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The ICC in Libya: Beyond Peace vs. Justice

by Mark Kersten on 11 May 2012 | Comments

This post is my contribution to a timely symposium being held at the Canadian International Council on the “peace versus justice” debate. I encourage you to check out other contributions to the symposium from Leslie Vinjamuri, Alana Tiemessen and Stephen Brown, amongst others. Enjoy!

Just weeks after Colonel Moammar Gadhafi initiated his crackdown on civilian protesters, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1970, referring the situation in Libya to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Human-rights groups joined a chorus of international actors in exclaiming that the Security Council’s decision was a victory and milestone for justice. Almost as quickly, however, critics of the ICC began to blame the Court for impeding a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Libya. The controversy was unsurprising. As in the case of northern Uganda and Sudan, commentators and scholars alike have framed the ICC’s judicial interventions as a trade-off between peace and justice. But was either side in this dichotomous debate right in its assertions?

Readers are likely familiar with the arguments central to the “peace versus justice” debate. On the one hand, many claim that there is “no peace without justice” – that achieving accountability and fighting impunity is a moral imperative, and that no “true” peace can exist if justice isn’t achieved. Advocates of the ICC further argue that pursuing justice can marginalize the perpetrators of atrocities, halt the spiral of violence by preventing victims from seeking violent retribution, establish truths about the commission and experience of atrocities, and provide closure to victims and survivors.

On the other hand, critics of the ICC argue that there is “no justice without peace” – that seeking to bring warring parties to justice can hamper peace processes by making it impossible to offer amnesties or exile to belligerents. Faced with the prospect of trials and imprisonment, warring parties will not engage in peace negotiations. If justice is pursued at all, proponents of this perspective argue, it should wait until a certain degree of stability and order is firmly in place.

The arguments on both sides are intuitive and simple enough to seem sensible. The problem is that they often misrepresent reality.

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Source: Justice in Conflict
Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters