Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace - 8723rd Security Council Meeting - Part 1

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13-Feb-2020 02:51:50
To rebuild lives, suffering must be acknowledged, ‘justice done’, human rights High Commissioner says, as Security Council takes up transitional justice.

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From Africa to the Americas to Asia and Europe, transitional justice mechanisms that are locally owned and focused on the needs of victims have repeatedly helped to address grievances and pave the way for more peaceful societies to take root, delegates said today amid calls for the Security Council to take decisive approaches to conflicts in concert with other United Nations bodies.

Among those leading that call was Yasmin Sooka of the Foundation for Human Rights in South Africa and Chair of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, who recalled that during the apartheid years, detainees reportedly jumped from police headquarter windows, hanged themselves in cells and died hitting their heads against police filing cabinets. “Inquests held under the apartheid system found nobody responsible for their deaths,” she said.

Two decades after South Africa’s transitional justice process, these inquests are being reopened, she said. As fragile States may not have the means to carry out such programmes, the United Nations should be required to help. She urged the Council to work with the Human Rights Council, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the General Assembly and others. “It is essential to ensure that peace and justice are seen as mutually reinforcing imperatives, and not replaced by erroneous notions that peace must come first before accountability,” she stressed.

Taking up that charge, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, briefing from Geneva, said the recent overthrow of the regime in Sudan was driven by demands for justice across society, built over decades of impunity for rights violations. “To rebuild lives without fear of recurrence — and for society to move forward — suffering needs to be acknowledged, confidence in State institutions restored and justice done,” she agreed.

She pointed to the 1999 “Memoria del Silencio” report by Guatemala’s truth commission, which offered an authoritative record of violations during 36 years of conflict, in stressing that success requires tackling unfair power structures. “Without humility and modesty, the risks of failure are real,” she assured.

Francisco de Roux, President of the Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Coexistence and Non-Repetition, pointed out that transitional justice costs very little when compared to military or corporate transactions. In Colombia, victims participated in the sentencing of perpetrators from the People’s Alternative Revolutionary Force (FARC). And just last week, former FARC fighters apologized for an attack launched 17 years ago.

In the ensuing debate, more than 60 speakers shared national experiences with truth commissions and other reconciliation instruments, highlighting lessons learned. Rwanda’s delegate said his country’s truth and justice process was not about reprisal, but about healing. The Government responded to the genocide against the Tutsi swiftly by accepting responsibility and establishing Gacaca courts, providing victims a means to learn the truth about the deaths of their family members and giving perpetrators the chance to confess their crimes, show remorse and ask for forgiveness.

South Africa’s delegate similarly said transitional justice was a vital to securing a peaceful transition for his country from apartheid to constitutional democracy. He encouraged countries to explore a range of measures, from criminal prosecutions, truth commissions and reparations, to exhumation of mass graves, apologies and institutional reforms to redress abuses. Tunisia’s delegate said that in his country, civil society advanced transitional justice even before a new constitution was drafted, helping to establish a commission for reconciliation and bring perpetrators to account. The Security Council can encourage these and other measures, which can benefit both from local input and international law.

As for the Security Council’s role, Germany’s delegate recalled that resolution 2467 (2019) introduced a survivor-centred approach, urging the 15-member organ to include reconciliation and mediation capacities in mission mandates and to invite Human Rights Council commissions to brief more often. Liechtenstein’s delegate meanwhile blamed the Council for ignoring accountability and justice in Syria, passing the ball to the General Assembly. In the case of Myanmar, it has not considered — let alone acknowledged — the International Criminal Court decision on provisional measures to be taken by Myanmar on the basis of the Genocide Convention, he said. Slovenia’s delegate emphasized the importance of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, handling the remaining cases of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia.

Among those stressing that transitional justice must involve local communities and redress local concerns was the Russian Federation’s delegate, who said mechanisms should not be used to consolidate victory of one side over another or allow interference in the internal affairs of a weakened State. He cited the “illegitimate” International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism in Syria in this context, stressing that “the United Nations should not dictate”.

Determining the appropriate role for the United Nations is a balancing exercise, others said, with Brazil’s delegate arguing that significant aspects of transitional justice fall outside the Security Council’s mandate. Post-conflict, the Council can encourage the incorporation of mechanisms into peace accords and design mission mandates that support transitional justice processes. In Nepal, “our focus has been to strike a balance between compliance with international norms and standards, and the national sociopolitical context by putting the victims at the centre”, added that country’s delegate.

At the end of the day, transitional justice plays a humanitarian role, said the speaker from the International Committee of the Red Cross — especially in the situation of missing persons. “If you speak to families you hear that their suffering is both acute and haunting,” he said. “It is the last open wound.”

Also speaking today were representatives and senior officials from Belgium, Niger, Estonia, United States, Indonesia, United Kingdom, France, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, China, Dominican Republic, Viet Nam, Guatemala, Spain, Japan, Norway (on behalf of the Nordic countries), Azerbaijan (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Lebanon, Portugal, Kenya, El Salvador, Slovakia, Italy, Colombia, Armenia, Georgia, Qatar, Egypt, India, Ireland, Peru, Turkey, Fiji, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Bangladesh, Argentina, Romania, Syria, Sri Lanka, Morocco, Netherlands, Malta, Canada, Gambia, Iraq, Angola, Croatia and Ukraine, as well as from the European Union.

The meeting began at 10:08 a.m. and ended at 6:10 p.m.

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