The Future: Never Again?
No reasonable human being, if given the chance, would oppose the idea of trying to prevent large-scale violations of human rights in the future, and most people would agree that it is worth spending time, money, and effort to try to bring this about. When we consider the resources that will be put into this general objective—from full-scale courts to relatively minor truth processes—we can agree that the objective seems to be a priority for the international community.
At first sight, it may seem curious that this is so—not in absolute terms (since good is always worth doing) but in relative terms. After all, the vast majority of avoidable suffering in the world in recent times does not come from violations of international humanitarian law, or even from violence. As has been the case for decades, the largest killers, especially of children and the weak, are hunger, malnutrition, exposure to the elements, and preventable diseases caused by the absence of cheap medicines and clean drinking water. Moreover, while the link between courts/truth commissions and the prevention of further atrocities is tenuous, the major plagues that afflict humanity are easy to tackle in principle. After all, there is no lack of food or cheap medicines in the world (they are just in the wrong places), and clean supplies of drinking water can be provided easily. Yet while programs to alleviate all of these evils do exist, the world seems curiously reluctant to display the kind of determined attitude actually required, or to give them the political visibility—through UN Security Council resolutions, for example—that would ensure that governments spent as much time and attention on them as they do, for example, on Balkan politics. And so I have been harangued a number of times by Africans demanding to know why the West does not take more seriously the situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the death toll since 1998 is