursuit of justice hinder peace processes? Which 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 is violence order, which can eventually 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 peace making.

In the last blog we looked at peace and the benefits and difficulties in pursuing peace over justice. In this blog we will look at justice, and what opportunities that gives for peace-making.

Justice over peace

“The debate about peace versus justice or peace over justice is a patently false choice. Peace and justice are two sides of the same coin. The road to peace should be seen as running via justice, and thus peace and justice can be pursued simultaneously.”
– Fatou Bensouda, ICC Prosecutor

In 2002 the international community established the International Criminal Court (ICC) to deal with breaches of human rights and indict perpetrators of war crimes. The court, its subsidiaries and precedent trials such as the Nuremberg, Rwanda and Yugoslavia tribunals have been the only attempts to achieve internationally-applicable legal rulings, which are generally considered to be near-impossible because of conflicting interests in international society.

The court is a manifestation of growing international concern for conflicts in the most distant of lands as a result of the increased stream of news and coverage all over the world. There are greater expectations for states to show concern for and to address justice and peace in conflict zones. It is for this reason that the first international tribunals were introduced in the aftermath of the Second World War alongside accountability measures, vetting, and reconciliation missions.

The difficulty with peace over justice

Human Rights Watch has conducted research on the past 20 years of conflict and found that peace in the short term can compromise long-term peace through reinforcing a culture of impunity. Indictment of perpetrators is especially important to end collective ethnic blame and guilt, as it makes individuals responsible and help calms tensions between different ethnic groups otherwise holding each other guilty of atrocities and injustice. Indictments of individuals alleviate group tensions and bring long-term peace and stability. Without accountability and indictments, history can be exploited to fertilize new conflicts. This is evident in the examples of the Second World War, where nationalists in Yugoslavia later created tensions between Serbs, Croats and Muslims. Individualizing guilt is important to remove incentives which could pass on conflict to future generations and to stop guilt being applied collectively e.g. to a specific ethnicity, which could create racial tensions in the future.

As Human Rights Watch research shows, compromising justice is all too often unsustainable. Granting amnesty for war crimes and grave human rights violations will not provide the peace desired. It could set a standard for impunity for atrocities, which could encourage future abuses. Furthermore, examples show that where negotiators have felt that alleged perpetrators of war crimes should be granted positions in new governmental structures in order to persuade them to end violence, it has had a high price. Incorporating alleged perpetrators has led to further abuses and persistent lawlessness.

The difficulty in achieving peace is to discern between positive and negative peace (the concepts of positive and negative peace was created by Johan Galtung, who has previously blogged for Beyond Violence on peace. Positive peace is achieved through a peace process which addresses the roots of the problem and focuses on how to integrate warring parties into one society without tensions. Negative peace simply means the lack of physical violence. The difficulty of negative peace is that roots of conflict are not addressed and potential for future tensions continues to exist. When victims’ calls for justice are not heard and root causes are not addressed, the risk of the recurrence of violence remains high. Negative peace which allows impunity for wrong-doers can poison a new democracy and undermine peace settlements.

Are we expecting too much from the International Criminal Court?

The expectations placed on the ICC in terms of achieving peace are overwhelming and also a reason why the institution is perceived as failing in achieving peace. ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has pointed out that this is a false conception of the ICC: “As the I.C.C. is an independent and judicial institution, it cannot take into consideration the interests of peace, which is the mandate of other institutions, such as the United Nations Security Council
The ICC is not a political organ pursuing stability but an institution helping to facilitate peace by putting in place legal mechanisms enabling indictments of wrong-doers. It does so by being preemptive in order to deter further torture and power abuse.

The ICC has come along way pursuing wrong-doers in some of the world’s most grave human rights violations, but the court is not perfect yet and struggles with some institutional problems, especially in Africa.

To expect the Court to bring about peace in every situation referred to it is too much to hope for. There may be cases where peace is not ushered in alongside justice. Some cases could be too tense to discuss political and legal aftermath before violence has been stopped. These decisions will have to be made on a case-by-case basis, according to the actors and context.

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 16-May-2014

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