Pursuing Justice for Human Rights Abuses in Post Conflict Societies – Timothy Robinson

This position paper seeks to address the importance of pursuing justice for human rights abuses in post conflict societies. In order to produce an adequate position it is important to define the meaning of human rights in the context of this paper.  Every human being, man, woman or child, regardless of ethnic group, colour, religion, sexual orientation or place of birth, is inherently entitled to be afforded human rights.  This means that every human being has a right to be free from persecution or torture, unlawful imprisonment or execution without due process and judged equally without discrimination (OHCHR, 2015).

The importance of addressing human rights abuses in post conflict societies has created a huge difference of opinion amongst experts and academics who seek to find a solution to the dilemmas associated with the coexistence of justice for human rights abuses and conflict resolution. Since the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC), those involved in the process of brokering peace between warring factions have argued that actors who are potentially guilty of war crimes are reluctant to negotiate a peace deal or relinquish power for fear of prosecution (HRW, 2009). The aim of this paper is to demonstrate examples of why conflict resolution cannot work without justice and human rights being at the core of its peace initiative. Ignoring human rights abuse in the Sudanese peace negotiations led to further human rights atrocities in Darfur as the Sudanese government believed they could act with impunity (HRW, 2009). The lack of justice for human rights violations in Afghanistan also led to a rise in insurgency, fragile peace and further human rights abuse (Niland, 2010).  I will argue that justice and conflict resolution are not incompatible entities and focus on the idea that if the two worked in unison they may fill the voids that exist in both theories and therefore create a more sustainable peace (Parlevliet, 2010). 

In 2005 a peace agreement was reached in Kenya ending the civil war in Sudan. The UN Security Council did nothing to address the human rights abuses that had taken place during the conflict, for fear of destabilising the peace process (HRW, 2009).  HRW (2009) argue that this resulting impunity may have led to further human rights abuses in Darfur due to the peace negotiations in Nairobi failing to address the issues surrounding accountability for atrocities committed in South Sudan during the conflict.  By the mid-1990s peace negotiations, and consequently peace agreements, were expected to include integrated methods of dealing with the accountability of previous human rights violations.  However, past regimes have often depended on the likelihood of immunity from prosecution.  Without the promise of amnesty from past violations, threats of military aggression leading to a destabilisation of the peace process have frequently led to impending charges being dropped (Popkin, 2000).  This is debatably the reason why the Inter-Governmental Authority Development (IGAD) peace process has refused to include civil rights organisations, thus rendering it impossible for ordinary Sudanese people to bring about cases of human rights abuses.  While human rights abuses in the south may have abated since the signing of the Machakos Accord in 2002, similar crimes against humanity are being committed in Darfur with impunity (Young, 2005).

As part of the US led operation “Enduring Freedom” in 2001, International military powers summoned the help of Mujahedin warlords to overthrow the Taliban. With the help of international actors, the warlords (many of whom had been involved in human rights abuses in Afghanistan’s recent history) were brought into the post-Taliban government.  The inclusion of accused war criminals removed the legitimacy of the new government in the eyes of ordinary Afghans, and brought about an ethos of impunity and illegality (HRW, 2009).  The failure of the government and international actors to prosecute those who violated the human rights of many Afghans has led to a culture that lacks justice and accountability and an abuse of government powers.  The cessation of armed conflict is extremely unlikely until justice and accountability have been restored.   The pursuit of forming government institutions and winning the US led ‘war on terror’ has meant that human rights and justice have been neglected, which has led to continued instability in Afghanistan (Niland, 2010) (HRW, 2009).

Justice for human rights abuses is not at the core of the conflict resolution process because justice can often be a hindrance for peace negotiators when trying to achieve short term objectives within the conflict resolution process. Human rights can often cause an escalation or recurrence of violence, which can lead to warring factions dismissing agreements because of an issue over human rights becoming more important than brokering a ceasefire (Mretus and Helsing, 2006) (HRW, 2009).  During the peace negotiations in Bosnia in 1993 a United Nations official said that the human rights community had hindered a possible peace agreement (Mertus and Helsing, 2006).  The UN official’s reference to ‘the human rights community’ suggests that they are viewed as separate entities.  The statement also indicates that the importance of human rights is not fully recognised in peace negotiations.

It is the author’s opinion that human rights and conflict resolution/transformation should be treated as one entity. This approach is likely to create an accurately coherent analysis of what is required to build sustainable peace (Parlevliet, 2010).  Both Parlevliet (2010) and Nderitu (2010) discuss the gaps between conflict resolution and human rights, and this sheds some interesting light on two concepts that would initially appear to be elements of the same entity.  The fundamental difference between the two is that the human rights viewpoint tends to look at ways in which war is conducted and not the illegality of the conflict itself.  Conflict transformation focuses on other (non-violent) means of finding peace. Dissension between the two may arise when the demands substantiated by the principles of human rights lead to an escalation in hostilities and limit the effectiveness of conflict transformation (Schmelzle and Dubouet, 2010). However, when conflict transformation is viewed from a human rights perspective, it brings about the consideration of who will play a role in government and how governance will be structured (Parlevliet, 2010); this point is relevant to the rise of insurgency in Afghanistan, based on the opinion that the government is illegitimate because of the impunity afforded to its officials for previous human rights violations (Niland, 2010). It is widely thought that a greater emphasis on human rights is essential when considering the restructuring of conflict transformation.  The consolidation of the two will lead to a better understanding of sustainable peace in the aftermath of conflict (Parlevliet, 2010) (Nderitu, 2010) (Schmelzle and Dubouet, 2010).

References        

Human Rights Watch (2009), Selling Justice Short: Why Accountability Matters for Peace, New York: Human Rights Watch, available at http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/ij0709webwcover_3.pdf.

Nderitu, M. (2010), ‘Rethinking Conflict Transformation from a Human Rights Perspective, V. Dudouet and B. Schmelzle (Eds.) Human Rights and Conflict Transformation: The Challenges of Just Peace, Berlin: Berghof Conflict Research, available at http://www.berghofhandbook.net/documents/publications/dialogue9_humanrights_complete.pdf, pp.55-64.

Niland, N. (2010). Impunity and insurgency: a deadly combination in Afghanistan. International Review of the Red Cross. Volume 92, No. 880, pp.931-936.

Parlevliet, M. (2010), ‘Rethinking Conflict Transformation from a Human Rights Perspective, V. Dudouet and B. Schmelzle (Eds.) Human Rights and Conflict Transformation: The Challenges of Just Peace, Berlin: Berghof Conflict Research, available at http://www.berghofhandbook.net/documents/publications/dialogue9_humanrights_complete.pdf, pp.15-46.

Popkin, M (2000). Obstacles to Building the Rule of Law in El Salvador: Peace without Justice. Pennsylvania, USA: The Pennsylvania State University Press. p85.

Schmelzle and Dubouet (2010), ‘Rethinking Conflict Transformation from a Human Rights Perspective, V. Dudouet and B. Schmelzle (Eds.) Human Rights and Conflict Transformation: The Challenges of Just Peace, Berlin: Berghof Conflict Research, available at http://www.berghofhandbook.net/documents/publications/dialogue9_humanrights_complete.pdf, pp.5-13

OHCHR. (2015). what are human rights? Available: http://www.ohchr.org/en/issues/pages/whatarehumanrights.aspx. Last accessed 22nd September 2015.

Mertus, J. Helsing, J (2006). Human Rights and Conflict: Exploring the Links Between Rights, Law, and Peacebuilding. USA: United States Institute of Peace. pp.509-512.

Young, J. (2005). Sudan: A Flawed Peace Process Leading to a Flawed Peace. Review of African Political Economy, Imperialism & African Social Formations. Volume 32, No. 103, pp. 99-113

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