"Peace & Justice Go Hand In Hand" - Nicolas Michel
Outgoing UN legal chief says peace and justice must go hand in hand
25 July 2008 - Although maintaining the balance between restoring peace and ending impunity can be sensitive and complex, amnesties for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide are unacceptable, according to the United Nations Legal Counsel.
"In the past it was not infrequent to hear people say 'look there are situations where we simply have to make a choice: either you want peace or you want justice but you can't have both together,' so the dilemma was peace or justice and the assumption was that sometimes it is impossible to have the two. I would submit today that it is no longer acceptable to put the dilemma in these terms," Nicolas Michel, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, told reporters in New York today.
The Under-Secretary-General said that a guiding principle for the UN was the need to create conditions conducive to sustainable peace.
"I'm convinced, and this is now the policy of the UN, that justice is part of these conditions that are conducive to a sustainable peace. In other words, there is almost a slogan, but there is a hard reality behind that - no peace without justice," he said, speaking at his last press conference before stepping down from his post at the end of August.
"What draws our attention in recent days is that there are situations where the link between restoring peace and ending impunity is sensitive, is complex," Mr. Michel added.
Citing examples from Sudan, Uganda, Sierra Leone and Burundi, Mr. Michel said the dilemma was how to sequence steps towards peace and steps towards justice, while accepting the need to adjust to specific circumstances on the ground.
"There might be circumstances for instance in which you have to take warlords out of the picture because you can't achieve any peace with them and so you want to arrest them, but we also have to recognize that there are situations where you need interlocutors, you need them to negotiate a peace agreement - now what happens to them?" he said.
"You know we have good examples from the past of people who have negotiated peace agreements and who ended up behind bars. So the fact that they are part of the negotiations does not necessarily mean that they will not end up before a tribunal, and one of the clear corollaries of the culture of ending impunity is that amnesty for international crimes is not acceptable."
Mr. Michel also stressed that, despite the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC), and internationally-backed tribunals for Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Cambodia and the former Yugoslavia, the end of impunity as a "new emerging culture" needed protection.
"This progress is still very fragile and I think that we have to be extremely careful how we handle the very sensitive issues we are faced with because there is no doubt that there is a risk of setbacks and these setbacks will have serious consequences."