International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Tag Archives: reconciliation

Turkey’s Peace Process Lacking Truth and Reconciliation Initiatives

Turkey has been seeking a peaceful resolution to the country’s internal conflict that ensued between the Republic of Turkey and various Kurdish insurgent groups which have been demanding either their own independent nation or improved rights for Kurds within Turkey. The president of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been trying to negotiate a peace deal with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) but within these negotiations there has been a lack of conversations about truth and justice for the atrocities committed against the Kurdish civilians during the 30 year long conflict in which 30,000-40,000 Kurds were killed and over a million displaced. In the article, it states how the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan is calling for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission but how despite this being a demand of various human rights groups as well as the family and relatives of the victims, this has “rarely been the subject of public debate in Turkey”. It goes on further by saying that Turkey is known to suppress the memories of past atrocities which makes the road to reconciliation more complicated and challenging as the list of atrocities continues to pile up. Truth can be very destabilizing to a country. More specifically the truth could destabilize the Turkish government since the state continues to use violence and furthermore many of the atrocities that have occurred in Turkey have been interconnected which makes it especially difficult for Turkey to deal with its past. Despite having an increased demand for truth in human rights groups and families of the victims, there really hasn’t been any collective widespread public pressure on the government to pursue the truth. In the article it explains that this is due to the normalization of state violence and the “political apathy and cynicism arising from the disbelief in the justice system.” Also in due part to the state’s denial and official discourse that has legitimized this violent past and present. As we discussed in class and as is discussed in this article, sometimes the truth that is recognized by the state is a limited truth since its boundaries are defined by the state and fuel’s the state’s narrative. Is is important to recognize the value of truth in the reconciliation process while at the same time acknowledge its shortcomings. In Turkey’s case it will be important to link truth and justice for its past crimes but also end ongoing violence against the Kurds in order to achieve peace and stability.

Edmonton: A year of reconciliation

This week marks the one year anniversary since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded in Edmonton.This commission was set up over 5 years ago in order to investigate what happened in the residential schools that were set up to “eliminate parental involvement  in the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual development of Aboriginal children” across Canada. Following the truth commission, Mayor Don Iveson declared the first year following the commission as the “year of reconciliation”. In its efforts towards reconciliation the city of Edmonton set  three goals in order to improve relations with indigenous residents. One of its goals included creating more spaces for the celebration of aboriginal culture. By creating such spaces the government is ensuring that the aboriginal population in Edmonton has access to their culture and their identity. It allows for children to connect with their aboriginal heritage and furthermore it allows for the indigenous people to do cultural awareness training. This is important in achieving reconciliation because the residential schools significantly damaged the indigenous culture’s development, so by doing this it is a form of reparation for the damages done. Specifically in Edmonton, the government is working with indigenous people in order to build a sweat lodge. A sweat lodge is a place in which people can pray, meditate, teach or even host community gatherings. In helping build this type of space the government is acknowledging the victims due to the nature and purpose of the structure. As we discussed in class, truth commissions, more specifically the recommendations can bring about reparations to the victims and families through the elicited responses and actions after the release of the report. Luckily in the Canadian case, the findings of the commission have been well received and the government in conjunction with the indigenous community have worked together towards reconciliation by not only memorializing the past but also looking forward in sustaining and promoting aboriginal culture of the future.

Pope Francis to Visit Bosnia and Herzegovina and Help in the Reconciliatory Process


Pope Francis has recently announced that he will visit the Capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo, in June of this year. His aim of the trip is to, “give rise to the development of good and contribute to the consolidation of brotherhood and peace, inter-religious dialogue and friendship.” A recent op-ed written by the ICTJ’s communications director, Refik Hodzic, a Bosnian himself, discusses the current reconciliatory issues in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The country is still suffering from the legacy of the 1992-95 conflict; a conflict which resulted in more than 100,000 deaths of Bosnian Croats and Serbs. The issues in the country are not surrounding a lack of impunity—hundreds of war criminals been caught, tried, and sentenced. The issues in this case go deeper. Even twenty years later, the wounds have not healed. Hodzic wrote himself, “We are paralyzed, caught in limbo between war and genuine peace because we have not translated the truth and justice emerging from courtrooms into acknowledgement, empathy and reconciliation.” This is a strong example of the split between retributive and restorative justice—the criminals have been formally punished but there is still a lack of restoration of forgiveness and reconciliation in the hearts and minds of the individuals who lived through the conflict and who are attempting to live their lives now. Beyond the courtroom, reconciliatory justice still needs to be made, especially with the recent release of several war criminals who have finished their sentence. Pope Francis enters the scene and offers an interesting religious element to the healing process, and it will be interesting to see if his presence will have an impact in the reconciliation process.

South Africa’s “Prime Evil” Released on Parole

Eugene de Kock, a notorious apartheid death-squad leader in South Africa during the 1980’s and early 90’s, was granted parole on Friday January 30th after over two decades in prison. De Kock “is believed to have been responsible for more atrocities than any other man in the efforts to preserve white rule” in South Africa, and was arrested in 1994 for charges of murder, attempted murder, and kidnapping, to name a few. Known throughout South Africa as “Prime Evil”, due to his incredibly violent reputation, de Kock was sentenced to 212 years in prison for his extensive list of crimes. But, at a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1995, established to “unearth crimes committed by both sides”, de Knock confessed to many of his crimes and led authorities to the remains of many of South Africa’s “disappeared”. This cooperation, as well as the “interests of nation building and reconciliation”, were the two reasons cited for de Kock’s release on parole.

As one New York Times article stated about his granted freedom, “It was arguably the greatest single act of mercy to emerge from the anguished debate in South Africa over reconciliation and justice.” The response of the local and international communities have been mixed. Some believe that de Kock’s release is a part of the necessary forgiveness in order to rebuild society, while others believe that reconciliation cannot be found through essentially pardoning a violent and ruthless murderer. This case brings up even more questions about the right way to find “reconciliation” and move on as a society, while still recognizing atrocities and perpetrators for what they are.

The Gacaca court system in Rwanda

As we have discussed in class, three different court systems have been used to prosecute the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide: the ICTR, the national court system, and the local-level Gacaca court system. These systems have, on the aggregate, been quite successful in terms of the sheer number of cases they have tried since the genocide; however, there are still many concerns about the legitimacy and biases of the Gacaca courts, ultimately resulting in what the BBC terms, ‘controversial justice’ (BBC).

Immediately following the genocide in 1994, Rwanda’s legal system was left largely in disarray. In order to prosecute the large volume of genocidaires, it became clear that employing various court systems would be necessary. As a result, the Gacaca courts transitioned from settling only small local disputes and adapted to “a more conventional model of punitive justice,” which sought to “reveal the truth about the genocide” (HRW). In 2005, these courts began prosecuting the “thousands of accused still awaiting trial in the national court system,” to further their goals of achieving “justice and reconciliation at the grassroots level” (UN).

By 2012, the system of 12,000 community-based courts had tried over 1.2 million perpetrators throughout Rwanda (UN & BBC). According to statistics, approximately 65% of those tried were found guilty, and were subsequently sentenced. In these local courts though, it was possible to significantly reduce your sentence if you showed signs of remorse, publically apologized, and asked for forgiveness from your community (UN). Consequently, some called into the question the legitimacy of the courts— fearing that convicted genocidaires could deliver falsely “sincere” apologies in order to “return home without further penalty” (HRW & UN).

As the Human Rights Watch asserted, the expectation that the Gacaca courts would achieve “national-level reconciliation” in these few years was pretty far-fetched (HRW). In fact, a multitude of other factors caused people to question the legitimacy of these trials, including corruption, personal ties, and intimidation (HWR). Although the BBC reported that “many people in Rwanda” have credited the system for “help[ing] to mend the wounds of the past,” the Gacaca’s ability to promote justice and reconciliation has undoubtedly been challenged by these underlying problems (BBC & HRW). For these reasons— as well as the many reasons we have discussed in class— it is and will remain to be very difficult to assess the success of these courts for many years to come.

Kenyans’ Domestic Perception of the ICC

Since arrest warrants were issued for Kenyan President Kenyatta and Deputy President Ruto in 2011, there has been much debate about Kenyan public perception of the International Criminal Court’s intervention.  In 2007 and 2008 political violence surrounding President Kenyatta’s election ensued– over 1,000 people were killed, over 3,000 were injured, and hundreds of thousands more were displaced.  The ICC’s decision to investigate these crimes now serves as one of the key points African Union states point to in their criticism of the ICC’s alleged “Africa bias.” Leaders from many African nations, but in particular from Kenya and Uganda, accuse the court of unfairly targeting Africans in its investigations and prosecutions.  Kenyatta’s case is one of two in which an active head of state has been indicted by the court– the other is an indictment of Sudanese President al-Bashir. Although Kenyatta seems largely to be cooperating with the ICC, his fellow leaders continue to be critical and outright hostile towards the court. A somewhat less examined topic is public perception of the ICC’s decision to intervene. uhuru+ruto+cabinet

According to recent reports, Kenyan public perception is split. An “element of fatigue” seems to be prevalent among Kenyans.  They are tired of what has become a 6 year investigation process. Most surprising, however, is that this “fatigue” is present even among victims of the violence. They are, “accepting the narrative purveyed by national leaders – that they should accept what had happened and move on.”  There is not public consensus, however, that justice and reconciliation are unnecessary. Many advocate for “justice in whatever form,” including, especially, mechanisms for reconciliation.  Indeed, because the alleged perpetrators are still in power, there is no question that victims must continue to live within the system orchestrated by those who committed crimes against them and their families. Potential public fatigue with the ICC and criminal prosecutions, as well as the entrenched power of alleged perpetrators, point to a severe need for serious reconciliatory justice.

Duvalier could be charged with crimes against humanity


A Haitian appellate court has ruled that deposed dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier (also known as “Baby Doc”) could be charged with crimes against humanity, and for crimes committed by the army and paramilitary during his reign. This reverses the 2012 ruling that stated Duvalier could not be charged for his alleged involvement for these crimes due to the statute of limitations running out.

The appellate court has made their ruling based on standards of international law over Haitian law. Human rights lawyer, Pierre Esperance, stated “Haiti is not isolated and international right applies in the country. So crimes against humanity are part of our law,” human rights rights lawyer. Since the 2012 ruling, the UN high commissioner for human rights, along with other human rights advocates, have asserted that there is no statute of limitations for human rights violations under international law.

Duvalier has consistently denied these accusations, and even fled into exile for 25 years. Upon his return to Haiti in 2011, however, he issued an apology to victims of his government. This, along with Haiti’s truth commission being largely unsuccessful (as mentioned in the Méndez reading), provide evidence that peace (or lack of violence) has been insufficient in promoting reconciliation. Rather, justice (through the acknowledgement of Duvalier’s dictatorship and investigation of his crimes) has provided a greater sense of reconciliation, especially for victims who have been in search of answers and justice.

Is this case also an example of how international law can becoming an overarching factor in determining domestic conflicts? Defense attorney, Fritzo Canton, has made claims that the judges are under the influence of “extreme left-wing” international human rights groups.  On the other hand, while the influence of international law has reopened investigations of Duvalier’s crimes, the trials and investigations are being done by Haitian courts. It does not seem like the influence of groups promoting international standards are overstepping their bounds, especially considering the fact that their influence has primarily been in defense of victims who are demanding justice.

Source: Chicago Tribune

Sri Lankan criticisms of Truth Commissions

So far in class and in readings, it seems to me that we have heard generally positive things about truth commissions.  The Michael Humphrey article “International intervention, justice and national reconciliation: the role of the ICTY and ICTR in Bosnia and Rwanda” suggested that a truth commission be held in Rwanda “in order to promote the creation of a more inclusive political community that international and national trials have so far not achieved” (Humphrey 502).  This editorial from the Sri Lankan Times presents a decidedly different argument.

The author, Kishali Jayawardene, is one that has been severely disillusioned by Sri Lanka’s history with truth commissions, claiming that they appeared to be “manna from heaven” but in reality have been huge and expensive disappointments.  While the author admits that the 1994 Commissions of Inquiry into the Involuntary Removal or Disappearances of Persons made good recommendations, these recommendations were largely disregarded by the government except for the payment of token reparations.  Jayawardene accuses truth commissions of being wastes of public funds, of raising the expectations of citizens while duly ignoring their human rights’ claims, and of distracting the attention of the government from more important reforms.

While the author is clearly against the practice of truth commissions, it seems to me that he more has a problem with the way that they’ve been implemented, rather than the theory behind them.  In his conclusion, the author writes that, “Sri Lankan governments… are able to resort to these tactics time and time again and without challenge from this country’s so-called ‘intellectual’ community.”  The author fails to provide an alternative to truth commissions or a suggestion for how they might be improved, but ultimately I think it’s an interesting piece in that it shows the frustration that some have with such commissions.

Kony “Seeking Forgiveness”


A recent article published in Uganda’s (privately owned) Daily Monitor newspaper reports of a letter from Joseph Kony to Ugandans claiming a desire to resume peace talks:

“We are willing and ready to forgive and seek forgiveness, and continue to seek peaceful means to end this war which has cut across a swathe of Africa for the people of the Great Lakes and the Nile-Congo Basin to find peace.”

Not surprisingly, Kony also seeks to share blame for war crimes  and deaths that have occurred over the course of the rebellion with the government, and even claims that his actions were committed out of self defense while some atrocities, such as the massacres in northern Uganda, were also committed by the UPDF to “spoil” his name. Let’s pretend for a moment that Kony is sincere about making peace; are successful peace talks and an apology from the LRA really enough to foster reconciliation? Furthermore, even if peace is reached between the LRA and the Ugandan government the ICC will still maintain its outstanding warrant against Joseph Kony for the crimes he committed in the past.

Strangely enough, in Kony’s letter he additionally appeals to the ICC, the institution he has publicly denounced and evaded for years, to investigate crimes committed by President Museveni and General Sejusa. This is especially surprising considering the fact that the 2008 government-LRA peace talks hosted in South Sudan primarily collapsed due to Kony’s insistence that the ICC drop its warrant against him. Other than attempting to provide a possible defense for himself if convicted, what could Kony possibly hope to achieve by making these claims against the government with whom he “hopes” to reconcile?

Oscar-Nominated Documentary “The Act of Killing” and Reconciliation in Indonesia

The Act of Killing

The Act of Killing, a 2012 documentary about the mass killings in Indonesia that occurred after a failed coup attempt in 1965, was recently nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary. The documentary has generated substantial international interest and an impressive list of awards in the past few years, and its nomination for an Academy Award has reignited the discussion on Indonesia’s often forgotten past of mass violence and how modern day Indonesia is still struggling with reconciliation.

The documentary featured the actual, now aging, killers from the 1965 massacre, primarily gang leader Anwar Congo. These men were gangsters at the time who were hired by the military to carry out the killings as retaliation against the resurrection and as a part of the government’s anti-communist measures at the time. It is estimated that over one million people were killed within a year. Congo is still a prominent figure in Indonesian society, as are many of his fellow killers.

The Act of Killing generated a lot of controversy over the fact that it had these killers reenact their own crimes. In doing so, the documentary showed how the killings are remembered in Indonesian collective history–they are either not taught at all, or they are shown as a positive political by the regime that is still in power. The killers themselves are celebrated and unremorseful. Many of them continued to serve in the military, and are proud of the acts of killing that they committed in 1965, and were eager to reenact them for the camera.

The film is meant to demonstrate how, in the 40+ years since the killings, Indonesia has made little progress in addressing and moving on from the atrocity. But it will be interesting to what role the film itself, which has gained so much traction, will play in reconciliation process.

For one, the killers who reenact the murders they committed are shown on screen watching their own reenactments and expressing bewilderment at how truly violent their acts are. Congo is shown in the trailer watching his own scene and asking “have I sinned?”. A critical step in the reconciliation process is the admittance of guilt by the perpetrator, and it appears that one of the effects of the reenactments was some degree of remorse by the featured killers.

Then there is the effect that the movie has had on Indonesian society as a whole. It has provided a way for victims to come together and form solidarity over their shared past. It has spurred reunions among victims, and in some cases has resulted in the descendants of victims and the descendants of perpetrators to come together and learn about the mistakes of their parents and grandparents.

But whatever positive reception the movie has received within Indonesia has been overshadowed by the overwhelming criticism of the film, particularly by the Indonesian government. The presidential spokesman for foreign affairs, Teuku Faizasyah, denounced the film for portraying Indonesia as a lawluess and cruel nation, and insisted that the modern Indonesia was not the same. In this, Teuku is effectively claiming that modern Indonesia cannot be judged by the acts the government took during the Cold War, despite the fact that nobody was ever held accountable for those acts. Teuku then said that Indonesia is still in a period of reconciliation, and that the govnernment was trying to handle the problems of its past in its own way.

Despite Teuku’s claims, it appears that there has been little official action to try to address these killings. The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) conducted a four-year investigation into the violence, but when it presented its findings to the Attorney General’s Office, the request to conduct an official investigation was turned down. No prosecution has occurred, and many officials still do not openly acknowledge that such killings took place.

The Act of Killing thus has huge potential to both bring forth the truth about the killings and to motivate victims and ordinary citizens to call for accountability. As the Academy Awards come up and as the film continues to gain traction, it will be interesting to see its effects both within Indonesia and internationally.

Relevant articles:–but-no-one-knows-their-names-9073035.html

Can ‘Mother Courage’ Bring Reconciliation to the Central African Republic?

catherine-samba-panza-afp-Par7768862-20140120The election of interim president of the Central African Republic Catherine Samba-Panza this last week marks a critical juncture in the political and religious strife that has plagued the Central African Republic for some months. Her election followed the bloody nine month reign of terror under Michel Djotodia, who had installed himself as president following a coup led by Muslim rebels in March. His rise to power ignited a series of bloody religious conflicts in the CAR. The pillaging and killings committed by the Seleka, who were Djotodia’s mainly Muslim rebel group, sparked a violent retaliation among the CAR’s prominent Christian population and has led to atrocities on both sides. The conflict came to a head in early December, when hundreds were killed in targeted attacks and hundreds of thousands fled from their homes to try and escape the atrocities. Over the last six weeks alone, over 1,000 people have been killed by both Muslim rebels and Christian vigilantes and the violence escalated so badly that the United Nations warned that it could be the precursor to genocide. 

Amid the international scrutiny, on January 10th Djotodia was forced to step down from his position and nearly two weeks later the CAR elected its first female president. What I found most interesting about the media surrounding the election, however, was the emphasis on reconciliation–mainly between the Central African Republic’s Muslim and Christian populations–and womanhood. There seems to be this overriding belief among the CAR that since men had caused the violence, it was only natural that a woman would bring peace. As a New York Times article stresses, “The consensus, in the chamber and on the street, was that men had inexorably led the country into a spiral of vicious violence, and that the only hope was for a woman to lead them out of it.” Even Samba-Panza points to her “sensibilities as a woman” as a key ingredients that can lead to peace and reconciliation between the warring factions in the CAR. Many believe that ‘Mother Courage,’ as she has been nicknamed, holds the best chance for the CAR to have reconciliation because she, as a woman, is compassionate and is not “a man with a gun.” For a country that still has an early and forced marriage percentage of 60%, does the election of Samba-Panza represent a significant shift in gender dynamics for the CAR? Can gender truly be a factor in aiding the process of reconciliation?

Here’s the sources I found too if anyone is interested in learning more:

Van Morrison and the Role of Music in Reconciliation

In searching for material for my first blog post, I came across an interesting bit of information about an event that happened during peace processes following political violence between the IRA and other nationalist groups in Northern Ireland and the British government.  Apparently following a visit to the city of Belfast from then U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1995, the musician Van Morrison played a concert for a crowd of more than 80,000 people. Van Morrison, who is North Irish himself, performed the song “Days Like This”, which later, according to some, became an anthem for the peace movement in Northern Ireland.

For the participants who were there to witness it, one can imagine that Van Morrison’s concert was life changing and “something that allowed them to imagine peace, the possibility of living together.” It would be interesting to learn more about other similar events in recent history that might have happened in response to political violence or conflict. In addition, it would be worthwhile to investigate the question, “In the aftermath of mass violence and instability, what role can music play in promoting unity and reconciliation in a society imagining peace?” Such research could be very beneficial to societies seeking peace today, especially considering how pervasive music is in cultures and communities around the globe.

“Days Like This” – Van Morrison

The Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)

This news article describes the first experiences that people had in the United States’ first state-sponsored truth and reconciliation commission, which was held earlier this week.  I thought this article was particularly interesting because it showed that truth and reconciliation commissions can be helpful not only in matters of international justice but also civil/ historic justice.  Maine’s TRC is helping to uncover the stories of many Native American children who were removed from their homes and placed in white homes.  I think it’s a good step in accounting for the genocide of the Native American people, which is probably one of the saddest things in American history and simply isn’t talked about enough.

Reconciliation and Education in Peru



Peru’s internal armed conflict began in the 1980’s headed by the regime leader Alberto Fujimori. Violent insurgencies led by the rebel group, Sendero Luminoso coupled with racial and cultural discrimination of native Andean populations, called for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to gather a final report clarifying the human rights violations committed from 1980 until 2000. Based upon the assigned readings, for the most part, reconciliation is a process of re-establishing the right relationships. In the context of Peru, Peruvians should respect the nation’s diversity and encourage a multilingual and multiethnic society. However the political actions of the Peruvian government go against the promotion of a multilingual and multiethnic society.

In rebuilding the future should the government try to structurally erase the past culture, including cultural traits such as language in order to move forward?

Reconciliation and memory are crucial to strengthening a country. Although the Peruvian President Alan Garcia has built a museum to memorialize the past atrocities, reconciliation goes beyond a physical space. Education is an overlooked essential reform necessary for preventing similar future conflict. Education is able to perpetuate political violence to some extent. In Peru, the education system is unequal and subjugates the already marginalized Andean farmers. The ethnic Andean population remains in the eyes of the government a subpar group, undeserving of the same consideration those in the center deserve.  Indigenous peoples are unable to receive a proper education let alone a bilingual education that promotes their language and embraces their culture. Successful reconciliation should not be limited to symbolic places such as the museums or physical places of memorialization, but rather needs to actively combine with adapting to the needs of a diverse population.

Measuring Reconciliation in Rwanda (in 2010)

In October of 2010, Rwanda’s National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) put forth the Rwandan Reconciliation Barometer (RRB), inspired by the South African Reconciliation Barometer, which has measured public opinion on national reconciliation in South Africa since 2003. The RRB is a “national public opinion survey that intends to track progress on the road to reconciliation in Rwanda by means of a structured quantitative research instrument” (9), with data collected by universal sampling from 3,000 Rwandans from all thirty districts in the country.

It seems as if the study was carried out by a team of consultants from the UNDP – DFID, or members of Britain’s Department for International Development under the auspices of the United Nations Development Program. This adds legitimacy to the survey’s findings, distancing it from the politicized government-run NURC.

If we trust the results of the barometer, it is simply a fascinating study, rich with information for our class – especially the findings on “Understanding the Past” (59-62), “Transitional Justice” (63-72), and “Social Cohesion” (73-88). I highly recommend looking through the tables in these sections, but some highlights in terms of the Gacaca courts include:
– 93.7% of respondents agree that most of what happened during the genocide has become known through the processes of the Gacaca, and 83.4% indicated that they believed in the impartiality of Gacaca judges.
– 89% felt that the punishments received by perpetrators were fair, while 70.8% of respondents felt that genocide survivors were fairly compensated.

The almost overwhelmingly positive numbers throughout the survey definitely spark some incredulity, which might point to methodological shortcomings. However, one figure stands in stark contrast to the rest of the results: a significant percentage of respondents (39.9%) believe that there are people in Rwandan society that would still perpetrate acts of genocide if given the opportunity (58). Does this finding negate the rest of the study? Does this sense of personal insecurity and distrust demonstrate a failure of reconciliation processes in Rwanda?

Peace and Justice: The Case of Afghanistan

Afghanistan has been amid a peace and reconciliation process for the past couple of years. To ensure its effectiveness the military surge has been complemented by various peace councils and civilian reconciliation efforts like women’s councils and councils for business entrepreneurs in the region. In order to ensure a well-rounded resolution to the Afghan war, Pakistan and its high leaders must be involved since they have historically been a crucial part of both the conflict and the solution.

A couple of days ago, members of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, led by chairman Salahuddin Rabbani, arrived on a three-day visit to Pakistan, and held crucial talks with political leaders, including Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar amidst fresh tensions over a cross-border shelling incident.

According to sources, the meeting discussion included the release of certain Afghan Taliban commanders currently in Pakistani custody and establishing a comprehensive framework to provide safe passage to certain Taliban members. The Afghan side is believed to have shared its ‘roadmap’ envisaging steps it intends to take and a list of demands for Pakistan to help broker a peace deal.

The demands include the release of key Afghan commanders, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who, according to the Karzai administration, can play a crucial role in bringing insurgents to the negotiating table. Baradar is ranked second in influence only to Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar.

The effort to ensure reconciliation on behalf of both Pakistani and Afghan leaders is commendable. However, how is it possible that they can even begin to think this is an effective solution when the brokering, negotiating, and actual effort of reconciliation is only happening in top levels? Not to mention, any negotiations that include the release of Taliban leaders – the very reason why Afghanistan is in its current state of ruins – will make the people of Afghanistan feel like reconciliation is merely a mask and an effort to cover up the return of warlords from the 80’s as opposed to real justice.

Leaders from the Taliban have systematically targeted ethnic groups, they’ve attacked entire villages, subverted thousands of women and children and yet they continue to have free reign in the country.

Any effort of Afghan reconciliation is completely undermined by their consideration of Taliban leaders and by the neglect of civil society in this process. Afghanistan’s new government should look into a truth commission for 2014 and the international community – namely the ICC – should consider actively investigating Mullah Fazel Mohammad Mazloom (who is the alleged Chief of Staff of the Taliban) and Mullah Dadullah (current senior military commander of the Taliban). These are the people who are most likely giving the orders for attack, providing weapons, and actively stunting the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan. Failure to begin an investigation in Afghanistan may tag the ICC as selectively choosing their cases. This is a good opportunity for the ICC to show that they do not cover only cases in Africa and will, in fact, go where the victims need them.

Regional Legacy Conferences of the ICTY

Yesterday, the ICTY held its first of three Regional Legacy Conferences in Sarajevo. Tomorrow a conference will be held in Zagreb, and on November 22nd the final one will be held in Belgrade.   These conferences are a part of the outreach program of the ICTY, which perhaps realizes its physical and psychological distance from the people they are serving.   

 These conferences recognize a fundamental problem towards the process of reconciliation is a lack of knowledge among the community about what the ICTY discovered and accomplished.   This is due to many things, including lack of access to internet, unavailability of the trial transcripts in local languages, as well as general unavailability of these records for the public use.  Notably, this conference includes people from all areas: tribunal officials, national judiciary officials, NGOs, politicians, victims, journalists, academics, and even artists. 

The concept paper for the conferences acknowledges the weaknesses of the ICTY and perhaps trials in general: “In spite of the many achievements of the ICTY, its legacy remains underused in most of the processes of transitional justice in the region – in truth-seeking and truth-telling, in the search for the forcibly disappeared, in creation of the culture of memory and respect for the victims, in seeking just reparations for them, and in the reform of institutions. Apart from the national war crimes courts, it is only a small number of NGOs and a handful of individuals from the region, that regularly and systematically utilise the ICTY legacy in their activities focused on transitional justice.”

 These conferences introduce an element of restorative justice where retributive justice had primarily dominated.  Truth telling and dissemination of knowledge, while once seen as a secondary inferior option to trials, has now become an essential component of achieving justice and reconciliation.  I do wonder though, if the audience of these conferences is still a little narrow.  Additionally, as time goes by, the potency of truth telling may become weaker.   Therefore, at this point, I am not sure how effective these conferences–especially as a relatively last- minute idea still strongly concerned with the legacy of the trials themselves–will be at proliferating reconciliation through truth.   

Zeidan and the future of Libya

In light of the recent election of the new Libyan Prime Minister, Ali Zeidan, a long time opponent of Gaddafi, I want to discuss an article from the UN News Centre that I read a month ago, and have been thinking about. Citing “transitional justice and national reconciliation” as one of his two priorities, Zeidan, who has played a key role in support of the political leadership of the ‘rebels’ against the forces of Gaddafi, will hopefully facilitate change in working towards a well-rounded process of achieving transitional justice. The article from Mid-September precisely addressed the need for such a process to manage reconciliation and referred to the then-released UN report by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). In order to set the foundation for a new democratic state, the aftermath of 41 years of autocratic rule followed by civil war and the overthrow of the infamous ruler must be properly dealt with. As the report recommends, the transitional justice strategy must include a “truth-seeking approach,” the provision of a fair legal process and prosecution to those in continued detention, and the consequent reconciliation of victims. Public dialogue on the matter must be established, as well as an entity of official public consultation, and conflicts among specific communities must be addressed. Furthermore, precautions against further human rights violations must be taken, to further restore trust in the minds of the people regarding the progress being made. Only through such a comprehensive and fair approach can the overall causes of the Libyan conflict be repaired, as well as its consequences, in setting up the basis of a healthy and enduring democratic Libya.

(Three links within the text)

Photographing the Road to Reconciliation in Colombia

As someone who loves all things Latin American and all things journalistic, this announcement on the International Center for Transitional Justice’s website caught my eye. As part of “Memory Week” in Colombia, the ICTJ and the Center for Historical Memory organized an amateur photography contest, the theme of which was “Images to Resist Oblivion.” Each of the three series of photos calls attention to a different set of past atrocities and intimately explores the effect they have had on the surrounding community. Not only are these photos worth looking at simply to further our understanding of the violence in Colombia, but they also raise questions about the role that alternative forms of remembrance can play in the process of reconciliation.

As Charles Villa-Vicencio succinctly writes, “There is no general agreement concerning the nature of reconciliation. Each context makes its own demands of the concept” (The Politics of Reconciliation, pg. 68 of Telling the Truths, ed. Tristan Anne Borer). Expanding upon Villa-Vicencio’s line of thought, ever-changing conceptions of the meaning of reconciliation require new approaches to (ideally) reaching that state. Photo contests/exhibitions (curated by victims themselves) may provide an effective avenue for those whose communities were torn apart by atrocities to take a step towards reconciliation on a more personal level while simultaneously increasing overall awareness of said atrocities. Serving as a form of visual remembrance, in addition to documenting what actually happened, photographs can—perhaps most importantly—call attention to the emotional aftermath in effected communities. This can in theory provide a sense of catharsis for victims while also reassuring them that they do have value as human beings, that they will not be forgotten or overlooked, and that their struggles will be taken into account in the pursuit of justice—all of which are important steps on the (elusive) road to reconciliation.

The Big Fish

  1. Do the applications of “individualizing guilt” and targeting the “big fish” allow for (or even encourage) the occurrence of a scapegoat system?  Are there mechanisms in place to prevent this?  Particularly with political vs. military leaders, or higher level military leaders not directly involved in combat, it seems plausible that leaders who did not order, plan, or participate in H.R. violations could be falsely accused to fill a space, or even sacrificed by their party for some objective (i.e., hypothetically, a Croatian General no longer involved with the state is offered—since it’s unlikely victims would have seen him give orders—instead of the true perpetrator, who may still be useful in state affairs).  If so, does this matter?  In reference to the alternative of individualizing guilt, Osiel said, “then victims and the public at large would no longer be content to vent their rage on a small handful of now powerless individuals.”  If the big fish were the wrong fish, two of the three claimed roles of transitional justice would still be met and Osiel’s statement could support that the state and individual healing process & expanded dialogue should take precedence over accountability & countering denial.  And punishing essentially an effigy wouldn’t stand in the way of deterrence as long as society remained unaware. Looking specifically at this possibility, is “false justice” an acceptable compromise (regardless of courts’ knowledge or ignorance of falsity) as long as victims and society believe justice was served and move towards healing/reconciliation?

Impunity Gap: Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a notable case of an “impunity gap.” It’s widely acknowledged that crimes were committed by both sides, the government and Tamil rebels, in Sri Lank’as civil war. Yet, there is no domestic political will to hold perpetrators accountability and the international community has shirked their responsibility to call for justice. (You may also want to read a past blog post of mine on this topic.)

Watch the controversial documentary called “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields” by Channel 4 and do some quick online research. You can respond with you general thoughts on the film but also try to address one or more of the following questions.

a) What are the atrocities that a transitional justice mechanism should address?

b) What is known about who is “most responsible” for atrocities?

c) What have the victims demanded in terms of justice? Is there support for a tribunal, truth commission, reparations? Is there strong domestic pressure from victims and civil society?

d) Unlike other cases of atrocities in civil war, the United Nations Security Council and Human Rights Council have failed to adequately pressure the Sri Lankan government to mete out accountability. What explains this failure? What role has the UN played so far?

e) What type of transitional justice mechanism(s) would be most appropriate in this context? And who should implement it – the UN or the Sri Lankan government?

(Please provide links to any of the information you can across in your research).

Reconciliation in Libya

Our class has discussed Reconciliation as a way to bring justice to victims of destructive conflicts.  After the events in Libya, there was a question about how justice would be served in the post-Gaddafi era.  This article from The Tripoli Posts reports on the efforts to make sure that there is a smooth transition to democracy, and that a reconciliation process will occur among Libyans.

The article mentioned that there are many different tribes of people in Libya, something that I had previously unaware of.  Part of the Reconciliation commission’s directive is to help move people back to their homes; many had been displaced during the conflict.  The article suggests that there is perhaps some tension among the different Libyans, possibly having to do with how they were affected by the conflict.  The commission has backing from the UN and seems like it is in a good position to assist the new Libyan government.

(Germany) Demjanjuk victim calls for forgiveness

Demjanjuk victim calls for forgiveness
I came across this article and thought it was touching.  A 90 year-old Holocaust survivor, Jules Schelvis, asked the court in Munich to release John Demjanjuk, the alleged Nazi camp guard, after convicting him.  Schelvis says that although the court should find Demjanjuk guilty, they should not punish him; Schelvis is grateful that the trial is happening so that the story can be told.  It is important to Schelvis that his story be told, along with all the other victims that were deported to the death camp of Sobibor.  This trial is a type of memorialization for Schelvis, and serves as reconciliation, for both men.  Demjanjuk, who has already been in prison for 9 years, can now reconcile and admit to his wrong-doings, whereas Schelvis can have the memorialization via the trial for the atrocities committed against him, his wife, and all the other victims.  When we were talking about truth commissions in class, I just couldn’t understand how sometimes only the truth would suffice, especially after all the people they loved and cared for either disappeared or were brutally murdered, but after reading this article, I realized that the truth does set people free, and its important for both the body and soul to have reconciliation, whether it be within oneself or with perpetrators.

Debating Rwanda’s Gacaca Courts

Gacaca has been a controversial experiment in post-conflict justice and reconciliation. It is unique in a number of respects. First, it represents a mix of retributive and restorative justice principles, and it doesn’t fit neatly into categories of trials or truth commissions.  Second, it represents an “invented tradition” (Ingelaere). Recognizing that it has lost most of its indigenous characteristics, Gacaca is very a modern practice that is hierarchically controlled and operates in a complex political space. Evaluating Gacaca’s contribution to justice and reconciliation is therefore tough, and there is much debate about its value to individual survivors and perpetrators and its value to societal reconciliation.

1. Is Gacaca better than traditional trials? Or is it just better than nothing?

2. Truth, as knowledge and acknowledgment, is an important trade-off for punishment in Gacaca’s plea-bargain process. What have been the benefits and drawbacks of this process?

3. After watching scenes from the Butera trial in “In the Tall Grass”  – did this trial provide enough justice for Joanita? What were your impressions of Gacaca after seeing how it works?

4. What should we expect of reconciliation in Rwanda? Watch this short BBC segment.

5. Does the international community have an obligation or right to be critical of Rwanda’s justice and reconciliation policies?

Reconciliation in Rwanda – Gacaca courts & the ICTR

I watched part of a documentary called “Gacaca Justice”. If anyone is interested, here is the link to the 15 minute (kind of long…) clip:

The film pays particular attention to the Gacaca courts that have been set up across the country to serve as a form of community justice and provide healing and closure to victims. In light of our class today about the Rwandan genocide and the ICTR, I can’t help but feel that the Gacaca court system serves as a better form of transitional justice in providing healing at both local and statewide levels than the efforts of the ICTR. In a country like Rwanda where a majority of the population lives in small rural communities, the trials of the ICTR do not seem accessible to the population. The Gacaca courts provide localized justice in individual villages and towns by punishing the average, lower-level perpetrators who made up the vast majority of perpetrators during the genocide.

This is not to say the ICTR hasn’t been invaluable in convicting the elite perpetrators and masterminds of the genocide, but ultimately as we discussed in class a majority of Rwandans feel that they have no connection to these elite perpetrators or their trials that occur in another country. This idea was reinforced for me when a woman in the documentary said “Those who became our killers were our friends and neighbors”. Although it may sound cynical, I feel that although Rwanda requested the ICTR, it is a tribunal that is more important for the guilty consciences of the international community who at first largely ignored the genocide than it is for the Rwandans who suffered through it.

I would be interested in hearing other people’s opinions on this subject, whether people agree or if they think the ICTR is more important than I’ve made it out to be.