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Experts look at issues facing post-conflict countries
Friday, November 9, 2007

Waterloo, Canada - Renowned scholars and practitioners with direct experience in some of the most challenging cases of international justice offer new perspective on the complex issues of atrocities and accountability facing societies trying to rebuild from conflict in a book released this month by the United Nations University Press.

Atrocities and International Accountability: Beyond Transnational Justice is an in-depth analysis examining how societies and the international community respond to political change after facing grave violations of human rights - and the means they use to hold perpetrators of mass atrocities accountable.

"Transnational justice issues are no longer solely the preserve of individual countries and decades of inaction has been followed by an increasingly robust international commitment to ensure accountability for atrocities. Today no leader anywhere in the world can be confident of lifelong sovereign impunity for mass murder of his own people" Ramesh Thakur, CIGI Distinguished Fellow and a former UN Assistant Secretary-General and one of the R2P Commissioners, adds that a credible and robust international criminal justice system to prosecute the perpetrators of atrocities is the twin to the international responsibility to protect at-risk victims of atrocities.

The authors reject the argument that accountability for atrocities is necessarily contrary to the requirements for building peace in the transition from civil strife to civil society. Conversely, they point to some societies that have avoided this process, citing Spain as a recent example of a country that has transitioned from conflict to peace and social stability without any accountability process. Liberia is another example of a nation that has achieved peace without justice.

The authors assert, however, that peace-building without transitional justice is becoming increasingly problematical. Negotiators of an agreement to end war and conflict can no longer barter justice for peace. The writers caution that more and more governments have their hands tied to the Rome Statute which gives primacy but not sole discretion to national authorities on whether or not to prosecute for past atrocities. But the risk is that in substituting its own judgment for that of national governments on the appropriate balance between past atrocities, present peace and future reconciliation, the International Criminal Court may prolong conflict rather than facilitate its resolution.

"If this book tells us anything about societies in transition, it is that there can be no blanket solution in terms of the form accountability is to take," explain the editors. "As much as each conflict varies, so too do the mechanisms engaged to deal with it - legal and moral concerns must be balanced with political reality in determining the appropriate reaction to atrocities."

Atrocities and International Accountability: Beyond Transnational Justice concludes that no formula exists to determine the correct proportions of justice, peace or accountability, as this depends upon too many variables, such as the particularities of each country, its culture and its history.

The book is available worldwide at the end of November at [email protected], and will be distributed in North America through the Brookings Institution Press in Washington, UN Publications in New York and Renouf Publishing in Canada.