NATIONAL: Justice sometimes has to give way to the need to achieve reconciliation in societies that have witnessed mass atrocities, says former foreign minister Gareth Evans.
Professor Evans told the Don Dunstan Foundation in Adelaide that the initiation of international criminal proceedings can sometimes generate a significant dilemma.
“This is the peace versus justice problem,” he said in speech notes.
“Despite the position which tends to be taken reflexively by human rights lawyers, that peace without justice is no peace at all … my own experience is unquestionably that these demands do in fact clash from time to time, and that hard choices have to be made.”
In post-conflict societies – like Libya or Rwanda – leaders face difficult choices in deciding how to ensure accountability for those crimes and to achieve social reconciliation.
In one society, investigations of mass murder and prosecutions may contribute to a sense of political catharsis that opens the door to restorative justice, he said.
“But in another it may be seen as increasing instability and deepening hostility among adversarial groups: Mozambique and Namibia are among many examples where reconciliation was pursued to the exclusion of accountability,” he said.
Among the possible alternatives is to delay the day of reckoning until the society is strong enough to face its past and itself impose accountability for those crimes without fear of destabilising consequences.
Mr Evans said another option, which has been generating debate in Libya, is a truth commission.
He said he believed the only way through the morass was to treat justice, accountability and no-impunity as the default positions and recognise that some arguments for making exceptions really are compelling.
“Human rights advocates should not feel that they are letting the side down if they accept that,” he said.
“Those in the conflict prevention and resolution business, and those in the business of hunting down and punishing the guilty, all ultimately want the same thing: an end to violent conflict and the horror and misery of war and mass-atrocity crimes, and to ensure the dignity and common humanity of our fellow human beings.”