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Secretary-General, U. N. (2004). The Rule of Law and Transitional Justice in Conflict and Post-Conflict Societies

Secretary-General, U. N. The Rule of Law and Transitional Justice in Conflict and Post-Conflict Societies: Report of the Secretary-General, UN Doc. S/2004/616 (Aug. 23, 2004).


Recent years have seen an increased focus by the United Nations on questions of transitional justice and the rule of law in conflict and post-conflict societies, yielding important lessons for our future activities. Success will depend on a number of critical factors, among them the need to ensure a common basis in international norms and standards and to mobilize the necessary resources for a sustainable investment in justice. We must learn as well to eschew one-size-fits-all formulas and the importation of foreign models, and, instead, base our support on national assessments, national participation and national needs and aspirations. Effective strategies will seek to support both technical capacity for reform and political will for reform. The United Nations must therefore support domestic reform constituencies, help build the capacity of national justice sector institutions, facilitate national consultations on justice reform and transitional justice and help fill the rule of law vacuum evident in so many post-conflict societies.

Justice, peace and democracy are not mutually exclusive objectives, but rather mutually reinforcing imperatives. Advancing all three in fragile post-conflict settings requires strategic planning, careful integration and sensible sequencing of activities. Approaches focusing only on one or another institution, or ignoring civil society or victims, will not be effective. Our approach to the justice sector must be comprehensive in its attention to all of its interdependent institutions, sensitive to the needs of key groups and mindful of the need for complementarity between transitional justice mechanisms. Our main role is not to build international substitutes for national structures, but to help build domestic justice capacities.

In some cases, international or mixed tribunals have been established to address past crimes in war-torn societies. These tribunals have helped bring justice and hope to victims, combat the impunity of perpetrators and enrich the jurisprudence of international criminal law. They have, however, been expensive and have contributed little to sustainable national capacities for justice administration. The International Criminal Court offers new hope for a permanent reduction in the phenomenon of impunity and the further ratification of its statute is thus to be encouraged.

But while tribunals are important, our experience with truth commissions also shows them to be a potentially valuable complementary tool in the quest for justice and reconciliation, taking as they do a victim-centred approach and helping to establish a historical record and recommend remedial action. Similarly, our support for vetting processes has shown them to be a vital element of transitional justice and, where they respect the rights of both victims and the accused, key to restoring public trust in national institutions of governance. Victims also benefit from well-conceived reparations programmes, which themselves help ensure that justice focuses not only on perpetrators, but also on those who have suffered at their hands. Strengthening United Nations support in all these areas will require efforts to enhance coordination among all actors, develop our expert rosters and technical tools and more systematically record, analyse and apply these lessons in Security Council mandates, peace processes and the operations of United Nations peace missions.