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Panel Discussions - Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Panelists Say Justice Necessary to Build Lasting Peace

“Peaceful societies are not built on the shoulders of war criminals,” David Tolbert, President of the International Center for Transitional Justice, told an IPI policy forum entitled "International Justice in a Time of Transition" on March 28, 2012. Mr. Tolbert was speaking to the recurring debate of peace versus justice, saying, “There has to be some reckoning for these crimes, and they have to be addressed. There are a number of mechanisms, including criminal justice, but also reparations, truth-telling processes such as truth and reconciliation commissions, and also, very importantly, institutional reforms.”

Mr. Tolbert spoke on a panel that included Peter Tomka, President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and Willem J.M. Van Genugten, Dean of the Hague Institute for Global Justice. The panel was part of the Peace and Justice Tour of the United States of the international courts and tribunals in The Hague in the Netherlands. Also present was Jozias J. Van Aartsen, Mayor of The Hague, who provided welcoming remarks.

Speaking about the transformative effect of the Rome Statute and the International Criminal Court (ICC), Mr. Tolbert said, “We see a new architecture develop. We see the end of the ad-hoc tribunals on the horizon.” He said, “The ICC prosecutor is a new actor on the stage. Essentially, with the adoption of the Rome Statute, amnesties for serious crimes—at least for those negotiators tied to the UN and other international bodies—is off the table. The creation of the Rome Statute and the introduction of the ICC prosecutor changes the dynamics very deeply for negotiators.”

He emphasized, however, that “The Rome Statute system puts the primary responsibility on states for investigation and prosecution of serious crimes and the International Criminal Court, essentially, as a court of last resort.” He said, “If we are going to actually see criminal accountability, criminal justice in practice, it is going to be at the national level. And this is a huge challenge.”

Mr. Tomka said that while the ICC focuses on criminal justice and individuals, the ICJ seeks justice in relations between states. It judges the disputes and responsibilities of states under international law, treaties, and customs. This allows the two systems—the ICJ and criminal tribunals—to work as complements to each others’ work. In its sixty-six years of operation, he said that the ICJ has “firmly established itself as principal judicial United Nations organization.” Together, he said, “The Hague-based international bodies are doing their best to promote justice on an international level.”

Dean Van Genugten spoke about transitional justice, defining global justice as essentially “about living a life of human dignity.” He said that a lack of justice can often lead to a breakdown of peace, citing the key demands of protestors in the Arab uprisings last year.

He also said that peace talks are disproportionately conducted by men, while women disproportionately suffer from the violence of the conflict. These women, along with a thorough understanding of the history of a conflict, are necessary to build lasting peace. “If you do not do justice to the real victims, you will never build up real solutions…it is about rebuilding trust, trust, trust again. The willingness to start talking instead of using muscles in a new conflict,” he said.

Mr. Tolbert concluded that, “Does international justice, does international criminal justice, restore citizens’ trust in state institutions? This is really the ultimate question for transitional justice institutions and transitional justice.”

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