Panel on Rule of Law in Conflict and Post-Conflict Situations

“The promotion of the rule of law does not occur in a political vacuum,” Colette Rausch, director of the Rule of Law Center of Innovation at the United States Institute of Peace, stated at an event at IPI on March 9th. “The differing and sometimes competing goals of non-governmental institutions, donors, member states and United Nations agencies can often impede or delay the overall objective of strengthening the rule of law because there is no clear and unified voice or strategy.”

The roundtable event, titled “Strengthening Security and Criminal Justice in Conflict and Post-Conflict Situations,” focused on current approaches and lessons learned from international engagement with reforming criminal justice and security sectors since 2004 when the UN Secretary-General presented his most recent report to the Security Council on the rule of law and transitional justice in conflict and post-conflict societies (S/2004/616). The Secretary-General is in the process of preparing a new report to the Security Council on this topic.

During his presentation, Graeme Simpson, Director of Policy and Learning at Interpeace, explained that in many theaters of internal armed conflict, transitions entailed fluidity, continuity and change in the patterns of political and criminal violence. He drew attention to and emphasized the importance of “justice as prevention” as a critical component of building the rule of law, and reasoned that the key challenge in promoting the rule of law in conflict and post-conflict situations was to build confidence of the population in accountable institutions. Doing so entailed a delicate balance between the needs for effectiveness, efficiency, national ownership, and legitimacy, he said.

Some participants reasoned that strengthening security and criminal justice in these situations requires a solid understanding of the political context and of the position and strength of actors who benefit from the absence of a rule-based order, and that it also entailed the need to build broad political support among local stakeholders for reform efforts.

Several participants agreed that the prevailing approach placed too much emphasis on formal institutions, and that it tended to neglect informal mechanisms that provide parallel or complementary justice mechanisms in many countries emerging from conflict. At the same time, these speakers acknowledged that informal justice mechanisms were neither fit to deal with all fields of law in an equitable manner nor immune against some of the corrosive effects armed conflict often had on formal justice systems.

The event was co-chaired by Dr. Edward Luck, IPI Senior Vice President for Research and Programs, and Mr. Edric Selous, Director of the Rule of Law Unit in the UN Executive Office of the Secretary-General. It was co-sponsored by the Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group, supported by the Rule of Law Unit in the UN Executive Office of the Secretary-General, and IPI.

Participants included more than forty representatives of UN member states and UN rule of law experts, non-governmental organizations, and universities.

The meeting was held under the Chatham House rule of non-attribution. Ms. Rausch and Mr. Simpson are quoted in this article with permission.

 Agenda
 
List of participants
 Concept Note prepared for this roundtable by the UN