Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Peace and the Price of Justice

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Peace and the Price of Justice

Article excerpt

The International Criminal Court's efforts to deliver justice can inadvertently block the path to peace.

An African proverb states, "Peace is costly but it is worth the expense." This week the International Criminal Court delivered its first guilty verdict in its nearly 10-year existence, with the conviction of the warlord Thomas Lubanga for the coercion of children as soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The court to date has spent around $1 billion. Justice has been done, but there is no peace in that country.

The court's success as a vehicle for delivering justice continues to be debated. The I.C.C. was founded amid much fanfare, but its track record -- with only this single conviction -- has been poor. Arguably, the cases before it are complex, and it was always going to take time for a new institution to complete them.

But this misses the point. The I.C.C. was intended as an instrument for delivering peace. In this respect it has not been a success. It will continue to falter because its current methods go against the experience of many places in Africa and around the world where peace has been delivered through political negotiations and reconciliation efforts, not the imposition of international justice.

Over the past 20 years, countries divided by ethnicity and political turmoil, from South Africa to Liberia, from Sierra Leone to Rwanda, have been brought together through reconciliation. In my own experience, both as a peace envoy for the United Nations and the European Union to Guinea-Bissau, and as a peace-process negotiator in my native Northern Ireland, this was the case.

During the height of the Troubles in the 1970s and 1980s, the British government used the courts to prosecute its opponents in Northern Ireland. People with blood on their hands were portrayed as martyrs by their supporters. But through a peace process that was backed by the international community -- not driven by it -- two hostile communities were able to come together to share power in our common home. People on both sides have committed violence, yet we now sit in government together, determined to put the past behind us for the common good.

If the I.C.C. had been in existence during the Northern Ireland peace process, or in 1995, when South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission began its work, there would no doubt have been calls for it to intervene and prosecute those accused of violence. This would have driven old enemies even further apart in recrimination and hostility, hobbling the chance for peace.

I am not making an argument against I.C.C.'s existence: In places where there is no functioning government, or the government is hostage to one section of society, or where there is no viable reconciliation process, the international community has a duty to ensure that the court is the guardian of justice. …

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