19 June 2013, New York, USA – Close to 40 participants took part in the seminar on transitional justice and peacebuilding which took place in at the United Nations Headquarters on 14 June 2013. The seminar, which was organized as well as hosted by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) New York Office, featured several well known speakers who offered their expert views on the issue of transitional justice and peacebuilding.
In his opening remarks, Mr. Thomas Guerber, the Deputy Permanent Representative of the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the United Nations, explained that although it is relatively easy to convince people of the importance of transitional justice, the real challenges lay in following through with it. Mr. Guerber described Switzerland’s commitment to transitional justice as an integral for enduring peace. Mr. Paul Seils, Vice President of the International Center for Transitional Justice identified one of the challenges facing transitional justice as being how far former combatants should be integrated into the government while also seeking justice for the victims of human rights abuses.
Mr. Louis Moreno Ocampo, former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, speaking on international justice and building peace made it clear to the seminar attendees that peace was not possible in a society when leaders who have committed war crimes remain in power – without justice there is no peace. To this end, justice should not be seen as solely concerning judges; it is also about other actors, such as political leaders and citizens, because it impacts them as well. He concluded by saying that the ICC “casts an increasingly long shadow” for those who wish to commit or have committed war crimes.
Ms. Jennifer Trahan, Clinical Associate Professor at the Center for Global Affairs NYU International Criminal Law, continued the seminar by focusing on the mechanisms to adjudicate the worst of crimes. She went on state “we hope for the days when national tribunals are able to be fully self-sustaining, but until then international tribunals are needed.” Paul Seils, speaking for the second time stressed that contrary to popular opinion, trials are not actually about “locking people up” rather they are about restoring much needed trust in the justice system.
Dr. Richard F. Mollica, of the Refugee Trauma Center at Harvard University, spoke on the issue of healing justice and personal healing; stating that one of the primary issues concerning healing and justice is “how to bridge the role of justice with that of healing at the personnel level.” Dr. Mollica also pointed out that law and justice can actually work together in the field of transitional justice for the whole society’s welfare.
On the issue of truth commissions, Eduardo Gonzalez, Senior Staff Director of the ICTJ Truth and Memory Program, explained about the myth of truth commissions, and stated that truth commissions require victims to forgive the perpetrators to encourage peace is actually harmful as the decision to forgive does not rest upon the victims rather it is the officials who make it. Mr. Gonzalez gave the example of Spaniards who today are still looking for the remains of loved ones killed during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Mr. Gonzalez stipulated that “there is no magic wand” in forgetting the ill feeling stemming from conflict.
In the closing remarks linking transitional justice to building peace, Paul Seils stated that the building of peace is a separate process from securing the peace. Dr. Mollica pointed out that perhaps the indigenous healing system should be an essential part of the truth commission as people trust figures such as priests, imams, and monks more than they do law officials. Yvonne Lodico concluded that if making a transition to sustainable peace is the ultimate goal then transitional justice must be addressed holistically.