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Denial of impunity vital to ensure peace

Denial of impunity vital to ensure peace in strife-torn countries – UN rights chief

From Nepal to West Africa, from Sri Lanka to the former Yugoslavia, the observance of human rights and the battle against impunity for violators are vital elements for bringing true peace to countries torn by civil war, according to the United Nations top rights official.

“A peace agreement procured through the bargaining away of the fundamental human rights entitlements of affected persons results in an impoverished ‘peace’ that might better be labelled an absence of raging conflict,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour told a joint Swiss-Norwegian expert seminar in Bern, Switzerland, yesterday.

“Many continue to argue that undue concentration on human rights jeopardizes the possibility of either concluding a peace agreement in the first place, or of a peace agreement that has been concluded proving durable. To the contrary, I suggest that human rights are central to and indispensable for both peace and justice,” she added.

Stressing the imperative to replace impunity for rights abuses with accountability, and the untenability of blanket amnesties, Ms. Arbour hailed last week’s detention of former Liberian President Charles Taylor under warrant of the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone on charges of crimes against humanity as “a powerful and welcome affirmation of this basic principle.”

In the former Yugoslavia, “there will remain a sense of failure to achieve true closure to the horrors of the conflicts of the 1990s, as long as the indicted leaders of ethnic cleansing remain at large, and while some have died before being held to account,” she added.

Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic died last month while on trial before a UN international tribunal in The Hague, and the two top defendants charged with atrocities in the war in Bosnia, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadic, are still at large.

“In Darfur, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the international community is insisting - through the vehicle of the International Criminal Court - that those most responsible for unspeakable atrocities be brought to justice,” Ms. Arbour said.

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But she also stressed the need for individual countries themselves to tackle the issue. “The foremost rejection of impunity will occur through credible and supported national procedures and processes,” she said. “As we have seen, in practice, the failure to combat impunity opens the door to new violations by the same perpetrators and encourages others to believe that they too will go unpunished.”

Equally important, Ms. Arbour stressed the need for the rule of law free of discrimination, often the source of modern conflicts.

Reviewing the work of her office around the world, she emphasized its presence in some of the most intractable disputes that have torn countries apart, including Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bosnia-Herzergovina, Côte d'Ivoire, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

“The critical place of human rights at all phases of the peace process, judiciously balanced to achieve greatest practical impact on the ground will always be a difficult and vital challenge but one which goes to the heart of our protection mandate,” she concluded.

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