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Justice, an obstacle to peace?

Posted by Georges Tsaï on 13 October 2010

Peace and Justice, two incompatible concepts?

Next January, if everything goes according to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), Southern Sudan will hold an independence referendum.

Interested observers (there are not that many for, after all, the conflict between North and South Sudan resulted in only two million deaths between 1983 and 2005) are holding their breath. Will President Omar el Bashir respect the terms of the Agreement, or will he find an excuse to cancel or at least delay the referendum? Keep in mind that significant oil reserves are located in South Sudan. Many fear that such an event could result in renewed hostilities after five years of respite.

While the issue is important in and of itself, it is also coupled with an ethical dilemma that has become highly acute in recent years. Is it possible to negotiate or make peace with someone who is accused of committing crimes against humanity or genocide? Is it morally just to deal with someone who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity? The ICC decided in the end to drop the accusations of genocide.

For some (the realists?), peace is made as best we can and an imperfect peace from a moral point of view, but which offers expected results (no more death and suffering due to conflicts) is much better than demanding for a brand of justice that could heighten conflict.

For others (the idealists?), making peace without justice (by granting impunity to the guilty) is not only betraying the memory of victims but also running the risk of not appeasing one of the conflicting factions and entering into an endless spiral of violence, thus destroying the hopes of the realists.

Is this an irreconcilable dilemma?

Is each case singular?

Reality, as is often the case in human experience, is certainly much more complex than the dichotomy posited in the precedent paragraph. As Pierre Hazan so justly observed in an excellent book published recently (La paix contre la justice?, André Versaille – GRIP, 2010), history offers examples that support both sides (we need simply think of what has happened in South Africa, Latin America, and former Yugoslavia). These examples lead us to believe that it is important to be wary of dogmatic positions between peacemakers (or mediators) and proponents of a strict application of international laws. Only a precise analysis of each situation can dictate a course of action.

Of course, this analysis is complex. It must take into account both the perceived consequences and values embodied in international law based on human rights. Let’s return to Sudan in 2009, less than two years before the upcoming, crucial referendum for peace in the region. Was Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Prosecutor of the ICC, justified in his indictment of Omar el-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity? I for one would be more inclined to give the Comprehensive Peace Agreement a chance to work its way through the process provided. There is always time enough to revise my analysis if Omar al-Bashir ever sought to cancel or torpedo (an incongruous image for a resolutely terrestrial conflict) the referendum.

What do you think?

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