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The law, a key element in preventing conflicts

Posted by Fondation Chirac on 9 March 2011

Maître Bernard Vatier, former President of the Paris Bar and a founding member of the Fondation Chirac, succeeds Arnaud Danjean as Managing Director for the Conflict Prevention Prize. He accepted an interview by the Fondation Chirac on the role of law in conflict management.

Can legal instruments contribute to conflict prevention?

Conflict prevention is established by setting up rules that are legitimate for all those who serve under it. In other words, society needs to be regulated by laws that are accepted by all those who oppose them and which enable the management of conflicts.

However, laws are insufficient. In a social structure, there is always conflict and therefore a need for mediators. Between two people, this could be a judge. In the event of conflict between two communities, the situation is more complex. Either we settle the difficulty through force and violence and then maintain the situation through coercion. Or we resolve the difficulty through mediation. This is where the law comes into full play. To prevent violence, we therefore need legitimate laws as well as a legitimate mediator to settle the conflict. This is the job of jurists.

Do you have examples of legal efforts that could receive the Conflict Prevention Prize?

Could international human rights organizations be eligible for the Prize? They denounce dysfunctions in legal systems. However, is this sufficient to prevent conflict? That remains to be seen.

Another example could be Afghanistan. Social organization has been decimated by wars, we must rebuild a state of law – a key element in preventing future conflicts.

Well, we had to create a judicial bar in Kabul that was not hostage to political groups. It needed to exercise its authority in the regulating of society and acquire the necessary legitimacy to allow the state of law to exist. It is very long-term effort to which French and European bars can and must contribute.

Given that Sharia law is the judicial foundation for many countries, and Afghanistan in particular, how can we reconcile the notion of rule of law from an international perspective with this other system? Wouldn’t speaking of an international rule of law in a country of Islamic law be more likely to create new conflicts?

The Sharia indeed raises many challenges. Yet it is the local state of law, tied to a religion: therein lies its legitimacy. Preventing conflicts means taking into account the local culture. You can not transpose the historically acquired culture we have here in the West, superimposing it and forcing it on a culture that is just as valid but does not know our principles.

We must be extremely cautious for the Western approach carries with it a cultural imperialism that is destructive to systems of peace. If we superimpose our legal rules, we give a community legal instruments that are not theirs. We render discordant what should be harmonious.

I believe that as Western jurists, we must be extremely humble. I condemn our lack of humility for it is a prerequisite for recognizing a culture that is not ours, but to which we can nevertheless contribute with our experience.

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