Category Archives: Transitional Justice

Sins of the predecessors

Should the largely pauperized population of today’s Iraq be held responsible for making ‘reparation’ payments to people and institutions in Kuwait and elsewhere that were damaged by Saddam Hussein’s August 1990 invasion of Kuwait?
Should the extremely poor population of today’s South Africa be held responsible for making ‘reparation’ payments to people and institutions in even poorer Mozambique, Angola, Namibia, and elsewhere that were damaged by the apartheid regime’s decades-long aggressions against those countries?
Should the largely pauperized population of today’s Iraq be held responsible for making ‘reparation’ payments to people and institutions in Iran that were damaged by Saddam Hussein’s September 1980 invasion of Iran and the very lengthy war that ensued and that also involved Iraq’s largescale use of chemical weapons against Iran?
I would say that the people damaged in all three of these cases have roughly equivalent moral claims to some form of ‘reparation’. But the problem is, of course, that the people now governing in South Africa (and ‘governing’ as best they can in Iraq) are people who were themselves majorly the targets of the earlier, abusive governments in those two places. So it is hard to see how these new successor governments can be held responsible for the sins of their predecessors… And indeed, in South Africa, the question of the country paying financial recompense to the peoples of Mozambique, Namibia, and Angola has never really to my knowledge come up.
And neither has the question of Iraq paying reparations to Iran.
All of which makes it fairly disquieting for me to have learned recently that the UN Compensation Commission that was established in 1991 with the purpose of “process[ing] claims and pay[ing] compensation for losses and damage suffered as a direct result of Iraq’s unlawful invasion and occupation of Kuwait” has continued until now on its course of turning over to Kuwait and other claimants regular payments funded by the UNCC’s expropriation of five percent of the proceeds of Iraq’s oil exports.
Just yesterday, the UNCC issued a press release describing proudly how in the current quarter it has disbursed $417.8 million to claimants in seven countries. The countries that got the biggest shares of those payments? Kuwait, which got $335.5 million, and Saudi Arabia, which got came in a distant second with $30.3 million.
A factsheet issued by the UNCC some time earlier reported that “Awards of approximately US$52.5 billion have been approved in respect of approximately 1.55 million … claims”, and at that point around $21 billion had been disbursed. As far as I can see from the charts I viewed, the lion’s share of that money has gone to Kuwait.
Now I know Saddam’s regime was bad, and caused much damage to Saudis and Kuwaitis. And it is possible (I suppose) that there, somewhere, some indigent Kuwaitis who benefit a lot from these reparations. But Kuwait’s GDP per capita in 2005 was $17,421. It seems quite crazy to me to expect that Iraq’s hard-pressed people should still today– 15 years after the liberation of Kuwait from Saddam’s rule, and more than three years after Saddam’s overthrow at home– be paying these reparations to Kuwait.
Doesn’t anyone in the international “community” remember the effect the reparations exacted from Germany after WW1 had in helping to incubate Nazism among the Germans? Is this a good way to build stability in the Gulf region today?
[Cross-posted at Transitional Justice Forum.]

Saddam trial discussed at Transitional Justice Forum blog

Christopher Le Mon has a good new post about the Saddam Hussein trial over at the Transitional Justice Forum blog. In it, he reviews the recent developments in the trial and some of the commentary in the US legal community about it.
He concludes:

    In the end, the text of the Tribunal’s verdict matters less than does the effect of the prosecution of Saddam Hussein upon Iraq’s nascent attempt to leave behind an era of violence, and move forward toward a more democratic future.

I agree strongly with this statement. I am, however, a lot less optimistic on this point than Le Mon seems to be. (See, e.g., here.)
When I have time, I’m going to go over there and drop off a comment onto his post. I warmly invite JWN readers interested in the trial to do the same.
(Full disclosure: I am one of the founders and authors of that blog. I also moderate the comments there. Guys, we need more comments there!)

Reconciliation issues– Australia and East Timor

I’ve been doing some online research, namely, checking out what I’ve been getting from the two daily “Google news alerts” I signed up for recently using the search terms “Saddam trial” and “transitional justice”. The Saddam trial one netted me a relatively small number of new stories, beyond what I’ve already been reading. The transitional justice one has been a really mixed bag– some news stories that have almost nothing to do with what I’ve been looking for, and alongside them some really fascinating new pieces.
Like today and yesterday. Today, I found a link to this piece, by Mark Byrne on “New Matilda.com — a different tune”, who was looking at the stalling of the efforts many white Australians had started to make 15 and 20 years ago to restore a little bit of decent balance to their relations with their country’s Aboriginal peoples.
Byrne, who’s a Jesuit social activist, writes:

    Overall, it’s a sorry picture. As former Governor-General and CAR [Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation] chair Sir William Deane said earlier in 2005, ‘In the years since Corroboree 2000, relations between Indigenous Australians… and our nation seem to me to have significantly deteriorated.’ Few people outside the government would disagree.
    Responsibility is easily laid at the foot of the Prime Minister, who has consistently opposed anything other than practical measures to improve Indigenous disadvantag…
    Nevertheless, the government is motivated by popular opinion as well as ideology. Opinion polls have consistently shown that while the majority of Australians are willing to accept that Indigenous people were mistreated in the past, they are divided as to whether disadvantage today represents continuing mistreatment or is rather the fault of Indigenous people themselves. They are certainly not in favour of apologising for the actions of people long dead, and do not see themselves as perpetuating racism and exploitation by their lifestyles and attitudes. In addition, the Howard government has done a sterling job of associating an apology to the Stolen Generation with personal and legal responsibility for their plight, rather than understanding ‘sorry’ to be a simple expression of compassion…

I found a really interesting piece in yesterday’s haul, too. It was a report in the Sunday Times of Australia about the recently released report of the East Timorese “CAVR”– that is, their Commission for Reception and Reconciliation.
The darned thing is, I read that news piece on another browser window, then the newspaper’s website suddenly went down, and now I can’t read it any more. Shucks…
Oh, here‘s another version of, I think, the same story– this one, from the Brisbane Courier-Mail. Here’s the lead there:

    THE Australian, British and US Governments and international arms makers should pay compensation for their part in Indonesia’s brutal 24-year occupation of East Timor, a commission of inquiry has demanded.
    The Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor (CAVR), an independent organisation established by the East Timorese Government, is calling for reparations for victims of torture, rape and violence perpetrated by Indonesia from its invasion in 1975 to its bloody withdrawal in 1999.
    The 2500-page report, which President Xanana Gusmao presented to East Timor’s Parliament on Monday, contentiously recommends East Timor’s victims be paid compensation by the colonisers Indonesia and Portugal, as well as by those nations that sold weapons to Indonesia and supported its annexation – including Australia.
    Mr Gusmao spelled out the detail of the recommendation, and told Parliament he was “truly concerned” by it.
    The commission also recommended a continuation of the UN-backed investigation and prosecution of war crimes in East Timor during the Indonesian occupation.
    “This recommendation does not take into account the situation of political anarchy and social chaos that could easily erupt if we decided to bring to court every crime committed since 1974 or 1975,” Mr Gusmao said.

Obviously, a good story to watch further. Does anyone know of a good link to the CAVR report itself?

New group blog on Transitional Justice

Ahem… I have an important announcement to make… Jonathan Edelstein, a South African social psychologist called Brandon Hamber, and I are launching a new group blog called Transitional Justice Forum.
The subhead of the new blog says, “resources and multi-disciplinary discussion on the challenges of justice during transitions to a better world. Join us!” So this is my invitation to JWN’s readers to do just that.
As you can see, we have just us three as authors for now, though we are definitely planning to bring more on board. Nominations– including self-nominations– are very welcome! (Send me a note with any suggestions.)
I’d also love it if JWN readers could participate in the comments-board discussions over there some– especially right now, while we’re still trying to launch the blog– and if y’all could also help us to publicize TJF by telling any of your friends or colleagues who work in a relevant field about it.
Rest assured: I intend to continue putting the same amount of energy into JWN as I always have. The idea with the new baby is to make it “a widely networked collaborative project,” rather than somethng that only I– or only Jonathan and I– do all the work on.
In fact, the readership here at JWN has been rising in a very satisfactory way over the past few weeks. So I’d be foolish to let this well-established old blog wither on the vine right now, wouldn’t I?

Conflict termination and “justice”

So, a couple of weeks ago I finished a decent draft of my book about transitional justice mechanisms and the success (or otherwise) of conflict-termination efforts in three countries in southern Africa… And I sent it off to a publisher for consideration, since somewhat foolishly I had failed to do much to “market” the text of the book before that. Oh well, can’t do everything at once. The draft is not bad, imho.
At this point, having done that, and having then intensively brainstormed some of these very same issues with the great bunch of learners from many countries (including many conflict-torn countries) around the world in the class I was teaching at Eastern Mennonite Univ. last week (PAX 668), I just want to write some quick notes here about three books that have come out in recent years on different aspects of my same topic, all of which I consider make very constructive contributions to this woefully under-developed field of knowledge.
I should just also re-stress here one of my own strong starting points in all my own work these days, name that war and conflict themselves inflict major violations on all the human rights of people living in areas directly affected by these conflicts. Contrary to the fantasies of some war apologists who live in secure western countries– including those political liberals who believe that wars can be fought “for humanitarian ends”– there is no such thing as a “clean”, violation-free war whose “success” in winning desirable ends is sufficient to justify the always regrettable “collateral” damage inflicted on civilian populations along the way… War, as I know from my own experience, isn’t like that. It kills people– including, always, many many people who are complete innocents. It also sets in train aftershocks of violence that reverberate quite unpredictably into the years and decades that follow…
Anyway, these books I wanted to write about. They are:

    Rama Mani’s Beyond retribution: Seeking justice in the shadows of war (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, and Malden MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2002),
    Roland Paris’s At war’s end: Building peace after civil conflict (Cambridge UK and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), and
    Eric Stover and Harvey M. Weinstein’s edited volume My neighbor, my enemy: Justice and community in the aftermath of mass atrocity (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

All these books are worth a close read. I’ll take them quickly, one at a time:

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CSM column criticizes war-crimes courts

Here’s the column I have in the CSM today. It’s a quick out-take from what I’ve been writing about the past couple of weeks.
It’s about (guess what) the dysfunctionality of war-crimes prosecutions as a way to help societies escape from legacies of atrocity-laden conflict.
I got a call from a producer at a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation show called The Hour. She sounded pretty interested in the subject and they’re going to do a taped interview with me Monday. It’ll probably run Monday evening, but I’ll try to let JWN’s extensive Canadian readership know whether that is so, or not.
I feel I am s-o-o-o-o-o close to finishing this last chapter of my book. Well, maybe yes and maybe no. I’ll know it’s The End when I finally write those little magic words, “The End.”
I went down to the peace demonstration again this afternoon. Still a great cacophony of honks down there.

Former fighters work together in Lebanon

A really great article by Nora Bustany in the April 22 WaPo about a group of Lebanese former fighters working together to promote reconciliation.
They were brought together by Initiatives of Change, a non-governmental organization formerly known as the Moral Rearmament Association.
I know that the MRA played an important role in facilitating quiet, behind-the-scenes contacts between French and German opinion leaders after WW2. I hadn’t caught up with their recent work. It looks really interesting.
I can’t write more now (rushing for plane to Philadelphia) but I just note that I’ve been writing quite a bit about a similar initiative– that has gotten former foes to work together doing joint peace-promotion efforts in a Mozambican context– here, here, and in my continuing book-writing project.

Uganda: healing or judging?

This is an extremely informative and inspiring article in today’s NYT about the use of traditional healing ceremonies to reconcile conflict-torn communities in northern Uganda.
Reporter Marc Lacey reports from Gulu, in northern Uganda, that,

    two very different systems – one based on Western notions of justice, the other on a deep African tradition of forgiveness – are clashing in their response to one of this continent’s most bizarre and brutal guerrilla wars, a conflict that has raged for 18 years in the rugged terrain along Uganda’s border with Sudan.
    The fighting features rebels who call themselves the Lord’s Resistance Army and who speak earnestly of the import of the Ten Commandments, but who routinely hack up civilians who get in their way. To add to their numbers, the rebels abduct children in the night, brainwash them in the bush, indoctrinate them by forcing them to kill, and then turn them – 20,000 over the last two decades – into the next wave of ferocious fighters seeking to topple the government. Girls as young as 12 are assigned as rebel commanders’ wives. Anyone who does not toe the line is brutally killed.
    The international court [that is, the Hague-based ICC], invited to investigate the war by President Yoweri Museveni, has announced it is close to issuing arrest warrants for rebel leaders including, no doubt, Joseph Kony, the self-styled spiritualist calling the shots. But some war victims are urging the international court to back off. They say the local people will suffer if the rebel command feels cornered. They recommend giving forgiveness more of a chance, using an age-old ceremony involving raw eggs.

    “When we talk of arrest warrants it sounds so simple,” said David Onen Acana II, the chief of the Acholi, the dominant tribe in the war-riven north, who traveled to The Hague recently to make his objections known. “But an arrest warrant doesn’t mean the war will end.”

No, indeed it does not.
Uganda is not, alas, one of the countries I’m writing about in my current book project, which deals precisely with this issue of the relationship between “judging/prosecutorial” approaches to dealing with the legacies of atrocious conflict and alternative, amnesty-based and more “healing”-oriented approaches.
One of my key “cases” is that of Mozambique, where the local people used a very similar, healing-based approach drawing on many indigenous (that is, pre-colonial) healing traditions to deal with the legacies of the equally ghastly violence that occurred during the 1977-92 civil war there.
The Mozambicans concluded their peace agreement, with Italian and UN backing, in October 1992. That was just before the UN created the first of the ad-hoc war-crimes courts of the modern age– the one for former Yugoslavia, called ICTY.
After the creation of ICTY, and the parallel ad-hoc tribunal for Rwanda– ICTR– activists in the western-based human rights movement got the idea that creating war-crimes courts to deal with the legacies of atrocious violence was definitely the best thing to do… In 1998 they secured the passage of the “Rome Treaty”, which established a permanent International Criminal Court, ICC, which came into effect in 2002.
Since then it has been much harder for people seeking a negotiated end to atrocity-laden conflicts to succeed, because one of the key “incentives” peace-seekers had in pre-ICC situations– that of offering amnesty to former wrongdoers– had been almost completely taken away from them by the creation of the ICC.
Luckily, though, last week a delegation of 24 Ugandan men and women representing four different social groupings in northern Uganda visited ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo to discuss the situation there and their concerns about the effects of a reckless issuing of indictments.
Back in July last year, Moreno-Ocampo had announced that he had formally “found” that there was sufficient evidence of atrocities in northern Uganda that he had decided to open a formal judicial investigation into the situation. This kind of “investigation” could normally be expected to lead to the issuing of indictments, though none has been issued– for Uganda or anywhere else– by Moreno-Ocampo yet.
The joint statement issued at the end of last week’s meeting between the delegates from northern Uganda and Moreno-Ocampo made the following points:

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Rwanda and prosecutorialism

So I did largely succeed in getting done, over this past week, what I needed to do on my violence-in-Africa book. Namely, I “uploaded” back into the relevant portions of my brain the three chapters about post-genocide Rwanda that I first-drafted back in July.
(Next, the same for the three chapters on South Africa, and the two chapters on Mozambique. Then, use all that uploaded material as the basis for my concluding reflections on the post-atrocity policies in these three countries. Rather than, which I tried to do six weeks ago, writing the conclusion of the book almost out of thin intellectual-Helena air… I just feel much, much more comfortable as a thinker and writer when I keep close to my empirically-based material. Besides, one of the intentions of the book is to give voice to extraordinarily experienced and wise people in these three countries whose voices almost never get heart in the rich countries that dominate the self-styled “international community”.)
Anyway, Rwanda. What a multiply tragic place. I’ve been following Rwanda’s post-genocide “story” fairly closely since October 2000, and undertook a really productive research visit to the country in 2002, followed by another to the UN’s massive gravy train, oops sorry, the “International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda”, in Tanzania, the following year.
Most of my colleagues in the human-rights movement in the west went almost gaga with delight over the creation of the ICTR and its slightly older sister-court for former Yugoslavia, ICTY, back in the early-mid-1990s. But actually the political-social effects of both courts, within the territories they were supposed to “serve”, have been either quite disastrous (ICTR) or somewhere between quite irrelevant and moderately negative (ICTY), and nobody much in either the UN or the west-dominated “human-rights movement” seems to have given a damn.
But meanwhile many international lawyers and their staffs have been able to make out like bandits, so that must be good news, mustn’t it?
I have never for a moment doubted the good intentions of the human rights activists and others who urged the creation of these courts… I mean, “ending impunity”, “establishing accountability”, and all those other fine things are good in their own rights, aren’t they?
Oh, plus, certainly in Rwanda’s case, there were all these enormous great mushroom clouds of sheer human guilt wafting around– as in, why the heck didn’t the UN do more to actually stop the 1994 genocide?, or, more to the point, why did the Clinton administration actually work hard at the UN in 1994 to dismantle the existing UN force in Rwanda, despite its hard-won and indisputable record in saving the lives of threatened Tutsis?…. Yes, plenty of raw unprocessed guilt to go around.
And so we, instead of deploying peacekeepers we had the unseemly sight of the deployment of UN prosecutors to Rwanda. Here’s what the “righteous Hutu” genocide survivor Andre Sibomana, who saved hundreds of threatened Tutsi and Hutu lives in 1994, had to say about ICTR:

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International atrocities law

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for… I did a quick edit on the other half of my recently junked (sob!) Chapter 11… So this is a piece titled “Notes on the development of international atrocities law since 1850”. It’s a companion piece to the “Notes on transitional justice” that I put up on the JWN archives last week .
In the conception of Chapter 11 that I was working with when I wrote those two segments, the present piece preceded the one on “transitional justice”. I wrote both of them with reference to the rest of the book, which focuses on three conflict-exiting countries in Africa: Mozambique, South Africa, and Rwanda.
But I think that each of these short segments now stands alone okay, and I hope they provide a useful introduction to some of the issues involved.
Comments, anyone?