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Working justice systems vital for UN peacekeeping

Working justice systems vital for UN peacekeeping success, Security Council told

Establishing the rule of law and a functioning justice system and eliminating impunity for war crimes are vital to United Nations peacekeeping operations in order to retain the confidence of the population of countries that have been torn apart by conflict, a senior UN official told the Security Council today.

"We have witnessed time and again a population's loss of faith in a peace process due to the absence of security and lack of accountability for criminal acts," the UN's Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, said at a follow-up meeting of the Council on the role of the United Nations in justice and the rule of law.

Last week, Foreign Ministers at the 15-nation Council adopted a statement appealing to all 191 UN Member States for input into further enhancing the world body's efforts to establish justice and the rule of law as essential elements of its peacekeeping operations in countries recovering from the crimes and brutalities of civil war and violence.

"We can no longer afford to treat the rule of law as a side activity in which we engage alongside political objectives. In many cases, it lies at the heart of the success or failure of our peacekeeping operations," Mr. Guéhenno added. "We cannot hope to assist in building stable, peaceful societies if the crucial area of rule of law is neglected."

This did not mean that the UN had neglected the rule of law but the "results of our work has been decidedly mixed," sometimes because of a failure of peace agreements to address the issue and inadequate mandates, sometimes through lack of funds, he stressed.

"I cannot overemphasize, however, that the maintenance of peace and security requires the establishment of rule of law in post-conflict settings," he said. "And the establishment of rule of law requires more than just a focus on policing. It requires that all components of the criminal justice chain - the police, the judiciary, the defence bar, prosecutors and corrections - be included and funded."

Turning to the various forms of post-conflict justice, Mr. Guéhenno said international tribunals have been too slow and costly, as in the case of the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, while creating traditional justice mechanisms focused on delivering retribution might impede reparations, a full accounting of what happened and national reconciliation.

In the latter case truth and reconciliation commissions may offer the best prospects. But, he added, "we must also ensure that any amnesty clauses in peace agreements exclude amnesties for war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law."

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