Academic journal article Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

The Human Rights Approach to Peace in Sierra Leone: The Analysis of the Peace Process and Human Rights Enforcement in a Civil War Situation

Academic journal article Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

The Human Rights Approach to Peace in Sierra Leone: The Analysis of the Peace Process and Human Rights Enforcement in a Civil War Situation

Article excerpt


The idea that perpetrators of human rights abuses should be made accountable for their action has gained currency in international law and practice. (1) Nascent from the general principles of human rights protection and state obligation decreed by international instruments such as the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, (2) the 1949 Geneva Conventions, (3) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), (4) the idea has crystallized into an expanded scheme of action that calls for the avoidance of blanket amnesties for past violations, imputation of individual criminal responsibility, and the exercise of extraterritorial jurisdiction to try and punish human rights violators. (5) The argument that past violations may be excusable for reason of democratic consolidation, for societal healing or for merely bringing the belligerents to a negotiation table is becoming unpopular even within nations that have experienced great political and social upheaval. (6) However, the development of appropriate enforcement mechanisms that would be in tandem with the unrelenting mood of the international community against human rights violations has been very slow. (7) The difficulty of marshalling the consensus necessary for treaty formation and the general political suspicion against the diminishing sovereignty privileges has impacted negatively on such an enterprise. (8) The result has been a pathetic recourse to ad hoc measures meant to bridge the gap between the genuine concerns for the eradication of human rights abuses and the political desires to retain sovereignty and block interference with so called "internal affairs." (9)

One area in which such a policy has become evident is with the prosecution and punishment of war criminals through the ad hoc international war crimes tribunals. (10) The tribunals are a compromise between two competing forces--a creature of convenience crafted to satisfy the overwhelming demand for response against massive violations of human rights, but with restricted temporal and substantive jurisdiction to match the cynicism of the western political influence. (11) As one scholar has observed:

   The Yugoslav and Rwanda Tribunals were not established because of
   the United Nations, or the powerful states that control it. They
   were not established because of an intrinsic value on punishing
   war criminals or upholding the rule of law. Rather, the
   mobilization of shame by non-governmental organizations and
   especially the grisly pictures beamed to the world by the
   television camera created a public relations nightmare and made
   liars of the centers of Western civilization. (12)

Because of the restrictions placed on them by their constitutive statutes, lack of uniformity and the fact of their temporary presence, the tribunal's practical effect as a deterrent measure has been negligible--a fact conceded by even their most ardent of supporters. (13) Despite this, the United Nations Security Council has persisted in this endeavor, making such tribunals the most preferred method of dealing with international crimes and human rights abuses. (14) The Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals have thus created an enduring framework for a watered down international response to gross violations of human rights. (15) The Yugoslavia and Rwanda tribunals have followed in this tradition and the proposed Sierra Leone tribunal/court may be no different. (16)

Whereas the institution of war crimes tribunals in relatively "peaceful" times has achieved some measure of "success," the viability of such schemes in the face of an ongoing civil war, as well as their perceived incompatibility with peace processes, reveals a consistent contradiction in the implementation of international human rights law. (17) One reason could be the unpredictability of outcomes, given the inherent weaknesses in the normative structure of the current web of international human rights regimes. …

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