Mbeki and Mamdani Argue for Peace Over Justice
February 17, 2014
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Earlier this month the New York times published an op-ed entitled “Courts Can’t End Civil Wars.” The article’s authors, Thabo Mbeki and Mahmood Mamdani, both have deeply rooted histories in situations of conflict in Africa. They argue that today’s approach to situations of international conflict is flawed and misguided– that the conversation we’re having about international justice is broken. Rather than focusing on “the inadequacy of court trials as a response to politically driven mass violence,” the international community has focused on how to make the court most effective. Mbeki and Mamdani, however, feel the very fact of using a court as the solution to violence and strife, is inevitably going to be ineffecive. You cannot use legal solutions to fix political problems, they argue.
Mbeki and Mamdani’s argument has a second dimension. In finding a solution to situations of conflict, one should not seek “victims’ justice,” or justice centered around victims’ needs and desires, but rather peace as justice. Because in these conflicts no party is totally innocent, all parties must be incorporated into the future political system, and into a better society. The focus of transitional justice should be on the best way to include all into a new, fair order. The most effective way to do this, they claim, is by avoiding placing absolute blame, as takes place in a criminal trial, and rather “to think deeply about human wrongs… (and) wrestle with the problems that give rise to acts of extreme violence,” in order to permanently break a cycle of atrocity. Essentially, Mbeki and Mamdani place themselves on the “peace” side of the Peace vs. Justice debate.
What Mbeki and Mamdani advocate seems somewhat idealistic, but they make an important point. The nature of transitional justice has changed. Originally, with the Nuremberg trials, transitional justice referred to the process of transition after the end of conflict, and as a way of healing a broken situation. Now, with the presence of the ICC, criminal prosecutions are used not only after violence has ceased, but also as a method for ending said violence– the ICC essentially forces the “transition” aspect of transitional justice. Prosecutions of past crimes versus prosecutions as a means of ending crimes, are two very different processes, and, as Mbeki and Mamdani point out, need to be treated as such.