Seeking justice and making peace: mission (im)possible?

1 February 2010

In addressing the question of whether there is a conflict between peace and justice in countries in armed conflict, Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch’s Executive Director, said achieving justice in this situation is important in itself as well as acting as a deterrent for further atrocities.

Recent events show that seeking justice and establishing peace are mutually reinforcing: evidence from Uganda and Sudan proves that bringing prosecutions need not derail the peace process, as leaders who the International Criminal Court (ICC) has indicted for war crimes, are still prepared to continue with peace negotiations.

At times imposing justice can advance the peace process, as indicting leaders “delegitmises” them, and they will go underground to avoid arrest making it easier to carry out peace negotiations, as happened in the former Yugoslavia, and Liberia.

If leaders are confident they can act with impunity, this fuels a circle of violence, making it more difficult to achieve peace, as occurred in Sudan and Afghanistan. There are also cases where giving amnesties for atrocities can aggravate a conflict, whereas achieving justice could be part of the peace process, as should happen in Israel/ Gaza and Kenya.