Dieng: Post-Conflict States Must Deal with the Past to Deal with the Future

Event Video

“Gone are the days when people believe in wiping the slate clean and starting anew,” Adama Dieng, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, said, addressing a June 12, 2017 IPI policy forum on “How Development Can Promote Accountability, Tackle Impunity, and Sustain Peace.”

Nowadays, he contended, “States emerging from conflict must first deal with the past in order to deal with the future.” That meant “taking an objective look at root causes” because “without dealing with the past, chances of continued violence increase in a society with a history of violence and atrocity crimes.”

Making the case for the urgency of reconciling a violent past with hopes for peace in the future, he said, “The commitment of states to human rights, the rule of law, and a peaceful future will not be held to be credible unless the state addresses grievances that may have led to conflict and put an end to the conditions and practices that have destroyed shared values.”

He added that an “essential condition” was creating an independent and impartial judiciary.

Impunity must also be fought by both national and international institutions, he said. “Countries emerging from conflict in which warlords become peacemakers of today, need support from the international community to ensure such individuals are held to account for past actions.”

This event was co-organized with the United Nations Development Programme

(UNDP), and served to open the 2017 “Annual Meeting on Strengthening the Rule of Law and Human Rights for Sustainable Peace and Fostering Development.” The UN conference aims to explore how the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development could promote accountability, tackle impunity, and contribute to sustaining peace.

This discussion was grounded in the personal experience of the featured panelists, all of whom play critical roles in championing the rule of law in their countries.

The event also featured excerpts from the film “The Burden of Peace”, which tells the story of Claudia Paz y Paz, the first woman to lead the Public Prosecutors Office of Guatemala.

Plagued by a 36-year armed conflict, Guatemala appeared to be coming to an end of violence in the early 2000’s. But when the UN mission, set up to monitor the post-civil war peace process, concluded at the end of 2004, the country still suffered from crime, social injustice, and human rights violations. By 2006, the Government and the UN agreed to create a special commission—The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG)—to identify and dismantle powerful clandestine armed groups. The CICIG shook the country’s entire political system, investigating and prosecuting corruption reaching to the highest levels.

As Attorney General from 2010 to 2014, Ms. Paz y Paz was the first-ever Guatemalan law enforcement official to prosecute prominent human rights abusers from the country’s civil war era.

A major setback came when the high-profile case against former President Efraín Ríos Montt for his role in the genocide and in war crimes committed by the army was thrown out due to procedural error. Despite this, she said she believes it was worth it to take on “because of the survivors…They became heroes of justice instead of victims of war.”

The proceedings also precipitated an “enormous and profound change” in the Guatemalan people. “We were not the kind of people that would come out on the streets and demand,” she said.

Gordana Tadić, Acting State Prosecutor for Bosnia and Herzegovina, discussed the continuing prosecutions for crimes committed during the ethnically-rooted civil war involving Bosnian Muslims, Serbs, and Croats of 1992 to 1995. At the national level, she called for the “fast processing of war crimes cases.”

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was set up at the Hague in 1996, and a decade later, was able to prosecute Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić for genocide and war crimes. The national courts have completed “the most serious cases taken over from Hague,” with 700 individuals charged, she said.

However, there is still a need for prosecutors trained in this area, for a number of outstanding cases. “Our job will not end until all perpetrators have gotten a verdict, this is our debt to next generation to live in peace,” she said.

Toussaint Muntazini Mukimapa, Special Prosecutor for the Special Criminal Court, Central African Republic, shared his perspective on the prosecution of international crimes under the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002. “The fight against impunity cannot be fought by one, but must be fought by the whole international community,” he said.

Mr. Muntazini Mukimapa’s previous appointment was with the High Military Court of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a country where the deadliest conflict since World War II, sometimes called Africa’s world war, claimed up to six million lives in the late 2000’s. A UN force is currently deployed in the east, where violence remains. “The DRC was ravaged by war for decades,” he said. “I see a close link between ending impunity and development.”

The participation of women is vital to ending impunity, he said. Women who experienced rape and sexual violence in conflict had to overcome a cultural taboo against speaking out about such crimes, he said. He said that the slogan, “break the silence before the silence breaks you,” had encouraged them to share their stories.

Alejandro Alvarez, Director of the Rule of Law Unit, Executive Office of the UN Secretary-General spoke to the value of these prosecutors’ work, and what it means for future generations. “Their work is not just about prosecuting,” he said. “What they triggered is a profound change in how their societies work—their cultures.” We are just beginning to see the impact of this work, he concluded.

Patrick Keuleers, Director, Governance and Peacebuilding Cluster, Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, UNDP, initiated the discussion by saying, “Peace and development can only be achieved if people who are most vulnerable and marginalized can benefit from the outcomes and see tangible peace dividends in their daily lives. In our work, we advance this principle through efforts that underline inclusion, ensuring that groups that face structural discrimination—including ethnic minorities—are seen not only as beneficiaries of development but also agents of peace.”

Jimena Leiva-Roesch, Research Fellow, IPI, moderated the discussion.