Security Council: Peacebuilding and sustaining peace
8723rd Meeting (AM) SC/14109
Note: Following is a partial summary of statements made to today's meeting of the Security Council. A complete summary will be available later today as Press Release SC/14109.
MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said lasting peace is interlinked with justice, development and respect for human rights. “Peace does not automatically break out when weapons fall silent and atrocity crimes cease,” she said. To rebuild lives, without fear of recurrence, suffering must be acknowledged, confidence in State institutions restored and justice done. In Sudan, the recent overthrow of the regime was driven in large part by demands for justice across society, built over decades of impunity for rights violations.
Noting that transitional justice processes have repeatedly shown they can help to address grievances, she said her own experience in Chile convinced her that processes that are context-specific, nationally owned and focused on the needs and informed choices of victims can empower and transform societies. Truth-seeking initiatives not only enable victims to recount their experiences, they open new spaces within which victims and perpetrators can re-establish a connection, facilitating recognition of multiple narratives about what has occurred and the formulation of recommendations for redress and reform.
Over the last 30 years, truth commissions in the Americas and elsewhere have advanced transitional justice, she said, pointing to the landmark “Memoria del Silencio” (1999) report of Guatemala’s truth commission, which offered an authoritative record of rights violations during 36 years of conflict, giving voice to the victims and analysing the dynamics underlying the fighting. It was instrumental in advancing victims’ rights. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, United Nations-supported consultations in the Kasai region enabled victims to express their views on truth, reconciliation and reparations. During her visit to Ituri, she was struck by the desire by both the Hema and Lendu communities for transitional justice. Recalling that the violence, which erupted in 2003, never gave rise to efforts to promote accountability, she expressed her belief that “this failure to sustain justice processes has been a factor in the revival of violence today”.
For a society to succeed in establishing a transition to peace, she said systemic discrimination, institutional deficiencies, unfair power structures and structural impunity are among the issues to be identified and addressed, with the broadest possible participation of civil society in decision-making. It is particularly crucial for military and police forces, and more broadly, all Government institutions, to regain the confidence of traumatized and abused communities. As fair, even-handed and accountable use of public power is central to rebuilding shattered trust in law enforcement, vetting processes and security reforms should be given high priority. She described the work under way in Colombia on guarantees of non-recurrence by the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition, citing the landmark 2011 Victims Law, which calls for a range of mechanisms to prevent and resolve social conflict, as well as legal empowerment of victims, distributive land restitution and measures to dismantle economic and political structures that have benefited from, and given support to armed groups.
Citing the Council’s “sustaining peace” resolution, she said creating trust among former enemies will always be a challenge. Transitional justice cannot be imported or imposed from the outside. Rather, locally led and locally appropriate permutations of transitional justice have the best chances of success. “Without humility and modesty, the risks of failure are real,” she assured. At the same time, the international community, and the Council in particular, have essential roles in helping States in these complex processes, by sharing experiences, mandating international support and encouraging implementation of comprehensive approaches. She drew attention in this context to the Council’s mandating of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) to explicitly advise on the establishment and implementation of judicial and non-judicial processes to address the legacy of large-scale human rights violations. Transitional justice should not be seen as an alternative to criminal accountability for the perpetrators of atrocity crimes. However, criminal accountability should be accompanied by measures to support truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence. And while there is no single way to get the mix right, there is a way to get it wrong by considering victims’ rightful demands as an inconvenient distraction that can be papered over or indefinitely delayed.
FRANCISCO DE ROUX, President of the Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Coexistence and Non-Repetition, said transitional justice is an encouraging peacebuilding tool and the best international response to war-related tragedies, costing very little when compared to military or corporate transactions. Peace in Colombia has already led to positive changes, providing new hope. Outlining several key points, he said the victims of armed conflict should be at the centre of efforts. During the 50-year-long conflict in Colombia, 240,000 people were killed and there were almost 9 million known victims. In all countries in transition, the road to peace typically begins with a ceasefire ahead of the difficult role of peacebuilding.
Truth in transitional justice is a gateway, he said, noting that the concept has become more developed to work on judicial issues to end impunity. In Colombia, victims participated in sentencing People’s Alternative Revolutionary Force (FARC) perpetrators, with one group given the sentence of eight years imprisonment and building a school. Such efforts aim at determining responsibility and not singling out or fuelling hatred. Another unit in Colombia serves families of “disappeared” individuals, given that the whereabouts of more than 100,000 people remain unknown.
Indeed, an acceptance of responsibility by the perpetrators is a way to ensure non-repetition, he said. Last week, former FARC fighters apologized for an attack launched 17 years ago. To ensure non-repetition, efforts like those made in a village where paramilitary fighters committed crimes against children must focus on addressing issues, overcoming the past and moving towards a common positive future.
Ensuring a comprehensive transition means caring for the lives of former combatants, he said, including reintegrating them in society with dignity. It requires the Government’s political determination to avoid polarization, which undermines such programmes and their desired results. People tend to forego violence when they taste peace, he said, adding that transitional justice is based on ethics, requiring a will to learn of best practices that put human beings above any other goal. Without transitional justice, it would have been impossible to achieve peace in countries the Council addresses and in Colombia. In this regard, the Security Council must play its role.
YASMIN SOOKA, Executive Director, Foundation for Human Rights in South Africa and Chair of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, said she comes from a country where, during the apartheid years, scores of detainees were said to have jumped from windows at police headquarters, hanged themselves in cells, died hitting their heads against police filing cabinets or fatally slipping on bars of soap. “Inquests held under the apartheid system found nobody responsible for their deaths,” she said. Now, two decades after South Africa’s transitional justice process, these inquests are at last being reopened, with many of those who were detained speaking out about their torture at the hands of South Africa’s notorious security branch
She said these reopened inquests — and reports that Sudan’s Omer al-Bashir may be transferred to the International Criminal Court to face genocide and war crimes charges — demonstrate the importance of addressing impunity. But even the best processes exclude many who are not yet ready to tell their stories. As in her own country, it can take decades to deliver justice, and often the quest for truth is driven by the families of victims. Recalling that South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission was deeply influenced by the Latin American experiences of building accountability, while also ensuring stability and continuance of new Government, she said that as an actor in the transitional justice process, she was deeply conscious of the limitations of a narrow mandate which did not allow for considering structural violations.
While the principles to combat impunity, developed by Louis Joinet, advanced the field of transitional justice — positing that States bear primary responsibility for ensuring victims and their families realize their right to truth, justice and reparations — she said African experiences have challenged the narrow focus on civil and political rights violations, in light of the legacies of violence and structural violations arising from their colonial histories. Processes in such countries as Sierra Leone, Peru and Tunisia have also addressed gender. Rural women in Sierra Leone, for example, asked the Truth Commission to ensure that the Government allocate funds received from the heavily indebted poor countries debt initiative for girls’ secondary education. The Truth and Dignity Commission in Tunisia has been ground-breaking, including by ensuring an independent budget to facilitate the participation of women and girls.
But sexual and gender-based violence is too often still framed narrowly as a matter of gender identity, she said. While focus on women and girls is critical, ignoring violations perpetrated against men and boys limits the analysis of how gender norms fuel the use of sexual violence and stymies prevention efforts. Further, fragile States have not always been able to carry out ambitious transitional justice programmes. The United Nations should be required to provide vital support. She urged the Council to ensure the non-recurrence of violations and to address such indirect causes of conflict as structural violence, discrimination and economic exploitation. It should take innovative, decisive approaches to conflicts on its agenda in concert with the Human Rights Council, High Commissioner for Human Rights, General Assembly and bodies such as the African Union. “It is essential to ensure that peace and justice are seen as mutually reinforcing imperatives, and not replaced by erroneous notions that peace must come first before accountability,” she stressed.
PHILIPPE GOFFIN, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence of Belgium, Council President for February, spoke in his national capacity, saying that the 15-member organ plays an important role in transitional justice, with peace operations helping States to strengthen their capacity and reform their institutions. Establishing responsibility for crimes is essential for building peace. The International Criminal Court can play a complementary role with national transitional justice measures. But, implementing transitional justice has many challenges, including costly restorations of traditional judicial systems. The sequence of measures taken is essential for success. The Council should concentrate on specific actions, including adopting a holistic approach that respects national ownership. In addition, the victims’ demands must be at the core of transitional justice, using inclusive measures that includes a gender perspective and addressing the root causes of conflict.
KALLA ANKOURAO, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Cooperation, African Integration and Nigeriens Abroad of Niger, said promoting reconciliation is just as important as breaking a cycle of impunity. Expressing support for the United Nations and political missions that strive to strengthen trust between civilians and security forces, he said Niger has created the High Authority for Peacebuilding with similar goals that has already made gains in ensuring victims’ needs are met and establishing an environment of confidence. Endorsing the 2019 adoption of the African Union’s policy on transitional justice, he underlined the importance of drawing upon members’ experiences and shared values.
MÄRT VOLMER, Deputy-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Estonia, shared his country’s experience in overcoming the harmful legacy of mass atrocity crimes, stressing the vital importance of building strong institutions capable of preserving the rule of law and ensuring human rights for all. Following its independence in 1991, he said, Estonia re-established the rule of law, reinstating democratic institutions while bringing to justice the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the occupation by the repressive regime. Welcoming recent reports of Sudan’s commitment to cooperate with the International Criminal Court, he said this would constitute a significant step in the pursuit of justice — a case referred to the Court by the Security Council 15 years ago. His country also supports international independent fact-finding and evidence preservation efforts, including in Syria and Myanmar. Going forward, Estonia wishes to see a more consistent Council record on preventing atrocities, he added.
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa) said his country values national transitional justice processes. “In our own case, transitional justice was a vital cog in securing a relatively peaceful transition from apartheid to the stable constitutional democracy we are today.” Noting South Africa recently marked the thirtieth anniversary of the prison release of transitional justice champion and former President Nelson Mandela, he said the goal pursued was not simply to end conflict, but to rebuild the political, security, social and economic dimensions of a society emerging from conflict. The spectrum of transitional justice should be explored, from criminal prosecutions, truth commissions and reparations programmes, to exhumation of mass graves, apologies, amnesty and institutional reforms to redress human rights abuses.
For South Africa, the restorative justice approach chosen by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission sought to fight impunity, uncover gross rights violations and help the families of victims heal, he said. It also had the strategic goal of promoting national unity. While ensuring justice by means of individual accountability is important, it often fails to address the structural challenges that initially sparked violence and causes a State to relapse into conflict. Thus, the United Nations should be enabled to provide more support to national transitional justice, notably through peacekeeping missions and the Peacebuilding Commission. The Council should encourage adherence to international guidelines and regional policies, he said, cautioning that transitional justice must not be appropriated by the international community but rather driven by those emerging from conflict. He highlighted the importance of including reconciliation in holistic transition plans that consider community-based justice mechanisms and ensure that women and young people, in particular, are represented.
CHERITH NORMAN-CHALET (United States) recalled that resolution 2282 (2016) calls for comprehensive approaches to transitional justice, noting that United Nations tribunals can play an integral role and calling for more equitable burden-sharing in this regard. While transitional justice must incorporate the views of victims and survivors, it is also a political process, in which political leaders set the tone. They should develop a public record of abuses and work to reintegrate those members of their forces into society. Transitional justice processes must be nationally owned and inclusive, and it is imperative that women and girls are reflected in the related mechanisms, as women’s direct participation in peace processes increases the sustainability of peace agreements. A country’s existing legal and institutional structures also must be taken into account. She called on South Sudan’s leaders to implement all aspects of the peace agreement, including for transitional justice, recognizing the comprehensive approach taken in the Central African Republic, where the Peacebuilding Commission ensured that the peace process was linked to the 2015 consultative process. While she welcomed that women-led civil society groups were consulted, she expressed concern that no women were signatories to the accord.
For information media. Not an official record.