Parallel Session 3: Linking human rights, justice and peacebuilding

There has been a tremendous rise of the human rights discourse and agenda. That is how Michelle Parlevliet (Independent consultant & affiliated with Law Faculty, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands), who facilitated the discussion, introduced the session. Needs are reframed as human rights, we speak of right to development and right to health. The human rights discourse spills over into other discussions, such as the one about climate change; an extensive human rights (e.g. increased number of UN Special Rapporteurs) and criminal justice infrastructure (e.g. ICC) has been installed. Having said this, the session asked for what this trend means for peacebuilding? What are the opportunities and risks concerning the embracement of peacebuilding and human rights? How could an embracement look like and what needs to be done in order to strengthen linkages between peacebuilding, human rights and justice?

The first input, given by Graeme Simpson (Interpeace USA), linked justice and peacebuilding from a conceptual as well as a practical perspective. Tensions between human rights and peacebuilding arise when they are seen as two tracks, the one asking for accountability and the other focusing on negotiations and the ending of violence. Thinking broader, the shared goal of building just societies becomes obvious. For capturing their complementarity it is crucial to 1) broaden the concept of justice; 2) keep peace positive and challenge the liberal, highly individualized, framework of justice and accountability; 3) focus on how justice is experienced; 4) try to understand the nature of conflict and deal not with its symptoms but with its causes.

Nourished from the experiences of dealing with the past through criminal justice in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia, Nenad Vukosavljevic (Centre for Nonviolent Action Serbia) described the inadequateness and shortcomings of legal approaches. The experiences show that its implementation remains disappointing for most of the people concerned. Does a legal approach lead us to the goal of a just society, where the violent past does not recur? War is not a crime; but are the losses of those who have been ‘legally’ killed less painful and more justified? What is the point in sentencing somebody when this does not lead to his condemnation by his community, but sometimes even nourishes his status as a hero? In which way does legal prosecution contribute positively to dealing with the past when it legitimizes the non-acknowledgement of responsibility by the perpetrators?

What are the opportunities concerning the embracement of peacebuilding and human rights?

  • Building peace and enforcing human rights is conceptually close; for the people concerned peace and justice are often indivisible. Focusing on how justice is experienced, enforcing human rights and building peace are linked in building just societies.
  • Broadening the approach to peace building (and enforcing human rights) leads to a less formalized approach and understanding of peace (and justice) that focus less on institutions and more on relationships.
  • A broader approach provides the opportunity to look beyond the legalistic notion of justice at experienced justice, empirically different concepts of justice, and the fulfilment of economic and social rights. Tackling the root causes of conflict might become a higher priority in the practice of peacebuilders. In this sense, justice (understood as being realized in a just society) is prevention of mass violence and human rights violations. 
  • Dealing with the past is not the only area where peace and justice are interrelated. Other fields are e.g. natural resources, and climate change. The discussion about dealing with the past can exemplify a broader approach and perspective and enhance its application to other fields.

What are the risks concerning the embracement of peacebuilding and human rights?

  • In practice, claiming rights and building trust and justice can be conflictive. For example, claiming cultural rights, such as learning at school in mother tongue, might hinder trust and peacebuilding. The call for justice can be used to hinder the peace and trust building process. Those calling for justice as a precondition of peace, however, might not be ready to actually make peace.  
  • Enforcing human rights and building peace as conflictive goals might occur due to high strategies, not to high principles. Organizational set up of international work, strategies and certain logics, such as of channelling funding, hinder the diffusion of a broader approach to human rights and peacebuilding in practice.
  • Normative commitment to principles of building peace, logic of actors, identification with a field and pride of discipline impede a broader and transformative perspective.

What needs to be done in order to strengthen linkages between peacebuilding, human rights and justice?

  • Assumptions, on which the work of human rights activists as of peace-builders is based, often lack evidence to back them up. Analyzing shortcomings and blind spots is crucial for a thorough reflection on broader approaches to peacebuilding and human rights.
  • Existing network organizations should be used in order to promote the dialogue of practitioners how peacebuilding, justice and human rights are to be linked in practice.
  • Practitioners should reflect on their own practices and on how they engage with the discourse about human rights, justice and peacebuilding.

Key messages:

  • Looking at doing justice and building peace as a ‘fixable problems’ (not as a complex system) falls to short of the mark.
  • Hence, broadening the approaches to building peace and enforcing human rights will benefit both of them.
  • The common goals and complementary aspects of building peace and enforcing human rights should be thoroughly captured and defined in more detail.
  • Based on these common goals and complementary aspects, their practical implications should be further explored.

Carla Schraml
FriEnt-Team, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)

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