What place should the international community give to justice and accountability in its response to conflicts involving mass atrocities? Under what circumstances does the effort to pursue justice help or alternatively complicate the effort to bring atrocities to an end? Is it better to set a benchmark for justice by referring active conflicts to the International Criminal Court, or should efforts to seek justice be deferred until a peace deal is being discussed? To help inform future policymaking in this complex field, ECFR has launched a project to examine the record of past cases where international efforts to end conflict have taken different approaches to justice – ranging from the introduction of international tribunals to the acceptance of amnesties for the sake of peace. As part of the project, we commissioned 12 case studies, which are available below. These case studies were discussed at an international conference held in The Hague on 5 November 2013. A report of the conference is available here. In connection with the conference, we also held a dinner discussion on options for peace and justice in Syria.
For further information about the project, click here
The final report from the project, pulling together potential lessons from the case studies and suggesting guidelines for future policy, was published in October 2014.
Afghanistan has suffered repeated cycles of violence and abuse, and the perpetrators of international crimes have been able to entrench themselves in power. The result has been impunity and insecurity.
Bosnia was the first war where an international tribunal was set up while the fighting continued. But the court was too weak to have much impact on the conflict, either by deterring crimes or promoting peace.
In DR Congo every peace agreement has included justice provisions, but power-sharing among the leaders of armed groups has undermined them, and outsiders have done little to advance accountability.
In the case of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, Western powers have argued that accountability before international courts would be obstacle to peace, in an exception to their usual stance.
Despite a few high-profile cases and much rhetoric, international justice efforts in Kosovo have been limited, and have played only a marginal role in shaping Kosovo’s political dynamics.
Peace talks in Liberia were made possible by the indictment of the president for war crimes. But the country’s political settlement granted a major place to the warring parties, leaving accountability aside.
In Libya the ICC issued arrest warrants at the height of the war. There is evidence that this affected the strategic calculations of the regime and the rebels, but did not deter abuses.
In Sierra Leone a peace deal with an amnesty for war crimes collapsed, but there may have been little alternative at the time, and it is wrong to assume the amnesty caused fighting to resume.
The ICC provoked hostility in Sudan, but may also have spurred alternative discussions of accountability. However it has led to international divisions and hardened the stance of some rebel groups.
Syria appears to be the first situation where Western countries are simultaneously committed to seeking an ICC referral and to pursuing a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
It may be simplistic to assume that the ICC undermined peace talks with the LRA in Uganda. The principal effect of the Court’s involvement has been on the narrative framing of the conflict.
With international support, Yemen agreed a transition plan that granted an amnesty to the outgoing president and his regime. To achieve reconciliation and stability, there must now be greater attention to justice.